Kiraling – Part 17 (Chapter 106-111)
Written by anonxyzus :: [Friday, 17 April 2020 00:01] Last updated by :: [Thursday, 22 April 2021 10:01]
When I arrived at SeaTac, I made my way to baggage claim, expecting to see Gloria. Instead, Xara was there. She greeted me with a kiss and a hug and held my hand while we waited for my baggage, making small talk. I was nervous, wondering if she would expect an answer to her proposal.
When my baggage arrived, I picked it up and went up the escalator with her, across the sky bridge, and took the elevator to the parking level where she was parked. She’d driven down from Bellingham in a Prius. But it wasn’t my Prius.
“Xara,” I said, “I thought you’d be more of a sports car girl.”
“Me too,” she said, “but mom doesn’t.”
We loaded my luggage into the car, got in, and as she was exiting the garage, said, “Mom won’t give me permission to marry you Joe. She says I shouldn’t put that kind of pressure on you.”
Thank you, Kara!
“Did you think about it, Joe?”
“I did Xara.”
“I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
She was quiet for a while. For a long while, for a woman. We were on I5 before she spoke again.
“I can wait, Joe.”
I had arrived during the Friday evening rush hour. Why do they call it ‘rush hour’? No one was rushing anywhere. Anyway, it was sunny and warm when I left Arizona. It was dark and raining like hell in Seattle when I arrived and the outside temperature was about 35, according to the Prius. The traffic was stop and go all the way to Everett according to the radio traffic reports.
“This traffic is terrible Joe.”
“It is Xara, but what can you do?”
“I can fly us.”
“I’ll get under the car, pick it up and fly. It’ll be easy.”
“Seriously? You’re going to fly, in this weather, carrying a car?”
She chuckled and said, “Oh ye of little faith,” and exited the freeway. I didn’t know where she was going, but she did. She drove us to Seward Park, on Lake Washington in Seattle and pulled into the first parking area. It was empty, why wouldn’t it be, the weather was awful.
She took off her seatbelt and stripped her clothes off. Just before she opened the driver side door, she looked at me and said, “No reaction, you must be on your meds.”
“I am. Xara, is this safe? Aren’t we under the SeaTac flight path?”
She opened her door and got out, looked up and said, “I can see air traffic. I’ll stay below it. Don’t turn on any lights in the car, in this dark no one will be able to see us.
“Keep your seatbelt on. If you have any problems, just call out to me, I’ll be able to hear you.”
Then she closed the door. The car tilted to the right, I thought it was going to roll over, but it didn’t, and then the right side came up and it was level. And then we slowly rose into the air and started accelerating to the north.
It was dark and raining very hard. I could barely see lights going by under us but had no way of judging how fast we were going or how high we were. And I have no idea what the cruising speed of a flying Prius is. The rain was hitting the windshield in sheets and the sound of it hitting the roof and the hood was like someone was throwing gravel at the car. I turned the wipers on, but it didn’t make any difference, so I turned them off.
The car was being buffeted by the wind, either from the actual wind or Xara’s airspeed. I don’t know which, but I found myself hanging on. It was not a smooth flight.
After about half an hour she landed, opened the door and got in, and dressed.
“We’re just outside of Alger,” she said, “traffic is light. We’ll drive the rest of the way.
“How did you like flying Air Xara?”
“Takeoff and landing were smooth, but the in-flight snacks and entertainment left much to be desired. And there was a lot of turbulence.”
“Next time I’ll bring a bag of chips for you,” she said. “We were flying into swirling winds, that’s where the turbulence came from. You were never in any danger Joe.”
I believed her.
She talked to me about school for the rest of the drive and told me she wanted to introduce me to some of her friends. I told her I’d be happy to meet them.
We pulled off the main road onto the road to my cabin. It was still raining hard, so I wouldn’t have been able to see the neighbor’s houses unless they had lights on, and there were no lights. I guess I had this road to myself now.
Xara pulled into my driveway, popped the rear hatch, and we got out and grabbed my bags, then ran to the porch. The light was on, and Gloria was there to greet us at the front door.
“Did Joe’s flight land early? I thought it would take you another hour to get here.”
“We flew,” said Xara.
“Are you hungry Joe?” Gloria asked.
“I am,” I said. “They only had snacks on the flight.”
“I bought chicken at Costco,” she said. “I’ll warm it up. I have chocolate chip cookies too.”
The cookies were on a plate on the dining room table. Xara and I each grabbed one and then we took my bags to my bedroom. On my dresser was a piece of stone in an acrylic cube, the remains of Little Joe. Next to it was the framed photograph of Xara taken from the space station. She had signed it.
“You signed the picture Xara?”
“It’s been all over the internet Joe, so I signed yours. Someday it might be worth a lot of money!”
I’m not sure if she was being serious.
We left my room, and I went looking for the changes they had made to the cabin. On the side of the cabin next to the woods there was a new room. I opened the door and looked in, found the light switch and turned on the light, and looked around. There was a very wide staircase that went down about twelve feet. I walked down the stairs and at the bottom, about eight feet away, there was another set of stairs going up to a double door, like the kind for the outside entrance of a storm cellar.
To the left of the stairs I had come down was a long corridor heading back under the cabin. I walked down it a few feet and came to a door. There was a pad on the wall next to the door that looked like the pad on the communications device Kara had showed me. I put a finger on the pad and the door slid open, into the walls, like those doors on Star Trek. I walked through the door into a sizeable room, with other doors along the wall. In the center of the room, there was a row of consoles.
Xara gave me a tour.
“Over here is your principal work area Joe. All he equipment here can be operated from these consoles. Gloria will teach you how to use them.”
She took me through the various rooms. There were six small bedrooms, a bathroom with toilet, sink and shower, a fully equipped kitchen with a table and chairs, an exercise room with a Bowflex, treadmill and stationary bike and a room at the back that had another touch pad. There was a green light above the door.
“When the light is green, it’s safe to open the door.”
I touched the pad, and the door opened into an 12x12 room. There were hooks and benches along walls. There was another door in the floor. Xara touched a pad that closed the main door, then another that resulted in air coming into the room from vents along the ceiling. I could feel the air pressure increasing, and when it stopped, a door in the floor opened.
“This room is airtight Joe,” said Xara, “This opening leads to a tunnel that goes out to the deepest part of the lake. It’s an entrance for me, mom, Sharon and any other Velorian visitors.
“Air pressure keeps the water from coming up into this room. If you opened both doors at the same time, the water would come up and flood the rest of the basement. You can only have one door open at a time.”
“That door,” I said, pointing to the floor, “looks a lot bigger than necessary to accommodate three Velorians.”
“Some equipment in this facility came in through that door, Joe. Including the pods. We can use this to enter and leave the cabin when we want to be careful about avoiding detection.”
“You never worried about that before,” I said.
“Now that you’re working from here, mom wants to increase security awareness.”
She touched the pad again and the door in the floor closed, the air pressure went down, and the door back into the rest of the basement opened. She took me down to the far side of the basement, and by now we were well past the cabin’s foundation, and there was a version of her workshop. She had air tanks and two pods.
“I have two pods here and two back at home. I’ll probably bring those two up, since I’m going to be spending most of my time in Bellingham for the next few years.”
Then she turned and looked up and said, “Gloria says dinner is ready.”
We went back up into the cabin to the dining room table and there Gloria had baked potatoes and two Costco chickens. The rotisserie kind. She cut up the chickens and dished it out, she and Xara had a lot more on their plates than I had on mine, and we had dinner. After dinner, Xara excused herself to go back to her dorm and Gloria gave me a tour of the above ground changes to my cabin.
There was a new breaker panel in the laundry room. The cabin still ran on utility power, but in the case of a power outage, the gas fueled generator would not kick in. Instead, the cabin would be powered by ‘energy cells’ in the basement. Those same energy cells powered all the equipment in the basement and had enough excess capacity to get me through, well, Gloria told me, but I found it hard to believe. According to her, the energy cells would be going strong long after I was dead.
