Long ago, there was a comics experiment called the "New Universe". It was the forerunner of modern-day diversions like "Heroes" - ordinary people suddenly gaining powers or traits outside the human range, with (at least, ostensibly) realistic consequences. Sadly, commercial pressures drove them from that core vision, and they had the 'Comics Code' to worry about. I've taken what I liked about it, and cheerfully left behind or modified what I didn't.
Though not strictly necessary, I suggest you read the prior story, "Downsides And Upsides", first. Think of it as a prologue, or perhaps a 'trailer'.
I always get scared before the action. Practically shaking, truth be told. I hate those few peaceful moments before the shit hits the fan.
That might surprise a lot of people. After all, I have what I've nicknamed a 'vector field' around me. Sort of like telekinesis; no physical object can touch me. Not only am I bulletproof, I'm bazookaproof. It magnifies my strength, too - I once tore my way into a bank vault with my bare hands. What do I have to worry about, right?
But think - how many ways are there to die besides being struck or stabbed? There's chemical poisoning, radiation poisoning, electrocution, suffocation and drowning, frostbite and hypothermia, dehydration and heatstroke, disease, starvation, etc. etc. I have what amounts to totally bitchin' body armor. That does not make me Superman.
This ain't the comic books, either. The people we get paid to fight are under no obligation to be stupid, or honorable, or even unlucky. And they have every reason to want us dead.
The chopper swerved and surged forward. "It's go!" Dustoff called on the shared channel. We made it over the last ridge and the insurgent camp lay before us. Thick black smoke roiled from the west side; Veronique's job had been to take the generators out first, and clearly she'd done it.
Colin popped out the far side of the copter and flew on ahead. As fast as a small plane, but so much tinier and vastly more maneuverable, he was damn near impossible to hit. But he could sweep out any anti-aircraft fire and make safe Dustoff's approach.
The copter passed over the 'motor pool'; one quick glance at Val and I hopped out. A good hundred-foot drop, but at least it was onto pavement. If I hit dirt after a jump like that, I'd usually sink down in to my knees. Annoying.
The asphalt cratered but my boots survived. Probably the most expensive custom footgear in the world - steel-belted Kevlar. I charged at the pair of old trucks parked by the fence. Long seconds passed without any response; even now, paranormals are rare enough that actually seeing one tended to put people off-balance. Coming so soon after a bunch of explosions and the power going out, you can imagine the guerrillas were a little disorganized. The shooting didn't start until I was almost to my first targets.
As I said, though, I'm bulletproof, so I paid it no mind. I simply grabbed the front of the first truck and flipped it over. Then the same for the other one.
Next step was disabling the cars. Nothing fancy, just smashing a wheel or two on each. Bam, bam, bam. They could be salvaged by our employers but nobody would be retreating in them.
Unfortunately, I'd gotten too wrapped up in the job, ignoring the bullets careening off my back. It was the low-tech weapon that got my attention. A Molotov cocktail whipped over my shoulder into the jeep in front of me. A cloud of flaming gasoline splashed in my face.
Heat travels by conduction, convection, and radiation. The first two couldn't get through my field, but the last one had no trouble. Ever swim in a cold pool, then jump in a hot tub? It was like that, from the waist up.
I responded by reflex. A unique reflex, I admit, but it wasn't thought out. The field that normally hugged my skin pulsed out several feet around my upper body. My burning clothes - and the jeep I stood next to - were hurled away and I could breathe again. But I still felt the heat; my pants were on fire too. A second pulse and they were gone. I drank in the delicious coolness.
Of course, except for some smoking boots I was now buck naked in the middle of a battleground.
Goddammit, not again! My headset was junked, I was out of radio contact. Well, they could keep tabs on me through Clyde but I couldn't get new orders.
It was annoying, embarrassing. At least here it wasn't immediately life-threatening. Try being half-naked on a fucking glacier at nineteen thousand goddamn feet - now that was a clusterfuck. Still, our eventual success at Siachen had helped get us this job.
