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Me, Myself & I
Written by shadar :: [Saturday, 26 January 2019 20:37] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 29 January 2019 08:24]
Published version 1.5
If aliens do live secretly on Earth, most likely they are living out there in the emptiness of the American southwestern desert. A region where almost everyone has seen things in the clear night skies that defy explanation.
This is a story about one peculiar encounter in Moffat County, somewhere in the high desert.
Lola Montez was a desert rat.
There were thousands like her, spread sparsely over more than one-hundred-thousand square miles of desert badlands in America.
Their reasons for living off-the-grid were varied. For some, it was an escape from too much hard living. For others, it was living beyond the reach of the law. But most were just hermits and recluses who wanted to be left completely alone.
Most of them owned ancient 4x4 pickup trucks. The simple kind of truck a handy person could keep running forever with a screwdriver or two, a few wrenches and a pile of spare parts from the nearest junkyard or NAPA parts store. That and a winch and a deadman to bury in the sand to pull themselves out of flooded creeks and deep sand. A full tank of gas when leaving town along with a few extra Jerry cans would last them half a year or more. They had no where to go. They lived at the end of sandy trails that were known only to themselves. Those faint trails traveled back across the sand to civilization through dry creeks that flooded during the Fall monsoon. The trails connected to dirt roads that led to gravel roads that eventually led to paved roads that after many miles came to a small town. Most of them only went to town a few times a year to pick up the supplies they’d ordered the last time they were there.
Their homes had no water, no internet, no phones. Not even addresses. Electricity, if they had it, came from solar panels, but many lived without. All they needed was the silent desert and the heat or the cold and whatever water, food and supplies they could haul out there in their old trucks. A metal roof over their heads kept the sun and the rare bit of rain out and wool blankets kept them warm on the cold nights of the desert winter. They stayed warm on cold nights by snuggling with their warm-blooded dogs, some of them part coyote.
For many desert rats, this was their Shangri La, and they loved the wild, silent, empty desert more than life itself. For others it was just the last depressing stop on a life of wrong choices. But whatever the reason they were out there, they all harbored a profound distrust of strangers. People who poked around too much where they weren’t wanted, or went into the desert with bad intentions, had a habit of disappearing, and nobody bothered to ask questions that no one would answer anyway.
Dirk Anders was a Sheriff’s Deputy who had a chunk of desert of his own near the small town of Moffat, which was also the seat of the county of the same name. Whenever he finally quit or got fired by whatever Sheriff was currently elected, Dirk planned to find a place further out in the desert and join the people he was now responsible for policing. For deep inside, he was a desert rat too.
It was a cold December morning when Jim Clarke, who owned Clarke Title and Surveying Company, joined Dirk for breakfast at Mary’s Diner to tell him about some strange goings-on. Apparently a growing number of remote properties in the next county were selling for taxes owed after their owner’s disappeared, and all those properties were being bought up by Acme Minerals.
Acme was an old silver and gold mining outfit that had somehow managed to survive the gradual loss of mining since the 19th century. Story was that some young hotshots from LA with Chinese backing now owned the company and they were buying up desert claims so they could mine lithium from the sands beneath them. Thanks to the increase in electric cars, lithium was in global short supply and the price was always going up.
Jim claimed that Acme was secretly testing the soil on properties they didn’t own, and if they found enough lithium, they used a private security firm staffed by ex-military types to get rid of the owners. Most desert rats didn’t have a will or any known relatives, and were not missed when they disappeared, often for years, so the property eventually went up for sale for unpaid taxes. Acme was always the buyer. Definitely a scam, Jim said.
Dirk believed him, so after breakfast he sauntered over to see Barb Moffat, who ran the local general store. She maintained hand-written ledgers that went back over a hundred and twenty years. Her family had founded the county and this town, and she ran the only general store in the area: Barb’s General Store. She also owned the town’s only grocery store: Barb’s Grocery Store. Barb was not very creative when it came to business names. Her claim to fame was that she had catalogues for everything, and everyone living out in the desert in Moffat County ordered supplies from her. She’d know if someone had failed to pick up an order or hadn’t been in to stock up on supplies for a while.
According to Barb, several people hadn’t shown up to get their orders in the last year, and several more had stopped coming in for regular supplies. All of them were on properties near the southern border of the county, closest to where Acme’s hired muscle was supposedly working.
Now that Dirk knew where to start, he borrowed Peter Framp’s yellow Labrador Retriever, Buddy, who had once-upon-a-time been trained as a cadaver dog. It took him four dusty hours of driving to get to the first place on Barb’s list. The monsoon rains had washed out the double-track so he had to put down some timbers and use his winch to get past the worst spots. There was no sign of anyone else having come this way since the rains.
As he’d feared, he found the place abandoned with a notice tacked on the front door saying that it was being sold for taxes. Dirk put Buddy to work as he sat on the front porch of the cabin, drinking some warm, stale beers he’d found inside. There was no way to hurry Buddy up, and this wan’t the kind of crime where you looked for fingerprints.
An hour later, Buddy started to bark at a spot a couple hundred yards out into the desert. Buddy was working hard on his digging by the time Dirk got there, so he waited until the dog got tired before he went to work with his shovel. It didn’t take him long to find the first bone. It looked about right — a human femur less than a year old. The maggots were still cleaning it up, so he reburied it. Moffat County no longer had a coroner, but Dirk already knew what had happened here.
He loaded both the shovel and Buddy back into his Jeep and headed toward the next property on Barb’s list. The sun was almost down when Buddy found the second grave. Same story, with the tax notice on the door and a buried body in roughly the same state of decay as the first one. He didn’t need to visit the rest of the properties. Instead, he drove back to Moffat in the dark to stop by Sheriff Harry Macon’s house. He was watching TV with his wife and kids, so they went out in the backyard to talk.
Harry wasn’t surprised when Dirk filled him in. He was mostly just pissed that Acme’s scam had crossed over into his county. He said he’d have a talk with the Moffat County tax officials about expedited tax sales, and that starting tomorrow, he was assigning a Deputy to visit every desert dweller in the county to update them on what was going on. He told Dirk to take a bunch of No Trespassing signs with him, and stick a few of them in the ground along whatever track led to cabins that didn’t already have one up. As far as Harry was concerned, if someone got shot after ignoring a No Trespassing sign, then they’d gotten exactly what was coming to them. No need for any reports or paperwork. As he saw it, there were a lot of shallow graves in the desert. A few more didn’t matter much.
He sent Dirk up to north county, figuring he’d already done his share down south. Besides, a crazy old woman named Lola lived up there and Dirk was the only person she’d let on her property. She took pot shots at everyone else.
Dirk started at dawn the next morning, and it was slow going after he left the pavement. The gravel road was in poor repair and the long sandy offshoot into Lola’s property, nearly ten miles long, was completely washed out by the monsoon where it crossed two normally dry creeks. He dragged a deadman and cable across the creek beds and then winched his Jeep down, over and up the other side. He clearly wasn’t the first one to come this way since the rains. The tire tracks ahead of him were sharp and clear, which said they weren’t from Lola’s worn-out old truck.
He found the first sign of trouble five miles beyond the dry creeks. A late-model pickup truck was lying upside down about fifty yards from the trail. The fat buzzards perched on top said it hadn’t just happened. Walking over to check it out, he discovered a lot of bullet holes along one side. More interestingly, the truck was flattened as if it had fallen off a high cliff and landed directly on its top. That made no sense out here in the flat.
He put on some rubber gloves and ducked down beside the crushed truck as he held a handkerchief over his mouth to help with the stench. A large buzzard inside the truck squawked at him as it picked the last meat off the bones. He chased the vulture away to find what was left of two bodies. About two weeks old he estimated. He also found two AR-15’s, and a sniff test said they’d been fired since their last cleaning. Oddly, their barrels were slightly bent. He picked up a brand new Glock Model 21 that was laying on the ceiling of the truck, and tucked it into his waistband. That he could use. No sense giving it up as evidence. The rifles said it all anyway.
He gritted his teeth and felt around in the stench to check their clothing for ID, but found none. He ended up prying the jammed glove compartment open to find registration and insurance for the truck, along with two newly-issued driver’s licenses that were almost certainly fake.
He walked back to his Jeep to shed his rubber gloves and breathe some fresh air. He tried to call Harry on the Jeep’s radio, but he was out of range of the relay towers. His cellphone showed NO SERVICE. The County couldn’t afford SATCOM handsets.
Dirk returned to walk around the crushed truck in several large circles, but found no evidence of tire tracks or any other marks in the sand. By all appearances, the truck had fallen from high in the sky. As weird as that was, this WAS the high desert. Anything could happen out here.
Everyone around here had seen UFOs. Dirk had seen more than most given his patrolling, many of which he figured were experimental or secret US military craft. But he’d seen a few things that flew too fast or turned too fast to be explained that way. Or glowed too brightly. But like anyone else who valued their reputation, he was careful who he shared those observations with.
He continued driving down the sandy trail, following the same set of tire tracks from earlier until he came to a bunch of No Trespassing signs next to a large Skull and Crossbones sign that needed no further explanation. Stopping there, he turned on his flashing overhead lights and sounded his siren a few times to let Lola know he was coming in.
Most people thought Lola was crazy given the way she fired warning shots at anyone who came near, but Dirk didn’t think it was crazy to pop off some rounds toward uninvited strangers in the desert. It sent a message — Lola might be female and alone, but she was far from helpless.
She met him in front of her cabin, which was one of the nicest ones around. She was holding an old M-14 battle rifle as if she knew how to use it. It fired a heavier round than the AR-15’s most people had these days, NATO 7.62mm to be exact, and was a handful for some men to shoot. It was also a Federal crime to own one without a special license given these early ones were capable of full-auto fire — a true assault rifle that had replaced both the WWII M1 Garand and Browning Automatic Rifle. He wasn’t going to hassle Lola about firearms trivialities. Certainly not out here on her property. Desert rat homesteads were best regarded as sovereign territory.
Lola was hands-down the ugliest women he’d ever seen, and he’d seen some serious ugly in the desert. Her skin was baked dry as leather and incredibly wrinkled given she’d obviously been living out here in zero humidity and sun for a long time. She was painfully thin with a mop of stringy blonde hair surrounding a hawkish face, which always before had been covered by a big pair of sunglasses. But not today. He was startled to see cerulean blue eyes that were so bright he could see their color in the sunlight from a hundred yards away.
He got out of his Jeep, and slowly set his service pistol on the hood before he walked toward her, arms slightly extended. His newly acquired Glock felt reassuring in the back of his waistband. Lola might very well be in a mood today, and if she started shooting at him he didn’t want to die here.
“Morning, Lola. Came out to warn you about some assholes that we think are working for Acme Minerals. Ex-military types. Story is they’re foreclosing a little early on some properties, if you get my drift. Apparently going after the mineral rights. Lithium.”
He wasn’t going to mention the crushed truck and bodies yet.
“Not on my goddamn property they ain’t,” Lola said with a growl. “Two of ‘em tried to sneak in here two Sundays ago. Fang heard ‘em and raised bloody hell, and they shot my poor dog. Would have got me too if I hadn’t grabbed old Clyde here just in time.” She patted the wooden stock of her 1950’s military rifle.
“Good for you. I found a couple of homesteaders down in south county yesterday who weren’t so lucky. Would have been nice if you told us though.”
“Luck ain’t got nothing to do with it, Dirk. Unless it was their bad luck in coming onto my goddamn land. And I ain’t goin’ all the way into town to talk with the Sheriff just because a couple of peckerwoods wandered onto my property.”
“Still, it’s a good idea when there’s been shooting, Lola. Sheriff’s gonna have to come out with some boys to recover two bodies from a truck along your road. Maybe the ones who bothered you?”
“If so, then good riddance. Hope the buzzards got ‘em.”
“They did. Didn’t find anything much in the truck except some damaged weapons. Maybe the forensic’s folks can find some evidence they can use to tie them to Acme, but I doubt it. Definitely ex-military muscle based on the gear.”
“Prob’ly the same folks Paddy Johnson drove off his property a day before they came here. He lost two good dogs, but he and his wife can both shoot and they did. A lot. But they’re goddamn lousy shots. I’m not.”
“Understand. But how in the hell did their truck get out there? I figure the shooting was about here.”
She nodded. “Yeah, it was. I shot the shit out of them right about where you’re standing and then they drove off at high speed. Probably wrecked and flipped upside down, being crushed and all. Pretty sure I got hits on both of ‘em.”
Dirk noted that he hadn’t said anything about the truck being upside down or crushed. Lola knew more than she was saying.
