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Kiraling – Part 12 (Chapter 45-60)

Written by anonxyzus :: [Thursday, 07 November 2019 21:52] Last updated by :: [Friday, 08 November 2019 10:47]

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Chapter 45

I knew I’d need to be on my best behavior on this trip, so Friday morning I got up and took my meds, then packed them in my bag. Kara told me to pack casual clothes along with my dress uniform. I’d stay at her home Friday, Saturday and Sunday night and fly home Monday. I wasn’t sure what she meant by “casual”, so I packed jeans and slacks, and a couple of shirts. A car came and picked us up.

It’s a long drive from Bellingham to SeaTac. Gloria decided she’d spend it by teaching me breathing and relaxation exercises I could do on the airplane. It turned out they were good exercises. I started doing them at the gate and continued during take-off and they helped, a lot, to help me feel calm. I asked Gloria why she didn’t teach me this before my flying lessons.

“Because Xara has trust pheromones.”

“You told us she couldn’t use them.”

“I didn’t think she’d listen to me.”

We were flying first class, which was nice. Gloria had the window seat and I was on the aisle. Even with the relaxation exercises I didn’t want to look outside the plane during takeoff. Or flight. Or landing. But I got through the flight okay and was feeling very proud of myself.

Crystal met us at the airport, and we collected our bags and made our way to the Banks residence. Crystal remembered our conversation and there was a wrist corsage waiting for me on the back seat. Crystal said it would be best to refrigerate it when we got to the house.

We drove for some time and then Crystal turned off a road onto a long private drive. The drive made some twists and turns and then we came to a gate. Crystal pushed a button in the console of the car and the gate opened. We drove through, around some other twists and turns, and then suddenly there was the gated entrance to a garage carved out of rock. This time Crystal didn’t have to push any buttons, the door to the garage opened as we approached it.

We were at Kara and Xara’s house. If you could call it a house. To me, it was a mansion. To my Italian forebears it would have been a palace. A glass palace. The house is on the ocean built into a rock wall and must be at least ten stories tall. All the walls that face the water are glass and the house is designed so that all the major rooms have an ocean view. Even the bathrooms. Kara and Xara weren’t home when we arrived, so Crystal gave me a tour, and I’ll try to do the house justice in my description.

There are no staircases, instead there are two glass enclosed elevators. There are also a couple of vertical glass tubes that open onto every floor with glass rungs. I assumed that was the backup, in case the power went out. I was only half right about that, which I’ll explain a bit later.

The bottom floor opens onto a patio that is partially enclosed and partially exposed to the elements. Under cover there is a complete outdoor kitchen with a large stone platform with a polished stone table on top. Not sure if it is granite, I didn’t ask. Crystal told me that in stormy weather the waves will come all the way up to the patio, so it is important to close off the kitchen/dining area when the weather is bad. The moveable walls (which were open when I was there) that enclose the kitchen area are glass, and Crystal said it can be quite disconcerting to be down there during a storm with the waves crashing up against the patio glass.

The interior of the house was designed to respect the exterior environment, which meant a lot of rock and wood. And glass. Many of the rooms have interior walls made of electronically dimmable glass. But other walls, especially those against the back side of the house, are stone or rock, and I also saw wood paneling done using local native tree species.

Inside there are two kitchens. One is a large industrial or restaurant type kitchen which is used when the Banks family hosts large events. Crystal told me Eric got Kara involved supporting several different charities and non-profits, ranging all the way from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to homeless shelters and foodbanks, and a number of medical charities, and they held regular fund raisers at their home. Kara still does. Crystal told me she didn’t let the death of Eric slow down her work with charities at all.

The floor with the large kitchen also has a large formal dining room and hall. The large kitchen, dining room and hall are off to one side of the house with a separate entrance off the garage. That floor is wider than the others, so the event areas don’t intrude so much on the living space. The living areas are spread over several floors. Kara and Eric each had their own study, Xara uses Eric’s study now.

Every floor has a bathroom. Every bedroom and guest room have a private bath, dresser and walk-in closet. Crystal warned me to be careful about the showers. There are two hot water tanks, and the showers for the rooms reserved for Velorians deliver 200° F (93° C) water. She said the hot water supply to the other rooms was set to about 140° F (60° C). I asked her why I’d have to worry. She said Xara had insisted that I be put in the room next to hers, and it had the extra hot water. Thank God I was on my meds! Dixon and Johnson would have gone nuts over that.