We climbed up into the attic to look around. Where before I had insulation batting between the joists, I now had a new floor. Gloria told me the batting had been removed. I couldn’t identify the material the floor was made of. Gloria said it was the same material as my new roof and it was a better insulator than what I had before.
We went back downstairs into the living room where Gloria pointed out my new big screen TV. She said that was Xara’s idea. She picked up a remote control, it was obviously not for the TV, pushed a button and I heard motors whirring and looked around and saw shutters descending over all the windows. She said they were there for security and were bullet proof. And the remote control allowed me to lower all the shutters at once, or by zone, each room was a zone. I asked her why I needed that. She said by lowering just the living room shutters I could still have natural light come into the cabin from other windows while eliminating glare on the TV screen. That was her idea.
I hadn’t noticed this before, but all the doors had been replaced. The same remote control that lowered the shutters could be used to bolt the doors. The sliding glass door opening to the patio had been replaced with one made from a bullet proof material it could be bolted shut too. I opened it and felt immediately that it was much heavier than the old door, but it slid easily along its tracks, all I had to do was overcome inertia and then it slid very easily.
As I thought about all the changes that had been made, it occurred to me that my cabin had been converted into a fortress.
“Gloria, why do I need bulletproof doors and windows?”
“What is the threat?”
“Who knows? Better to be safe than dead.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“Did you see your armory?”
“I have an armory?”
I followed her into my bedroom. She opened the nightstand and there was a Sig-Sauer P228 with three magazines. Next to it was my Ruger, with a box of ammunition.
“The pistol is your primary weapon; your revolver is a backup. Use them if you must but try to retreat to the basement if you can. Follow me.”
I followed her down the stairs to the basement and through the security door. Gloria closed it behind us.
“This door is very strong. From here you can call for help.”
She led me along the length of the basement to Xara’s workshop. On the back wall was another door with another pad.
“Open the door.”
I touched the pad and the door slid open and there was the armory. There was an M4 (love it!), magazines and ammunition for it, stereo night vision goggles, several smoke grenades, and a GAR. The handheld variety. There were also a couple of tactical vests, binoculars, knives and other sundries.
“You have fired a handheld GAR before, yes?”
“We will find a place to practice. If you face an Arion, you must be proficient with it.”
By this time, it was getting late.
“We will come back here in the morning and begin training on the use of the equipment.”
We went back upstairs. I took my evening meds and went to bed.
I woke up Saturday morning to find Xara standing over me. It was December. It was cold and rainy. And there she was wearing a top that bared her midriff and shorts that were very short. She was also barefoot.
“How long have you been here, Xara?”
“About twenty minutes. I didn’t wake you, did I?”
She lifted the covers and slid into bed next to me, pressed her body against mine and put her head on my shoulder. She draped her arm over my chest.
“You have thirty days off, right?” she asked.
“According to the Army. Gloria is putting me to work today.”
“I’m finished with my finals on the 14th. I was thinking I’d move my stuff in here…”
“Don’t get all huffy with me Joe. I’m moving into a new dorm in January. I need to stow my stuff over the break.”
“Oh. Okay. So, you were saying?”
“I thought we could try out the pod and take a tropical vacation. Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, maybe even New Zealand.”
“I don’t think New Zealand is in the tropics, Xara.”
“Well, no, but it’s late spring, almost summer there.
“You grew up here, right? Don’t the cold, dark rainy winters get you down?”
“You know, Xara, we really only have two seasons in Western Washington: rainy and rainier. We named a mountain after the second one.”
That got a laugh out of her.
“What do you say, are you in the mood for some sunshine?”
“I had all the sunshine I could have wanted in Arizona, Xara.”
“You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”
“Xara, my time belongs to your mother. She decides when I work and when I have leave. She’s invested a lot of time, energy and money in me. I think she’s entitled to a return on that investment.”
Gloria opened my bedroom door and said, “Breakfast will be ready in twenty minutes,” and then closed the door behind her.
“I want to see my new roof before breakfast Xara. Do you mind?”
“You’re silly,” she said, then kissed me, got out of bed and left the room.
I did my morning business, shaved and dressed then went out to the garage to get my ladder. It was still raining outside, and blowing, but I just wanted to get up to the roof and see it, I wasn’t going to climb onto it. I got the ladder out of the garage and set it up and was about to climb it when Xara came up behind me, put her arms around me, and floated me up above the roof.
“It’s too wet and windy for the ladder,” she said. “Do you want to go all the way around?”
“No, I just wanted to see the roof and gutters.” They looked good. Leaf Guard, I hoped they worked the way they said they did on TV.
She brought me down and I put the ladder back in the garage. Xara stopped me there and dried me with her heat vision. It felt very good.
At breakfast, Xara brought the subject of a vacation up with Gloria.
“Speak to your mother. I do what she tells me to do. She wants me to train Joe on his equipment and start him on Deep Teach, to learn our languages.”
“I can help with that!” said Xara. “I’m fluent in both.”
After breakfast we all went down to the basement. Gloria had me sit down and put a contraption over my head. It reminded me of the Krell Educator from the movie, Forbidden Planet. She made some adjustments, then had me lean back and close my eyes.
I opened my eyes and had a splitting headache. I checked my watch and was surprised to see that half an hour had gone by. Xara and Gloria were huddled over a console.
Xara turned to me and asked, “Are you okay, Joe?”
“My head hurts like hell Xara.”
“The headache will go away soon,” said Gloria.
Gloria turned back to the console. Xara went behind me and started massaging my temples.
“That’s helping Xara,” I said, and soon the headache was gone.
“I started you out at too high a setting,” said Gloria. “I have made adjustments. We can try again.”
As Gloria moved to put the Deep Teach contraption over my head, Xara’s arm shot out and grabbed her wrist.
“Give him a few more minutes,” she told Gloria.
Gloria nodded. Xara released her and went back to massaging my temples.
“My head doesn’t hurt anymore, Xara,” I said.
“Just five more minutes Joe,” she said, “then Gloria can try again. Now, close your eyes.”
I did, and after five minutes Xara stopped massaging me and I felt Gloria put the DT device on me again.
When I opened my eyes again Xara was bent over so her face was level with mine.
“Any headache Joe?”
“No Xara, I feel fine.”
“Good,” said Gloria. “We’ll use this as the base setting. We’ll adjust according to the results we get.”
“What results are we expecting? I mean, what’s this thing going to do?”
“There are Terran planets,” said Gloria, “that have relations with both Velor and Aria. They have developed a language curriculum for teaching the languages to their diplomats. Our friends from Kelsor adapted the curriculum for the Terran English language.”
“So this thing will teach me Arion and Velorian?”
“No. It will reinforce the lessons. Facilitate moving them to long term memory,” answered Gloria.
“It will help you learn faster Joe,” said Xara, “and I’ll help.”
The rest of the morning was spent showing me how to use the ‘curriculum’, which seemed simple enough, and then showing me how to use the other equipment.
Gloria said, “Kara has delivered the communication equipment to the Pentagon. Thursday at noon Pentagon time you and Sarah Moore are to exchange messages.”
After lunch, Gloria gave me a tour of all the other equipment, showed me the operations manuals and told me to read them, then called a car to take her to the Bellingham Airport to catch a flight to SeaTac, and from there to California. She’d be back mid-week to continue training me on the equipment.
After Gloria left, Xara and I went downstairs, and I started to go through the manuals. Oh. My. God.
“Xara, did Jarred translate these things?”
“He may have Joe, why?”
I pushed the manual I was looking at in front of her. She started reading it, then her eyes got big, and soon she was laughing. She read a paragraph aloud:
“On to power the transmitter. Page see 1 figure. Source power connected is? Not, connect then it. Page see 2 figure. On lights blue. On lights red power not on high. Power lower reset on again power. If lights red on page to troubleshoot 428.”
“After a week of this you will need a tropical vacation Joe.”
“You might be right Xara.”
“Do you have plans for the rest of the day Joe?”
