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StarTroopers – Episode Two

Written by shadar :: [Tuesday, 20 March 2018 22:12] Last updated by :: [Wednesday, 21 March 2018 11:34]

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StarTroopers

Episode Two

I emailed my report on the train wreck to Ops, and later followed up on the phone. My report was already generating excitement. Unknown to me, the bad blood with the Russian Ubers went back a ways.

They said Pete Rozen was being pulled off his assignment and was coming up to fill in for me. I felt bad about that, but I couldn’t exactly say that I was healed. Four weeks minimum to get away with that.

Pete was second in command at the Combat School, which I appreciated more now than ever. My ears were still ringing from Ivanka’s roundhouse blow to Rhian. If I hadn’t been mostly hidden behind that rail car, the shockwave alone from her punch might have killed me from that range.

Problem was that Pete was going to have to stay here with me, so I was going to have to bring him into Ariel’s story. There simply wasn’t any other place to live out here. No motels. No B&B. Just private cabins like mine and a lot of people who don’t like strangers. But Pete and I had been on the same SEAL team for a while. We’d seen some serious shit together. As long as he didn’t think I was jeopardizing the program, he’d keep my secrets to the grave. Brothers.

I was ready to click off the call when someone else came on the line. “Do you recognize my voice, John?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, Captain Jacobs.” Jacobs was the head honcho. All the training groups reported to him, and not just the American ones. Except, of course, for the Russians. Story was they wanted to make him an Admiral, despite his being retired, but he refused the promotion. Said to wait until he did something useful. Like saving the planet. He was an ex-SEAL as well, and SEALS don’t become Admirals. We fought until we couldn’t and then we got out. Working a desk wasn’t in our DNA.

“I’m flying out with Pete Rozen in the morning,” Jacobs said. “Chopper should be at your place by 0930. I’ve got a new assignment for you. Something you can start working despite busted ribs.”

I gulped air. “Yes, sir.”

Shit. He was coming here? Now I had to fake being injured? No way. Yet Ariel was adamant that she didn’t want the Program to know about her special power. And Jacobs WAS the Program.

“You ever watch SciFi, John. Read the novels?”

“Yes, sir. Absolutely. I’m a bit of a fan.”

“Good. Then I’ll leave you with one word. Rocinate.”

He hung up.

I sat there with my phone in mid-air. Surely he wasn’t talking about Don Quixote’s horse. The only other Rocinate I knew about was a fictional Martian gunship in the Expanse, one of my favorite series of novels.

My thoughts raced. We don’t have fusion power plants yet. We don’t have nuclear space torpedos or rail guns or any other exotic weaponry like what had been on Rocinate. What we had were Ubers. My heart skipped a beat. Holy Shit! We were going to take the fight to the bugs with a ship full of Ubers!

I stood up to look out the window at the rising sun, knowing my life was about to change just as surely as night turns to day. Strangely, Ivanka had done me a huge favor by wrecking that train and busting me up. Instead of being stuck out here in nowhere doing this same test over and over, I was going to help take the fight to the enemy. To hit them where they felt safe. The thing every SEAL was trained to do.

I was dancing around in the kitchen, full of vigor and potential, thoughts racing to outer space, when Ariel walked sleepy-eyed out of the bedroom. She was wearing one of my old t-shirts that was four sizes too big for her, her hair a mess, her pert boobs shaping my shirt in ways it never had before.

“So, what’s a rocinate? And did I hear that Jacobs is coming here?”

“No secrets around you,” I laughed. “Not with those ears.”

“My ears aren’t that good. Eyes are. The way you snapped to attention when Jacobs came on the line, and the way your voice changed, I knew something big was up.”

“Once a SEAL, always a SEAL,” I shrugged.

“Are you feeling better today?” she asked, tilting her head as she smiled shyly.

“Better than I can remember. Whatever you did was amazing.”

“I think I fixed more than your ribs. Probably took twenty years off your age. I was exhausted afterward. Healing takes a lot out of me.” She folded her slender body into a chair at the kitchen table.

I quickly grabbed a cup of coffee for her, realizing as I did how little I really knew about her. “Ah, how do you take it?”