Anyway, I was done ignoring the enemy. I brought my hands up and pointed at the nearest guerillas. The field leapt out again, and they went flying as though they'd been hit by a bus. Already running, I gestured at the final jeep; the side nearest me imploded. Screw salvage. They'd pissed me off.
Okay, fine, they'd scared me. Damn RENAMO for being adaptable. By now they'd learned I didn't like fire much, so the remaining forces were adjusting their tactics. Hopefully too late to do them any good.
One more hit on a clot of gunmen and the rest broke. Some fled into the forest, others retreating deeper into the base. I chased a group of them toward the arsenal. Veronique and I were assigned to materiel; the rest were on antipersonnel.
A low building was in my way. As I ran I pointed my palms at the ground and shot my field out. I could push objects away from me, remaining unmoved. Or, at my discretion, I could push myself off things. This time I popped into the air, landed on the roof, and kept jogging to the far side.
It didn't make physical sense. It violated conservation of momentum, and probably energy too. But ever since the White Event, the "Laws Of Physics" had apparently become the "Suggestions Of Physics, But If You Want To Do Something Else, Hey, Y'know, That's Cool Too."
I hopped down off the roof; the building where the insurgents stored their weapons was already under siege. Screams and crackles and flashes of light filled the narrow 'square' out front.
Veronique scared the crap out of me. She - if gendered pronouns still applied - was basically nothing but a woman-shaped lump of ball lightning. Maybe she'd been crazy before the Event. Probably becoming - in effect - an electrical ghost had pushed her over the edge. Either way she was flatout nuts. She killed with relish, and for no particular reason. God alone knew how Thame had convinced her to join Scylla and not kill her teammates. Besides shelter from the rain, what did she even need anymore?
I watched another pair of soldiers get fried. She could have done it instantly; instead it lasted many seconds. I pursed my lips but moved on to the door.
Kicking it in, I got a surprise - an RPG right in the chest. It startled me some, but it ended up worse for the guys inside - most of the explosion backflashed onto them. Still, better me than Veronique. Although bullets only irritated her, nobody was sure she could survive a major disruption like a grenade.
I secured the interior. Crushing a gang of half-stunned gunmen - gunboys, almost, for a couple of them - was pretty distasteful. Thing is, I couldn't let anyone use the weapons on my compatriots, or me. And shooting off guns around explosives is generally a bad idea.
You can't be in this line of work for long without getting at least somewhat desensitized. Once the job was done, I loaded up a bulky machine gun - looked to be a Soviet PK - with an ammo box and peeked out the door.
Veronique hovered among a dozen smoking bodies; nobody else was visible. She saw me motion her over, and glided my way. In air, she couldn't move faster than a brisk walk. Of course, along a conductor she moved ... well, like lightning.
I didn't speak French. Hand signals were enough. I left her guarding the front door and launched myself onto the roof of the makeshift armory. I scooted to the far side to cover the rear.
Finally, a chance to listen. An explosion, somewhere off to the left. Small and medium-arms fire all over. Confused shouting in a couple of dialects. About the way it should be. The main FRELIMO force would be here soon; they'd meet a disorganized resistance at most.
Although the morning sun was warm, the breeze was still a mite brisk, making my private areas ... well, huddle for warmth. My endowments were not in the porn star category. Not below average, I hasten to add, but certainly not paranormal. Being naked as often as I was, not always in tropical climes, made me a little anxious sometimes.
A flurry of gunfire sounded from down to my right. I opened up with the PK and drove whoever it was back. We traded fire for a few volleys, then he fell silent, either wounded or changing position. Motion by a wall ahead of me; I fired a short burst. A sharp, pained scream that faded to a gurgle.
You might well ask, 'why bother with the gun'? My parabilities are dangerous, but the field's invisible. I point, and things get smashed. Magic powers are foreign to most people's experience; you'd be amazed how often they just don't make the connection. An automatic weapon, on the other hand... that's a threat people grasp immediately. Even wielded by a naked dork.
The chaos was getting closer. Colin buzzed low overhead on one of his sweeps. A smuggler before the Event, he'd already been something of a tough cookie. Gaining the ability to fly had made him a terror.
