IX. The Hermit (A Quantum Tarot Part IV)
Written by AuGoose :: [Tuesday, 28 May 2019 21:45] Last updated by :: [Wednesday, 29 May 2019 10:56]
IX. The Hermit
(A Quantum Tarot Part IV)
By Au Goose
A work of erotic fiction (relatively safe for work). Any resemblance to anything or anyone in the real world is too much to hope for. You should definitely try the caviar.
Zoe floated in the water. Alone.
She often came back here in the stolen moments of her life. The black swans speaking among themselves from nearby but no longer welcoming her.
She let the water support her, not calling on her power to fly. She could still float in water, so however it was her abilities worked it wasn’t increased density. Zoe listened with her whole body, able to make out the shimmering patterns of ten thousand tiny ripples moving across the water, stirred by an erratic breeze. Keira had given her something special. A key that had unlocked many treasures. A debt was still outstanding.
Zoe had it all now. Beauty, power, freedom. The satisfaction of her work. She fucked who she wanted. Took what she wanted. Ate where she wanted. And most of all kept a grip on her most important possession: her privacy.
Plus there was the fresh tingle of a possible romantic pursuit. Neil was so very cute...
It was super being super. She’d read the stories, of course, the thousand fantasies of becoming super. The devastation that men and women wrought when they were freed from all restraint – including morality.
‘Why bother?’ she thought. That she could do any and all of those things for real now didn’t make her want to. Enslave the Earth? She didn’t have to have every cell re-written with Kryptonian DNA to think “Who fucking cares about ruling over a bunch of humans?” Only a human could be so self-centered as to think a real superbeing wanted to have them gazing up at her in fear and awe. She’d thought they were mostly detestable creatures long before Zod started raving in the darkest recesses of her mind. She might be idly curious what a city on fire smelled like but she was in no special rush to find out. If it was to be it would be. Super-strength? There wasn’t anything she wanted to turn over that she couldn’t have blown up before. No one she hated enough to murder she hadn’t already done away with before that night in the glass tube. Humans and their technology seemed powerful enough to realize most of their fantasies already. Zoe had realized her fantasies through that power. And while flying had been great at first, at the end of the day being surrounded by miles of empty air was actually pretty boring. She might crave solitude but she wasn’t willing to exile herself into the sky to get it. Only the destination matters when the journey to almost anywhere was only a matter of minutes for her now.
And superspeed... while she could accomplish the work of hours in seconds, she still had to actually do it, endure every moment of the drudgery in perfect inescapable awareness. Time didn’t go any faster to her: it was still an hour’s worth of futzing around. She thought the ability to make an hour go by faster might be more useful, really. Because for the things she did want from life she still had to wait. You did not microwave the perfect meal. It took time. Time and skills she didn’t have. Like everyone else in the restaurant, she had to wait. (Though waiters that deliberately delayed her dining experience usually ended up a thin red smear across a nearby building- she’d learned the hard way it was better to take them outside first...)’
She was just feeling bitter, and she knew it. Flying was amazing when she just did it for the pleasure of feeling 1,000 mile an hour winds trying to carve into her indestructible flesh. Super-speed allowed her to pull off countless vicious pranks and remain the innocent observer. And she’d been shot, stabbed and crushed (to no effect) enough times to know she’d far outlived her life expectancy as an unenhanced agent. If there was anything wrong with her powers it was her. And the nagging possibilities of what came next. Where was Professor Ames...?
Human tech... That was the real problem now. She had channeled a 75-year-old myth through a few billion dollars worth of computers and come out... well, like this. Divine by any reasonable standard. But the most important part of any superhero’s origin is that it be unique. Irreproducible. Even One-Million-to-One odds were far too easy on a planet of 7 billion people.
Her origin was not nearly unique enough.
So she’d spent the last year hammering down any nails that looked like they were even close to sticking up and catching hold of the secret of her creation. And as powerful as she was, she couldn’t just fly in and wreck them… Thereby proving they were on to something. No, she had to infiltrate, sabotage, ruin through seeming accident, corruption, or incompetence.