“No. I think I’ll stay down here and try to figure this equipment out.”
“I have a couple of friends I’d like you to meet. Is it okay if I invite them to dinner? We’ll bring the food with us and cook it.”
“Great! See you about six then.” And she kissed me and left.
All the equipment had labels for the various buttons and dials. None of them were in English. I ran upstairs and got my label maker, then sat down with the manual and started making English labels. This would take a while.
Mona wrapped her legs around Aldrich to try to give him a little boost. He was thrusting into her as hard as he could, but she needed a little more if she was going to climax. Once he orgasmed, he was useless. For not the first time she wished Betas could emit pheromones like the Primes.
She was still trying to figure out what happened that changed him. Prior to his accident he was very full of himself, constantly bragging about how important he was and how much access he had to national secrets. His prior statements had convinced her, and Near Earth Command concurred, that he possessed intelligence about the Protector, or possibly Protectors, stationed on Terra.
The possibility that Velor had two Protectors on this planet sent a chill down her spine. But the evidence was there. Or was it? There was a photograph on social media of a soldier who had received an award, and in the background, two tall blonde women could be seen in the company of a general. Were these women Protectors? Were they using the award ceremony as a cover to meet with the American military? There were so many questions, and her source was not talking.
Since his accident he had become very tight-lipped about his work. He evaded her subtle questions. Would the trauma from his burns affect him that way? It didn’t make sense. He’d even stopped complaining about ‘that dyke bitch’ who worked for him.
Did he suspect she was a spy? No, that didn’t make sense either. He wouldn’t continue to make appointments with her if he suspected. And he isn’t clever enough to run a counterintelligence operation against her.
For the love of Skietra! He was ejaculating! Too soon! She pretended to orgasm with him, arching her back, trembling and making little cooing noises.
After Aldrich left, she wrote up and transmitted her contact report. She suggested that it might be time to recruit Aldrich as an asset, using the threat of disclosing his relationship with her as leverage. Near Earth command was reluctant to do that. It was, after all, an empty threat. NEC would never allow her to bring that kind of attention to herself. She had too many other highly placed sources to risk blowing her cover should Aldrich refuse and report her recruitment attempt to his superiors. She suggested that the opportunity to gain information on Velorian activities on Terra would be worth the risk. She hadn’t gotten any useful information out of him in months. She proposed making the threat, and if no information was immediately forthcoming, killing Aldrich on the spot and disposing of his body.
She didn’t think NEC would accept her proposal. The High Command was playing the long game with Terra.
After labeling the various consoles and equipment I changed into sweats and went into the exercise to try out the equipment in there. I had just finished 30 minutes on the stationary bike when I was startled by a loud buzzing sound. Then I heard it again. Then I heard a ding-dong sound, like a doorbell. I ran out of the room and looked at the security console, and there was Xara and two other girls at my front door. One of them pushed the doorbell and I heard that ding-dong sound again. I found out later the buzz I heard was the security system alerting me that someone had come onto the property. I wish Gloria had told me about that.
I ran upstairs and let the young ladies in. Xara, no Danni. Danni Danni Danni Danni Danni. Danni and the other girls came in and put their bags down on the table. Danni turned and kissed me, then introduced me to her two friends, Lisa and Julia. I excused myself to take a shower while they started dinner. We were having spaghetti. With Ragu sauce. In the shower I thought of my mom’s reaction the first and only time I ever suggested using sauce out of a jar instead of making it from scratch. It’s okay, I told myself. I could live on MREs, I could handle bad spaghetti sauce.
At dinner I learned that Lisa and Julia were also on what they called the ‘pre-med’ track. They were both freshman who met each other and Danni when they discovered they all had the same schedule of classes. Lisa and Julia were roommates, and Danni was going to move into the same dorm they lived in. As I listened to them tell their stories, it became clear to me that like Danni, Lisa and Julia were exceptional students.
“Joe,” said Danni, “Lisa and Julia would like to ask you about the shooting incident in Arizona. I told them you might not want to talk about it, and it’s okay if you don’t.”
They seemed like nice girls, so I said, “You can ask, but I may not answer. Okay?”
They agreed. Julia asked, “Were you scared, I mean, were you afraid of dying?”
“Yes, I was scared. No, I wasn’t afraid of dying.”
This gave them all pause. Then Lisa asked, “If you weren’t afraid of dying, then what were you afraid of?”
That answer seemed to kill the conversation for a bit. I guess none of them, including Danni, expected me to say that.
I had to break the silence; it was getting uncomfortable. So, I asked them which medical schools they wanted to attend. The answers were all over the map. On the top of Julia and Lisa’s list was the University of Washington. Danni’s first choice was Harvard. That started a discussion among the girls of the relative merits of the various schools and the difficulty of getting into them.
After dinner the girls cleaned up and did the dishes. They offered to leave the leftovers with me, and, out of politeness, I accepted. When they left, I went back downstairs to my bat cave… or should I call it the Inner Sanctum, or my lair? Anyway, I went downstairs to start working my way through the operations manuals.
I figured out how to send and receive messages to and from the other console in the Pentagon. I thought maybe I’d call that the bat phone. If Capt. Moore and I were going to be exchanging messages Monday, I hoped she had figured her machine out.
After a few hours of this I decided to call it a night. I took my meds and went to bed.
Janelle was dropped near a small town in a small Central American country. The Beta who had been placed there had found her an office and an apartment. He had also hired a driver for her.
At the rendezvous point he gave her keys, a map and the combination to a safe in her office that contained a sizeable amount of the native currency and her communication device. He told her the driver would meet her at her apartment the following morning. He told her the space number her car was parked in, in the parking garage of her apartment building.
Janelle watched as the Beta boarded the shuttle that would take him back to NEC, where he would await his next assignment.
As Janelle made her way into town, she reviewed her cover. She represented a foreign company, American; she was to say, that was looking for business opportunities in the area. Her actual mission was to assess the town, its population and environment, to determine if it was suitable for a pacification effort. Could the Empire win the hearts and minds of the local populace and establish a presence here? And could I do it without alerting the Velorian Protector on this planet?
She made her way to her office, let herself in and examined it. She opened the safe, the documents and currency were there just as she’d been told. She took a small amount of cash, locked the office and made her way to her apartment, twelve blocks away.
Inside her apartment she found a small, stocked pantry, appropriate clothing, and the amenities she would either need or be expected to have by the locals.
She hadn’t eaten in a while, so she cooked a dinner for herself. The foods and ingredients in the apartment matched what she had been taught in her training.
Janelle had been picked for this job because she had demonstrated an ability to work with and manage frails. At least that is how the High Command viewed it. Actually, she was extremely skilled at killing frails in the most sadistic ways possible, keeping them alive for as long as she could, in as much pain as they could tolerate and remain conscience, while she derived as much pleasure from their suffering and death as she could. And, with her mother, had learned how to get as much pleasure from them as sex toys as they were capable of. But she had also learned how to manage them as workers and picked up a degree in Veterinary Medicine in the process.
But for this job she needed a new attitude towards them, and she knew she would have to develop fresh ways of thinking about them. She had to think of them as people, not animals. She had to think in terms of him and her, rather than it. Their offspring were children, not kits or cubs.
On the planet where she had first come across frails they were the property of the Empire and were treated as such. That gave them a value equal to the amount of work they could do. When they could no longer work, or were deemed surplus, well, that’s when her fun would start. But now she had to develop them as allies and treat them as equals. Or make them think she thought of them as equals. Quite the undertaking, but she had trained for this and she knew she was capable.
In the morning there was a knock at her door. She looked through it and saw a rather small man in a cheap suit. She opened the door, and he just stood there with a stunned look on his face. Janelle was used to this. These ugly Terrans had very little exposure to true beauty.
Miguel looked up at Janelle and was shocked by what he saw. The most perfect features, the bluest eyes, breasts behind a blouse that were obviously not held up by a bra, and just as obviously didn’t need one. He tried to stammer out an introduction but couldn’t make the words come out.