Some tiny noise made me turn; a grunt, maybe. I saw a small hurled object arcing toward me from a hut to my right. A grenade, I realized. At the same time, a group charged in from my left, guns blazing.
Before I could respond, Val dashed past me, leaping off the roof; she snagged the grenade right out of the air, and whipped it fastball-style back into the hut. I didn't quite catch whatever quip she made - something about my culo.
She had already rolled into a flip, drawing her other pistol. While spinning, she got off five shots, so fast no one would believe she only wielded semi-automatics. By the time she landed on the ground all the men I could see were dead. Not pausing a moment, she raced around the corner, as fast as if she were riding a motorcycle. More reports echoed back; doubtless more perfect shots. The grenade went off; the hut's roof sagged and somebody screamed.
Val had been a professional gymnast once. Now she was the world's greatest athlete, with superhuman agility, strength, and speed. She wasn't bulletproof like me, but her modus operandi was being somewhere else when the gun went off. That, and a fair amount of Kevlar.
A flurry of gunshots from my right; one ricocheted off my ear. Startled, I whirled around and tried to squeeze off a volley. Instead, my convulsive jerk on the trigger crushed the entire grip assembly. There are definite problems with being ludicrously strong.
"Fuck!" I bellowed in irritation. Chucking the ruined gun aside, I began punching out with my field. In less than a minute, the three nearest huts were rubble.
It was quiet for a minute or two, then a few crackles and screams carried from the front of the armory. I'd scared them off my end, but Veronique didn't bother with scare tactics. Not to scare people away, at least. If they got close, though ... well, you've seen cats playing with mice.
There was almost no warning at all. Everything got brighter - imagine the sun suddenly peeking from behind clouds. Except there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
I exploded the field out of my feet - wrecking my boots - and shot into the air on an angle, spinning like a curveball. I landed a full three seconds later, smashing down onto a tent, which collapsed around me. I scrambled for a moment, shredding cloth, still dazzled. Then I flipped over and burst the cocoon into scraps with a pulse of my field.
Remember what I said - that our opponents are allowed to be smart or dishonorable or lucky? Here was a prime fucking example of all three at once.
RENAMO was playing their ace in the hole. A paranormal that could affect light. Redirect it, disperse it, concentrate it. Doesn't sound so bad, right? But consider - what if day suddenly became night for your forces, but not your enemies? Kind of a problem. And remember - a basic two-inch magnifying glass can torch bugs when the sun is up. We didn't know how much area she could affect, exactly, but between dawn and dusk she had melted government trucks.
Oh, and our best guess put her at around fifty-five years old.
This wasn't a time for farting around. I ran as fast as I could for the nearest building and plowed right through the wall. Had to stay out of sight. My entrance surprised some lurking militants, but it didn't take long to to secure the space. Keeping an AK-47 on hand, I carefully peeked out a window toward the arsenal.
Dammit, she wasn't supposed to be here! We'd never have mounted a daytime assault otherwise. The radio exchanges Clyde intercepted had put her retreating west to Odzi ... Well, that's counterintelligence for you. Sometimes you get suckered. Of course, it was hard to be philosophical about such things when you were in imminent danger of being vaporized. At least Clyde would let Thame know what I'd seen, so he could pass it on to the rest of us.
Weird shadows and strobes made the air shimmer over there. They'd have to be careful, too much heat could set off the ammo. Heat and light shouldn't hurt Veronique, I'd think. Although ... air heated up to a plasma would conduct. That's what lightning was, basically. Which might hurt her ... shit. Guesses, that's all anybody had these days. Heck, for all we knew the "Senorah da Luz" had other powers we didn't know about.
I sure thought hard for a second about getting closer. Veronique was a teammate, but there was no camaraderie there. Still, for all I knew, Thame was sending Val that way right now. I couldn't take the chance.
Much more carefully than before, I made my way back, shifting from cover to cover. I got in a brief firefight with some normals, but not having to keep my head down much is a hell of an advantage. I made it in under five minutes. By then everything was dark, like late afternoon or heavy overcast.