It had given her a lot to do. And a lot of pleasure doing it. Using her power when needed, but not exclusively. Neither the first nor last arrow in Agent Drew’s deadly quiver. There was no honor and even less glory in winning a table so slanted it might as well have been laying on its side. Her powers were a safety net, but calling on them meant she’d lost the few games left to her.
But the good times couldn’t last. She’d miss one eventually and then she’d be up to her ass fighting some kind of Thor or Susano-O or even another comic book character come to life. Fanboys often pitted characters from different stories against each other. Unlike the times when publishers dabbled in such fare, the more realistic clashes were short and one-sided. She had no desire to pit herself against some Maxwell Lord analog - the stories she inherited her powers from were quite clear on her vulnerability to mind control.
Or maybe some completely unexpected super-being would rise to challenge Zoe, slap her away as effortlessly as she might swat a bug. So many of the old legends spoke of the old gods being supplanted by the new - maybe one of her creations, one of the ‘furies’ as the media called them would surpass and destroy her. That was almost a risk worth taking, just to see how it would go down. There were after all two of them well on their way to becoming legends in their own right. Her special “daughters”.
The fact that she existed meant more would inevitably follow. The universe is made up of only three numbers - zero, one, and countless. The distance between ‘zero’ and ‘one’ was a lot greater than ‘one’ and ‘countless’. In her, that first bridge had already been crossed.
Her musing and the song of rippling water were interrupted by her phone, left back at her shoreline camp. Work was calling.
She swam to shore, her strength giving her impressive swiftness without calling on her flight or superspeed. There was clean physical pleasure in it that she needed. It pushed the dark thoughts back into the corners and kept Zod’s genocidal whisperings mostly subdued.
She rose from the water like Venus, nude and magnificent before striding ashore to snatch up towel and phone. She ran the decryption protocols and smiled at the new assignment. Wetwork. High-value target, limited window, and fashionable apparel required. The “Salamander” had resurfaced and she was needed in Monaco, ASAP.
Her boss knew what she liked.
- - -
The infiltration had gone smoothly. Her cover and Agency-provided documentation as impeccable as her off the shoulders green-&-gold dress. The Mediterranean villa had a commanding view of the sea and the harbor just miles down the coast. She’d circulated with the partygoers, a mix of junior-branch Euro-nobles and industrial tycoons. And their many, many ‘plus ones’. There were women here whose grace and vitality were enough to give Zoe quite adequate camouflage even dressed up. When men didn’t know which self-styled master of the universe she was attached to, they were more cautious in approaching her. The politics here were thick and layered. Playing the demure trophy wife was a game all its own, and she enjoyed the rare challenge where her transformation was a handicap rather than an advantage.
Her mark wasn’t the host, but the Salamander was surely here to meet with the lord of the household. Arms smuggler and political puppetmaster sealing the deal in person. Some human interactions just wouldn’t work over the internet. People wanted to look the other person in the eye, hear the softest sigh of breath, feel the connection... whether it was over a handshake or twisting the knife in deeper. The important exchanges were always face to face.
A few sultry whispers to staff, a dozen conversations overheard from across the room (super hearing isn’t cheating when you consider how powerful modern surveillance devices have become, Zoe reasoned), and she was confident she knew when and where the meeting would take place, there would be guards of course, but the fun was in flummoxing them without overwhelming force. Only the very best would shoot a beautiful woman in cold blood. Of course, the people here could afford the very best. Lots of them too. In fact, as she unlocked the heavy wooden doors to the third-floor offices with a key stolen from the host’s head of security, she noticed the distinct lack of sounds from within. Were they meeting without guards? She wouldn’t have thought that level of trust existed between the principles, but then she wasn’t convinced the home office had the best intel on these particular troublemakers...
The outer office was empty except for the bodies of two bodyguards she had already made as part of the Salamander’s retinue.
The inner office was littered with half a dozen more bodies. Someone had thrown an exceptionally bloody party and had forgotten to invite her. The kills were all knife-work and she didn’t see any bullet holes in the walls to indicate the defenders had gotten a shot off. She was impressed.