Janelle smiled at the little Terran and held out her hand. “Good morning. I’m Janelle, you must be my driver, Miguel.”
Miguel nodded and shook her hand.
“Come in please Miguel, I’ll just be a minute.”
She stepped aside and let Miguel enter her apartment. She finished putting away her breakfast dishes and picked up her handbag.
“Will you take me to my office now, Miguel?” she asked with a smile.
“Yes. Yes senorita. Please, the car is in front of the building.”
Miguel led the way down the stairs and opened the car door for Janelle. She slid into the backseat. When Miguel got into the car, he started it and drove to her office.
Miguel opened the car door for Janelle. She thanked him and asked him if he had his pager. He nodded and showed it to her.
“Very well, Miguel. I’ll be in the office for a bit. I’ll page you when I need you again.”
As she climbed the stairs to her office, she thought she had handled Miguel very well. He was obviously intimidated by her stature and beauty, but she had expected that. She’d have to work on making the little man comfortable around her.
In the office, Janelle sat down with her maps of the area and studied them. She’d need to get to know the town and the outlying areas, both to satisfy her cover story, and to gather the information NEC needed to decide if this area could be pacified.
Satisfied that she was ready to start her explorations, she paged Miguel. Five minutes later there was a knock at her door, it was Miguel. She picked up her handbag and left the office. As they walked downstairs, she told him she wanted him to give her a tour of the town, starting with the business district.
As they drove down the various streets, she asked Miguel to describe the various businesses. He was happy to do so, and Janelle was pleased that the more he talked to her, the more comfortable he became with her. Most of the traffic on the street was bicycles and mopeds, she noted. A few cars, but not many, and none as new as hers. She filed this information away; she’d have to study the local economy.
When they came upon a small women’s clothing shop, Janelle asked Miguel to park. He did and got out and opened her door for her.
“I’m going into this shop,” she said. “Please accompany me.”
“Yes, senorita,” he replied.
As she stepped up onto the sidewalk, she heard horns blowing and men yelling. She turned to look and discovered that her presence had caused a traffic jam and a minor accident. All the men were looking at her and there were two bicycles tangled together on the street.
“Ah, frails,” she thought, “how easy it is to distract them.”
As she walked into the shop, the proprietor dropped everything he was doing to attend to her.
“Good morning senorita,” he said, “how may I help you?”
“I’m just looking,” Janelle replied, “if I need anything, I’ll send my driver to find you.”
“Yes senorita, of course,” he said.
Miguel looked around the shop. It wasn’t big enough for the owner to get lost in. All she would have to do is wave and he’d be there in seconds.
“Miguel,” asked Janelle, “does your wife buy her clothing here?”
“No senorita. My wife makes her clothes, and the clothes of our children too.”
“Did she make your suit?” she asked.
“No. This suit was my fathers. It was handed down to me when he died.”
Janelle thought about this for a few moments, then asked, “Miguel, who shops here?”
“Mostly the families of the wealthy, senorita, and the business owners and the large farmers.”
“I see,” she said.
She picked out a top that she liked and had Miguel track down the proprietor.
“I would like two of these,” she said.
“Of course," he said, "right this way senorita.”
Janelle and Miguel followed the proprietor to the counter, and he totaled up and presented her with the bill for the two tops. As she reached into her wallet, she realized that the price of each of those two tops was more than the weekly wage she was paying Miguel. This struck her as somehow being unjust.
When they returned to the car Janelle instructed Miguel to drive her through the residential areas. She wanted to learn more about how these frails lived.
Three hours later they had driven through all the residential and commercial areas of the town. She observed that the society was divided into three strata. The very wealthy, a minority with beautiful homes and cars, the well to do, with more modest homes and older cars, and the poor, the vast majority, living on top of each other in slums.
She pulled out her map and examined it and asked Miguel to pull over. She leaned forward with the map and pointed to an area of town they hadn’t gone through. “Miguel, will you take me here now?”
“Oh senorita,” he said, nervously, “that is a very bad section of town. It is controlled by the gangs and is a very dangerous place to be.”
From his reaction, she knew he was afraid to go there. So she sat back, smiled at him and said, “I think we’re done for the day. Take me back to my office and wait for me. When I’m finished there, you can take me home.”
That night, well after sundown, Janelle slipped out of her apartment and ran to the edge of the area of town Miguel said was controlled by the gangs. From a distance, she observed several armed males in the streets, on balconies and decks and in apartments. She stayed outside the area, in the shadows. She decided she should purchase dark clothing. While the gangsters were not a physical threat to her, she wanted to observe them without being observed.
I spent the weekend and the beginning of the week familiarizing myself with the manuals and the equipment. I discovered that some of the manuals had been translated much more competently than others.
Xara came for dinner every evening. We took turns cooking, and if you could forgive her penchant for processed foods, she wasn’t a bad cook.
Since Gloria was due back Wednesday morning, I laid in a large supply of chocolate chips, sugar, flour, everything she would need to drown herself in chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cakes. Xara would be finished with her finals Friday, and I promised to help her move her stuff out of her dorm and into the cabin Saturday.
She had been talking to her mom about letting me go to the tropics with her every day and every evening she apprised me of her progress. She was convinced she was wearing Kara down.
Tuesday evening was another dark and rainy night in Bellingham. When I looked out the window across the lake, I couldn’t make out any lights of the homes I knew were there. Xara suggested this would be an excellent time to try out the new subterranean entrance in the basement.
After dinner we went downstairs, and Xara changed into her flight suit. I put on the motorcycle suit with the helmet. Xara carried one of the pods into the tunnel entrance room, closed the door and we waited for the air pressure to increase. When it did, she opened the door in the floor. I got into the pod, strapped in and powered it up, and she lowered it into the water and guided it down and into the tunnel. It was too dark for me to see anything. I could feel movement, but I couldn’t see it.
Across my display I saw, “We’re coming to the surface now.”
Still too dark for me to see.
“We’re going to fly now.”
I felt the pod go from horizontal to vertical and felt us accelerating upward. After less than a minute we were above the clouds. What a difference! We went from dark, rainy and gloomy to moon and stars, and from up here it was a beautiful night!
We flew around for a while, and then Xara took us down and landed on one of the peaks of Chuckanut Mountain. It was just barely above the clouds. She opened the pod and let me out, then picked me up and floated up higher. Off in the distance I could see lights from Canada. She turned us around slowly so I could get a 360-degree view. She returned me to the pod and we went back to the cabin.
Back upstairs, as she was getting ready to leave, she started talking about her hoped for tropical vacation.
“There are two ways we can get from here to our destination. One is by taking a great circle route. The other is by taking a sub-orbital trajectory. That’s faster and the way I usually travel long distances but would subject you to higher g forces and isn’t as scenic.”
“Won’t most of the flight be over the ocean, Xara?”
“Yes, it will.”
“I’ve flown across the oceans before. There isn’t a lot to see.”
“Okay, sub-orbital trajectory it is then.”
Wednesday morning Gloria arrived while I was working out in the exercise room. I’d figured out how to monitor the security system from the displays in that room, so I wasn’t startled when she arrived. I went upstairs to shower, and she greeted me from the kitchen. She was making cookies.
After my shower, and while her first batch of cookies were cooling we went downstairs, and I showed her what I had learned about the equipment. She approved of the labels I made, and she got me started using the Deep Teach machine.
I had been studying the Velorian language. The study materials were not books, but computer programs encoded on crystals. Gloria told me the crystals were like USB drives, but smaller with much higher capacities. And they came with their own computers. So I’d put a crystal into a computer and started a lesson. At the end of the lesson the computer would quiz me and mark my progress. Then, according to Gloria, I’d put the crystal into the Deep Teach machine, put the contraption on my head, close my eyes and the computer would take over, somehow reinforcing what I had gone through.
That’s my best explanation. Honestly, I never understood how it worked. All I knew was that I’d go through a unit with the computer, then go to Deep Teach, and a half an hour later a beep would wake me up. Then I’d take the computerized quiz again, and I’d see that I scored higher than I did the first time. And I retained it with minimal review. I bet the Rosetta Stone people would pay big bucks to get hold of this technology.