“Even stranger, Lola. I only saw a single set of tracks coming in, none going out.”
“Don’t know none about that,” Lola she with a shake of her head. “Middle of the night and all. Don’t rightly know how they got to wherever they got from here. Don’t care neither. Long as they’s gone for good.”
“Yup, I think you done made sure of that. But we gotta tie this back to Acme somehow if we’re going to stop ‘em. Story is they have more’n one team working for them. Across at least two counties.”
“Can’t help none with that, Dirk. Took care of my own problem. But given you’ve come all the way out there, how about some lemonade. It ain’t cold, but it’s wet.”
“Prefer a beer if you got it.”
“On duty?” she laughed.
“Especially so. That’s four bodies that I’ve found in less than 24 hours. Two good folks, two bad guys. Not my kind of score.”
Dirk settled into a comfortable rocking chair on Lola's porch as she came out with a couple of Bud Lights, the unofficial beer of the desert. Not enough alcohol in it to cause problems with marginally dehydrated drinkers.
She returned to sit down in the chair next to him.
“Sure do miss my dog,” she said sadly. “Won’t sleep right ’til I get another. You got any desert dogs that need homes over at the Sheriff’s pound?”
“Always. Come adopt one or a few the next time in town. Let me know and I’ll help. Strays show up there looking for food. Some of ‘em are half ‘yote.”
“Just the way I like ‘em,” she said. “‘Yotes know desert.”
“So, tell me your tale, Lola.”
“Not much to tell, Dirk. Truck goes past my signs in the wee of the night to stop ‘bout where your Jeep is. Fang raises hell and they shoot him. Took ‘em four tries to hit the poor dog in the dark. I returned fire. Emptied an entire fifty-round mag. Saw sparks, so’s I got hits on their truck. They drove off like the dickens. No headlights. Couldn’t see much in the dark myself after that. New Moon and muzzle blast and all.”
Dirk winced at the reference to a fifty-round magazine. Another Federal firearms violation. M-14’s originally came with twenty-round mags.
“Did they shoot at you?”
“Damned right they did. Close enough to hear the zings. So I hosed down the area where I seen their muzzle flashes. Emptied the whole mag in a single burst. That kind of gets people’s attention.”
“I’ll say. You do know it’s a felony to have one of these early M-14’s without a Federal permit.”
“You gonna bust my balls over it?” She raised the barrel of her rifle marginally.
“Nope. But I saw a bunch of holes in one door of their truck. Bodies were in real bad shape but can’t tell if you hit ‘em or if they just died in the crash.”
“I heard ‘em yelp. I got both the bastards.”
“Best keep that to ourselves, Lola. Stay focused on the crash. Less paperwork for all of us. And keep old Clyde there out of sight if anyone else comes out here.”
“Gotcha, Dirk. You know, now that I remember it better, the best I could do in the dark was to fire a few warning shots kind of their way. Likely didn’t hit no one.”
“That’ll do it. Only thing you know for sure is that they drove off at high speed, right? Darkness and all.”
“Yeah,” she laughed. “That’s exactly how it went.”
“Problem is that the truck crashed on BLM land. Feds like to stick their nose into such things.”
“Well, it was dark. Hard to tell what’s what. So should we move it here? You got jurisdiction if its on my land, right”
Dirk shrugged. “True, but it’s a crime scene now. Sheriff’s gotta clear it before we touch anything. And we hardly got the gear out here to move a three-ton truck anyway, especially one half buried in the sand.”
Lola paused for a long moment, and then drained her beer before crushing the can in her grip. She tossed it toward an old metal trash can that should have been too far away to reach. But she nailed it.
“I like you, Dirk. Only Deputy I feel I can trust. Only man anywhere I can say that about at the moment. You’re one of us.”
Dirk nodded. “Appreciate the vote. And yeah, once this job’s done, I’ll get a place out here too. I like this north county area. Less people. Might be your neighbor someday.”
“You’re already out here a lot, looking after us. Everyone knows. Which means you’ve seen things, right?”
Dirk shrugged. “Mostly the usual, I suppose.”
“Not all of them things you’ve seen is from Earth.”
“Figured that much. Seen some things that don’t make sense.”
She said nothing for a long moment. “Would it surprise you to know that I’m not from here? Earth, I mean.”
Dirk turned to look at her, and then laughed, figuring this was her idea of a joke. “Nope. Not surprised at all. Don’t think anyone human could be so fucking ugly.”
She laughed so hard she nearly fell out of her chair. “Ok, I overdid the look. But this form is good when I want people to look away.”
“Your eyes are somethin’ though. Never seen ‘em before today. Almost unnatural, but beautiful.” He didn’t know where that last came from.
“Yeah, it's always the fucking eyes that give us away.”
Dirk wasn’t sure where this was going. He didn’t actually believe aliens were walking around Moffat County despite the strange stuff he’d seen in the sky. “So what’s ‘this form’ mean?”
“Means I can look a lot of different ways.”
Dirk sighed as looked out at his Jeep, deciding now would be a real good time to get out of here. Lola was starting to get weird. If she could look different ways, she certainly wouldn’t look like this.
“Don’t believe me, do you? That’s good. Says you got a brain. Not just another crazy UFO freak who’ll believe any fucking thing. So how about I get out of these duds and fix our little problem with that truck?”
Now Dirk really needed to be going. He sure as hell didn’t want Lola taking her clothes off, and he wasn't going near that truck again. He started to rise. “Well, before we do anything, I gotta go and call this in. Radio won’t reach from out here. You keep your story clean and this’ll just be some paperwork for me and the Sheriff.”
“Look, Dirk, like I said, you’re a good man. You go drive back to that truck. Wait there for me for a bit. It’ll take me an hour or so. Got a lot of things to change.”
He looked at her oddly, and then nodded. Anything to get out of here. She tossed him the rest of the six-pack and then went inside. He walked back to his Jeep and quicklyl drove off. When he got back to the crushed truck, he shut the engine off and climbed up on the hood to lean comfortably against the windshield as he drank his beers, thinking about Lola and the things she’d said. He kept coming back to her eyes. There was something about them that just wasn’t right.
An hour came and went. Then a second one. No Lola. Dirk crushed his last can as he slid off the hood to toss the empties in the Jeep’s back seat. He slid behind the wheel and was reaching for the key when he heard a swish of air as something landed hard beside the Jeep. Sand peppered his windshield. Turning to look out his side window, he was startled to find himself staring into the face of a stunningly gorgeous blonde wearing some kind of skin-tight two-piece leotard. She was very tall, and her hair was tangled as if she’d been in a strong wind.
She was without a doubt the most striking woman he’d ever seen. She had slender but strong arms and very long legs, and her shoulders were powerfully built yet not overly defined, at least by current standards. Instead, she had a fantastic figure with large boobs that seemed unnaturally firm — the kind of implants that Vegas strippers had — along with the kind of tight backside you rarely saw past one’s teenage years. Her skin was that perfect shade of tan that only Scandinavians seem capable of developing in the Med. Standing there with one thumb hooked under the waistband of her tights, her flat midriff bared, he decided everything about her was off-the-chart.
Dirk forced his eyes upward from her amazing chest to take in a beautiful face, framed as it was by that wildly tousled blonde hair. Shockingly, she had exactly the same cerulean blue eyes he’d just been staring at back at Lola’s place.
He swallowed hard as he stared at her, trying to wrap his head around the impossibility of anyone looking THAT good.
“I got no idea what kind of looks you’re into, Dirk, but I ain’t never gone wrong with this angel.”
Dirk gasped as he heard Lola's familiar gravely voice and desert accent. Did Lola have a daughter, or more likely a grand-daughter given her apparent age? But what was that about an angel? She sure as hell wasn’t the kind of angel they talked about at the Moffat Baptist Church.
He stuck his hand out the window. “I’m Dirk. And who might you be?”
“Don’t be a dick, Dirk. You don’t see the resemblance?”
He shook his head, totally confused. “Resemblance to whom?”
“You know, for a cop, you don't have much of an eye for faces.”
Dirk wasn’t looking at her face. He couldn’t stop himself from scanning his gaze back down the most perfect body he'd ever imagined. No way anyone merely human could look like that.
She quickly proved him right by rising into thin air to spin around a couple of times. “Like I said, Dirk, the original owner of this body was supposedly an angel. But I think she was actually a goddess.”
Astounded by the impossibility of her levitation, not to mention talk of angels and goddesses, Dirk stared google-eyed as his brain tried to catch up with his eyes. His astonishment grew deeper yet when she flew over to land on the upside-down truck. There she bent her long legs to reach down and dig her fingers into the steel frame. She started to lift, and back turned into a grid of tight muscle. Astonishingly, she tugged partially buried truck out of the sand before casually flying off with three tons of Dodge dangling from her fingers.
Dirk's jaw was hanging open as he blinked and rubbed his eyes. How many beers had he drunk anyway?
He was gulping for air as he hung his head out the window to follow her. She was flying slowly back toward Lola’s place. He started his Jeep to spin around in a cloud of dust to follow the flying truck, leaning down to look up through the top of the windshield. The truck was slowly climbing, reaching about five hundred feet by the time it passed over Lola’s skull and crossbones sign. Which is when the flying blonde released it. The truck landed with a great crash that sent a huge cloud of sand and dust flying.
Seconds later, the blonde landed cross-legged on the hood of his Jeep. He slammed on the brakes to send her sliding down the hood where she casually extended her long legs to stop his Jeep with a jarring crash. A dust cloud billowed around the Jeep as Dirk staggered out the door to find that the blonde wasn’t standing, but rather floating a few inches above the sand. Astoundingly, his police-grade front bumper was badly dented in two places where it had hit her knees.
She nodded toward the crushed truck. “So, is that going to simplify your paperwork, Dirk? Not on BLM land anymore.”
“Are you… Lola's niece or granddaughter or whatever? But how can you do… that?” He pointed at the crushed truck, and then up in the air.
She frowned. “No, Dirk. It’s just me. I thought you’d appreciate the change. But if you prefer old and wrinkled Lola, I can still do her.”
“Lola!” Dirk gasped. “But… how in the fuck…?!”
“I already told you. I’m not from around here. It’s in my nature to look anyway I want. Artemis’ DNA here comes from a species who inspired all those stories about angels. You like her muscles?” She made a fist while bending her right arm to flex her biceps, which was huge and incredibly defined, split down the middle and all.
The last time Dirk had seen a biceps like that was at a body-building competition in Vegas. And it had been attached to woman who otherwise looked far too masculine for his tastes.
“So… you’re… Artemis now? Like the Greek goddess? Daughter of Zeus and all?”
She shrugged. “Can’t say for sure. Unfortunately, my DNA and shape patterns don’t come with a user manual or any kind of history. These memories was tagged with the name Artemis and something about an angel. That’s all I got.”
“But, she’s a shapechanger?!!” Dirk gasped.
She made a face. “No, Artemis isn’t, I am. And we prefer to call ourselves polymorphs. My people borrow other people’s genetics and looks. Anyone’s really. I could do you if you want?”
He shook his head. “NO. I mean, I love… this… this look.” He wasn’t sure how to even describe her, she was so far over-the-top. “Is this the real you? Or was… that.” He waved toward her cabin.
She laughed, shaking her head. “Neither one more’n the other. Looks just serve a purpose. When I want to be left alone, which I mostly do, I do crazy old Lola. Borrowed that look from someone I saw down in Arizona. A lifetime desert rat who was pushing 90. Nobody could stand to look at her.”
Dirk was very aware that Lola had lost most of her desert accent. She almost sounded like a townee now.
“But the flying? Lifting that truck like it wasn’t nothin? And all… this.” He gestured up and down her body. There wasn’t a wrinkle or as much as a freckle on her perfectly tanned skin.
“My people are all born with the knowledge to create every exceptional being our ancestors have ever met, so obviously at least one of my ancestors knew this Artemis angel-goddess person. We can’t create anything truly new. We just copy and mix things together.”
“So… there are aliens out there who can fly and are super-strong? Like a Kryptonian?”
She made a fist, and her arm flexed with muscular definition that was off-the-chart. “Obviously. Artemis’ genetic pattern is our people’s most valuable one, and as a result, it is carefully passed down every generation. Takes practice to do her though.“ She reached up to cup her breasts. “Especially these flight organs. Very complicated structure, organic antigravs and all. Took me decades of practice to get it right."
“Flight organs…?!” Dirk breathed as he watched her hands, wishing they were his. “Antigravity boobs?"
Artemis grimaced, which just made her look cuter. "Sounds ridiculous when you put it that way, but essentially accurate."
But… but why show me this now?”
