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SP – Operation Tangarine Pinch

Written by castor :: [Thursday, 14 May 2015 15:12] Last updated by :: [Friday, 15 May 2015 19:37]

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There were two basic parts to her life these days:

  1. living in Iraq existing in something that the army was spending a lot of time and energy to make appear like a normal civilian life complete with Burger Kings;

  2. war.

Of the two, the second was vastly preferable

That was the irony of her experience.

Army Staff Sgt Jane Lipcrow drove an army Humvee for a living. This wasn’t technically a tank: it had open wheels, but there were plenty of vehicles that had less armor called tanks. It wasn’t a bad machine: slow yes (it had a hard time at 50), a bitch to maintain (which was part of her job), but easy enough to handle and work with. She liked it.

She drove through the streets of Tikrit, carrying various military personal to do various military thing (MP, Bomb Disposal, Engineering). Tikirit was an interesting city. For all the reports back home it wasn’t as bad off as you might think. There were parts of it that reminded her of some places in Texas and she felt like she had a handle of how things worked: the street layout, the traffic, the flow of the damn thing. It was hot, she had to wear very bulky armor, but she liked it.

She would drive, usually, about 4 or 5 days a week … and of those days maybe one she would encounter problems. People shouting was common. Stones. Easy enough to deal with. Then there where the guns which were less so.

The first time she was shot at was 5 months ago. They were driving at the kind of time that wasn’t quite day yet wasn’t twilight, when a bunch of heavy fire came out like something from basic training. It hit the side of the Humvee in heavy pot marking fire bursts of energy.

She heard the words “Go, Go” but was already pressing the gas. Within 5 seconds they were out of fire and into the street. She was ordered to turn a corner and stop a minute later after a frantic burst of speed. She stopped and three riflemen left the truck, as she stayed in, picking up her rifle, a finger on a button that activated the rooftop mounted weapon.

For nearly 45 minutes she waited there, alone, her heart pounding with excitement and fear all throughout her body. Then more vehicles came and more transports, her vigil was less lonely, but still … it was there. Her heart was there, though she got no more gun fire that night …

(Actual spoilers: no one did. The about 50 soldiers who checked out never made any more contact with the enemy)

Just the feeling – when she went to bed, after a tiresome debriefing and filling out a silly form –  was wonderful and this was one of the highlights of her life so far. That she was alive. She wanted sex, she wanted to jump on someone – but it was too late to find an easy partner at what passed for a base bar or rec room and she felt to guilty of the emotion to masturbate, so she instead went to sleep slightly unsatisfied in one sense but in others …

So life continued. She had gone into army with images of boot camp and being yelled at and standing at attention forever. That had happened. For like 3 months. Afterwards – especially in Iraq – life had become a lot more casual. Yes, she did stand attention, but estimated on each day it was maybe 10 minutes – if she was lucky – mostly she kind of milled around, waiting to drive places or helping fix up the Humvees. It could be boring. When they did make her work like pick up trash or something, she almost enjoyed it.

There was a lot of rec time in the barracks (which for a Sgt was close to a studio apartment). A lot of XBoxes, a lot of loud music. Lipcrow hadn’t gone to college and she felt a bit like this was what it were like: asshole frats annoying her. Even the women she bunked with weren’t a lot better. A lot of them were the kind of types who played basketball in high school. Her ex-roommate sounded and, from about 10 feet, looked like a 14 year old boy. She just had the attitude. She also strangely enough had a fiancé back home, she would sometimes talk about when she wasn’t blasting System of the Down.

Lipcrow’s parents hadn’t accomplished much in life, but they were very smart. She had gone to the symphony growing up and she felt, sometimes, out of place with the salt of the earth types here, especially among the enlisted men. With the officers – especially the ones who went to the Point – she occasionally got the sense that they shared her view but, well, you weren’t suppose to fraternize. So she was forced to spend a lot of time listening to Korn.

She spent a lot of time doing PT – which as a fancy word for exercising. She was an athlete in high school, performing in the track team at a school that was a little too poor to spend much money there. There was a lot of talk in basic training of the rigors of it but, well, she beat the army min for men in running the mile her first time out by nearly a quarter. By now she could do it nearly by a half. If she had bothered to check (though she didn’t). She could just run and run forever. She seemed to have unlimited stamina and on one boring day realized that she had run around the base nearly 30 miles longer than a marathon and, when it was done, she didn’t even feel particularly tired. Bored yes, but not tired. She had simply listened to a couple of podcasts and the kind of music with wit and intelligence you never heard on the base.