Thursday at 9 am my time, noon at the Pentagon, I fired up the communication device (got to find a name for that thing) and sent the following message:
“Rain and cold in Bellingham. Forecast calls for more rain and cold. Laying in building supplies and collecting animals two x two. Will contact again when the ark is completed.”
I received the following reply:
“Message received. Understand forty days of bad weather is settling in. Will meet you at peak of Mt. Ararat.”
Gloria stared at the messages, then said, “I don’t understand. Is this a military code?”
“Gloria, has anyone shown you a bible?”
“I have seen the Cookie Cook Book Bible.”
“Uh, okay. The Bible is a collection of sacred texts important to some major religions. The messages reference a story from one of the books of the bible where God made it rain for forty days and forty nights.”
“Why are you collecting animals?”
“I have a bible upstairs Gloria, when we go up there, I’ll show you the story.”
About an hour after contacting the Pentagon my cell phone rang, the caller id showed the number of the phone Kara had given to Capt. Moore. I answered the call.
“This is Sgt. Ricci.”
“Capt. Moore here sergeant. Thought I’d let you know that after our contact Major Aldrich spent an hour trying to figure out how to make the machine allow him to sign in. He was quite frustrated when he left. Your boss may be hearing about it.”
“I’ll pass it on captain.”
The communication equipment could receive and store messages unattended. Not unlike having your email client open on your computer. Later that afternoon one of the other pieces of equipment was beeping and a blue light was flashing. Gloria had me check it, and there was a request for intelligence regarding a terrorist attack in Cambodia. Gloria showed me how to load the request onto a crystal, not unlike the crystal for the language lessons, and then insert that crystal into the device that communicated with the Pentagon and pressed the equivalent of the send key. I asked Gloria why the request couldn’t come in on that same machine. She mumbled something about incompatible technology.
She then showed me how to use that equipment to get a message back to Kara. So I wrote something up about Aldrich trying to hack into the Pentagon machine and sent that on.
The next day I had a reply from the Pentagon regarding the terrorist attack, and a notification of a series of burglaries and financial irregularities involving a shell company in Kansas City, with a request for any information Kara might have regarding the shell company. Any requests for information from either side were supposed to be related to Arion activities, I could only assume that the government suspected the shell company was set up by the Arions.
I say request from Kara and request to Kara, but I really had no idea who was on the other end of the communication. The blondes and Gloria alluded to an organization Kara had, that I was now a part of, but apparently, we were compartmentalized. Gloria said that was so if one cell was compromised the others would be safe.
And that was pretty much how my life worked. Get up in the morning, exercise, check the communication gear, send and receive messages, and learn the Velorian and Arion languages.
The Deep Teach machine made learning the languages faster than if I didn’t have it, but faster is relative. It was still a slow process.
When the weekend came Gloria left and I helped Xara move out of her dorm. She didn’t have a lot of stuff, so with our two Priuses, we were able to empty everything out of her room in one trip. After we stored her stuff in the cabin, we went out to lunch. We were in a small restaurant, in a secluded corner, and she asked, “How is your new job going Joe?”
“Honestly Xara, it’s not exciting at all. Boring in fact. I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t think the highlight of my day would be my workout.”
“Hmm, would you like me to talk to mom about that?”
“No. I’m the one working for her. If things don’t pick up soon, I’ll talk to her about it.”
We left it at that.
“How are you doing otherwise, Joe?”
“Pretty good. I’ve been on my meds, but I think you’ve been around enough to keep me from back tracking. My appetite is still good and I haven’t lost any weight since I’ve been home.”
“I’ll keep coming around several times a week.”
“I’ve been thinking about that Xara. You shouldn’t have to spend your time looking after me. You’re young, in college and away from home. You should immerse yourself in college life, spend more time with your friends.”
“I tried that Joe. It didn’t work out very well. That’s why I’m moving, remember?”
“Xara, you tried living among humans while practicing Velorian sexual morals. Try living like a human would.”
She sighed and said, “You’re right. I thought I would have a lot more freedom at college, without having to answer to mom. But she wasn’t the problem. I’ll try Joe.”
“I think you’ll be a lot happier Xara.”
“I still want to see a lot of you Joe. You’re my friend, and you know being around me is good for you.”
I had to admit, that was true.
“I have to admit, that is true. But it doesn’t seem fair to you, to spend all that time with me when you could be spending it with college men.”
“Boys, Joe. Compared to you, they’re all boys. I prefer real men.”
“Usually when mom or Sharon talk about a ‘real man’, they’re saying it to put down a Terran. Mom hurt Eric, very badly, when they were having a fight and she told him he couldn’t satisfy her the way a Supremis could. Only she didn’t say Supremis, she said, ‘a real man’. She said it to hurt him, and she succeeded, and not a day has gone by since that she hasn’t regretted it. She tried so hard to apologize to him after that, but there was nothing she could do to take back the pain she caused. And being the little bitch I was, I rubbed his nose in it.”
She was quiet for a few seconds, then said, “But when I say, a ‘real man’, Joe, I mean a man who is serious, mature, who knows who he is. I mean you.”
I wondered if she had any idea how good hearing that made me feel.
“Xara, you have no idea how good hearing that from a beautiful young woman like you makes me feel.”
She reached out and put her hand on top of mine and smiled that beautiful smile of hers.
She decided to leave her Prius parked in my driveway over the winter break. She wanted to spend a lot of time with me, and I suggested that maybe her mom would like to see her, and she should go home. She thought that was hilarious. She laughed out loud as she explained to me that her home in California and my home in Bellingham were only, for her, twenty minutes apart. She ended up setting up her room in my basement.
It was nice having her there to help me with my language lessons. She would correct my pronunciation and would have little conversations with me. The Velorian equivalent of ‘See Spot run. Run Spot run.’ I asked her how to say, ‘My mother-in-law has hemorrhoids’, but there are no words for hemorrhoids in either Velorian or Arion. She did, however, teach me how to say, ‘My mother-in-law is a pain in the ass’ in Arion. She said Velorians were too cultured to use that kind of language. I think she was kidding me.
Well, as it turned out, Kara herself was up for a tropical vacation. Something about work stress, she never fully explained it. From what little I could pick up, she had a run in with Arions somewhere in the southern hemisphere, and that was going on while she was in a dispute with the FDA over testing protocols for a new drug her company had developed.
I thought we’d be going to some resort. That’s what Xara said when she first broached the subject. But that’s not what we did at all. Instead, we spent five days going from one uninhabited tropical island, in the Pacific, to another. They were little places, with beautiful beaches and no one their but us. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Kara flew up to the cabin and she and Xara went online to make a list of islands to visit. Then Xara flew out and checked each of them out, came back, and she and Kara whittled the list down to five islands.
If it was just the two of them going, they would have been gone. But since I was going, they had to take my needs into account. So they went to Costco and Fed Meyer and bought non-perishable food. Packed that and their tent and some other supplies into one of the pods and Xara flew it to the most centrally located island.
Then I put on my suit and got into a pod and we left. Xara took the shortcut, a sub-orbital path, and she was in a hurry, so the ride had higher g forces than I had experienced before. When we landed and she opened up the pod, the weather was warm and beautiful. I changed into shorts, t-shirt and flip flops. Xara and Kara took off their flight suits and that was that. Neither of them wore a stitch of clothing for the rest of the trip.
There were some practical matters for me that didn’t really apply to them. Sunscreen. I needed sunscreen. Not as much, in my opinion, as Xara was constantly slathering me with, but I didn’t burn the entire time. And while I was used to digging and using pit toilets, I felt bad about leaving my waste behind, even though it would eventually degrade. Not a problem. Xara or Kara would vaporize all my waste products prior to leaving for the next island.
The swimming was great! The water was warm, and I’d brought a mask and snorkel. Xara or Kara would have me grab their feet and they’d bring me down to get a close up look when there were coral reefs.