“Simple. I want to help you put an end to these Acme people, and no offense, that’s just not going to happen with the way you and the Sheriff run things. And there’s no way you’d want to work with Lola. I saw how uncomfortable she made you — just like she’s supposed to. But I figured you’d like Artemis. Even better, she’s obviously got some useful skills.”
Dirk stared at her for a long moment, and then laughed in a way that sounded like he was one step from hysterical. “You know, I’ve known women who changed their look with makeup. Or colored their hair. Or had plastic surgery to improve this or that. But I never know’d anyone who could put on another body. So you really can, you know, do anyone?”
“Anyone I’ve seen closely enough and whose baseline DNA was handed down in our genetic memories. I’ve got a pretty expansive memory. You got any requests?”
“Jesus, no. You’re gorgeous. Incredible. Off the fucking charts!”
“Thank you. Glad I'm ringing some bells.”
“So, you’re really like a Kryptonian or whatever?”
“No… they are fantasy beings. But if they did exist, Artemis here could probably fake being one well enough. Enough that I wonder about cultural contamination on Earth. As in, have real beings inspired your fantasy characters? My people are spread far and wide, and we can all do an Artemis when we need to. Likely I’m not the first to walk around here on Earth as her.”
“So… you came to Earth. This way?”
“Four of us did. Perfectly identical looking given we were all doing a basic Artemis. Our wreck of a ship had minimal life-support and no working propulsion, but it was enough to let us dive through wormholes and recover our energies in the photospheres of passing stars. We used our flight power to replace the broken engines on that wormhole ship, just the four of us. Thankfully the NavComp worked, so we could steer that narrow safe path during hole dives — get off course just the tiniest bit in a wormhole and you wind up getting squished to the size of an atom inside a black hole. That would have sucked, even for Artemis.”
Dirk blinked, trying to imagine all that. Even more, he was trying to envision four Artemis’ propelling and steering a starship with their own bodies. Compared to that, all he had was a gun and this mostly worn-out Jeep. He was way, Way, WAY over his head here.
“So… who are you guys? The real you, whatever that means. And there’s really three others like you here?”
“Three that I know of. Probably more. Earth is a nice refuge when you’re the target of galactic genocide. We call ourselves Kecklavians. We’re outcasts. Seems the advanced races didn’t like the way we change our looks and abilities and our whatevers. Especially the way we could infiltrate by imitating anyone we wished. We made a serious mistake by alienating the powers that be in the galaxy — hiring ourselves out to less than savory types and all — so they kicked us off every civilized world on pain of death. But since Earth is still coded Orange on the charts, the four of us figured it should be safe to hide here until it all blows over. However many centuries that takes. Likely we aren’t the only ones to think of it.”
“Star charts that show where intelligent races live. Earth is Orange which means you’re intelligent enough to someday stand as an equal with other worlds, but that you are not yet socially ready for contact. The hard rule is that you have to give up warfare first. On your own. Until then, you guys are quarantined in your own solar system under the penalty of death. A doom that I’m already under, so that’s hardly a new problem for me. Besides, I can always become Artemis. Pretty hard to hurt her with anything less than anti-matter weapons, which would create dinosaur-grade extinction craters. That might get noticed.”
“So… all those UFO nuts are right?”
“Hell no. 90% of what they believe is batshit. But they get one thing right. You have visitors. What they don’t get is that most visitors look completely human and can blend in because they are human at the core. Homo Sapiens evolved here, but your earliest offspring have filled the galaxy for a hundred thousand years, evolving to fit the local conditions.”
“Seems that one of the powers-that-be back then took a fancy to your species and hauled a lot of you away to populate new worlds. Abducted actually. Most of you still look human today, like Artemis here. Her DNA has a lot of overlap with yours.”
“Abducted…?” Dirk started to ask. “That’s a big deal with UFO believers.”
“As I said, 10% of what they believe is true, the abduction and medical experiments thing most of all. But enough questions for now. How about you start driving, Dirk. We can talk more on the way back to your place.”
He unlocked the passenger-side door and she slid in, moving with the flexibility and grace of a dancer as she adjusted the seat all the way back to accommodate her long legs. Dirk chuckled as he realized she looked like a Playboy centerfold had merged with the comicbook Powergirl. Nobody was going to believe this.
“So, you can do male and female forms?”
“Sure. Most of us anyway. The differences are less than the sames.”
“So there could be a Superman here on Earth? Or there was. A male version of Artemis.”
“Sure, but we don’t draw attention to ourselves. And as far as gender goes, it’s easier for me to do females. Penises are hard to get right, at least for me. If I’m going to do one, I want it to work properly, and I mostly can’t. And then you got the flight thing. Males obviously can’t fly. No boobs. Females of Artemis’ subspecies had all the advantages.”
Dirk swallowed hard as he forced his eyes forward and started driving. This was crazy. She could manifest DNA that was essentially Kryptonian, but she couldn’t make a penis work?
“So, do we go to a clothing store first to get you something a bit more… normal?”
She laughed. “Normal clothes won’t fit this bod. But I can synthesize any clothing I’ve seen, more or less.”
Dirk’s thoughts raced faster, envisioning the kinds of sexy outfits she’d look good in. Which was everything. And nothing.
“So, tell me, how is any of this part of catching the Acme guys?”
She shrugged. “I figure we can put Artemis’s abilities to work. Or my native polymorphing ones. I could infiltrate their offices by becoming one of them. Or if that doesn’t work, I could put these muscles to work to open their safes or whatever to find their secrets. Or dangle one of those assholes by his big toe a mile high until he talks.”
Dirk nearly ran off the road as he turned to stare wide-eyed at her.
She laughed. “Or maybe I could hide Artemis away until we need her. I also do an absolutely perfect Charlize Theron, at least if you like the way she looked about ten years ago. Went to a party as her back then. On a lark. I wanted to see how life as a celebrity could be. Turned out to be a completely crazy party where I met this amazing guy. Professional athlete and all. Damn near superhuman. We didn’t leave the hotel for days. Probably created all kinds of problems for both of them afterward. I mean, the real Charlize wouldn’t even know who the guy was, but he had a weekend of intimate memories of her. Awkward.”
Dirk’s jaw fell as he considered how they must have worked that out. Probably with restraining orders. He got lost in his head as he tried to envision Lola as a younger and hotter Charlize. Who was ridiculously hot to begin with. “How old are you actually?” he finally blurted out. “And how long on Earth.”
“Age doesn’t mean much for us given we look as we wish. We’re physically immortal given that everything is regenerated whenever we change forms. But as far as Earth goes, I’ve been here for about fifty years, mostly hiding out here in the desert."
“But you’ve lived on other planets?”
“If you count populated moons, then yes, dozens. But never again. I’m stuck here on Earth or some even less savory dead-end until we Kecklavians are once again legal. If we ever are. Polymorphism is profoundly disturbing and dangerous in most people’s eyes.”
Dirk said nothing for a long moment. He wasn’t disturbed and he wasn’t afraid. He was just amazed. As in astonished. Not to mention more than a little turned on. “So… now that I know you, kind of, two of you anyway, how ‘bout you tell me what really happened that night when the Acme guys came.”
“Ok, straight story. They started shooting at Fang like I said, so I ran out to stop them. Didn’t have Clyde with me, just the tiny .38 snub-nose I always keep in my pocket for snakes. They nailed poor Fang and then started shooting at me. Figured at that point that they’d come to kill me, and my .38 with snake-loads was hardly a match for two men with AR-15’s. So I ran back to dive into the hidey-hole under my house. I needed to buy some time because Artemis doesn’t come easily — despite being human at the core, she’s got very complex DNA, which is painful and slow to mimic.”
“Yeah. I got the human part. For sure.”
“So, while I was struggling to morph, those goons were searching all over the place for me. They were just getting around to crawling under the house when I finished my change. Now that I was Artemis, I came out to walk right toward them. Didn’t bother morphing any clothing. My skin is bulletproof, something those bastards proved by shooting me at pointy-blank range. You ever wondered how boobs bounce when bullets plunk off ‘em?”
Dirk stared at her dramatic chest, eyes wide as he shook his head, trying but failing to imagine bulletproof boobs. “Ahhh… no.”
“It’s kind of comical and very distracting, especially given the nipple shots are kind of erotic for Artemis here. The men saw me getting into it as they kept shooting, and they kept coming closer, which was good. All those holes in their truck was just from richochets off me. I was really enjoying the intimate attention until one of ‘em shot me in the eye. That hurt. So I grabbed their rifles and pressed the hot barrels against my chest until they bent.”
“No shit?!” His mind raced as he tried to imagine that.
“They were brave men but stupid, Dirk. They should have run for it, and I might have let them get away — who would believe their tale — but they were thinking with their dicks now. Artemis is bad that way. And I was so mad about their shooting my dog that when they came on to me, I just grabbed them by their necks and lifted them off the ground and squeezed until they crunched. Tossed them both back into their truck to carry it up a thousand feet or so, intending to just scare them, but they was already dead so it didn’t matter. Then I saw Fang’s body beneath me, torn apart from the bullets but somehow still breathing. Crawling toward my cabin with his front legs, back end shot to hell. He was still trying to protect me. I loved that damn dog.” She sighed, tears in her eyes. “So I dropped the truck to fly down to be with Fang in his final moments. He died in my arms. Damn good dog.” A tear ran down her cheek.
Dirk slammed on the brakes to skid to a stop on the sandy road. He turned to stare at her. “You realize that when forensics looks at the bodies, our story isn’t going to hold up for shit. Not for one goddamn minute. The crushed neck vertebrae will stand out, even after taking into account the long fall.”
“So? You think they’ll believe old Lola has the grip to do that? Hardly. Forensics will just get hung up on the falling from the sky thing. Trust me.”
“That’s not the point. Harry’ll have to bring the Feds in for sure given how bizarre the forensics will be, and that could be one hell of a mess. Feds have lots of people, and they could be poking around your place for months. And God help us if if anyone leaks anything about this to the UFO nuts.”
“None of that is goin’ to happen if they don’t have no bodies or truck or anything else to study.”
“But the truck and bodies are right there.”
“Don't have to be. How about I do an Elon Musk?”
“Send the truck and its occupants on a one-way trip to Mars. Maybe one of those little rovers will find some pieces of ‘em some day. That would be a hoot. Sending back a photo of a bit of debris that says ‘DODGE’.”
Dirk just stared at her. “You can actually do that?”
“Well, not really to Mars, unless I get lucky. Orbital mechanics are complicated. Can’t just aim from here to there with my eyeballs. Easier to just toss ‘em towards the sun at escape velocity. Sun’s gravity will capture them for sure from there.”
“You can do that?” Dirk asked again, astounded that he was even having this discussion.
“Yeah. Sure. Except I don’t much like being out there in zero pressure. Every orifice in my body farts and sometimes sharts something terrible, and my boobs blow up like balloons. You’d probably like that.”
“Jesus! Ok, I… hell, the sun? That’ll sure keep the Feds off it.” Images of Lola with balloon boobs bounced off the insides of his skull.
“Yeah, that’s how I see it too.” She opened the door to get out of the Jeep, and then leaned back in through the open window, flicking her head to toss the platinum hair from her face.
She leaned down, the top of her leotard straining. “I’d invite you along, Dirk, but you’d look awful out there in hard vacuum wearing nothing but your Sheriff’s uniform. As it is, it’ll take me a couple hours or so — can’t accelerate that wreck too fast or it’ll tear apart. How about I meet you at your place. I’ll probably get there before you do.”
“Ah… sure,” Dirk said, nearly freaking out as he tried to imagine what she was about to do. “Make yourself at home. But please don’t do anything else until we talk more. We gotta have a plan. You know where I live?”
“Like I said, I like you, Dirk. Been payin’ attention for a while.”
Dirk wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. It felt kind of creepy.
“Oh, and Dirk, it’s really Ok to look at me. As I said, these genetics probably came from some kind of a goddess. Goddesses like to be admired. Worshipped even.”
And with that, she straightened up and spun around to jump over to the crushed truck in a single bound. Bending low, she scrunched her fingers deeply into the Dodge’s undercarriage a second time. Her long hair began to rise, and then her boobs lifted unnaturally high on her chest to seemingly lift body, and then the truck rose from the ground. Once she’d climbed fifty feet or so, she flipped the truck upward to catch and hold it over her head. He saw her tense, fantastically defined muscles appearing everywhere, and then she rocketed upward into the blue sky with the Dodge, climbing fast enough to disappear in seconds.