Except for the spot shining like an arc welder that swung about, casting crazy shadows in the square. Each time it barreled through Veronique she hissed and dodged. Apparently it could hurt her. More like a taser prod than a mortal wound, though, if I was any judge.
I finally spotted the Senorah in an alley to one side. Jesus, she was small; nutrition in rural Africa wasn't like in America. She looked more like sixty-five to me. A RENAMO handler crouched next to her. It was hard to get a good bead, the shifting light left wobbly trails in my vision; I wished I still had my sunglasses. But if I could give her a good shove with my field, we could knock her out and take her with us. Without her help, RENAMO would fold. And Thame was hoping to recruit her anyway.
I took my time, lining up my shot. Then a brilliant scintillation dazzled me for a few moments. I blinked my sight clear, squinted and raised my hand...
Her throat exploded. She dropped like a puppet with the strings suddenly cut, and her head lolled back in a way that clearly indicated she didn't have a spine in her neck anymore. The handler whirled, but all that meant was the second shot got him in the chest instead of the back.
While I watched, numb, Potiphar stepped into view from the alley beyond, and pumped two more shots into each of the corpses, just to be sure. Fuck he was good. I hadn't a clue he was sneaking up on them. He cocked his head for a moment, probably listening to Thame berate him, and stalked off to the north.
What made it worse in a way was how the whole scene brightened up. A second dawn, almost, as the sunlight went back to following sane trajectories. If it had been a movie scene, you'd have heard a choir - the monster is destroyed!
But she was just an old woman, forced to do the bidding of the thugs who held her grandchildren hostage. I could see a puddle of blood forming under her from where I stood.
Things settled down soon after that. I'm sure a fair number of the insurgents got away on foot. They had no stomach for fighting us, really. Not after the hash we'd made of them over the previous weeks. Lacking anything better to do, I resumed my post behind the arsenal.
A few minutes later, Colin swooped low and hovered above me. "'S'all over. The sodding rebels all scarpered. Thame says hold the fort." Then he hurtled off to watch the perimeter. I kept watch, mostly reassured. Colin would have said something if we'd lost anyone. I was pretty sure, anyway.
A truck stuffed with FRELIMO troops arrived about twenty minutes later, just when I was starting to worry about sunburn. While a handful of the soldiers gave me funny looks, the officer in charge affected not to notice I was 'out of uniform'. I don't know if he was scared of me, or if he just really didn't want to talk to Veronique.
I brought them around front and waved her down. She just floated off. I formally turned the building over to the troops and hightailed it after her, back to the parking lot. Our chopper idled, the others gathered around, boarding it already. Colin chatted with our local liaison to the government forces.
More soldiers were fanning out to secure the area. They gave us a wide berth. Who could blame them? In the space of a month, we'd broken the back of an insurgency they'd been fighting for years.
Welcome to charming Mozambique. The Marxist FRELIMO had wrested control from the Portugese over a decade ago. Despite military and economic support from the Soviet Union, the place was a mess. FRELIMO had sheltered and funded insurgents in neighboring Rhodesia and South Africa. In return Rhodesia founded and financed RENAMO, the 'Mozambican National Resistance', which had been sabotaging and massacring ever since. After white rule ended and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, South Africa took over the franchise. They'd been lending support and intel and training for eight years now, and at this point Mozambique was deeply fucked.
FRELIMO wasn't exactly the side of the angels, either. Like most revolutions they'd started out with high hopes, but the civil war and economic collapse had eroded goodwill all around. "Re-education camps", secret police ... it was probably hard for most civilians to see much difference. Literally millions of refugees were trying to flee the situation. In the end, the government had more money, though. So that's who we worked for.
I climbed into the chopper. Veronique's Leyden jar was secured in a plastic frame - she didn't have power lines to travel on out here.
Potiphar silently handed me a blanket, but the slight smile on his face said it all. Val made a little "Aw" sound as I wrapped it around myself and sat down. Well, not so little if I could hear it over the sound of the engine. I grabbed a pair of headphones and put them on so we could converse without shouting.