Xara and Kara were both super vigilant about my physical safety. It seemed like every two or three hours I’d catch one of them examining me, looking for cuts or scrapes. If they found one, they’d bathe it in disinfectant. Kara told me there were too many tropical microbes and critters that could be a problem if any minor injuries were left unattended.
And around some islands there were sharks. I never saw them. I only knew they were there because I’d be swimming with Xara and Kara and one of them would suddenly streak off, and if I surfaced, sometimes I’d see a commotion in the water. When I asked they would tell me they were chasing off a shark.
In the evening around the fire Kara and Xara would quiz me on conversational Velorian. That kept them in stitches. Mostly over my pronunciation.
There were a couple of squalls that came through. We had the tent set up so I could get out of the rain, but it wasn’t windy, and the rain was warm. We don’t get warm rain in Bellingham. It was nice.
We brought everything with us we needed. There were two things we didn’t bring, and they weren’t needed. I didn’t bring my meds. Kara didn’t bring her gold.
When I’m alone, and I go off my meds, it doesn’t take long before I start going into a dark place and I’m talking to Dixon and Johnson. If I go off my meds and I’m around Velorians, there is no dark place. Everything gets lighter. Worries and concerns evaporate. Nightmares are replaced by pleasant dreams. Life is just so much better. And when I would think about that, and that it could be that way, all the time, if I married Xara, well, it becomes very appealing to me. And when I think about that and watch her cavorting around in the nude…
When that happens, I have to remind myself not everything is about me. I can’t saddle my problems on her, even though she is very willing to carry that burden. It’s something I would have like to discuss with Kara, but we were seldom out of Xara’s earshot range.
After five days on five different islands we returned home. Me back to my cabin, Kara back to her home and company in California, and Xara, who spent her time between the two.
Kara asked if we could have Christmas at my cabin, and I agreed. Sharon came, with Captain Moore. Once, when Sharon and I were alone, I asked her about Deb. She didn’t want to talk about her. Gloria was there too, and though that would have been quite a crowd in the past, with the new bedrooms in the basement, there was plenty of room.
Xara said she wanted to be my Christmas gift. Everyone laughed, but I wasn’t too sure she was joking. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas there had been a visit by a Messenger, which the ladies availed themselves of. Sharon told me she offered to introduce Sarah to him, she declined.
My study of Velorian was a subject of great amusement to all the ladies, except Sarah. She didn’t know when I got the pronunciation right or wrong, so she didn’t get the joke.
I wasn’t on my meds, with all the Velorians there I didn’t need them. But more than once I wondered what Dixon and Johnson would say about me being surrounded by all these beautiful women. Well, not true. I know what they’d say. They’d be jealous and would ask me to set them up. It wouldn’t happen. But it would have been fun to tell them that.
After Christmas everyone went their separate ways, though Xara did continue to split her time between the cabin and her mom’s home. All this time there continued to be traffic back and forth between Kara and the Pentagon that I was responsible for managing. It appeared they all took the week between Christmas and New Years off, because traffic from both sides dropped notably.
I was invited to spend New Years Eve and New Years Day at Kara’s home. Xara delivered the invitation and said it would even be okay if I wanted to watch football. Well, I did want to watch football. I love football. But I told her no, I’d rather spend the time with her and her mother.
We stayed up late New Years Eve and toasted the New Year with champagne. From what Kara said, it must have been ‘the good stuff’, I wouldn’t know the difference. But the company was good. The sex after was great, and I spent New Years Day visiting with them rather than watch football. It was okay though, I’d set the DVR to record the games and I watched them when I got home.
Everyday Miguel would pick Janelle up at her apartment and drive her around town. Janelle would step into the various businesses, introduce herself as a ‘scout’ for a business development company, and talk to the owners about their various businesses.
All the owners were happy to talk to her. And most of them were polite, though a few would leer at her and make thinly veiled pickup attempts. But no one questioned why she was there or asked leading questions about the ‘company’ she represented.
On one of these days she noticed that Miguel was quiet and seemed preoccupied. As he was becoming more comfortable with her, the little man was opening up about his family, the local traditions and festivals, and the history of the town. But on this day he seemed to be off. At the end of the day, when she got back into the car to return home, she asked him.
“It is nothing senorita Janelle. My youngest daughter is sick, her mother and I are worried, but I’m sure she will get better.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Miguel. Does she have a fever?”
“She does, for two days now.”
“Two days? Has she seen a doctor?”
At this Miguel became very nervous. She had to prod him to get an answer.
“We cannot afford a doctor, senorita Janelle.”
“I know a little about medicine Miguel. Take me to your home, I’ll examine her.”
“Oh no senorita Janelle, I don’t want to trouble you.”
“It’s no trouble Miguel. Now, let’s get going.”
Miguel drove the car into one of the poorer neighborhoods and parked outside a rundown apartment building. Miguel led Janelle up the stairs and into his apartment. The first thing Janelle noticed was that while the building itself was run down, the apartment was immaculately clean and neat.
Miguel introduced Janelle to his wife, Juanita, who was very flustered at meeting her, and said, “Senorita Janelle, you are even more beautiful than my husband told me.”
“Thank you,” Janelle said. “Now please, may I see your daughter?” Janelle mentally congratulated herself on saying ‘daughter’ instead of ‘cub’.
They brought Janelle into a small bedroom shared by all four of Miguel’s children, all girls, to a little girl lying in bed. Janelle touched the back of her hand to the child’s forehead, she was burning up, and she had the chills. Her mother told her she had been coughing up yellow mucous. Janelle pulled the covers down and pretended to be doing an exam with her hands while she looked through the child’s chest into her lungs. She had bacterial pneumonia. It could be easily treated with antibiotics. In her previous assignment, if she had a patient as ill as this child, she would have simply euthanized it and got on with her day. But this assignment required her to cultivate positive relationships with the frails of Terra.
“Miguel, is there a pharmacy nearby?”
“Not in this part of the city senorita.”
“Do you know where the nearest pharmacy is?”
“Your daughter has pneumonia. It is easily treatable. Juanita, Miguel will take me to the pharmacy to get antibiotics. Prepare a cool bath for your daughter and put her in it, to help bring down her fever.”
Juanita rushed off to prepare the bath while Miguel and Janelle went down to the car. It wasn’t too long a drive to the pharmacy, but by the time they arrived it was closed. Janelle told Miguel to stay in the car.
Janelle went around to the alley in back and found the back door to the pharmacy. The door was locked, and as she examined it, she determined there was no alarm system. She easily broke the lock and went into the pharmacy, behind the counter, and found the antibiotics she needed, as well as a couple of other medications to help the lungs clear and bring down the fever.
She got back into the car and told Miguel to drive back to his apartment.
“Senorita, how did you get the medicines? The pharmacy is closed?”
“Miguel, I’m very resourceful. Can I count on you not to tell anyone about this?”
“Yes senorita, oh yes!”
Back at the apartment Janelle had the little girl taken out of the bath and returned to her bed. She gave her the antibiotics and the other medications and then announced that she would stay there until the little girl got better.
“But senorita, we have no place for you to sleep, and all our children share this room.”
“They can continue to share it. They can keep me company until they fall asleep.”
And that is what happened. Janelle stayed with the family for two full days. The morning of the third day, when it was obvious the little girl was getting better, she had Miguel take her back to her apartment.
The gratitude showed her by Miguel and Juanita touched Janelle, as much as anything about frails could touch her. In her previous experience with frails, they were the property of the Empire, and property was to be respected. Here, the Empire desired the frails to become willing subjects of the Empire. Subjects certainly had a higher value than property, and Terran subjects, being frails, should be nearly as valuable as Betas. Betas, on her home world, did not live in squalor, at least not since the wars of conquest had started and the Empire realized it needed them.
And Miguel had served her faithfully. He was always on time, always respectful, never complained, and never asked for a day off. He kept the car clean and maintained. With this in mind, and her assignment to determine if this area of Terra could be pacified, Janelle resolved that from this day forward, frails who worked for her would have the status of subjects. And being the only Prime (that she knew of) on Terra, their welfare would be her responsibility.