Dirk stared up at the empty sky for a long time, realizing she must be in space by now. He shook his head in amazement as he got back in his Jeep, only to find that his hands were shaking too wildly to drive at first.
Everything he’d just seen was impossible. And no way he was buying into her being a goddess. There was only one God in his book. Still, Artemis was beautiful and powerful beyond his wildest dreams. Like that TV Supergirl, but taller with a more athletic body, not to mention that platinum blonde centerfold look and all.
He shook his head as a growing sense of unreality began to creep over him. He was comparing Artemis to a fictional TV show character? A Kryptonian? That was crazy. Especially given that Artemis was even more astounding than the TV character.
That’s when the doubts found him. The last hour started to feel more and more unreal the more he thought about it. How could he ever explain any of this to anyone with half a brain? He shook his head. Of course he couldn’t because it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. He shook his head and then banged his forehead a couple of times on the steering wheel, trying to knock some of the cobwebs loose. “Just a vivid dream. Musta’ dozed off after all those warm beers. Hell of a dream though.”
He drove on as his mind worked overtime trying to talk himself out of what he he’d just seen. Artemis had to be a figment of some hidden corner of his imagination, because such a being could not possibly exist. And connecting her with Lola — that was even more insane. They were the most opposite people possible. And shapechangers? He’d watched a movie about them a month or so ago. That was probably it. Drinking warm beers in the hot sun and then taking a nap was always a bad idea.
He began to wonder if his sister was right — maybe he had been spending too much time in the desert. Brain meltdown, she said. Happens to anyone who’s out there in the sun for too long.
He was about to chalk it up to that when his eyes caught some new marks on the steel roof pillar on the passenger side of the Jeep. The pillar looked wrinkled. He stopped the Jeep and leaned over to find that his fingers fell perfectly into place in the depressions in the reinforced steel column. That was exactly where Artemis had gripped it while getting out the door. She’d apparently crushed the steel without even being aware of it.
The shakes really found him now as the last of his adrenaline wore off and reality took over, clearing his mind, just like it always had in the Marines after a fire-fight. Artemis was just as real as a mortar attack. And that’s when it hit him — as beautiful and sexy as she was, she was dangerous in ways he’d never imagined anyone could be. She claimed bullets were useless against her. And she tossed Dodge trucks around like toys. Not to mention having Lola inside her head, who everyone thought was crazy, shooting at strangers and all. A woman who’d already scared Harry and all his other Deputies.
They hadn’t been nearly scared enough. Dirk’s mind raced wildly as he itemized what Artemis was apparently capable of. She could travel in space without any kind of protection? He shook his head again at that thought. This was all crazy. None of that was humanly impossible given she wasn’t even from Earth. And one thing was very clear — she was a cop’s worst nightmare. An unstoppable criminal who could swat even a SWAT team away.
He should have been afraid, but he surprised himself by seeing only opportunity. Given Lola wasn’t from Earth, none of the laws of Earth applied to her. He’d once read an excerpt from a legal journal which was considering the hypothetical legal status of extraterrestrials — assuming we ever met one. The author’s conclusion was that since human laws didn’t apply to dogs or other animals, they wouldn't apply to ET’s. Human laws were only for humans.
That thought got his head back in the game. If the laws didn’t apply to her, then Artemis could legally operate in any way necessary to ensure that no more innocents were killed by the Acme goons. She’d already killed two men — technically self-defense — but how many more would it take to shut Acme down for good? The cop inside him started arguing with the ex-soldier. The usual questions about vigilantes. Was it immoral to kill evil men in cold blood to stop them from killing more good and innocent people? He hadn’t sturggled with that kind of morality when he was in the Marines — but he was a cop now. Kind of. Out here in the desert, he was the only law, and sometimes the soldier was right there beside him. He’d long ago rationalized that Justice didn’t always require a court of law. Not when there was no doubt about guilt or innocence. He’d never admit it to anyone, but he’d dug a few desert graves himself. He’d justified it as “predator control” at the time. Some men needed to be treated like rabid coyotes.
He made a sudden decision, and reached up to remove his badge and toss it into the glove compartment. He wasn’t going to sully the badge. But he was going to ride this new train to wherever it led.
Six hours later
It looked like a party was underway when Dirk finally drove up to his house. His home was on the far side of Moffat town, out on the most remote chunk of desert he’d found where he could still get power and internet and cellphone service.
Smoke was rising from the BBQ on his deck and every light in the house seemed to be on. He heard some old 70’s Pink Floyd thundering from his audio system as he got out of his Jeep. Opening the front door, a wall of sound from a David Gilmour guitar solo nearly pushed him back outside —Comfortably Numb. He’d never realized that his audio system could play this loud. Never wanted it to either.
The air was filled with more than sound. The smell of popcorn and pizza wafted out from the kitchen. Artemis came dancing out of the kitchen, a bowl of freshly-popped corn in one hand and a huge bowl of chocolate ice cream in the other, her feet never touching the ground. She flitted around him, her long blonde hair spilling warmly over him as she gave him a bump with the firmest butt he’d ever felt, and then danced over to collapse into the media-room couch to stare at his TV. A pile of dirty plates sat on the low table in front of her, witness to the fact that she was probably working on desert now. Followed by pizza.
This wasn’t a woman. This was a force of nature.
“Electricity and music and TV and especially your MacBook are so wonderful,” she shouted over the music. “Look at the stuff I can do with it.”
“It isn’t electricity that’s burning the meat on the grill.”
“Oh shit!” she exclaimed. She floated up from the couch to fly out the sliding glass doors to the deck. She returned with a slightly blackened rack of pork ribs that Dirk had originally bought for weekend football with his buddies. She set the scalding hot metal pan in her lap as she began to eat the greasy ribs with one hand and ice cream with the other along with a handful of popcorn added in from time to time. He’d never seen anyone enjoying food that much — or in any way remotely like the way she was eating it. Or so much.
“Let me guess. You’re hungry.”
Lola tossed her long blonde hair to the side to look up at him, BBQ sauce smeared on her lips. “You’d be too if you’d just tossed a Dodge into the goddamn sun.”
Dirk chuckled as he started to take Artemis’ excesses in stride. “Good riddance for a fucking Dodge. I’m a Ford guy.”
She nodded as if that made perfect sense before turning back to concentrate on whatever was on the TV.
He left her there, eating ribs, popcorn and ice cream, to check on the kitchen. The place looked like a crime scene. Blood covered the counter, hopefully from preparing the ribs. There was also a sink full of dirty dishes and a pizza in the oven that smelled ready to come out. He was about to grab a potholder and remove it when Artemis floated by him to take the pizza pan out with her bare hands, and then somehow managed to somersault backwards over his head without dropping it. She disappeared back down the three steps into the media room.
His refrigerator, which had held his next two week’s groceries, was essentially empty. He walked out into the garage to check on his freezer, only to find a monstrously large safe blocking his way. It was so heavy that it had partially sunk into the garage’s concrete floor, with cracks radiating outward in all directions. Walking around it, he was not surprised to find an ACME MINERALS sign bolted to the door.
Turning angrily, he marched back into the house to mute the TV and music. “I thought I said not to do anything more until we talked about it, Lola? What the hell is Acme’s safe doing in my garage?”
She shrugged. “Figured we could find out who else they’ve hit or are planning to.” Her desert accent had faded even more.
“So you just dragged it out the back wall of their office?”
“Not at all. Went up through the roof. Figured that would cause the maximum confusion. A vertical extraction could only have been done by a very large crane given that safe’s way heavy for any chopper to lift. So they’ll be looking for really big crane. Confusion and misdirection are our friends.”
“Anyone see you?”
“Me? Nope. I did my invisibility thing. The safe? Maybe.”
“You can become invisible?”
“Kind of. In bad lighting anyway. UFO types will be all over this one soon as it hits the News.”
“Yeah, and the FBI too. Which given I’m involved in this investigation means they’ll likely come here to talk to me. How we gonna explain having Acme’s safe in my garage?”
“We don’t. I figured I’d get rid of it like the truck. Right after we give it a good search.”
“That’s a Templer safe, Anya. Probably the best safe design on the entire planet. How we gonna’ open it?”
“They don’t teach you that in cop school?”
Dirk laughed. “Breaking into ultra-high-security safes? Guess I must have missed class that day.”
She reached down to slap her thighs. “Well, then it’s a good thing then that I got these legs. Artemis’ muscles don’t know when to quit.”
She wiped off her mouth before lifting from the couch to hang in mid-air. Dirk’s eyes opened wide as she began to peel off the bottom half of her tights to reveal she was wearing only a black thong beneath them. Her bare legs were as stunning as the rest of her, perfectly tanned and shaped by long, toned muscles.
“Ah, Lola, the walls of that kind of safe have to be at least six inches thick, with locking dead bolts that extend outward from the door into the frame. Everything is made from special steel that’s nearly impossible to drill or torch let alone bend.”
She lifted off the floor to float toward him, lifting her legs high as she landed gently on his shoulders. He was suddenly very aware that his nose was almost touching the front of her thong and her warm thighs were pressing tightly against his cheeks.
“These legs are way stronger than any silly steel. Check ‘em out.”
Dirk lifted his hands to grip her thighs as he tried to ease her backward a few inches. Her skin was warm and extremely soft, but it was stretched tautly over curves that seemed to have been scuplted from steel. He couldn’t budge her at first, so he ducked down to back away, trying not to imagine his head squishing like a rotten pumpkin. She lowered her legs to just hang there in mid-air like some kind of exotic ornament, her hair rising to spread across the ceiling as she bumped gently against it. She looked down at his waist and smiled. “Well, I see you’ve finally decided you like Artemis after all. Was thinking for a bit that you might not like women.”
Dirk tore his eyes from her amazing legs, angry at himself that he was suddenly so aroused. “Hey, I’ve been trying to be professional. You’re not making it easy.”
“You aren’t a doctor, Dirk. You’re a cop. And forget all the rules about working with a partner. I’m different.”
“Whatever those rules might be. Never had me a partner, Lola. I’m lucky they gave me a second-hand Jeep. And I’m not even sure I’m a cop anymore.”
“Well, cop or not, you got yourself a partner now. So how about we open this little safe and poke around a little?”
“With those… legs?”
“Only way. Given your state, you’ll enjoy it.”
She landed on the floor to walk ahead of him. Dirk stared at her, mesmerized by the tight backside that her thong didn’t pretend to cover. He had no idea how it was possible for anyone human to look THAT good. Or be that firm.
He shook his head, reminding himself that she was an alien Kecklavian being who’d morphed into an alien goddess who just happened to so very human. Not to mention apparently having the muscles of a Kryptonian. That unbelievable thought made his head hurt again.
But she proved that it was all true by levitating over to stretch her long legs very wide, hooking her ankles around the sides of the safe. She was not only strong but she had the flexibility of a gymnast. Standing behind her, Dirk daringly rested his hands on her small waist to steady her, his fingers sensing the powerful muscles that tensed across her lower body. The air was suddenly filled with both the high keening and deep groaning of overstressed steel, which was quickly followed by a series of loud pops. He reached up to pull her hair out of the way to lean his chin on her shoulder — she was as tall as him — and looked over her shoulder to see the thick steel walls of the safe slowly bending inward where she was gripping it with her ankles. His hands had a mind of their own as they slipped lower, caressing the incredibly-defined steel muscles of her thighs — and then the space between them — tracing his fingers along muscles that were crushing an impossible-to-crush Templer safe.
She bent the sides of the safe inward a few inches before pausing for a moment to gasp for air, and then scooted forward to take advantage of the slightly narrower sides of the safe. Gripping it now with her calves now, her thighs again turned to warm steel as she crushed safe even more. So much so that the top of the safe began to bulge upward as the sides collapsed, the popping, groaning, screaming sound of overstressed steel filling the garage at earsplitting levels. The top of the safe slowlly tore away from the door, which added a new shrieking groan all of its own.
A sheen of sweat covered Artemis’ skin by the time she paused again, the safe looking a bit like an hour glass now. Moving to hand-sized gap over the door, she braced her right knee against the lower half of the door as she reached up to jam her right hand into that gap, holding the side of the safe her left palm as she began pulling the door outward and downward. Fantastic muscles came alive across her shoulders and back and arms, those deep grooves and sharp peaks of living steel growing more defined than humanly possible. The keening of steel was suddenly joined by some startlingly loud pops as she began tearing the huge retractable dead bolts out of the massive door frame. The two-inch diameter high-tensile steel bolts were located every eight inches around the periphery of the door, sides, top and bottom, and she was bending and then shattering them as she pulled the top of the thick door out of its frame. Pausing, she reached further behind the door while bracing her left hand lower on the frame, and pulled again with her right hand. This time the massive door gave up the unequal fight between ultra steel and her harder-than-steel muscles. A half dozen dead bolts exploded as she tore the door free of both its deadbolts and its hinges.