"You're clear, mate," Colin was saying from the ground; his helmet and facemask were patched into our channel. The chopper lifted up and rose swiftly. We vectored off to the north.
Val smirked, as usual. "Again you lose your clothes. Come, you do this to tease me, no?"
Under other circumstances, I might have blushed. Right now our banter was a tad forced. "Not my fault they can't make a uniform as tough as me."
Then Colin swooped into the still-open door. I was a little surprised. He could have flown all the way back to the capital, and he didn't usually ride with us. "Love the haircut," he quipped as he sat down.
Val motioned me to bend over. Quizzically, I did so, and she ran her hand on my skull and along my cheek. "Tsk. Come una pesca. At least you still have di sopracciglia. Eyebrows." I kept my hair short anyway, but the Molotov had burned a lot of it off. Unless I deliberately pushed it out, the field clung to my body very tightly. I usually had at least a couple days growth of beard because of it, and my fingernails were longer than I'd like. I could only trim them so close; the field wouldn't retract below a certain distance.
Colin sounded like he was grinning behind his facemask. "He keeps forgettin' to duck, he'll lose more than eyebrows someday."
"Oh, suck me, James," I groused. As comebacks go, it was lame, but he hated to be called by his first name.
"Isn't that her job?" he retorted, flicking a thumb Valeria's way. She affected an offended look, but couldn't fully hide her smile.
Clyde just smiled, too, from his station at the back. Of course, I would have been shocked if the albino had said anything; he was mute. I'd never managed to find out if he'd been that way before becoming a paranormal or not.
Ironically, he was the lynchpin of our communications. He could directly receive and broadcast a broad range of radio waves. More, he could generate complex signals - if he wanted, he could become a living TV camera, showing on a screen what his eyes and ears picked up.
What confused the hell out of me was that he could do that to other people. He could touch them and set up an interface of some kind, receiving what they saw and heard, and transmitting it on if he wanted. A bank of VCRs stowed in the rear of the copter had taped our exploits today for detailed review later.
I mean, fuck knows how that worked. In some ways, it made less sense than my paranormality. But he could do it anyway. At least it made debriefing a lot simpler.
Potiphar gave every appearance of ignoring the repartee and just leaned back in his seat against the wall, impassive. His English wasn't all that great, anyway. Oddly enough, it was really only the normals on our team that went by superheroish nicknames. Named after Pharaoh's executioner in the Bible, he didn't need powers to be a damn good killer. And Harry, the chopper pilot, who insisted on being called Dustoff.
"Let's just get out of here, okay?" I said sullenly, hoping to end the conversation.
"Rest of us held onto our radios, mate," Colin said with a bit more edge. The teasing had a serious undercurrent. What if one of my squadmates had needed me to go lend them support? What if I didn't get a warning in time, and knocked down a building they were in? Small, elite, powerful units could accomplish a lot ... but they had to be coordinated.
The ribbing was interrupted by our commander's voice on the headsets. "Good work, everyone. Our employer is pleased and we've been paid the early-completion bonus. We'll hold debriefings this evening at the hotel, starting at 1700 hours. Until then, amuse yourselves as best you can."
Hearing Thame speak was always just that touch surreal. Ever see an optical illusion that can be viewed two ways? You know, maybe if you look at it one way it's a figure of a young girl, but if you blink you can see it as an old woman's face?
His voice is like that, only you can't switch how you hear it. He speaks in tongues - not the gibberish of the fundamentalist weirdos, but the real deal. If I try to pick up individual syllables, I can sort of tell he's speaking his native Greek. But when I listen to whole words or sentences, that melts away and I hear perfect, midwestern American English. Val hears Italian, Potiphar hears Egyptian.
It's disconcerting, but you get used to it. Lord knows we'd gotten used to stranger.
An hour and a half later the chopper landed in the main base at the capitol, Maputo. An intoxicant-laden and raucous celebration was in progress. Guns firing in the air, chants and songs. The troops could hardly believe how fast our little group had turned things around. They were almost superstitiously worshipful.