The next day, when Miguel knocked on her door, Janelle invited him in and had him sit down. She told him that she was very pleased with his work, and that as an employee of her company she was going to increase his pay. She also told him that, as an employee, he had a responsibility to represent the company in the best possible light. Therefore, not only was he going to get a substantial pay raise, but he was to find an apartment in a better neighborhood, commensurate with his new salary, and move his family.
Miguel was dumbfounded. He didn’t know what to say, and Janelle almost laughed out loud at his clumsy attempts to express his gratitude. Three weeks later, he invited Janelle to his new home for dinner, an invitation which she graciously accepted.
When school started for Xara, I thought I’d be seeing much less of her. But she still dropped in quite often, and I was grateful for her help with my language lessons.
“Xara, was it this hard for you to learn?”
“No, for two reasons. Mom spoke Velorian at home when I was a child. I learned Velorian at the same time I was learning English. And since Arion is very close to Velorian, it was easy for me to pick it up.”
“You said there were two reasons.”
“Right. I don’t know how to say this without sounding condescending…”
“Then just say it, Xara.”
“I’m more intelligent than you Joe. And not just a little more. I score off the charts on IQ tests. Velorian IQ tests.”
“Well, I knew you were smarter than me, you’ve demonstrated it often enough. And you got through high school in three years. How are your college grades?”
“4.0,” she said. “I’m just taking a standard load. 15 credits a quarter. I could easily handle 20 credits and still have perfect grades.”
“That explains how you can spend so much time with me. You don’t need as much study time as other students do.”
“No, I don’t. For a while mom thought about sending me off world for my education, to expose me to more cultures and have a more challenging workload.”
“Why didn’t she?”
“I didn’t want to. I was born in California. I like Terra. I like Terrans. And I enjoy being with mom and Sharon. And now you.” And she leaned forward and gave me a quick kiss on the lips.
In CI school they warned us that it could be a slow slog for lengthy periods of time. And that was what I was experiencing. Kara would report suspected Arion activity somewhere in the world. The FBI, NSA or CIA would investigate it and report back. The FBI, NSA or CIA would report suspicious activity somewhere in the world. Kara would investigate it and report back. Usually, it amounted to nothing.
Occasionally, Kara would report back that she had taken down an Arion cell, with a list of the number of Betas (never over three or four) and the names of Terrans that belonged to the cell. If the cell was on U.S. soil, the FBI would bring the Terrans in for questioning and share any intelligence they got with Kara. The intelligence was always very sparse. Arions didn’t tell Terrans much of anything of value, and Betas were more afraid of dying at the hands of a Prime than a Protector. I asked Sharon about this on one of her visits. As I had learned on that camping trip with Xara, it seemed so long ago, Kara had very little leverage over Betas. A Beta who was captured by a Protector, and lived, couldn’t be sent home in a prisoner exchange. The assumption on Aria would be that he spilled his guts, which was treason, which was punishable by death. A very long, drawn out, painful death. And the families would also suffer.
Kara had tried to break up a cell, kill all but one Beta and turn that one, but Aria was on to that trick. If a cell comprised three Betas, and two were killed by a Protector, the assumption was the third had become a traitor and would be hunted down. The only way she could turn a Beta was to catch one operating on his or her own.
According to Sharon, Kara had tried to extract information from Betas by promising them a quick painless death if they cooperated, and a slow painful death if they didn’t. But the reputation of Protectors, as being honorable warriors (at least the Betas thought of them that way) preceded her. And she could never bring herself to torture a Beta, no matter how many Terrans he or she had killed or maimed.
If there were Primes in a cell, Kara never told the government. As she had made clear, a confrontation between a Prime and a Protector always ended with one of them dead.
I talked to Kara about the tedium of the job. She sympathized, and told me it wouldn’t always be that way, there was no way to predict when it would get exciting, and that I may not like it if it did. I understood that. In an infantry unit, you could spend a lot of time with nothing to do. Cleaning your weapons until they shined, inspecting the same fortifications over and over, with nothing to do but talk to your buddies about the same things you talked to them about the day before, and the day before that. Then the mortars would start coming in, and the Taliban would try to overrun your outpost, and suddenly, dull and boring became very attractive.
There was one thing that kept me worried though. Xara would turn 18 in July. Strangely, the closer she got to her birthday, the less she talked to me about “our future,” and that worried me.
NEC was putting the pressure on Mona to get information, any information. Three cells had gone silent with no indication of what had happened to them. She was being asked to scan news reports for indications of missing Terrans. For security, the Betas who operated cells on Terra referred to their frail operatives only with code names. Nothing that would allow Terran authorities to identify them was ever communicated outside a cell.
She was also being pressured to find a way, a secure way that wouldn’t compromise her, to get Aldrich to tell her if Terran governments were cooperating with a Protector. Losing a cell to a Protector was something that happened. But three in less than a year? Unheard of.
Of course, NEC would not disclose the location of the missing cells. How was she supposed to investigate if she didn’t know where to look?
Miguel was late. This had never happened before. She could have set her clock by the knock on her door. He was always there at 8:00 am sharp. Janelle wondered if one of his children was sick again.
She could always go down to the garage and take the car out herself. She didn’t have a license, but she had watched Miguel closely enough to get the general idea.
At 8:15 she heard footsteps on the stairs, too many to be Miguel. She looked through the floor and the walls to see Miguel coming up the stairs, followed closely by two armed men. Miguel was bleeding from his mouth and nose, there was blood down his front.
Miguel and the two men got to her door. There was no knock, one of the men kicked the door in, pushed Miguel inside the apartment, and the two armed men came in and closed the door behind them.
Miguel was lying on the floor, bleeding. Janelle ran to him as if to help him up, but put her lips against his ear and whispered, “You must never tell anyone what happens here today.”
Just as she finished saying that one of the thugs kicked her in the ribs. Janelle saw it coming, though, and softened her body as much as she could and then pushed off with her hands to make it look like the kick had made her roll away from Miguel.
She got to her knees and demanded, “What is the meaning of this? Who are you?”
The thugs answered her by pointing a gun at Miguel and telling her to shut up and listen.
“We’ve been watching your driver. One day, he’s walking from his home to your apartment in a cheap suit. Then we see him move into an apartment he shouldn’t be able to afford. We see his wife buying herself and her children new clothes. We see Miguel buying this fancy new suit.
“And we wondered, where is Miguel getting the money? And why hasn’t he told us he had more money and paid us a fair share? Then we learn that the pretty American lady gave him a raise. Every business in the city pays us. But you haven’t been paying us. That’s not your fault, Miguel did not introduce you to us, as he should have.
“We paid Miguel a visit and asked him to introduce us to the pretty American lady. But he refused. So we convinced him he should do it, and here we are.
“So pretty American lady, how much money do you have? If you give enough to us, we will let you and your driver go, until next month, when you will pay us again. If you don’t, something very bad will happen to you, Miguel and his family.”
Janelle rose to her feet and looked the two thugs over. One had his weapon out and was pointing it at Miguel. The other had his weapon in a holster. They had beaten her employee, a subject of the Arion Empire (though Miguel didn’t know that) and they were attempting to extort money from an Arion Prime. Either action merited death, but she didn’t want to make too much of a commotion lest the neighbors notice. And if she had to let the bodies stay in her apartment until late at night, when she could move them under cover of darkness, she couldn’t kill them right now, with the heat and humidity here, the bodies would start to stink very soon. No, these men were going to die, but not here, and not now.
She charged them, moving faster than they could react. She reached the first gunman and put her hand around the barrel of the gun and with the other hand tapped him on his skull. Then, before the first man hit the floor, she was on the second one, tapping his skull and knocking him unconscious.