She leaned back against him now, the animalistic sensation of raw strength turning him on so much that he forgot himself, one hand rising upward to cup one impossibly firm boob. He vaguely realized that the mangled door had to weigh tons, yet she tossed it across the garage floor as it was little more than a Frisbee, the handles digging deep grooves in the concrete.
“That… that was fucking amazing…” he gasped, hardly able to breathe. His ears were ringing from the loud keening of the mangled steel as he suddenly realized where his hand was. He quickly released her to step back. “That… Jesus, that was definitely Kryptonian-grade strength!”
“Yeah, I guess,” she shrugged as she twisted her upper body from side to side as she began to stretch. “Of course, Kryptonians are just an Earthling fantasy.”
“I’ve temporarily suspended my judgement of what is reality and what is fantasy, thank you very much.
She laughed. “Except you can’t ignore the fact that there is an entire of planet of people like Artemis out there.”
“They’re still around?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. Probably. My library of DNA profiles aren’t dated and I don’t have any info other than their genetics and their form, plus a couple of names.”
“But they really were like gods?”
“You tell me,” she said, turning to face him with her hands on her hips, her feet floating just above the floor. She gestured toward the mangled safe. “Was that goddess shit or what?”
Dirk shook his head. “More comic book than goddess.”
“What’s weird, Dirk, is that while I can become Artemis, I don’t know what she or her people thought about themselves. Or others. They might have been cruel gods for all I know. Assholes.”
Dirk watched as rivulets of sweat ran down her perfect skin, flowing betwewen her impossibly firm boobs that rose and fell dramatically as she gulped air. How could anyone this beautiful and this powerful be anything but kind and wonderful?
It required all his willpower to look away from her. He busied himself pulling out the eight-foot long drawers that filled most of the inner safe. Acme’s safe had been custom-designed for a mineral exploration company, and it had many small sample boxes on each long drawer with an index number and a summary of the assay results. Dirk fished his iPhone from his pocket and began snapping pictures of each sample and its data. It took him nearly an hour to photograph them all, during which Lola grew impatient and went back into the house to eat whatever she’d missed the first time.
When he was finished photographing everything, he followed her inside to grab a beer and sag into a kitchen chair. Lola was floating around making a final search of his cabinets, the lower half of her leotard still missing in action. He forced himself to stop staring at her ass and put his brain back to work. “You know, Lola, I think the sooner that safe disappears, the better. FBI is going to be all over the theft at Acme. Might have been in the next county, but Harry will get contacted, and he knows I’m at the front end of the Acme investigation.”
“Ok,” she shrugged. “Nothing else to eat here anyway.”
She turned to walk back out into the garage as Dirk followed behind, once again mesmerized by her lithe musculature, every curve so perfectly rounded and tight. He’d never seen anyone move like she did.
She turned her head back around as they entered the garage. “You know I said earlier it was Ok to look at me, Dirk. But I wasn’t thinking of only my ass.”
Dirk jerked his eyes up. “Sorry. I’m just having a hard time believing any woman could have a body as tight as yours.”
“So, Artemis is too much?”
“Definitely superhuman, but hell, I’ll get used to it. I mean, I WANT to get used to it.”
Lola laughed as she picked up the heavy safe door and danced around him, bumping him with her butt as she flipped it in her bare hands as if it was nothing. Several tons of nothing. She finally slammed it into the mangled opening of the safe and bent it crudely back into place, working the steel with her fingers like it was merely soft clay, pressure welding it with a pinch of her fingers.
“Come here and check this out,” she said over her shoulder.
Dirk walked up closely behind her, feeling the moist heat of her silky skin again.
“Check me out as I work the door into place. You seem into my muscles.”
She pushed her butt against him, only to find that the bulge in his plants fit perfectly between her rounded cheeks. She gripped him tightly, which made Dirk gasp with pleasure.
“I was just wondering… you know, what’s possible?” Dirk thought out loud. “You know, with us.”
“With Artemis? With this full-on muscle tone? Not much unless you secretly wear an “S” under your shirt.”
Her bluntness shocked him. “But there are so many ways…” he started to say, daringly lifting his hands from behind to hold her boobs again, which overflowed his hands. As he’d found before, she was unnaturally firm. He ran his thumb around the hard shape of her nipples, and they sprang to life, proving they at least worked like boobs.
“So, they work normally,” he whispered softly in her ear. “Wonder what else works.”
Lola squeaked softly as she pushed her butt harder against him. “This is a very bad idea, Dirk. Artemis comes with an extra supply of nerve endings. Like… everywhere. You gotta be careful about starting something you can’t finish. Unless you want to watch me do me.”
Dirk was sure he had a problem with that, but he reluctantly shifted his hands higher on her chest. The lower edges of his hands still rested on her softness as he carressed her thick pectorals. She began to squeeze inward with her hands, and the massively thick steel of the safe began to bend inward as the pecs beneath his hands expanded far more than any human woman. Their definition grew so extreme that striations appeared across her upper chest as that thick plate of steel muscle lifted her boobs higher than normal. His fingers traced the most amazing curves and clefts as she used their impossible strength to bend the sides of the safe over the twisted safe door, filling in the gaps.
He slid his hands down her long arms to cover her hands as she worked the steel, which appeared to be soft and pliable plastic in her grip. Yet this was Templer’s unique alloy that supposedly resisted cutting tools and torches and any form of bending. He silently marveled at the feel of steel-cable-like tendons transferring the power of her muscles to her fingers, unable to even imagine the kind of forces that were in play.
He was barely able to walk by the time she finished, not the least for the way her ass cheeks were still hugging his erection. She turned around to face him, blonde hair mostly covering her face, her nipples profoundly erect and pointing slightly upward.
“Now that we’re both ready for something we can’t possibly do, how about I get this hunk of junk out of here before we do anything stupider. You got any nosy neighbors?”
Dirk pulled his eyes from her, feeling more turned on and more profoundly frustrated than he’d ever felt before. “Ah… I don’t have any neighbors,” he said, shaking his head, eyes glazed over. “Not closer’n three miles anyway, and they’re an old couple who are probably long asleep. But the moon is pretty full tonight. Never know when someone somewhere’s gonna be looking up and snaps a picture of a cute blonde flying off with Acme’s safe.”
“Gotcha. I’ll stay low until I get way out in the desert before I climb. See ya later.”
Dirk hit the button to open the garage door as she sank her fingers into the steel to easily hoist the fifty-ton safe from the cracked floor, biceps flexing more than humanly possible. The huge safe looked more awkward than heavy in her hands as she slowly spun around, and then flew out the open door and out across the desert floor to disappear in the distance.
Looking around nervously, the only living thing Dirk saw in the bright moonlight was a solitary coyote watching from the edge of his driveway, looking to fill its stomach with a tasty jackrabbit. He closed the garage door and headed back inside, which was almost impossible given how turned on he was. He tried to tell himself that Artemis was just an imitation. That ugly Lola was her reality. But it was hard to ignore the memory of his eyes and hands, both of which said Artemis was a completely different person than Lola. A goddess.
Shaking his head, he struggled to rein in his thoughts. To get back to reality. Which at the moment meant that he needed to be focused on staying out of prison. Because that’s where he’d wind up if this went wrong. That unpleasant thought helped bring him back to Earth. He had to think over their next steps more carefully. So far they’d likely had no witnesses and had left no physical evidence that would be compelling to law enforcement. The real risk was the pictures in his iPhone. He had to get rid of those as soon as he was finished with them.
It was also clear that going forward from here meant dealing with Acme people, some of whom would be innocents. Artemis would want to toss them into the sun, but he had to make absolutely sure they’d truly committed murder before he allowed that. Assuming she’d listen to him. Cop. Judge. Jury. Executioner. She was capable of being all four at once. Hopefully she’d listen to him.
As a wave of exhaustion washed over him, he decided he needed a Plan B for the innocents, who might learn more about Lola or him than he could explain away.
Dirk fell asleep with thoughts still racing in his mind, and spent the night dreaming about Artemis, and all the ways she was superhuman.
When he got up in the morning, he found the house strangely empty. Which was weird given he was used to living alone. He grabbed a shower and then a cup of coffee as he called the dispatcher to say he was sick, which didn’t go well after Harry came on the line. He was already pissed that Dirk had only talked to Lola yesterday, given there were a dozen cabins in the north county. Dirk claimed he’d been too sick to visit any others — and he didn’t have a SatPhone thanks to Harry, so he hadn’t exactly been able to call in. He said it was some kind of intestinal thing. The kind that was going to keep him hugging the toilet. Harry told him brusquely to check in at the end of the day, and then hung up.
Dirk immediately went to work cross-referencing the photos he’d captured of the assay reports, making careful notes as he went. As expected, all the properties that Barb had flagged, including the two where he’d confirmed the shallow graves, had high levels of lithium in the soil. Too late for them. Lola’s property along with two of her neighbors also had high assay values. But after that, only one other property over on the east side of the county. But there were dozens of high assays for properties in adjoining counties.
Acme had spread its net wide by testing samples without the owner’s permission across four counties, and they apparently had more than one hit team. For all he knew, team two was already out there. Their target could be any of fifty different places in four counties, and likely not where the first team had come to their untimely end. But there was no way to narrow it down with what he knew.
It was up to Lola to get that info. Unfortunately, she hadn’t returned. Hours passed. Noon came and went. Still no Lola. Dirk paced in silent frustration, knowing there was no one he could call. He was just about ready to give up waiting and drive over to the next county to sniff around Acme’s office himself when he heard someone walk through the front door.
He walked excitedly into the living room, only to have his smile freeze as he found himself staring into the eyes of a very cute teenage girl with long red-hair. She looked nothing like Lola or Artemis except for the eyes.
“Let me guess,” Dirk smiled. “Eighteen and innocent.”
She laughed, a lovely, high tinkle. “Apparently, but more importantly, his bookkeeper, Amy.”
“Brad Monterey. The younger of the two Acme owners. He’s been coming on to Amy since she was hired, harassing and even threatening her if she tried to quit — serious abuse — so I arranged for the real Amy to take a little vacation while I fixed our problems.”
“You talked to her as Artemis?”
“Of course not. I saw her talking with her uncle, so I quickly morphed him. Close enough to fool her anyway. Gave her money and put her on a bus to her aunt’s place in LA. And now that she was out of town, I took her shape here and went to work.”
“Do you know anything about bookkeeping?”
“Not a damn thing. But I know men. I started by wearing this short skirt — way shorter than Amy would dare to wear. The office manager glared at me when I came in, but she left me alone as I sat at Amy’s desk. I had a few hours to crawl around the Net on her computer before Brad showed up. He saw the way I was dressed and came on to me immediately, telling me it was urgent that I go with him to look at some financial papers at his house. Something Amy had always refused to do. So, naturally, I said yes.”
“That was gutsy.”
“Not really. I kept Artemis’ DNA.”
Dirk stared wide-eyed at her. Amy looked young and pretty, but she had Kryptonian-grade strength?
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
She reached down to pick up a hand-sized piece of river-worn granite rock from the table. “I don’t have all of Artemis’ power — that takes more muscle mass than I have now — but I think I’m still strong enough to do this.”
The tendons on the backs of her small hand and tiny wrist stood up like steel cables as she gripped the stone, and seconds later it gave off a startlingly loud pop to explode. Gravel flew violently across the room, some pieces stinging Dirk.
“Yowza! That sure as hell looked Kryptonian-grade to me,” Dirk grinned as he brushed the rock dust off his pants.
She tilted her head at him. “You know, given how much you talk about Kryptonians, I think I’m going to have to morph one after we’re done. Faora or Kara. Your choice.”
“Jesus, not Faora. She’d kill me.”
She sighed. “I think Faora could be fun.”
Dirk snorted. “Yeah, if you like man-hating sadomasochistic killers. You do know that she kills men for pleasure? Slowly. Painfully. She gets off on it.”
Lola smiled. “Yeah. I read some of that stuff on your computer. But you do remember that she’s just a fictional character? It’s always me inside here.” She pointed at her head.
“Well, if you do a Krypt, how about becoming someone original?”
“Told you before. I can only copy and adapt. But I guess I saw enough pictures on your computer to know what you like.”
Dirk frowned, suddenly feeling uncomfortable that she’d been crawling around in his personal stuff. “The whole reality/fantasy thing has started to blur since I met you. And when were you on my computer?”
“When I was waiting for you to come home.”