All of this running had made her incredibly lean – a tight muscled creature. It gave her a well formed ass that curved and moved down her thick calves down her long sinewy legs, and up a flat well curved tummy. She wanted to show off her body in those little running shorts. She would show the world back home how sleek she was. Yet the Army – especially in the Middle East –  didn’t go much for revealing garments. They gave her formless white shirts and camo pants. It was comfortable enough but … she wanted to show off.

Cause well at time she got horny. She didn’t have anyone special back home – which was perhaps just a touch odd. But …

But, hey, there was a war going on.

Tikrit was a city in Northern Iraq, more or less at the last place the Euphrates River was really a thing. It was at the edge of the Kurdish region in the North (which was more or less-ish peaceful) and the vast deserts of Arabia. There lived lots of poor farmer and what they called ‘Tribes’ – which were in a lot of ways Rednecks – except surprisingly more armed in a lot of cases. So Tikrit was where they came in to the big city – which again reminded her lot of living in Austin.

The enemy (there were a lot of silly words like Al Quaida, Maqudied army, Salduat milita for it, but that was the thing on the ground) was an amorphous groups that had vaguely the same goals – which she had never made much effort to keep up with despite briefings – was mounting what the higher ups called an offensive in the Tikrit region. They brought in some of these people to attack allied forces in what looked to be a series of uncoordinated attacks that seemed like random chaos.

However, a lot of random chaos could project the idea those things were going badly – perish the thought – so the army worked on providing a response, which gave them a target for random violence and …

Well it meant that attacks increased. On the radio, every day, the words “We’re under fire” came at least two or three times a day from the convoys or soldiers on the ground. About once a week or so that would be her little car and for a second she would be in her invulnerable little cocoon and …

It was wrong that she liked it. It was wrong the power she would feel from it, of feeling almost inside of her the poundings the bullets did on the truck. It made her feel more alive than she ever thought when she got back to base she would see the damage, the bullet scraping the marks, which per army rules had to be counted each individual one and take pictures – a record that she suspected would never show up on the news. She liked when she got to do that. It made her remember.

Of course all she did was sit in the Humvee. The other soldiers got to go out and be shot at. The logical response was to think she was the lucky one that she shouldn’t want that at all. This wasn’t how she felt though.

She would talk with her parents occasionally – they would report that the news, every night, would list a few casualties: dead people with their names and pictures on the screen with solemn moments for there loss. Some would come from her base, from her city now … yet strangely she hadn’t known any of them. The war was in Iraq, coming to America, and then back here …

But those were the kind of people who left her little Humvee to fight the baddies. That’s what could happen to her when she left.

Well …

She thought about asking a shrink. This was another comfort of home that Iraq had, but kept it in. And did her job. There were plenty of the bros who secretly quacked in fear each night – she met ‘em – but she felt guilty about taking one of their spots.

One of them she knew was Vasquez – a tough sergeant. She would often see lifting more weights than good in the gym and generally belching a lot off duty. He was also staff sergeant in charge of a group of 5 – a rifle team – she would very often ferry into battle. An aggressive son of a bitch, who would yell and scream in the car, as his troops listened to death metal (which, if anything, made her job to drive them more challenging).

Yet one day she caught him crying outside a restroom, sloppy drunk and blathering. She sat by him and listened to his story about shitting himself when he was under fire. That was what happened: he shit himself and she patted his back … because, well, she guessed he was her friend. She guessed.

War was a hell of a thing

Three weeks later was when it happened. It was late November, which by Iraq standards meant it was actually reasonably cool. Not snow cool, but after six months of sweltering in body armor, it was nice to be outside when she felt cool. She was taking Vasquez’s team to man a checkpoint on the road to west – about 5 miles from base – which by military means meant it would take about an hour. Things weren’t exactly calming down, but it had been such a hum she barely noticed it.

She drove there maybe three times a week. Her job was to take them the checkpoint and essentially stay there until they were done in four hours. Not a bad job. She had a book of poems by Pablo Neruda to read. Ahh.

It was around 7 AM, early but not so early. The six soldiers she was carrying laughed and joked, but in the kind of way you do when you just had one coffee in you. Five where in the back. One was sitting shotgun, a fresh faced private named King – who she kind of liked, if for no other reason than he could be quiet.

If you picture the Middle East you typically see street being all windswept brown, little apartment buildings, dark streets. This street was a mix of well painted warehouses and the occasional vacant lot, with a lot of grass from a rain storm the week before. It looked very colorful – surprisingly so – there was a vividness to the light here that made the saturation pop.