She checked her work. Yes, both men were unconscious, neither was dead. They would both wake up soon. She went to her kitchen and took two towels out of a drawer and stuffed one into the mouth of each man, effectively gagging them. Then, to make sure the gags stayed in and neither man could get away, she crushed the ankles, hands and wrists of both men. The pain this caused woke them up. They tried to scream, but the gags wouldn’t let them, only a muffled sound could come out. They tried to remove the gags, but their broken bones wouldn’t allow it. They tried to get to their feet, but they were effectively hobbled.
Next, Janelle turned her attention to Miguel. She helped him get into a sitting position and stuffed tissue into his nose to stop the bleeding. His face was swollen, she fetched ice from her freezer, wrapped it in a towel and gave it to him, showing him where to apply it.
“Miguel, listen to me,” she said. ”Late tonight I am going to kill these men. We will dispose of their bodies in the country. Do you understand?”
Miguel’s eyes were as big as saucers. She could see that the turn of events, and learning that the two thugs were going to die, shocked him. And he was afraid, she could see that, he was trembling. She sought to reassure him.
“Miguel, you’re safe. I’m not going to hurt you, but I need your silence, do you understand?”
“Very good,” she said. She retrieved the thug’s weapons and gave them to Miguel. “Do you know how to use these?” He nodded.
“Good. If they try to escape, or make any move you feel is threatening, shoot them both. Can you do that Miguel?”
He nodded again.
“Very good. I’m going shopping. I’ll get you a new suit and shirt and some rope. I’ll be back soon. Don’t be afraid.”
She left the apartment, went down to the garage and for the first time in her life she started a car. As it turned out, she had done a very good job paying attention to Miguel’s driving and was able to get to the shopping district without raising any suspicion.
She bought a suit and shirt for Miguel, rope and tarps. And a first aid kit and aspirin.
Back at her apartment she tied the thugs up with ropes. She had Miguel take two aspirin and directed him to take a shower and change into the new clothes she bought him.
When Miguel finished dressing, she had him sit down and apply ice to his face again. She went to her kitchen and poured a glass of lemonade and made a sandwich and began questioning Miguel while he ate.
She wanted to know who the men were, who they worked for, how many businesses they extorted money from, and where their superior could be found. Miguel didn’t have all the information, but he had enough.
“Senorita Janelle, these men will be missed. If they don’t return other men will be sent to find them.”
“That will save me the trouble of hunting them down.”
“Senorita, how were you able to that,” he said pointing at the thugs.
“Miguel, perhaps someday I’ll tell you. But until then, just trust that I am very powerful, and that I take care of my employees and their families.
“Now, call your wife and tell her I will need you until late tonight. Then go into my bedroom and lie down.”
When Miguel closed the bedroom door, Janelle squatted down so her face was level with the faces of the thugs, who were tied up next to each other against a wall.
“I’m going to kill you, both of you. There is nothing you can do about it. I can kill you quickly and painlessly, or I can have fun, which would be very bad for you.”
To illustrate her point, she grasped one of each man’s ankles, and squeezed and rotated her grip just a little, smiling at their muffled screams.
“That’s nothing compared to what else I can do to you. I’m going to remove your gags now. Do not shout, scream, or make any other loud noises.”
She removed the gags. Both men were sufficiently cowed that they remained silent.
“I’m going to question you now, and we’re going to make a little competition out of it, just for fun. Whichever of you gives me the most useful information will live the longest. Oh, it may be only a minute or two longer, but you’d be surprised how important that becomes when you are down to your last breaths.
“I’m going to give you names. You," and she pointed to the thug on the left, “are Humpty, and you,” she pointed to the other thug, “are Dumpty.
“First question, who do you work for?”
“Fuck you!” said Dumpty.
“Oh, there may be time for that,” replied Janelle.
Humpty was more forthcoming. In fact, Humpty answered all her questions. This upset Dumpty, who began yelling at Humpty, so Janelle put the gag back in his mouth.
After she had all the answers to her questions, she replaced Humpty’s gag and said, “We have a winner. Dumpty, you will die first, and because of your intransigence, you will die slowly and very, very painfully.
“Humpty, your reward will be to watch your friend here die, and then die yourself, quickly and painlessly.”
She got a glass of water and four aspirin, removed Humpty’s gag and helped him drink and get the aspirin down. She then replaced his gag and looked at Dumpty and smiled, then grabbed both his ankles and squeezed them and shook them and laughed at his muffled screams.
In the evening she checked on Miguel. He was just waking up. She looked him over and decided his injuries would heal and required no more interventions from her. She cooked dinner for herself and Miguel and tried her best to put him at ease.
“Miguel, you must trust me. As powerful as these men and their organization is, I am much more powerful. I will protect you and your family. You’ll see.”
He was still very nervous, and as much as she could have sympathy for a frail, she sympathized with him.
Humpty and Dumpty began squirming and trying to get Janelle’s attention. “What do you suppose that is about,” she asked Miguel.
“Senorita, I think they need to use the bathroom.”
“Ah, I see. Miguel, there are several tarps in the trunk of the car. Please bring one up here.”
When Miguel returned, Janelle spread one of the tarps on the floor, then picked up Humpty and Dumpty and placed them in the middle of it, and said, “You may relive yourselves here.”
Miguel was astonished by Janelle’s strength. She lifted and carried the thugs as if they weighed no more than babies. After a few minutes, Janelle gave him some money out of her wallet and asked him to go out and buy an air freshener. He returned with it and sprayed the living room. Janelle could still detect the odor of the thug’s droppings, but the air freshener helped.
At 2 am Janelle looked out and saw that the streets were deserted. She asked Miguel to go to the car and bring up another tarp and the rest of the rope and leave the car in front of the building.
When he returned, she laid out the fresh tarp and put Humpty in it, wrapped him in it and tied it up with a rope. Then she placed Dumpty in the soiled tarp and wrapped him.
She picked Humpty up and carried him down the stairs and deposited him in the trunk of the car, then returned for Dumpty. She got in the back seat and directed Miguel to drive them out into the country. She said she would like to go to a place near a river, surrounded by forest. Miguel nodded and said, “I know a place senorita,” and drove there.
Janelle had Miguel open the trunk, then told him to stay with the car. “You may hear screaming. It will be them, not me. Have no fear, I will be alright.”
She used the ropes around the tarps as handles and picked both thugs up, easily, and disappeared into the dark towards the river.
When she came to the riverbank, she put both tarps down, broke the ropes and unwrapped the thugs. She untied Humpty, picked him up and leaned him against a tree. She kissed him on the forehead and said, “Watch what I do to your friend. I promised you that your death would be quick and painless, and it will. So, enjoy the show without worry.”
She untied Dumpty, smiled at him, and began breaking the bones in his feet, one by one, delighting in his screams. When she was finished with his feet and toes, she moved on to his legs, then his thighs, then his arms, above and below his elbows.
She was delighted that he was still conscious. She turned to Humpty and said, “This is my favorite part. Try to enjoy it as much as I do.” She turned her heat vision on Humpty and slowly began burning him. His screams were delicious! And she laughed when she turned to Humpty and saw him sobbing and crying.
“I could do this all night,” she said, “but Miguel needs to get home to his family.”
She ramped up her heat vision, Humpty’s screams got higher and louder, and then suddenly stopped.
Dumpty was in a terrible state. He was crying, sobbing, trembling, and had soiled himself. Janelle decided that to keep her promise she needed to end his suffering immediately. She walked quickly over to him, took his head in both hands while placing a knee on one of his shoulders and pulled up, sharply, causing internal decapitation and killing him instantly.
She then picked up Dumpty, and the remains of Humpty, and threw them in the river, then burned the tarps and ropes.
Throwing the bodies in the river, while they were still recognizable, or at least while Dumpty’s body was still recognizable, was a major breach of protocol. SOP required that she vaporize the bodies. But she felt justified in doing this. If the bodies were found, it would send a powerful message to the gangs. And if they weren’t found, well, she was going to deliver a message in person anyway.
She returned to the car and a visibly shaken Miguel. She put her arms around him and gave him a gentle hug and told him not to worry.