I think Colin got off on that, but the rest of us were either indifferent or uncomfortable. Thame had a couple trucks - and fresh clothes - waiting and we were whisked off to the best hotel in Mozambique. Mind you, a five-star hotel in the third world isn't much better than a three-star hotel in the first world, but it was plenty comfortable compared to a military bivouac. I felt a little sorry for Mutabe; we wouldn't be seeing him before we left. He couldn't be on land for long anymore.
Siegfried and Susana stuck with Thame as we split up. He always had some paranormal security, in addition to Stephan and Alejandro, his normal bodyguards. While most of the group went to the elevators, Val went over to the restaurant. I almost followed her - the field meals hadn't been all that appetizing - but instead I gave her a little wave and took the stairs. A chance to exercise. Plus I wanted to reflect a little. Even I was a little shocked at how definitive our victory had been.
It wasn't just power, it was that Thame knew how to use it. Clyde was a one-man SIGINT division; even the fancy frequency-hopping radios the South Africans used were nothing to him. More, he could instinctively triangulate where the signals were coming from, the kind of thing that normally took an AWACS overflight. And Thame didn't just speak in tongues - he automatically understood what people were saying, even through codes and slang and circumlocutions. After one week in-country, they grasped RENAMO's organization and deployments better than its leaders did.
At that point, Colin started playing merry hell with the airdrops South Africa sent. Planes have to be light to fly; a simple magnetic grenade did horrific things to flight surfaces. Mutabe watched the coasts, sinking boats that tried any drop-offs. Potiphar, Susana, and Siegfried harassed the truck convoys. Practically overnight, RENAMO's supply lines were shut down.
Meanwhile Val, Veronique, and I supported FRELIMO's troops in a huge, coordinated offensive. We forced RENAMO to expend their remaining supplies rapidly, attacking multiple sites per day. Insurgent forces usually melted into the brush when the heat got too intense, but we simply didn't give them time. Their losses were catastrophic.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all us. We made the key difference, though. We were the catalyst - a very precise metaphor, actually. A catalyst speeds up a chemical reaction without being consumed itself. We sure didn't intend to get consumed, and we changed the military situation but quick.
For example, both sides used mines extensively - but Siegfried or I could clear minefields in bulk. If normal troops got bogged down or met exceptional resistance, paranormals could break the logjams quickly, preserve the momentum. Plus, defeat on top of continual defeat just slaughtered RENAMO'S morale. Desertion became rampant.
Today's raid had sealed the deal. RENAMO wasn't totally dead, and neither were their bankers ... but they'd lost their best asset, la Senhorah da Luz, and it'd be years before they could regroup to mount any serious offensive. FRELIMO would have a free hand practically everywhere in Mozambique for a while.
Who knows, it was just imaginable that some of the civilians and refugees might wind up slightly better off.
With that semi-cheery thought, I reached my room. I unlocked and shoved open the door. Nobody behind it, so I stepped in and closed the door behind me. Automatically, methodically, I began a sweep. Counterclockwise, moving along one wall, checking each space off in turn, until I'd come back to the door. Habit fulfilled, I went back over to the closet and got out my bags. The sooner I was on a plane out of here, the better.
Packing didn't take long, so I had some time to kill. I got out a bottle of pop and pulled the cap off by hand - no bottle-openers needed for me. Carbonation killed germs, and I wasn't going to trust the water here. My immune system wasn't paranormal, after all.
The other disinfecting option was alcohol, but I don't need help breaking things.
I'd long since read all the books I'd brought, so I switched on the TV. They had a satellite feed of CNN. Then I did what I always did with any downtime - I worked out. Like a diabetic tracking their blood sugar.
The field amplified my natural strength; the harder I pushed, the more pressure it put out. That meant the stronger I was - the greater the range of forces my actual muscles could exert - the finer was my control over the field. So I dropped to the floor and started some one-arm pushups.
Not to brag, but by now I was built. I wasn't 'ripped' and fatless like a bodybuilder, though. My muscles were dense and compact, like a gymnast: they weren't for show. Strength and endurance was the priority, not size. My exercise routine needed little of my attention; it was practically burned into my spinal reflexes. I had no trouble following the news reports.