The street looked normal. Empty, but not so empty. Iraqi citizens were going to work in a kind of ordinary manner on the street. Some duly looked at her.

Afterwards she was wondering what she missed. What she should have …

About half way down Avenue Erad in Western Tikrit her Humvee hit an IED bomb. Latter reports would indicate it was composed of a couple of grenades, gasoline derived explosives and some plastique. It exploded about half way under the truck.

Bombs are very quick. So very quick. It wasn’t as if she passed out or anything, but one second she was driving the truck, the next second it was flipped over, broken in half down its center, ripped into two on either side of the street. There was a loud noise, then there wasn’t. She knew there should have been steps in between but …

She breathed. She was alive. Her heart pounded a million times a second. The adrenaline that she had found in life so far … took a second to kick in.

She looked next to her. King was breathing – screaming almost – but it sounded more like a whimper, the kind of sound you hear when something is off. She looked down – well really up as they were upside down – he didn’t have any legs. They were gone – in movies this would be full of blood splatter but no. He just didn’t have any legs … as the bottom of the seat was missing.

She looked around backward for the rest of the truck, but didn’t immediately see it … she tried to climb out … as she paused shocked to take stock of her own self. She didn’t feel hurt in the slightest …

Hearing a scream, she looked at the back of the truck to Vasquez and his men and realized that there were 4 shapes of things that could be described as being bodies once. They were gone. Gone, just charred lumps of flesh she couldn’t identify.

She looked around. The street. What was going on?

Then the men came. There were five of them. Her first thought was that they looked like dimestore Arab terrorists from the movies. Her second was that it was a bad thought. Her third thought was that they all had guns …

Her fourth thought was to realize that her body armor had been badly damaged. As she got out of her awkward upside down position and sat on the edge of what had been her seat, she realized that while she still had a BDU uniform top in almost inspection condition on … but her entire lower body – her armor, her pants, her panties even – was gone. Her naked vagina stood stark in the chilly morning air …

And they shot at her …

If bombs are fast bullets are faster …

Well this was the end. Her hubris, the entire armor her invulnerability was taken away from her, it was all gone and when she was just herself. This would be how it ended. This would be …

… but that was the things about bullets: they’re too fast to think that.

She realized that she had been hit by at least 10 bullets in the previous second … and none of them had so much as scratched her. They appeared to be bouncing off her body seemingly harmlessly.

She looked down. Some hit the remnants of the armor – but more hit her arms, legs. Two hit her face. It was weird. Just pausing as she felt them fall over her cheek harmlessly: hitting and not so much clinking as popping off. That was the sound. As if they hit her flesh pushed her flesh a millimeter away and thinking better of it slinked away. Some of the bullets flew about five feet back.

They kept shooting from the edge of the sidewalk. One of them paused curious for a second, she realized that they were planning to shoot her, then come in for the kill. She wasn’t sure they knew King was alive but well … she wasn’t dead.

Jane looked. By her side was her rifle. She picked it up. She shot at him with a single burst of a poorly aimed automatic weapon. It hit him mid-chest and he fell down dead.

Huh. It was a curious thing to watch him drop. Another human drop.

She looked around at the five, who were all around her. She felt more fire on her back now, but it didn’t do anything. Nothing.

She turned around and started to shoot behind her. She shot at a garbage dumpster thing, where one of them was hiding, but didn’t hit him. He shot at her one last time hitting her arm and leaving a small hole in her sleeve …

Then the firing stopped. She think that they were running away into the morning.

She assumed that they were all going away.

She thought about King …

“Sgt … what’s your name …? Are you okay …” said King.

“Yeah … what about you.”

“I’m … I don’t feel my legs …”

“Yeah.” said Jane.

She looked at the corpses.

“Yeah.”

*****

Two hours later she was in medical wards. Checked out. There wasn’t a scratch on her of course. Not a scratch. They kept her overnight, but not a scratch.

King was stabilized and medvaced to Germany. After a brief exchange as he was brought into an ambulance Humvee saying “You’ll be alright”, she didn’t talk to him. She would never talk to him again, despite the fact that she saved his life.

They had been rescued by a team 15 minutes latter. She had told the army what had happened: she had been shot at … and lived.

A curious thing happened on the way to the base: she left out the bullets to the face. She mentioned the armor and that she had been shot at, but not the bullets that just hit or skin. When she was questioned about what one of her rescuers had said— ehh heat of the moment.