“Milk and sugar. Can’t exactly get fat or anything now. Hope you made it strong.”

“Navy coffee. Second cousin to battery acid.”

I poured her a cup before setting a carton of milk and the sugar bowl on the table. She dumped a half dozen spoonfuls of sugar in and filled the rest of the cup with milk.

“That’s midnight coffee,” I grinned. “Only way to keep awake when on duty during the wee hours.”

“Works good for med students too. Or people who hope to be one someday. So what’s a rocinate?”

“A horse. And old working horse, kind of broken down. According to the Spanish.”

“You’re not old or broken down. What else?”

“A space gunship in a science fiction novel.”

Her eyes opened wide. “And that’s your new project?”

I shrugged. “You heard the conversation. You know as much as I do.”

“Jacobs coming here is a big deal, John. Hell, I’ve only seem him once. At my graduation ceremony.”

“Yeah, which brings me to a point, Ariel. He thinks I have busted ribs. I can cover that with the guy who’s coming to replace me, Pete Rozen, but Jacobs IS the Program. Maybe you’ll have to bust them again. Shouldn’t be hard.”

She dropped her head to the table, blonde hair spilling over it. “Shit. I don’t need this. Not now. Finals are coming up.”

“Or you could fly me over to the Hairy Beaver so I can get into a bar fight tonight. Don’t have a truck right now. Shouldn’t be hard to piss off some asshole who likes to kick ribs in. Lots of angry ex-loggers around here.”

She lifted her head to toss her long hair back over her shoulders. “I don’t want the Program to know, John. It freaks me out just imagining demonstrating this for a room full of people. You think you can just fake it? I can tape you up again.”

I shook my head. “There are people I’ll lie to or fake it with, Ariel, but never to another SEAL. Especially not someone like Jacobs. You’re going to have to bust up your nice work.”

She drank her whole cup of coffee in one long draught. “You got anything stronger?”

I turned around to pick up a half empty bottle of Jim Beam. “This work?”

“Yeah.” She held out her cup and I poured a couple of fingers in. “To the top, John. I’m a super girl, remember.”

“I’ve very aware of that. Very, very.”

I filled it to the brim, and she drank the entire cup as if it was water. “Again.”

I emptied the bottle into her cup.

“Before we do this, you’re going to want to take a double dose of Vicodin, John. But not right now.”

“Does booze even work on you?”

She nodded. “If I drink enough. Hope you’ve got another bottle. Wouldn’t hurt for you to have some too.”

I chuckled. “Vicodin and booze. Breakfast of champions. You must have some SEAL blood in you.” I opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of Jameson and refilled her cup, and then half of mine.

She lifted her cup to clunk it into mine. “The perfect breakfast when you’re about to get your ribs busted.”

“I’m all yours, darlin’.” We both drained them.

She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand as she smiled up at me, tilting her head curiously. “I was hoping you’d say that. How about we get you tuned up before I break your ribs. Might not hurt as much.”

I sat down hard in the chair, heart suddenly racing. “Tuned up? You mean, more… treatments?”

“Not exactly. It’s just been a while since I’ve been with a man I like. We have the day. Why not enjoy it.”

“But what about that boyfriend that you’ve healed a couple of times.”

She sat back in her chair, her eyes softening as she stared into mine. “He’s dead.”

“Shit. I’m sorry.”

“So am I. He was a rock climber. Love of my life. A free climber. Our relationship, which started long before the Program, kind of got weird after my enhancement. He’d wanted me to go into the Program, but he didn’t really understand until after how it would affect him.”

I nodded. “Feeling diminished. Even intimidated. Not unusual. Men always think they can handle it until most can’t. Even when you try to act normally.”

“No, that wasn’t our problem. He loved my body. What I could do with it afterward. Everything was better, especially sex. We found all kinds of new ways.”

I poured her some more Jameson, letting her talk.

“But he’d always had to push harder than anyone else. Nobody could climb like him. Especially after I made him stronger. Healthier.”

“How did that make it your problem?”