“And here I thought you spent the time eating. But you know that isn’t cool? Stalking me and then using my Mac without permission.”
“Sorry,” she said, her gesture saying she really wasn’t. “Your computer had one of those face ID thingies on it, which is the ultimate fail around me. Couldn’t resist trying to do your face.”
Dirk shook his head, trying to imagine his face on Artemis’ body. That almost made him sick. “I’m a beta tester for a security company that wants to sell these face-ID things to police departments, but I’m hardly going to write up a trouble ticket on this fail. Because if they did, I’d put the whole company out of business. Shapechangers aren’t part of their business model.”
“Sorry, but we Kecklavians are insatiably curious and we don’t like rules. If we can do something, we do it. It’s almost impossible to resist. Most people can’t handle that. Can you?”
“Don’t like it, have to admit that. Privacy is a big thing for me. Why do you think I patrol the desert all by myself? Nobody to give me any pain out there. But here’s a question for you. With all your possible names for all your possible shapes, can I please just call you Lola?”
She shrugged. “Sure. I mean, that’s how you first met me, so why not. Keeps it simple. Unless we’re out together and you have to support my morph job.”
“Fair enough. So what happened today, Lola? With you and Brad.”
“The arrogant asshole who thought he was God’s gift to women?”
“Thought? Past tense?”
“Yeah. Like all such men, he thought his money and experience and all would sweep a simple country girl off her feet. But none of that had worked with Amy. She might be young and innocent, but she knew Brad was very bad news. But she didn’t know how bad.”
“Now you have to tell me all the details,” Dirk laughed.
“You sure? You’re still technically a cop. I’ll be confessing to a crime.”
“Do you really think I, or anyone else, could put you in jail? Least of all my wanting to. We’re on the same team.”
“I don’t want to bend your cop sensibilities too far.”
“Don’t worry. They’re already bent.”
Lola floated up to cross her legs as she floated in front of Dirk. Her skirt was short enough to make Dirk uncomfortable. And to make his heart race.
”Ok. So here’s how it went down. Started when he took me back to his place. We were barely halfway there when he put his hand on my thigh. I tried to remove it, only using Amy’s strength of course, but he kept his hand there, talking about his house in LA, saying it was worth a fortune and that he’d really love to show it to me someday. I guess he figured Amy would find that interesting, being a simple country girl and all. He figured she’d do anything to get invited to a party at a Hollywood mansion.”
“What an asshole.”
“Lots of men out there like him, especially in LA. Meanwhile, he took me to this house he’s renting just outside town, and once inside, he showed me this table covered in paperwork. I didn’t have a clue what any of it was, but I leaned over to pretend to study the papers. That’s when he slammed my chest down on the table while lifting my skirt from the back, ripped my panties off, kicked my feet apart and went to work.
“Just like that?”
“Yeah. Didn’t even try to come on to me. He thought he had all the power. Unfortunately for him, given Artemis’ muscles, he didn’t have nearly enough of it. Still, he was bashing away at me, trying to get inside me. He went nuts, trying to fuck like a madman, using all his strength. If I’d really been Amy, he would have badly injured her. That’s when I decided I’d probably learn more from him if he thought he controlled the situation. So I forced myself to relax and let him have me. ”
“That’s called forcible rape and assault. For starters. And I thought you couldn’t do that?”
“Didn’t think I could either, given I’m indestructible. He went so crazy that he managed to collapse the table under me, sending his papers flying everywhere. Still he didn’t slow down. He was really trying to hurt Amy. Would have done some serious damage if I was her.”
“I don’t think I need any more details,” Dirk said stiffly.
“Then I’ll just say that with me being enthusiastic and passionate and all, he decided he owned me. So in between sweaty bouts of screwing me, he started bragging like arrogant men do. Bastard told me everything. About Acme, about his partner and their get-rich scheme. Also that he, Brad, was the one who’d hired the ex-military types and paid them to kill people. He bragged on and on. How awesome a business it was and how he was going to get even richer and it was totally safe given the Sheriff and his Deputies were all idiots.”
“He said all that?”
“Yeah. He thought I was in his thrall or whatever, but as it turned out, it was way worse. He dragged me into his bed to keep doing me as he pulled this thin wire from a drawer and wrapped it around my neck. The wire was attached to wooden handles. Just as I pretended to come, he pulled hard enough on the wire to have cut my throat if I’d been poor Amy.”
“He tried to kill you? During sex? What kind of monster keeps a garrote in his bedside drawer?”
“A very dead kind of monster. Given he clearly intended to kill Amy, he deserved no mercy. He won’t be bothering anyone again.”
“So, he’s on his way to the heart of sun with the others?”
“Not exactly, but since he was trying to strangle me, I decided to give him a taste of his own medicine. I flew upward to flip over and smash my back through his roof as I flew straight up with him. Turns out he’s mortally afraid of heights, which made it all the better as I just kept climbing until I was four miles high. He screamed and clung to me with a death grip as I flew out over an unusually empty section of the desert and dropped him. Had to pry his fingers off. I figured from five miles up, he’d have plenty of time to contemplate his misdeeds on the way down. Based on his screams, I think he did.”
“Jesus!” Dirk shivered as he imagined that. He wasn’t fond of heights either. While Amy looked so delicate and pretty and innocent, he was very aware now that she was Lola inside, and Lola was more than willing to kill anyone she judged guilty of murder.
“Jesus had nothing to do with it,” Lola chuckled, seemingly pleased with herself. “But He might be with the other partner. Turns out he’s an ultra-religious nut. Belongs to some bizarre white-supremacist offshoot that combines bits of old Norse religion with a fundamentalist offshoot of Christianity. Pagan mixed with with Christian — two things I never thought would ever go together. But he’s into it enough that I figure he’ll respond well to having an angel visit him.”
“Why bother with all the dramatics if you’re just going to kill him.”
“Oh, but I’m not. He’s not directly involved in the killings. That was Brad’s thing. Karl, his partner, just wanted the money, so he looked the other way.”
“Still makes him guilty in my book,” Dirk growled. “He knew what Brad was doing.”
“At one level, for sure, except I think he’s still capable of redemption, Dirk. I figure I can convert him into a force for good. Get him working to undo some of the damage he’s done.”
“So what do I need to do to help with that?”
“Nothing. Stay here in Moffat and far away from Acme’s offices. FBI is already on scene there along with a growing contingent of UFO nuts who are streaming out of the woodwork after someone posted a video of me flying off with the safe on Youtube. FBI is trying to figure out how a fifty-ton safe went straight up into the sky. Fortunately the video makes me look like some kind of ghost, faint and blurry and all. The UFOers are using that video to try to convince the FBI that an ET stole the safe.”
“A ghostly ET?”
“Yeah. It’s not going well.”
“But I can’t just sit here, Lola.”
“You won’t be, Dirk. I know where their second hit team is headed, and I also learned that there are only two teams. Team two is headed for the old Henderson place in east county. Why don’t you handle that while I try to turn Mr. Karl Lundquist away from the dark side.”
“As Acme’s young bookkeeper?”
“No, more like this.” She pulled a crumpled picture from her pocket to show him. “Found this picture in Lundquist’s office drawer. Wings are going to be hard to do — been a long time since I’ve done feathers and stuff — but I figure I can blend that look with Artemis’ powers and a flaming sword thingy.”
Dirk stared at the image, then at Lola, eyes wide. “There are really winged beings? With feathers and all?”
“Yeah. They’re called birds.”
“Wait a minute, you do animals too?”
She laughed. “No. Body mass is an issue and brain cavity is too small. But Lundquist’s idea of an angel is half girl and half bird. I’ll keep Artemis’ flight organs and muscles, more or less. Wings will just be for show. But I figure if I flap them fast enough, they’ll sell the look.”
“You continue to blow my mind Lola.”
“Ok if I start changing now? This is going to take some work.” Her clothing began to fade, seemingly evaporating away.
Dirk quickly turned around. Amy was a real person he might meet some day and he didn’t want any inappropriate memories. After a while, he heard the door open and close. He turned around to find himself alone again. He sighed. Lola as Artemis was one thing — she was a grown woman of vast experience — but the real Amy wasn’t either of those things.
He shook his head at that thought. Once again, he was confusing Lola with her morphs. Was this the Joss Stone effect? Joss was one of his favorite singers who looked like a young, sexy white girl with very long, blonde hair, but when she sang, her voice was pure soul. A voice that if you didn’t know otherwise you would guess came from inside a large middle-aged African-American jazz singer. Nobody who heard her songs first could believe their eyes when they saw the singer. Or vice versa.
He shook that thought away as he walked over to open his gun safe to take out his personal AR-15 and four magazines. That and the Glock he’d recovered from the first hit team. He changed into a set of desert fatigues and boots, making sure he didn’t have anything on him that tied him to the Moffat County Sheriff’s Department. This job was strictly off the books.
He finally carried the gear out to his Ford F-250 to drive off rapidly toward the paved road that crossed over to east county.
While Dirk was busy going to the rescue of another desert rat, Lola hovered in front of a large, reflective picture window that looked out into the empty desert. The house she’d chosen was unoccupied and wasn’t visible from any other houses. With her stolen picture in one hand, she studied her reflection as she struggled to create feathers and wings and everything else in the image. She’d decided that the angel in the picture looked too young, but if that’s where Lundquist’s thoughts took him, then so be it. It was only his mind that she intended to blow.
It took her nearly two hours to get the look mostly right, with most of that time spent on the damnable wings and all those feathers. It took only minutes more to create a huge sword that was very real, and could become wreathed in flames when she needed to make an impression. She’d actually handled such a sword on a distant world, drinking in its essence, so this was a simple copy job.
Satisfied that she’d done enough, she twirled around to give herself a final check. The look wasn’t perfect, but when combined with her flying it would surely sell Lundquist. She then flew up and away, keeping her wings folded tightly to avoid attracting attention.
She was barely across the county line when she saw Lundquist’s red Porsche 911S heading out of town, driving at twice the speed limit. Apparently, he’d decided this would be a good time for a quick vacation in Mexico. Having your safe with all your secrets disappear into the sky was serious stuff. Especially when you didn’t know how or why. Or who.
Lola began her campaign to rewire his brain by flying over his Porsche to land in the middle of the empty highway a few hundred yards ahead, her wings spread wide. Lundquist was doing 120mph when he slammed on his brakes to come to a shuddering, squealing stop, tires and brakes smoking. He jumped out of his Porsche with a look of wonder on his face as Lola flapped her wings to lift off the road and circle around him several times, the air from her wings kicking up dust from the roadsides.
Lundquist fell to his knees in the middle of the highway.
“Art thou Karl Lundquist?” she asked, trying to remember phrasings from the old King James bible she’d once tried to read.
“I am,” he cried. “Oh Lord, I am.”
“Thou art a wicked man, Karl Lundquist. You have been judged, and your name is even now being written on the crypts of Hell. Art thou ready to descend into the eternal fire of the damned?”
“NO,” he screamed. “I… I pray every day. I worship each Sunday. I believe. Oh, Jesus, save me!”
“You are guilty of helping murder innocents for pieces of gold. Thou has been judged fairly for that and you have been condemned to burn for an eternity in Hell.” Lola struggled to keep her King James thing going.
“But… I pray for forgiveness… every Sunday!!”
“Such forgiveness is not mine to give. Your victims in Heaven have spoken truly of your crimes. It is thy time to pay the price.”
She lifted her huge sword over his head, and flames surrounded it. Lundquist ducked as she swung it over him to cleave his Porsche in half with a single mighty blow. The melted edges of German steel fell apart as the gas tank burst into flames. Lundquist backed away in panic as she turned to face him, her wings lifted high against the wall of flames that rose behind her. She grabbed the front of his jacket to lift him from the ground, and then began flying low across the desert with him. He screamed for mercy, begging her, telling her over and over that he was a true believer.
When she came to an area of blackened sand that indicated an old mine, she dropped down to thrust her sword into the ground. An explosion of flame and sand rose into the air to open up a hole directly over the sloping tunnel of an old mine. Folding her wings, she carried Lundquist down into the hole. The glow of her wings lit the abandoned tunnel as she flew down it a long ways, finally stopping where a vertical shaft descended into inky black depths.
“Hell doeth call for you, Karl Lundquist. You will now burn forever.” And with that, she dropped him into the vertical shaft.
He screamed for Jesus to save him, crying that he would do anything to earn salvation, his cries fading slowly as he fell a great ways.
Lola counted to six and then dove after him, her wings tucked tightly behind her. She caught him in the plummeting blackness and brought him to a stop. She began to rise with him, faster and faster she flew, up from the shaft and then up the tunnel to the opening that she’d cleaved and finally out into the bright sunshine.