The doctors were shocked, but not too shocked— ahh people survive a lot.

The brass was pleased. She had survived an IED and killed enemy forces. There was a line in a movie she remembered about the army only printing confirmed kills and human interest and, well, she got a confirmed kill. Yes she also killed five other soldiers but well … such was life. Such was life.

They would give her a medal: a Silver Star. There was talk of it being the Congressional Medal of Honor, but there was too much paperwork for that and … well … she was pantless at the time. It was an awkward award. But that would take nearly 4 months to come in.

But the night it happened she thought about it. She was sitting in a hospital bed in a gown. She remembered the day when she first got in the fire … and she felt horny again.

And she puked all over herself.

God, what happened? She had killed someone and had people killed in return.

She dry heaved, but still she still felt alive powerful …

She was in a room with equipment. It took her a few minutes, but she found a surgical scalpel.

If this wasn’t true. If this wasn’t really happening, well, was a good place to test it. She settled for the side of her stomach …

And she traced the knife over it. Gently at first …

Then more.

And more.

Until she bent the blade.

For about a minute she thought: wow I have super strength too but – well – scalpels aren’t all that tough.

But her. Not a scratch on the skin, just a little bit of the white marks. But no.

She was … she guessed strongly now. Invulnerable to damage.

Invincible.

Well yeah this wasn’t something to test was it? But yeah.

She laughed. Then she remembered those who died.

And she started to puke again. Somehow she found it inside of her. The puke.

*****

11 YEARS LATER

She looked at the board for a second-wait she should erase it

Jane Lipcrow was in her first year at teaching at the Austin Community college and was in the middle of her second quarter there, teaching a class in Latin American history. The joke about community college she didn’t find true – not at all. Her students were good people who wanted to learn and she liked them.

Still she waited for things oddly. She thought odd thoughts of old dreams.

Her eyes hit a mirror. At 33 her hair was longer, but not all that much was different. She hadn’t even managed to gain weight. She looked like a model that was a touch short. She was glad for it. And the fact that this was community college meant she could wear a tanktop and show off her fairly large guns.

Despite thinking of it a day, she had a job to do. Erase this board.

It was full of some interesting data on Simon Bolivar and his wars to free South America. She scanned it for an instant, to absorb it and she was for a second back in her comfortable world of history and dates and bloodless battles.

But she shook her head back to the task at hand.

It was one of those dry erase boards. Back when she was in high school they still used chalk and she liked the sound of it. The modern plastic ones didn’t have the same feel of it, and for a second she was back in high school …

Okay the board.

She took the rag and went to the top corner, then down. Then up, then down. Then up and down, and then up, then down. Even the sections of the board that didn’t have all the writing she went over methodically and made sure no stray mark was on it.

Okay that was done.

She taught two classes on Thursday. This was her last one. What was next? She supposed she should go home. No wait. She had to pick up some dry cleaning. Maybe buy some dinner.

No she should check her mail box.

The history department in a Community college was really a small room near the chairman’s office (well the chairman had an office, no one else did). She walked there. She was kind of hungry. Burger King. She would go to Burger King after this was done. Maybe get one of those … what were they called Whoppers?

The office, strangely enough, had a fair number of people for four o’clock. Usually, when she was there, it was empty. A number of her colleagues were there, milling about talking to Rick Shand the department chair, a nice guy who carved a conferrable niche in the side of academia. She envied him a touch. She wondered if she got …

“Hey Jane did you hear about the Blip.”

“What?”

“What have you been under a rock for the last … I guess three-four hours?” said Lanny one of the other instructors. This got a chuckle from the group. Oh that Lanny always good for a chuckle.

She looked and saw that they were all gathered around Shand’s laptop. On the screen was a Youtube screen.

“Some crazy girl ran into a bank robbery in south Huston. They had taken some hostages – however she runs in and ties them all up in handcuffs.”

“Huh.”

“But that’s not the crazy part.” said Lanny “Tell her the crazy part … you can’t see her. Well it’s like this flash of light. She’s like moving a thousand miles an hour. She just runs in.”

Lanny played a video. It was from the security cam of the bank (in color, she thought it would be black & white). There were four criminals, wearing dark sunglasses, holding guns over a group of 10 hostages (from the news, later, she would learn: this happens more often than you think).

However they reacted to something coming in from the front door – which flew open as if it wasn’t there – and then, one by one, they got knocked down by something you really couldn’t see in like a second. The last one had time to kind of raise his gun, but then got knocked down,  flying across the room.