“He needed the whole adrenaline thing of climbers. Had to be on the edge, always. So he started climbing things that nobody else could. Using the gifts I’d given him. Pushing himself to the very edge. He was a god in the eyes of most other climbers. The best on the planet. Right up to the point where he fell.”

“That wasn’t your fault, Ariel.”

“Yeah, it was. We’d been together for four years before. I knew how hard he pushed his climbing. When I discovered I was making him stronger, healthier, I thought that would make him safer. I didn’t think he’d fall. Nobody did. He felt invincible. He wanted to be, because I was.”

I said nothing for a long moment. “When did this happen?”

“Couple of years ago.”

“That’s a long time to be lonely.”

“I’m not lonely now, John.”

She said she’d always liked to make love out in nature. There was a small meadow in the woods a ways behind my cabin. Full of wildflowers in May. Robins were singing in the trees. Hummingbirds in the flowers. I brought a blanket and the bottle of Jameson. We chased some deer away. She fried all the biting flies and mosquitos in the area with her heat vision.

The sex was amazing. Instead of exhausting myself, instead of requiring the usual refractory period afterward, I got stronger every time we did it. It was amazing. Like being able to run as fast as you possibly can and never, ever getting winded or tired. Euphoria. She was amazing, thrilling to a dozen orgasms for every one of mine, inexhaustible. We were gods. For the first time, I knew what it felt like to be Uber.

The sun was getting low when she finally rose from the blanket to float over me. She was so beautiful in flight that I couldn’t resist reaching up to hold her ankle as I tried to pull her back down. She pulled me to my feet instead.

“There are limits to human endurance, John. You’re pushing them. Your strength will fade when we are apart, leaving you exhausted. And we still have some unpleasantness to deal with.”

After a day of superhuman sex, she could break anything on my body she wanted. Well, almost anything. I felt like I could still go all night, but she dropped down to fold up the blanket and recovered the empty bottle of Jameson. We walked nude through the wildflowers and then down the path through the woods that led back to my cabin. Benefits of living in the wilderness. I should have been cold, for the sun was low and it was early May, but I felt warm. But then, I was staring at her cute backside as she walked in front of me. I’d never seen muscles work like that before. So sensuous, so feminine, yet so profoundly developed. Perfection was far too weak of a word.

The walk gave me time to get my thoughts back together. I watched as she floated across a stream that I had to wade through, the water mostly snowmelt and bitter cold. It served to remind me that despite my prowess back there in the meadow, I was still an ordinary man. Tomorrow was going to be a very important day. And tonight was going to be pure misery with newly broken ribs. But after today, that didn’t seem like much of a price to pay.

When we got back to my cabin, I picked up a section of steel rail that was parked outside my back door. It had to be ninety or a hundred pounds, but felt half that now. I carried it with me as I followed her into the kitchen, setting it heavily on the sturdy table. It looked very out-of-place there, very industrial given that both of us were still artistically in the nude.

“Ivanka did something yesterday that concerned me, Ariel. Besides wrecking the train. During her QT, she squished a piece of rail like this as if it was soft clay. Mushing it into a ball before digging her fingers in an tearing it apart. Never seen raw strength like that. Not sure if she was showing off or if that’s something others can do.”

She picked up the rail, tossing it end over end to catch it like it was made of Styrofoam. “And you want to know if I can do it?”

“I know from your file that you’re 73 percentile, Ariel. Strength wise. Nearly in the upper quarter. I’m trying to figure out if the scale is right. Ariel seemed to be off the end of it.”

“Maybe she was just trying to intimidate you. Russians like to do that. On the other hand, that was impressive, not letting the train move her an inch. It took me almost a mile to stop it.”

I walked forward to stand behind her, holding her warmth close, my body recovering yet again from my exertions. “But you were trying not to damage anything. What if you’d wanted to maximize the damage?”

“Don’t know,” she shrugged. “Never tried that.”

“At least do the QT thing with this piece of rail. It’s important for me to try to calibrate Ivanka’s powers.”

I stood closer, pressing myself against her, feeling her tight ass gripping me as I became very much a man again.

“Sure. If it’ll help you figure things out.”