Startlingly, Lundquist’s hair had instantly turned grey and his eyes looked shrunken in their sockets from the shock of his ultimate despair. He had truly believed he was falling into Hell. The horror and shock would have stopped most men’s hearts, but his rotten heart was still beating even as it fluttered in terror.
“Your promise has been heard in Heaven and you have been granted a second chance, Karl Lundquist. Go forward to care for those with greater needs than yours, men and women and children of brown or black, yellow or white skin, anyone poor or dispossessed who desperately needs help to live a better life. If you spend all your remaining days in such a way, caring for the poor, giving up all beliefs except your simple love of Jesus, and if you try and live like Him, giving all your possessions and all your favors to the poor, then perhaps I shall return some day with a different judgement. But be warned, if your thoughts become hateful again or if you fail to help those in need with all thy abilities, on every single waking hour of all your remaining days, then I will surely cast you into the pit of Hell for all time.”
Lola realized her King James English had fallen completely apart, and that she was probably going overboard now, but at this point, it didn’t matter. She owned every fiber of his soul. Angel of death. Angel of mercy.
He knelt to kiss her feet as he cried loudly that he would forever do as was instructed. Every moment of every day.
Satisfied that he was born anew, Lola lifted off with a great beating of her wings to circle upward to disappear into the sun’s glare.
Ten minutes later, she was fifty miles to the east, looking for Dirk. She found him chasing a red Dodge truck across the desert, two clouds of dust rising behind the trucks. One man was driving the Dodge while the other one fired an AR-15 through the back window of the cab at Dirk.
Given these men were proven killers in the midst of trying to kill Dirk, Lola had no mercy for them. She dove straight down to crash into the top of the Dodge pickup at nearly the Mach, her impact crumpling the cab into the ground as the ends flipped upward to crash into each other. The now shortened truck tumbled wildly across the desert, bouncing high into the air several times before finally came to a stop inside a cloud of falling sand.
Dirk skidded his Ford to a stop and got out just in time to see a young blonde covered in feathers and what looked like wings tearing her way out of the wreckage.
“Lola?!” he cried.
She sat down cross-legged in the sand, nodding, feathers fluttering to the ground around her.
Dirk rushed over to kneel beside her, noting that one of her wings was broken and hanging limply behind her. Her face looked so young and so impossibly beautiful that it was easy to understand why someone could believe she could only be from Heaven.
“So, are we done now?” she asked.
“These two certainly are. What about the other Acme owner?”
“We’ll have to keep an eye on him from time to time, but I think I’ve changed his perspective on life. With any luck, he will now be a force of good for the very people he used to look down on. Hopefully he won’t need any reinforcement, because it’s damn hard becoming his kind of angel. These feathers are a bitch.”
Dirk picked up a handful of pure white feathers, and tossed them in the air where they drifted lightly. “Pretty convincing ones though.”
“So, Dirk, now that the people of Moffat County are safe, along with the neighboring counties, can we just go back to your place and eat. Using Artemis’ powers like this makes me ravenous.”
Dirk walked over to pick up her fallen sword, only to find that it took both hands to grunt just the handle off the ground. His arms trembled from the strain and his back protested before he dropped it back to the sand. It was obviously made of something far denser than ordinary steel.
“What about that pile of shit?” Dirk pointed at the wreckage of the Dodge.
Lola sighed as she picked up the sword to twirl it around in her fingers before tossing it into the bed of his truck, which sagged noticeably. “I don’t feel like throwing anything else into space today. Hard vacuum totally sucks. But I’ve got another idea how to fix our Dodge problem. I dug up a few very ancient DNA models from my racial memory. One is a nonhuman species who sucked up energy across many wavelengths to feed themselves. So I won’t have to eat you out of house and home every day. I also found the DNA data for a hawk-like bird with powerful eye-beams that it used to kill its prey from a distance. And lastly, a rock-eating snail-like thing that could see through hundreds of meters of rock to find its favorite food. I’ve been playing around mixing that DNA with Artemis’ physique and invulnerability and flight powers to see if I can made a Kryptonian. You wanna see?”
Dirk eyes opened wide. “Artemis is already totally astounding.”
“Yeah, but I’d still like to try a full-boat Krypt, since you keep talking about them. With all their various powers and senses. And just to make it fun, I’ll make sure she looks like someone you know.”
Dirk shook his head in amazement. “A Kryptonian I know? From the comics?”
“No. A face from real life.”
“I’m not so sure about that. Things are already getting confusing enough.”
“How about your old girlfriend?”
“No way. Jayne still lives here. She owns the Moffat gift shop.”
“I was thinking much earlier than that.”
“How would you know about…?”
“I was on your computer, remember.”
Dirk paled, remembering some old videos and pictures he’d saved from High School. “You wouldn’t…”
“Already did the prep. Here we go…”
She floated away to stand with her back to him, arms crossed. Dirk stared at her in fascination, not knowing what to expect given he hadn’t seen her in the midst of changing before. Nothing happened for half a minute, and then she just seemed to melt, the feathers first, then her entire body softening, turning slowly into a blob that stood on legs made of melting candle wax. Within minutes, she had melted into a blob that grew a dry outer layer, almost like a huge butterfly chrysalis. It stretched and shrunk and bulged and changed colors in grotesque ways. He didn’t really want to look at that horror, but he couldn’t resist, knowing that Lola was inside, somehow turning herself into a Kryptonian.
After watching for half an hour while it pulsed and otherwise looked icky, he tore himself away to walk back to dig a warm six pack of Bud Lite out from behind the seat of his Ford. He climbed up on the hood of his truck to lean against the windshield, his favorite resting spot out here in the desert. The chrysalis continued pulsating on the sand, making him wish he could un-see it.
He was on his last beer a couple of hours later when the chrysalis began to take shape. Arms, legs, then a bald head appeared, and minutes later blonde hair sprouted like magic. Her back was facing him as her skin ripple and flowed, and then began to take shape. Toned muscles appeared to shape her back as her butt formed into the tight, heart-shaped derrière of a teenage girl. Her hair grew long and straight as her shoulders grew broad and strong, her waist narrow, her legs shapely and fit. Clothing began to appear. First a very short red skirt with a golden belt, then a blue top with long sleeves. Red boots grew upward, seemingly from the sand, and a red cape started to grow from a broad choker that appeared around her neck, spreading wide and down her back, ending halfway between the short hem of her skirt and her knees, leaving a slash of bare thighs visible from the back.
She stood there for several minutes as her muscular definition became more pronounced beneath her skintight top. Turning, she knelt on her right knee, her fists resting on the sand as her cape and hair suddenly lifted upward, the back of her skirt as well, almost like she was being sucked up into the sky. A blaze of blue-gray light exploded around her as sand and rocks began flying upward and outward, the blast of energy pushing Dirk off the hood of his Ford. He landed behind it to stare wide-eyed over the hood as gravity seemed to reverse around Lola. The sky grew dimmer as she seemed to suck up the yellow sunlight, turning the sand gray.
That was followed by a blast of energy that rocked his Ford violently from side to side as Dirk hid behind it, ducking low in case the windows blew out. And then it was over. He stood back up to see a girl standing with her back to him, her body trim and slender and tight, wearing a Supergirl costume — which he knew was actually part of her body. Her skirt and cape had a thin, leather-like look along with her boots, and her blue top had a faint metallic sheen. She began to slowly turn around to face him, long hair covering her face, revealing an iconic yellow “S” on her chest. Her breasts were slightly larger than truly fit her slender frame, and widely spaced, sitting high and firm, the shape of her uplifted nipples clearly visible. Tearing his eyes from her chest, he saw the blue glitter of Lola’s bright eyes behind her hair, along with the shape of a face that made his heart leap in his chest. She shook her head to toss her hair back over her shoulders to fully reveal a face that was so incredibly familiar than his heart missed a few beats.
Dirk’s jaw fell as he found himself staring at his very first girlfriend, from way back in High School. A girl he’d wanted to marry after they’d gone steady for two years. But just before they turned eighteen, her family moved away — from California to New Hampshire, a distance of 3000 miles. They’d both tried to make the long-distance relationship work, and it did for nearly a year, but as was the case for most couples so young, it faded and eventually ended with time.
That had been twenty-five years ago, yet she looked exactly as he remembered.
“Nan… Nancy…?” he gasped.
“Yeah. The pictures of Nancy on your computer looked like they’d fit a Kryptonian, so I figured, why not make her one.”
Dirk stared at the Irish freckles that Nancy had inherited from her father, with her natural blonde hair and generous mouth coming from her French mother. He’d always thought Nancy was beautiful. Not perhaps in a magazine covergirl style, but he’d never met anyone who had so completely stolen his heart than his first love.
Stunned, with his heart threatening to leap out of his chest, Dirk was strangely comforted when she floated off the ground, breaking the spell to prove that she wasn’t his Nancy. His emotions spun crazily as he swallowed hard, realizing that she was a pseudo-Kryptonian version of her.
He struggled to remind himself that she was really Lola as she floated closer to the crushed Dodge, finally pausing fifty feet away to brush the hair from her face with both hands. She hovered in mid-air as two shockingly violently red beams burst from her eyes to strike the Dodge, which immediately heated to white hot and began to melt. Her hair and cape lifted behind her from the heat as she slowly swept her lethal gaze from one end of the truck to the other, the fuel and flammable portions of the truck exploding into flame before vaporizing in seconds. The remaining steel and aluminum melted like butter under a blow torch. Barely ten seconds had passed before the Dodge was reduced to a spreading puddle of liquid metal and a cloud of black smoke that began to dissipate on the breeze.
“Jesus!” Dirk cried as black spots filled his vision. Even from behind her, those blinding beams had looked like an arc-welder, making his eyes burn and his head ache. “Heat vision?”
She turned around to face him, her eyes still glowing a violent red. The color spread outward across the middle of her face, and then began to fade, her irises slowly returning to Lola’s Cerulean blue. Moments later the whites of her eyes returned as well, and the reddish glow of her skin faded, her freckles looking more pronounced than usual for a few more seconds before her face returned completely to normal.
“That was fucking intense,” she smiled. “I had no idea the DNA from the ancient bird was this strong. That must have been one very bad bird.” She tilted her head as she stared at Dirk. “Oh… and now I can look through you as if you’re transparent.”
Dirk grew uncomfortable with her stare, knowing she was studying him from the inside out, yet he couldn’t take his eyes from hers as she floated over to descend in front of him, her cape and skirt lifting slightly as she landed, her hair blowing freely. Standing this close, he realized just how perfect her morphing was. Her face was that of Nancy, right down to the smallest freckle.
His hands lifted as if on their own to slip beneath her warm hair to gently caress her cheeks. She sighed and moved closer to him, their lips meeting as he began to kiss her passionately. Closing his eyes, he was transported back twenty-five years to the first girl he’d fallen in love with. She was convincingly Nancy as her tongue eagerly met his and she melted in his arms. Lost in the flood of memories, he eased her down to the ground, her body far firmer and more muscular than he remembered, but otherwise his Nancy. Her slender legs rose to wrap around his waist as they always had, and as with the original Nancy, a kiss was all it took to get her ready for him.
Sunday football was about to start.
Dirk was drinking beer on the back deck as he cooked two huge racks of pork ribs on the gas grill. Nancy was in the kitchen, making potato salad and cowboy beans.
Today’s game was Dallas Cowboys versus the Indianapolis Colts.
As long as he didn’t look in the mirror, Dirk felt like it was 1993 again. This weekend was a replay of that special weekend in their senior year when the two of them had hosted a football party at Nancy’s house after her parents had flown off for a vacation in Bermuda. Three glorious days and nights of living and sleeping together — the first time for them. An event their parents thankfully never found out about.
Lola had morphed an authentic-looking Dallas Cowboy’s cheerleading outfit, and she blew Dirk’s buddies away when she met them at the front door. Dressed in a pair of tiny white hot-pants with a blue halter top and white vest, decorated with blue stars along with matching boots, Nancy’s long tanned legs and blonde hair stunned them all. Dirk told them she was Lola’s youngest niece, and that she was staying here while she visited with Lola, who was far too cantankerous to have anyone living out in the desert with her.
Everyone who came for the game was a hard-core Cowboys fan, and with Nancy dancing around in her blue and white uniform, showing off her gymnastic skills and side-line dancing abilities while flirting with the younger men, Dirk’s friends felt as if they were hanging out with the team executives and their billionaire buddies in one of the special boxes located high above the crowd at the Dallas stadium, which often featured one of the team’s cheerleaders. Dirk’s friends were simple, honest blue collar working men, and their appreciation of a beautiful young woman was unbounded. If not for the fact that she was obviously jail bait, things might have gotten out of hand. But Dirk’s friends were all good-hearted lawmen.