Huh.

Then she noticed that all of the robbers were turned over and each one had a pair of handcuffs appear on their hands as if by magic. The single static angle of it all made it look weird.

Huh. The hostages looked confused for a second – normal response – when a woman wearing a spandex suit in a dark blue hue showed up. It covered her head to toe. Not a great angle to look at her – you could barely saw her face – but Jane could see she was beautiful with long blond hair.

“Okay everyone,” said the woman “You're all going to be fine. The police are outside, they probably want to talk you all. Hope no one’s really hurt. If you are I can get you to the hospital.”

Then, almost before there was an answer, the woman disappeared. It felt very … matter of fact.

After it was over, they showed the second of so the criminals got beat up in super slow motion – one frame or so a second – however well it was still a frame. It wasn’t a high speed camera. You couldn’t show the frames in between. In movies, when you see someone with super speed it was a blur. Here you could see the woman, but each was kind of distinct image: she was in one place then across the room in another, then another. Little pictures that suggested it had been cut and moved. As if a movie had forgotten the special effects somehow.

The people around her were talking – how this was a superhero, how it was going to change the world, about her ass – but Jane just watched it. She moved a hand and watched the video again and no one stopped her.

*****

She didn’t normally listen to the radio when she drove, less often the drivel on the news stations-but predictably on the way home it was full of coverage of the event-the change. A business card was left in one of the crooks shirt pocket for someone called the Blip apparently.

She remembered 9/11-god she was young then-it changed her life. But what she remembered was the actual day. The day the world changed-she never went to school, and spent most of the day at home watching the news-how panicked and strange it was, how no one knew what it was like what was going on , how to really react to it-Arab terrorists (she thought of the terrorists)-but that didn’t come into the narrative just right away. There where a few hours where it was just panic in New York. Fear.

This was like it she thought. Same feeling. Minus the fear.

She sighed. And closed her eyes for a second as she was driving as she opened them again.

She may hit someone-she didn’t of course, but she could have-could have hit another car wrecked her, possibly kill the other drivers the passenger …

Of course she would be fine.

She pulled over to the side of the road for a second-unable to deal with the emotions in her. Just unable to deal with them. She didn’t vomit though. That much was okay.

God.

She got to her small tight little apartment and considered her move if any. If anything. Well somehow she wanted to get involved here-but … precisely how. Or what.

Someone who could move at superspeed or teleport could be almost anywhere by definition.  She showed up in Huston – which was about an hour away. But no clue that she couldn’t be in New York or Hong Kong – well there were laws of physics, but she knew all about those.

Huston was a logical place anyway. She didn’t have any classes on the weekend and she had a car.

Of course Huston was also like the fourth biggest city in the country.

Well.

She sat down. She was hungry, wasn’t she? She made herself a sandwich.

This was stupid. She would be the first person to tell you. A dumb costume, a parlor trick. Did she realize what a crazy thing the blue costume was? It had been what? Six hours since it happened and already the radio was talking about her ass – granted it was a good ass – that was what most of the reports were saying, but no one’s ass is that perfect.

Subconsciously Jane got up and looked at hers in the mirror. Good, not perfect. She looked around on a chair and in a free weekly paper found an image of Nicole Kidman. See? Her. Fine assed woman – but she was sure plenty of people daily complained about it. Celebrity? It was silly and strange and she never had any ambition for it.

And why the hell Nicole Kidman – that was an odd choice to pick randomly.

However, the real point was attention. Even to an invulnerable woman that was a dangerous thing. Avoid it.

She went to the closet and pulled out a respectable looking green dress, which went just below her knees. A nice little number. It wasn’t a particularly light dress or a particularly heavy dress, a kind of unpatterned number that was a touch dowdy without being overdo, not particularly sexy either. It was the kind of dress you could wear conferrable to church or a store. She belted in the middle, with her tight waste made it, perhaps, a touch sexy – but ehh also small.

Besides, with her powers, it was as good as any. Not like she needed a bulletproof vest.

The thing about a costume, of course, was it didn’t have to be spandex or capes. If you wear a trench coat or leather or something cool, it could work. Jane, by her nature, knew she was the kind of women people looked at – it couldn’t be helped – but dressed like this she was a fairly unmemorable little fish. A pretty girl that you turned your head, and hopefully forgot 10 minutes latter unless …

She got her purse and added a touch more makeup to complete the effect.

It took about an hour and a half, with some traffic, to drive into Houston. The night turned dark as she did. Dark and moonless.