She also was not alone.
Behind the imposing hardwood desk that dominated the room and might as well have been a throne for all the authority it represented, sat a tall powerfully built black man, flanked by two taller and more powerfully built personal security specialists. Not the owner of the villa either. That man was a distinguished, older example of pure Italian stock.
She was immediately struck by his features - almost painfully symmetrical and classically manly. The thickness of his close-cropped black hair and carefully trimmed beard spoke of fine physical condition and a superior diet. If the desk were a throne then a king sat upon it. The weave of the orange sash he wore over his western business suit was so complex she began to get lost in it as she stared deeper and deeper into the pattern... She shook her head taking stock with her other senses. While there were fading scents of terror and blood from the bodies on the floor, those three men gave off not the slightest hint of fear as she finished entering the room. Their placement – clearly staged – told the story: they had been waiting for her.
The man gestured to the wine glass waiting for her on the edge of the vast desk. “Please. I don’t like to drink alone.” His voice was deep, melodious, and cultured. And while she could tell it was accustomed to giving commands, in this case, the words were a genuine request.
She glided over to the edge of the desk, looking down at the beautiful crystal glass and the dark liquid gleaming within. It smelled excellent even over the blood. “I could... or I could just kill you and go back downstairs and enjoy the rest of my evening. Obviously, my job is already done.” From this vantage, she could now see the owner of the villa bound and unconscious behind the desk. He wasn’t on her list. His survival suggested the man in the chair knew that...
“Certainly true. Though you would regret it.” His voice was mild. To their credit, the two bodyguards did not tense at her threat.
‘Oh, there were games being played here tonight,’ she thought. He might be mistaken, but he wasn’t bluffing. He thought he had some hold over her. Just finding out what that hold was would be worth a few minutes of her time.
She looked down at the proffered glass again. The entry fee for this game seemed quite affordable to her. She picked up the glass held it. The wine within smelled superb. To her surprise, she couldn’t place it.
She tipped the glass as if to drink, then paused as if a thought had just occurred to her. “This whole thing is a set-up.” She could play her role too.
He smiled, and perfect white teeth flashed in the middle of that dark countenance. It was a predator’s smile - the kind that freed up the teeth to attack by getting the lips out of the way. She liked it immediately. “Well, yes and no. I brought certain information to your agency’s attention that there would be an opportunity to get to the Salamander. But I couldn’t make them send in ‘la belle du morté’. You did your part too. Once you arrived, then it became just a race to get here first.” He gestured to the corpses, “Arranging things so the rest of your evening would be free.”
“Ruining my fun, you mean.” Her narrowed eyes made it clear she wasn’t kidding - he’d intruded on her undertaking and he owed her recompense for that.
He gestured to the fallen bodies. “Oh, this would have been no challenge for you! I’m much more interesting.”
That was true. She sipped the wine and her head snapped back in shock. While it would have been all but impossible to poison her, it was also nearly impossible to find something this good. It hovered in the empty spaces between a dozen of her favorites. Not better than the best but novel, a label she had never sampled before. The body filled with complex hints of... Her eyes narrowed in anger.
“You’ve been watching me.”
“Closely,” he agreed, sipping from his own glass before toasting her silently. It really was a wonderful vintage.
“One might view this,” she twirled the glass in a small circle by the stem, “As an invasion of my privacy.”
The guard on the right tensed. He wasn’t wrong to do so, but it was still a sign of weakness. The man’s eyes flicked to the guard and she knew he shared her assessment.
His eyes returned to hers and he replied, “Or as a carefully chosen gift. Someone in your line of work must know that in this modern age privacy is an illusion. Governments track everyone now. Not just troublemakers or the newsworthy. Everyone is under the watchful eye. Even the deepest shadows offer only temporary respite. ...Is that what you want? I had thought to offer you adventure, but maybe what I should offer is a cloak...?”
Fucker was entirely too close to the mark. It was time to change the game. She turned and looked at each of the bodyguards in turn, indicating she was now addressing them and not their master. “Do you know why you’re here?”