She held the section of rail by its ends as I slid my hands up to cup her breasts from behind, which made her laugh. “You sure you’re not just looking for another tumble in the hay?” Her cheeks gripped my erection all the tighter.

“Thought never crossed my mind.”

“Liar.”

I felt her body tense, her already firm breasts lifting higher as the powerful muscles beneath began to tense.

“So, did she do something like this?”

Her body turned into a solid block of warm steel beneath my hands as the rail gave off a scream of overstressed steel, her hands crushing inward just the way Ivanka’s had. Her shoulders and arms grew crazily defined, the tendons of her hands and wrists standing up like steel cables as she squeezed the now mangled rail several times, shaping it into a crude, smoking ball. Then she gripped it tightly, fingers sinking in as her back turned into a maze of steel curves when she pulled her hands apart, easily tearing it into two chunks.

I was so blown away that I couldn’t resist pushing on her back as she finished, leaning into her, encouraging her to lay over my kitchen table, which she did for me, her blonde hair spreading across it. She dropped the ragged chunks of steel to the floor before grabbing the sides of the table to hang on as I put my manly powers to work again, taking her from behind with a ferocity and hunger that startled both of us. We went completely crazy yet again, my thrusting driving the table with her on it across the small kitchen to crash into the stove, at which point we cried out together, and the table shattered as she lost control for a moment, crushing the thick oak, the two of us finally collapsing, spent, into the pile of broken wood and splinters.

Ariel was laughing as she rose back to her feet, hair covering her face as she turned to face me. “You are dangerous, John. I had no intention of doing that again. Not today. Not with my strength up this way.”

“Sorry,” I said. But I wasn’t. This was one of my favorite positions.

“Yeah, but you will be now.”

I never saw her small fist coming, smacking as it did into my side, the slap of her fist against my skin softer than the crack of those same two ribs. I gasped and fell to the floor, nearly passing out from the pain.

She picked me up and carried me into the living room where she started taping me up yet again. She handed me a couple of Vicodin and glass of water.

“Didn’t see it coming, Ariel.”

“That was the point. How do they feel compared to yesterday.”

“Just as bad.”

“Sorry about that. I was hoping you’d feel it less given you’re kind of souped up right now. Part of you anyway.” She glanced up at the clock. “Look, I’ve got to be going. Got Finals next week and if I start studying now, I can maybe be ready. Call me after, from wherever you are.”

I grimaced from the pain as I tried to get comfortable. “Leave a number. My security access doesn’t get me into that kind of data. Don’t even know if Ariel’s your real name. Don’t know your last name. Where you live. Anything.”

“I’ll find you. And it’s Sondestrom. Ariel is my real given name.”

“Swedish?”

“Danish. Born in Copenhagen before my parents emigrated to Canada.”

“A Canuck, huh?”

She nodded as she started pulling on her tight jeans, then looked around for her top. “Proud of it, too. I was recruited into C Int C, that’s the Canadian Intel Corps, right out of high school. Completed my training there before I was recruited into the Program. Never did any missions for them though. Took the DNA test and went straight into the Program.”

“And now you’re studying to be a doc. At least until the bugs come back.”

She found her top and pulled it on, and then combed out her tangled hair with her fingers. I loved watching her get dressed.

“I’m very grateful for that. However long it lasts. The Program’s focus now is on training. But based on what I overhead this morning, that’s about to change.”

I shrugged, which sent a lance of pain through my broken ribs. “Likely. Guess I’ll know tomorrow.”

She leaned over me, her warm hair covering my face as she gave me a quick kiss. “Sorry I couldn’t make the healing last. You SEALS are tough motherfuckers. Integrity ahead of comfort. Just one of the things I like about you, John.”

“Sure wish you didn’t have to go.”

She smiled. “Booze and Vicodin. You’ll survive. Just don’t drink too much.”

“Yes, mother.”

She turned while giving me a wink, and then walked out my front door, closing it softly behind her. I heard a swish of air, and she was gone.

For the first time since I’d moved into this cabin, I felt lonely.