"Kuwait renewed its protests at the U.N. today," intoned the announcer, "stating that vessels from Greater Iran were interfering with shipping in the Persian Gulf. The Kuwaiti delegate also cited 'ominous' troop buildups across the border with former Iraq."
There was an unsettling situation. The Iran-Iraq war had ended late last year. A brokered meeting between Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khomeini had ended with Hussein converting on the spot from Sunni to Shi'ite and pledging his whole country over to Iran. There had been some turmoil in the transition, but Greater Iran was now solidly welded together.
And welded shut. Thame had learned from his contacts that intel was nearly impossible to get out of there. Nobody criticized the regime ... for long, anyway. They'd have a forced 'audience' with Khomeini and wind up the newest, biggest fan of him and his theocracy.
It was a reasonable bet that some world leader would end up a paranormal. But why did it have to be him?
Mind control terrified me. The idea of someone screwing with my thoughts and feelings ... Fuck, I'd much rather die.
Business news came next. "Tension in the Gulf region drove oil prices higher again today..." As if the world economy needed more stress. Savings and loan firms going under, oil prices spiking, the whole east coast of the U.S. under an ash cloud ... Uncertainty was a bad thing for investors and financiers, and these days even settled natural laws were unreliable.
"The market closed slightly higher today, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaching 1,839 points..." I listened to the bleak financials without much real interest, moving on to sit-ups. My portfolio wasn't doing all that well; but nobody's was, really, and I had to put the money somewhere.
"In politics, with the Republican convention only days away there is a great deal of speculation regarding vice-presidential candidates. GOP leaders privately acknowledge that President Bush needs to find a response to Michael Dukakis' surprise pick for the Democratic vice-presidential slot, political outsider Philip Voight."
Another sign of the times. Voight had been a psychology professor, and switched to parapsychology at the right time. His foundation, the "Institute For Paranormal Research," wasn't laughed at anymore. The Congressional testimony he'd given late last year, when Pittsburgh finally forced the world at large to admit that weird shit was happening, had gained him national celebrity.
They played a sound bite from his acceptance speech: "The challenges that our great nation faces, that the world faces, cannot be overcome with conventional thinking. We need leadership that will bring fresh ideas, a new vision. Governor Dukakis has demonstrated just that brand of leadership in Massachusetts, and I am proud to..."
The knock I'd more than half expected came at the door. I got up from my sit-ups, switched off the tube, and checked through the sight. It was Val, of course. She often got frisky after combat.
I let her in. "Kinda hoped you'd visit..."
"But of course I came! With you flashing your naked body around like that? The scandal!" Quickly she jumped onto me, wrapping her arms and legs around me and planting her lips on mine.
Very deliberately, I tapped the door closed with my foot. It still slammed shut with a bang, but at least I didn't break anything. Even more deliberately, I carried her toward the bed. Much of my attention was on her mouth and I didn't want any accidents.
She surprised me by letting go early and dropping to the floor. Looking up at me with mischievous eyes, she peeled off her clothes. I started doing the same. "Took you long enough to get here," I teased.
"I like it when you're already sweaty," she proclaimed as she slid her pants and panties off. Valeria in profile is a sight I love, clothed or not. But deshabille is best.
I finally twigged to her intentions when she flipped my suitcase off the bed to the floor, and stepped onto it. She bent forward, grabbed the edge of the desk, and spread her legs slightly.
My smile widened. Our usual female-superior was nice - actually, very nice. I had no complaints about it; Val's level of muscular control was, as I said, superhuman. But variety is the spice of life, and our positional options were limited. Twice we'd tried me on top ... but I was so scared I'd squash her like overripe fruit that it hadn't been fun for either of us.
So long as she had some space to maneuver, though, I couldn't hurt her doing it from behind. If I thrust a little too aggressively, her superlative reactions could compensate. But she was so short she needed something to stand on.
I took my station and carefully slid in. My field was better than any lube - like a thin coating of oil all over my skin - but she was ready. Every part of her body had a fast reaction time now. I began to pump.