The one on the right answered immediately. “We’re bodyguards, ma’am.”
“No, that might have been true downstairs, but he,” She gestured to the boss “knows full well nothing in this room could stop me from killing him. His sense of security comes from something outside this room. ...So why are you here?”
The one on the left, a big strapping Irish lad, red hair and freckles galore actually looked a bit paler as he thought on it.
“You’re on the right track, I think. Tell me...” She purred.
He gestured to the bodies on the floor. “We’re them. We’re supposed to die trying.”
“Mmm. Muscles and brains. You’re close. Try again.
You could almost see the gears turning in circles... and the need to look away from your own impending death deflecting him from the inescapable conclusion. She almost felt pity. Almost.
“He brought you to make it up to me that I haven’t gotten to kill anyone tonight.”
Both of them looked at their boss and his expression didn’t deny it.
“He wants to see me make a kill. And after this exquisite wine, I’m more than half inclined to indulge him. So, lets’ play a game.” Her gaze was now entirely on the Irishman. “I’ll give you 60 seconds to give me pleasure. Fail, and you don’t just die, you die badly.”
The other bodyguard had picked up a very high-tech looking bullpup carbine with a long silencer from where it had been hidden behind a potted tree. But he didn’t raise it yet. The Irishman was sweating, but he didn’t go for a gun or for the knife strapped to his thigh. He looked at her appraisingly. He might not know her, but he knew the boss and his reactions well enough to believe every word of her threats. For whatever reason this whole stupid night had been set into motion he knew it wasn’t going to end with him stabbing her.
He took a step forward, his hands coming up as if he were considering taking hold of her shoulders. She didn’t give him any signals one way or the other that she would allow him to touch her. He drew back, uncertain and feeling the last seconds of his life drain away as clearly as if he were watching an hourglass. La Belle du morté was going to kill him and he didn’t even know how or why. He turned back to his boss, to the other guard and in the process spied the desk...
He snatched up the open wine bottle and graciously refilled her glass.
“Oh, ho-ho...!” She smiled as she took another sip of the rare wine. She looked at the man in charge. “This one needs a raise. I don’t care what you’re paying, it’s not enough.”
The man simply nodded.
She turned to the other guard. He was a bit sturdier, maybe Russian. He looked back, a fierce gleam in his eye. “yeah... No...” He shouldered the weapon and opened up on her from less than ten feet away.
She could have dodged it of course, but even the wine hadn’t paid for that tidbit of information about her powers. Instead, she crossed her arms as if protecting her face and let the spray of bullets wash over her.
She let him empty the clip. The ruched fabric around her torso was shredded, revealing something dark and slick underneath. Zoe dropped her arms, hands seizing the bodice of the dress to rip it open in the classic Superman reveal of the costume beneath the clothing. Only her buxom chest was covered by what looked like slick black-purple metal. Something like black fishnets flowed out of it, covering her bare arms.
She turned back to the would-be king. “Watch closely. You paid enough for this show but there’s only one act. You too...” She nodded to the other guard who was looking a bit sick watching a small taste of the fate he’d narrowly avoided. “There will be no photography during the show.” She smiled, having just destroyed the 12 cameras hidden around the room with microbursts of heat vision. The mastermind’s expression fell, then became intense. Whoever was running his tech support was fast. He’d learned his cameras were out almost instantly.
Zoe didn’t walk around the desk. With a little hop, she jumped out of the lower part of her ruined gown, revealing her long fishnet-clad legs as she slid over the desk to land directly beside the panicked gunman as he finished reloading. She didn’t bother to disarm him. Instead, she grabbed both his biceps and crushed the bones of his upper arms to pulp without hesitation or warning. As he started to slump to the ground screaming, she caught the back of his neck with one hand and crammed the fingers of her other hand in his mouth, muffling the cry and half choking him in a single move. It wouldn’t do to have him attract any more attention to their little gathering upstairs. His tongue and teeth were both equally powerless to dislodge her as his scream caught in his chest. When the spasms of his torso indicated the scream had bled out into a whimper, she pulled her hand out and let him blubber, wiping his drool off her hand on his tuxedo jacket.