<>

I didn’t sleep much that night, and I’m sure I looked it as I staggered out the front door when I heard the chopper. It landed on the turnaround at the end of my lane, the closest place to my cabin that was sufficiently clear of trees for a SuperBlackhawk. Captain Jacobs and Pete Rozen came strolling down my driveway minutes later, both dressed in civilian camo as if on a hunting expedition. Uniform or not, I could spot an ex-SEAL a mile away.

“Morning, Captain,” I said, trying to stand at attention, which just made my ribs hurt more. I resisted the urge to salute. “Pete, great to see you again.”

“Relax, John,” Jacobs said. “We’re not military any more. You got some coffee on?”

“Wouldn’t be Navy if I didn’t.”

I motioned them inside as I followed stiffly. Jacobs looked at the shattered wood in my kitchen, which I hadn’t removed given it hurt too much to bend over. “Trouble with your table?”

“Long story. Take a seat in the living room. I’ll get the mugs.”

“No, you sit down,” Jacobs said. “I can still operate a coffee machine.”

I did so, gratefully. Sitting was bad, but standing was an agony.

He and Pete returned with steaming mugs. We sat facing each other.

“Ok, here’s the deal, John. I want to build a gunship, got Elon Musk and his team on-board to do the work, Lockheed’s Skunk Works too, but I need someone to run the program from the tactical side. You did some fine work building minisubs back in the day. I recall you even modified a torpedo to carry a small man. Think you want to try your hand at an armored spaceship?”

“Hell yes, Captain. Been thinking about it since you said Rocinate. I figure four Ubers and a couple of men with the right experience, an airlock to get in an out, decent environmental system. Don’t need engines with their flight abilities. But Ubers are only good for a few hours out in vacuum before they start to pass out, so we gotta get close to the bug ship. Don’t need weapons after that, just bare hands, flashing eyes, the whole super girl deal.”

Jacobs smiled. “I see I found the right man. Details might differ in the end, but I need you to fly out with me this morning. Pete stays here to run the show and you get to hang with honest-to-God rocket scientists for a bit. Show them how a SEAL builds an armored fighting ship. I figure weight won’t matter much, but we have to make something strong enough to take a few punches from the bugs and still fight back.”

“Yes, sir. I was thinking battleship armor from WWII ships. As you say, with four Ubers, weight means nothing.”

“Four, six, whatever it takes. Once we get one prototype running, I’m going to need dozens of ships. I want to kill all the bug ships near Earth, and then I want to find where they’re hiding their fleet. I don’t buy that they have FTL of any kind, so their fleet must have been underway for thousands of years to get here. Hiding behind Jupiter or whatever. They came to stay. To colonize. Which means they won’t have reinforcements. Probably not a way home either. We take out the bugs already in our solar system, and we win.”

“Yes, sir. Plus every ship we kill out there will save thousands of lives down here.”

Jacobs rose. “Get your gear, John. Just the essentials. We’ll get you whatever else you need after you get to work. Ribs Ok to travel?”

“No big thing.”

“Good. Meet me out front in ten.”

He turned and walked out the front door, already busy talking to someone else on his cellphone.

Pete looked at me, one eyebrow lifted. “Wish I was going with you, John. But what’s the deal here? I’ve read your Ops report and read up on the basic parameters of the testing program.”

I handed him a few pages I’d typed up during the night. “Everything you need to know about the locals and situation is here. All my contacts with the railroad. Nobody’s particularly friendly around here, but they know what we’re doing. They support us. I usually pop into the local bar on Saturday nights, it’s called the Hairy Beaver. Just to stay in touch with the locals. Won’t need money. They’ll buy you a beer or two. Or ten. Saving the world and all. Beyond that, Ops usually sends someone up for testing once or twice a week. Lots of free time in between. I got books and DVDs. Some Blurays. Garden plot is in back if you’re into growing your own stuff. Paths through the woods to get some exercise, just don’t get lost. Lots of bears around here.”

“It’s only temporary,” Pete said. “They’ll get someone else for permanent. Hopefully in a few weeks.”

“Right. Well, let me grab my stuff and get going. Doesn’t pay to keep a Captain and his chopper waiting.”

And just like that, I was off to my new life.

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