Val had been my first, and was likely to remain my only. I'm stronger than a lot of major earthmoving equipment; it takes a special kind of woman to want to mess around with that. She seemed to regard sex with me as another extreme sport. It didn't bother me - a month ago I'd been convinced I'd never have sex at all.
She'd helped me make up for lost time, though. Borderline hyperactive by normal standards, she had inexhaustible enthusiasm for nearly everything. Then again, you'd seem impatient too if - from your perspective - everyone else moved and thought like tranquilized geriatrics. Her cry of release announced she was climaxing already.
She flexed away, popping me out of her. Immediately, though, she laid her pussy on top of my dick, sliding back and forth. She pressed down hard, giving herself clitoral stimulation while my head and shaft got rubbed. We could do this better than normals, even - my cock alone could support her entire weight if we wanted.
And there was another thing I could do that normals couldn't. I visualized slight ridges rising along my shaft; her ride got a fraction bumpier as my field shifted down there to match. She came again in less than a minute.
Val slacked off not a moment; once she was done she executed a maneuver that would have won her top scores if there were a Sexual Olympics. She hopped up off me, simultaneously flipping over. A leg whipped past my face, making me blink. Then her legs wrapped around my waist and she enveloped me with unerring accuracy. She was now leaning back, arms supporting herself on the edge of the desk. A normal woman would doubtless have found it uncomfortable, but Val could hold a position like that for hours if she didn't get bored first.
It gave me a view of her precious tits, though, so I tried to keep her from getting bored. Thrusting vigorously, I reached one hand forward to gingerly fondle a nipple. My other hand glided along her flank. I had to be careful to leave her an avenue of retreat...
Even her orgasmic rhythm was up-tempo; I felt the rabbit-heartbeat pulsing around me as she came again. My unofficial rule was to let her climax three times or so before I let myself go. I finally quit focusing on distractions and came shortly after. I was probably getting conditioned to be a premature ejaculator, but what the hell.
Val practically bounced off the desk and wrapped her arms around my neck. We kissed again happily. As was our typical pattern, I didn't pull out as I deflated. Instead I played with my field a little, giving her internal stimulation in ways no normal penis could manage. Another minute, and she orgasmed one last time.
Finally she let go and slithered off me. She quite unselfconsciously found my underwear and used it to wipe herself off down there. I could hardly object; I'd always admired her practicality. Hell, less laundry for me to take home.
We got dressed again. As I changed into civvies, she sat on the bed, uncharacteristically quiet. I sidled up and sat down beside her, laying an arm across her shoulders. She leaned into me a little. "What's wrong? Seoul got you down?" The Summer Olympics would begin in just over a month. Val had competed twice, and never placed. If, somehow, she could go this time, she'd get every gold medal she tried for. Easily.
But she shook her head. "No. I'm just ... sad."
I wanted to kick myself. Val wasn't like Veronique or Colin or Potiphar. She didn't enjoy killing. Unfortunately, with her paranormality, she was spectacularly good at it. And she caused a lot less collateral damage than I usually managed.
Going into danger and surviving is exciting, life-affirming. Like I said, she was often amorous after a mission. But just as often she'd be depressed. This time, it was apparently both. Or she'd been using sex to drive away the guilt...
"Do you not wish things were different?" she asked quietly, in the face of my silence.
"You know I do. I wish the Event never happened. But then we wouldn't have met," I said, giving her a gentle squeeze.
It didn't cheer her up. She sat there for several seconds - a long time by Val standards - and then she turned and stared intensely into my eyes. "What if we ran away?"
I sighed, shaking my head. "It won't work."
"We could just quit! Go, hide. To hell with the rest of the world!"
"No, we can't," I retorted desultorily. "Paranormals are too valuable. Ones like us, with actual military experience? Forget it." I shrugged. "At least with Scylla we have some autonomy."
"Yes, of course," she said bitterly. "We are free to follow directions."
"Val, that's how it is. We're hot commodities."
"Is that all I am to you? A thing, a toy?" she demanded.