She didn’t quite know what to expect as she drove into town: crowds, parades, riots. What she got was a kind of weird sense of a city not sure what was going on. More people than usual where out

The radio was reporting there had been more sightings of the Blip in town, on the street, in stores, taking someone to the hospital. However, even the shock jocks weren’t sure of the signal-to-noise ratio. When she was a kid, she remembered a book about the Loch Ness monster: one person tended to see it, then dozens very quickly, then things dropped off. It was hysteria or – perhaps – well … People where looking. Maybe there were always Blips in the city.

Perhaps that would make her job dangerous, because the next step – she figured – was getting off in a dark-ish side of town and to get noticed. Hopefully by her before the police or anyone else.

That was the tricky part.

It was around 8 PM. This wasn’t a great time for this kind of thing but … ehh. She started walking. She still had amazing stamina. She could walk or run forever. She never had a perfect idea what her complete powerset was, but she suspected some version of either unlimited stamina or pretty close was part of it. There was part of her that wished she had went out for marathon before discovering her powers. She suspected she would have done very well in it.

She walked with distracted purpose. Every half mile or so she would take out her phone and type in nonsense texts in, look around, clutch her purse as if she was in fear. The neighborhood was the kind with dingy bars, and she walked in front of them a bit, going through her purse. She didn’t map it, but she tried to walk in front of about a dozen of them each every hour and a half or so, varying routes and methods, giving them long enough for that particular kind of memory. It was a good way to be a target.

Of course the problem with this was it could be boring, so she went back to old techniques: learn the city. Houston was a city designed for cars: a wide open space full of tall building and long shadows. It was a surprisingly sophisticated city. Texas had that quality of not quite being what the popular world imagined it, so she studied the architecture – which was a mix of times from the late 19th century to today – with a lot of it the handsome sheen of the mid 50s.

When walking through not so much an alley, but the edge of an alley, it happened.

She saw a position in a corner and a large man pointed a gun at her face before she could react. He reached for her purse.

Jane had learned something: she wasn’t super strong. Not really – if you saw a woman of her height and build (which was muscular) she was about as strong as that. But she had two black belts and had studied a fair amount of mixed martial arts (which didn’t have belts) and she knew if she was quick, even with the biggest men that didn’t matter.

It took her 5 seconds to get him into an armlock on the ground, in pain. He dropped the gun shooting it nowhere in particular. It was almost a pity, but that was the thing: invulnerability, for her, often meant that she couldn’t be hurt and she wasn’t worried about it. For a normal person that was a dumb move. For her he was on the ground with a broken arm in less than a minute.

She let him go yelping. He got up and gave a half-hearted kick towards her, which didn’t connect, then ran away. He didn’t even say anything. Was he a thief? A rapist? She didn’t know.

She considered getting up.

If her goal was to stop crime, well, the best way to do that she knew was for people like him to go to work, go back to college (including America underrated community college system). By breaking a man’s arm she had deprived him of a way to earn a living for probably a good three months. He was violent. She had responded with violence.

But well … violence solved everything.

It was a thrill. It was a rush. It was power in its most basic sense. And because she had removed the fear of a sort – at least for the moment – it was an unfiltered by anything except release. It wasn’t orgasmic in its most basic sense … but it had elements of it.

But what was her goal?

The plan was that a random crime would somehow cause her to show up. Which right now felt foolish, but better than a spotlight with a symbol on top. She wanted to meet Blip. Why? To team up with her? To fight her? To trade stories of why they did this?

To find someone else?

She had been doing this off and on for about 4 years now. Going around towns, waiting for the dregs of society to come to her and stopping them before they started (or occasionally breaking some robbery or just fight up – you would be surprised how often it would be just two dudes wailing on each other). When the police came, she would be coquettish. When the guns or knives came out well she felt alive.

She got up from the ground and walked back to her car. In a way – even if they never met, if they never connected – the world today felt bigger, broader. She wasn’t a college professor with a strange hobby that could possibly be psychotic. Or, at least, not just that. She was … well … something.

As she walked through the cold night she would have to figure that out.

As she cried.

The next day Blip helped the police in an apartment fire and carried a man with a heart attack to the hospital. Over the next couple of weeks, she gradually became part of Houston’s life. A great wonder, different and strange and magic.

The other strange rumors – the Ghost who flew in the night Sky, the Whiplash who prowled the streets – these to someone became more real more special as well.

And Jane Lipcrow kept wondering what her place was in this.

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