She drew her hand back from her would-be assailant’s face, forming a ‘gun’ with her hand, two slender fingers as the barrel. She pointed it at his forehead, still supporting the bulk of his weight with the hand around his neck.
It had been a silly movie in so many ways, but in that moment she was reminded of the blue alien in Megamind. The difference between a villain and a super villain? Showmanship. Knowing she had an audience that she might allow to walk away made using her powers fun again.
“Bang” she whispered. There was a gun-like crack as her hand broke the sound barrier, fingers flicking forward with super-speed. Faster than any bullet, Zoe’s fingers dipped less than half an inch into his skull before returning to their exact starting position, a peck far too quick for the human eye to follow. Let her host puzzle over that without the benefit of high-speed cameras.
The resulting shockwave was almost exactly like a bullet blasting grey matter and bone chips across the wall.
There were a dozen more things she could have done to violate the body, but she’d given away about all that she intended to for one evening. Maybe a little more in fact.
“Satisfied?” She asked, turning to the survivors. One was stunned, pale and seeing his life flash before his eyes, knowing how close he’d come to the same fate or worse. The other’s expression had barely changed, becoming hungrier, if anything.
“I think that’s what I should be asking you.” He answered, eyes still examining the latest corpse in a roomful of death. Meanwhile, the Irish bodyguard was nodding vigorously, comically, almost like a large dog.
“Marginally.” She plucked a chair from where it was half covered by cooling bodies and set it in front of the desk. As she settled into it, she eyed the last remaining guard. “Rub my shoulders,” She invited.
He lept to obey as she turned back to the man behind it all. She was fairly sure that’s what the bodyguard had been about to try earlier and was curious to see what a man betting his life on a shoulder rub could do.
“What’s the offer?” She finally asked as thick white hands began to try to knead her shoulders.
“My patrons recognize you have pressing duties. We’d like to purchase some of your spare time...
“You want me to moonlight for parties unknown.”
Strong human fingers could only slightly dimple her superflesh, but the big lug adapted quickly, drawing designs of pressure on her muscles that were deliciously relaxing. “Mmmm. Nice. Work the neck too.” Her eyes were half-lidded but her finger pointed to the boss, “How do you propose to pay?”
“I was thinking further interesting gifts.” He gestured to the wine bottle. “Perhaps some unique opportunities. Maybe with hard to acquire information. And now that we’ve met, I’m sure I can dream up a few more attractive offerings. Unless you’d like to suggest an avenue to explore?”
“I’m a simple girl...”
He snorted. “Bullshit.”
She laughed. He’d watched her blow a man’s brains out with an imaginary gun, knew she was one of the top assassins in her Agency’s arsenal, and still he’d contradicted her to her face. She was starting to like him. “True, but hardly politic to say so.”
He gathered up his dignity. “If you really want to dance, let’s go downstairs and dance. But surrounded by the silent dead I’d like to keep things mostly honest.”
She cocked her head. It wasn’t her philosophy, but it was a position she could respect. She looked up at her impromptu masseuse, “you have a card and something to write with?” He didn’t dare disappoint. She wrote out a number and slid it across the desk. She then rose from the chair.
“I am officially considering your offer of employment. The offer to dance is accepted, though I’m without a decent dress thanks to your man’s incompetence. So that will have to be postponed. Call me when you’re ready to settle up on both accounts.” She pointed to the redhead. “And bring him with you.”
Relaxed and drunk on her power far more than on the wine, she vanished.
Connor, the surviving bodyguard, had the distinct impression of a firm kiss on the cheek as she disappeared. It wasn’t something he intended to mention in his debriefing.
But Jacob Cross would tease that knowledge out of him anyway.
Elsewhere, in a darkened room…
“Our agent lives.”
“Indeed. It was reckless meeting her, but his bet seems to have paid off.”
“And so, in turn, has ours.”
In the distance, a man screamed endlessly without ever drawing breath.