But Dirk could see one question in all their eyes — everyone was thinking:“How could the ugliest woman anyone had ever seen have a niece who was this fucking hot?”
All eyes eventually moved from Nancy to the TV given the game was close. It came down to the last play of the game, which Dallas won on a field goal. Everyone was jumping around and cheering as they hugged Nancy, who was obviously enjoying herself.
The pile of BBQ’d ribs and the beans and salads and cases of beer had disappeared by game’s end, leaving a bunch of mostly drunken desert cowboys cheering the Dallas Cowboy’s victory. Nancy, who was the only one sober by now, took everyone’s keys and then drove their guests home in Dirk’s big Ford truck — still dressed in her tiny cheerleader’s costume. Once they were safely in bed, she delivered their pickup trucks to their driveways by flying them there, hidden by the darkness of midnight. They’d awaken the next morning to find their truck in the driveway with keys in the ignition and a very fuzzy head.
Dirk was mostly sober by the time she finished her chore. Her slightly grease-stained cheerleader costume evaporated as she walked through the front door and was quickly replaced by her Supergirl look, which Dirk had already discovered was now her default clothing. The two of them collapsed into the huge couch in the media room, snuggling like lovers do, her red cape draped over them like a blanket.
“So, you’ve officially quit the County and now we’re off to find new people to save,” Lola said as she ran her fingers through his hair.
“Yup, and I think we need a name. I was thinking about Sentinel, given we’re going to be looking for trouble that other people can’t see, and then dealing with it. Silently. Invisibly.”
“So no appearing as Supergirl. Pity.”
“I thought you wanted to stay underground? You said the other Kecklavians might not like you going public, bringing attention to yourself and all. Your quasi-invisibility thing could come in handy for that.”
She shrugged. “Hardly anyone pays attention to Earth, which is why we are here. Off-limits and all. But I suppose if anyone did, unlikely or not, and they heard about Supergirl, it would scream Kecklavian. Word might somehow get back and Federation forces could someday come to retrieve me. That would get very messy.”
“How could they? Come and take you, I mean? With your powers along with others, who can all do an Artemis?”
“I mentioned this before. Anti-matter weapons will stun even an Artemis, and I’m no tougher. They’ll find me unconscious in the bottom of some crater and dump me in a tube filled with liquid hydrogen. Suspended animation. Not dead. Not alive. Condemned to frozen silence for all time.”
“And leave miles-wide craters behind?”
Nancy nodded slowly. “Yeah. Earth would get an education about the rest of the universe pretty quickly. And given that your species does not take lightly to being attacked by outsiders, Earth’s entire culture and politics would change overnight to a war footing. Every eye and every weapon would be aimed at the sky. Fear would rule every heart. That and the feverish desire to get even. To strike back. Something that you don’t even remotely have the technology to do.”
“But we’d figure it out eventually, what with the entire planet united and focused as one. Part of me isn’t sure that would be a bad thing. We only seem to unite when facing a common enemy.”
“Which would also ensure that Earth, armed to the teeth to fight ET’s, would never be welcomed into the Galactic Federation. Instead, they’d likely blot you out like savages before you spread. The humans who were abducted earlier, and who are now in charge of the Federation, would not want to face their wilder, less civilized versions.”
“They would really treat fellow humans that way? On the planet of their origin?”
“They have grown beyond you, Dirk. They don’t need Earth. Don’t care about it either. And if they’re willing to practice genocide against my race, they’d wipe you guys out with all the emotion of pulling noxious weeds from their garden.”
“All the more reason for Earth to prepare. Maybe people should know what’s out there.”
“Dirk, the Federation has anti-matter bombs big enough to destroy an entire planet in a single burst. All of Earth combined couldn’t stop them. Can you imagine how the population would react if they knew that?”
Dirk’s eyes opened wide. “Jesus! Death Star grade stuff, huh. Ok, you win. But still, knowing there is a Supergirl working to eliminate evil which is beyond the reach of law enforcement, not to mention those who are tangled up in government corruption, would bring hope to so many. And sometimes hope is enough to change people for the better.”
“I’d rather destroy evil than merely hope for hope to save you.”
“Still, even if you stay mostly invisible, it’ll be obvious soon enough that something unusual is going on. You’ll get caught sooner or later on someone’s cellphone camera. Everyone will recognize Supergirl even from a blurry imagge. After that, your reputation will spread, and bring fear to the wicked.”
“That’s just more hope, Dirk. That could just as easily backfire into xenophobia. We have to go beyond mere hope, Dirk.”
“Perhaps. But what’s truly important is that you and I will always know the good we are doing. And that’s all that really counts for two old desert rats like us, right? We hardly need friends and followers on social media to be happy. Just the empty desert and a mission. It’s absolutely guaranteed no one will look out here for answers. Most people think we desert folk are all crazy old coots as it is.”
Nancy snuggled closer. “So if that’s settled, how about you take me to bed — or lose me forever. This body seems to have some needs. Strong needs.”
“Dressed like that? Supergirl and not Nancy?” he smiled.
“Nancy IS Supergirl now — we’re not separable. I discovered just this morning that I’ve done the one thing a Kecklavian should NEVER do — I’ve created a body so powerful and so resistant to change that I don’t want to morph again. I’m not even sure I can. Unless I concentrate on wearing something else, or on wearing nothing, this red and blue outfit always forms. It’s an inseperable extension of me now.”
Dirk swallowed hard. “So, you’re eighteen forever?”
“And Supergirl. I hope you aren’t too disappointed?”
Dirk laughed. “If we ever have to deal with your age, how about we add a few years to be safe. Still, this is going to get complicated. Pretending you are Lola’s niece when we are really lovers. I’m old enough to be your father.”
“Which is obviously silly given I was born when your great-great-great ancestors were still firing muskets and riding horses.”
“Except no one who sees you like this will ever suspect that!”
“Well, as I figure it, Dirk, Lola has to die out there in the desert, and Nancy will be her only heir and will inherit her property. I’ll then hire you to help fix the place up and keep me safe and all. People may gossip about the ex-Deputy and the blonde teenager living out there like desert rats, but to hell with them. No one will ever know the truth. People will just assume that Lola’s strangeness runs in the family.”
Dirk reached up to trace the bright yellow “S” symbol on her chest, his finger paused to tease one nipple. “And all the while, Supergirl will be off saving the world.”
She leaned closer to kiss him. “No, we will be. Together. For as long as you shall live.”
The South China Sea
Liu Jianguo exited his luxurious stateroom on his personal yacht when the alarms sounded. He found his men scrambling higher on the ship, everyone armed. Liu ran toward the Bridge to find the Captain barking orders into his hand-held radio. Everyone was looking up into the sky.
Walking out onto the right wing of the Bridge, Liu followed his men’s gaze to see what he first assumed was a drone. Which made no sense. They were hundreds of miles into international waters and radar showed no ship contacts within its fifty mile range. Picking up a pair of binoculars, he zoomed in on the drone, only to see that it looked like a person. A girl to be precise, dressed in a tiny red skirt and a cape that drifted on the breeze. Lots of blonde hair and long, bare legs. Red boots.
He lowered his glasses to look back at the Captain, who shrugged. Based on the chatter of his men, no one had any idea what they were seeing. Lifting his glasses again, Liu watched the strange drone floating closer. It gave off no audible noise, but it didn’t matter. It was clearly a threat. Likely those blue eyes were really video cameras.
He gave the order for his men to open fire.
Two dozen rifles barked, sending streams of jacketed lead toward the drone. They started getting hits based on the way the cape and hair flew around, dimples appearing across the front of what looked more and more like a girl the closer it came. The pretty kind of young girl that his cartel transported from one area to another, selling them into prostitution and worse.
This was a critical time for Liu given that all of his Lieutenants from around the planet were on board for their annual meeting. His human trafficking and gunrunning cartel had a presence in a dozen countries across Asia and parts of Africa, with customers on every continent. If they weren’t selling weapons and synthetic opioids to anyone who could afford them, they were transporting women and children they’d removed from remote villages, taking advantage of poverty and unrest to feed the wealthy, twisted desires of older men, selling their wares to the highest bidder.
There was a sudden WHOOSH as one of his men launched an RPG, which exploded violently when it hit the drone. Whatever the strange visitor had been, it was now a ball of smoke and flame as it fell into the ocean with a sizzling splash.
Satisfied that the strange encounter had been resolved in his usual way, Liu returned to his stateroom to order his breakfast, giving orders for his men to stay alert. If there was a ship out there launching these strange-looking drones, then more could arrive.
He’d barely sat down at his table when he felt his super-yacht begin to vibrate. The hull gave off a loud series of pops and groans as it shook violently enough to throw him to the floor. His first thought was that they’d run aground, but that made no sense in mid-ocean. His second thought was that they’d hit a surfacing submarine. The cries of his men filled the air as it strangely felt as if his 2,000 tonne yacht was rising.
Staggering out the door to look down over the rail, he was astounded to see that the water seemed further below the rail than usual — and falling further away. Several men jumped overboard, but it was too late. They fell a long ways to hit the water hard and did not surface. Astoundingly, his huge yacht continued rising straight up, the hull giving off ominous groaning sounds as it bent noticeably in the middle.
In minutes, they entered a low cloud deck, and a cold mist flowed over Liu, the air rapidly growing colder. It soon became hard to breathe, which grew worse when they emerged from the top of the cloud deck into the bright sun, rising even faster now.
Liu struggled to make his way toward the Bridge again, gasping for air that was too thin, only to find the Captain and crew laying on the floor, everyone’s eyes wide open as they struggled to understand what was happening to them. Mouths gasped for air like fish out of water. Other men jumped over the rail to the seeming solidity of the upper cloud layer, and promptly disappeared into it.
Beneath the hull, Nancy pressed her back against the center of the barnacled keel, her arms and legs spread wide to distribute the force as she concentrated on rising slowly enough to not break the yacht in half. The ship was heavy enough that she had to tense every muscle in her body to generate sufficient power to fuel her flight, her breasts flattening against the hard muscles of her chest as their amazing flight power worked to lift both her body and the huge ship on her back. She’d never tried to lift anything remotely this heavy, but she told herself a Kryptonian could anything. And so she could. And did.
The sky slowly changed from cloudy to pale blue and then to dark blue and eventually purple as she continued to rise, all sounds having ceased now from inside the yacht. Climbing well above the flight levels where airliners flew, she began to slowly accelerate in the thinner air, determined to avoid breaking the ship and leaving evidence behind of her vigilante action. Ships could be found on the bottom of the sea and debris could be found floating, but nobody was going to chase a yacht into the sun.
The purple sky turned black as she suffered the indignities of zero pressure, but now she could accelerate much faster without the air friction. Passing through the layer of low Earth orbiting satellites and soon past even the geosynchronous orbits, Earth became a shrinking ball behind her as she continued to accelerate. When she judged the Earth was shrinking at the right rate, and that she’d exceeded escape velocity, she released the huge yacht to let it tumble slowly onward toward the sun. It might take many months to get there, but the massive gravity of the sun would draw it inexorably inward, cleansing its evil forever as the ship and its vacuum-dessicated occupants added a miniscule bit of additional fuel to the fusion fire of the sun.
She floated in space for a while, happily watching the yacht disappear in the opposite direction. This was her first mission since Acme Minerals had been shut down, and she’s removed a very evil group of men from the Earth. No one would ever know what happened to the entire leadership of the cartel, but everyone understood that ships and planes disappeared in the wide blue expanse of ocean from time to time. This would be just another mystery to add to a very long list of unsolved disappearences at sea.
Turning back toward the Earth, which now appeared to be the size of a soccer ball held at arm’s length, her only desire was to return to Dirk’s arms. The man she’d come to love long after she’d given up on love.
Flying back to dive into the blue atmosphere at meteroic speed, her trail of blinding light dazzled millions as she flashed high over Los Angeles. Certainly the next News headline was going to talk about the mysterious meteor over Southern California.
It was a sign in the sky. The first of many she planned to create, each one celebrating the demise of yet another enemy of the people. The good people of Earth might not know what caused the mysterious meteor trails, but they would learn to celebrate them, given that each one would be a tiding of good news. Every bright streak meant another evil man or nefarious organization had ceased to exist.
Together, she and Dirk, two reclusive desert rats, were going to save the world.
And no one would ever know their names.