Every floor has a common or living room. The main floor with the residential kitchen and dining room has a large living room. The guest room floors have smaller common rooms with a TV. No TV in the large living room. There is a small, intimate family room with TV, stereo etc. And there is a nice game room with a pool table, ping pong table, air hockey and foosball tables and video games. Crystal said it didn’t get much use once Eric figured out he couldn’t beat Kara or Xara at anything. “If you let one of them break, they’ll completely run the table before you get a turn.”

 

Chapter 46

Crystal left me in the game room and left to put the corsage in the refrigerator. I was thinking about picking up a cue stick to play a little pool when I was suddenly hit by a … it’s hard to describe. The best I can do is tell you that what hit me felt like a soft “poof”, then I felt arms around me, and I was on the floor looking up at Xara, who planted a kiss on my lips.

“Hi Joe! How was your flight? Do you like our house? Have you seen your room yet? I have another helmet and suit for you here, we can go flying before dinner and I’ll show you the rocks offshore, you can see the elephant seals. Would you like to do that?”

I managed to get a finger against her lips, which stopped her talking, and said, “Good, yes, no, sounds like fun!”

Okay, I lied a little bit there. I really didn’t think flying would be much fun, but she was so enthusiastic I didn’t want to disappoint her. And I was a guest in her home and I had told her that I would like to share the joys of flying with her, and after the lessons, and how she told me flying is something she wanted to share with me, I had resigned myself to going flying with Xara whenever the thought struck her.

“Great!”, she said. And she used her flight powers to levitate us up into a standing position and grabbed my hand and started pulling me out to the hallway saying, “I had Gloria put your bags in the room next to mine. You’ll have to be careful with the hot water, I’ll show you that, but this way we’ll be able to pop back and forth and talk or watch TV or whatever without you having to wait for an elevator.”

I thought we were going to an elevator, but no, she led me to one of the glass tubes, put her arms around me again and we floated up to the floor our rooms are on. The elevators are for people who can’t fly. Those who can, never use them, they use the glass tubes.

She led me to my room, my bags were there, and she showed me the shower and the little mark she’d made so I’d know how far I could adjust the hot water before it would be too hot for me. Then she opened a closet and took out my “flight suit” and went to her room to change while I put it on. She came back into my room just as I was zipping my suit up and took me by the hand again and led me to the glass tube, put her arm around me and started floating up. We went up through all the floors and then a trap door in the ceiling opened for us, automatically, and we came up into a small room. She walked me over to another door, which opened automatically, and led me out onto a narrow ledge that overlooked the water. I looked up, because looking down was very uncomfortable, and saw rock above us.

“This is the entrance we use when we are flying in and don’t want to be observed”, she explained. “We can’t be seen from above and breakers on the rocks below make it too dangerous to maneuver a boat in to where you can see us. I’ll show you. Don’t be afraid.”

Then she turned to face me, with her back to the water, wrapped her arms around me and just fell over backwards off the ledge. We were going straight down, faster and faster. I started to panic, then I noticed that the blood wasn’t rushing to my head, which distracted me, and then we were horizontal, and Xara was slowing our descent. She wrapped her legs around mine then flipped us over, so she was on top and I was on the bottom and just started zooming along, going left, right, up, down. I glanced around the best I could and saw that we were low to the water zigging and zagging around the rocks. When we were clear of them, she brought us back to vertical and pointed to the cliff where the ledge is. And she was right, I couldn’t see the ledge. From the water a safe distance from the rocks it was impossible to see.

Staying vertical, she floated us up and back to the rocks and set us down on a flat spot. “I made trails for you Joe, with hand holds.” And sure enough, there was a trail, and indentations she’d made into the rock walls that I could use to steady myself. And she didn’t half-ass it either. Everything was smooth, no jagged edges. But I didn’t need the hand holds. Xara didn’t let go of my hand the entire time. She took me down and around the rock to where she’d carved out seats for us and we were able to look down and over to the next rock to see the seals.

“We shouldn’t get any closer than this Joe. The males have really bad tempers and a few of them remember me from when I used to try to tickle them.”

“I bet that didn’t end well Xara.”

“Worse for them than for me. And they remember and resent me for it.”

We watched the seals for a while. Xara held my hand the entire time. Then she looked back at her house and said, “Mom’s home. Let’s head back.”

She picked me up in her arms and flew us back to the ledge. As we approached the door opened and we flew inside. Then it was down the tubes back to our rooms where we changed. Then back to the tubes and down to the kitchen where Kara was working on dinner with Gloria and Crystal.

“Did Xara show you the seals Joseph?”

“She did Kara, it was very interesting, I’d never seen them this close before outside of a zoo.”

“How did you do with flying?”

“I thought I handled it pretty well!”

“He did mom, he only screamed twice!”

“I did? When?”

“When I did the backward dive off the ledge and while we were flying around in between the rocks.”

“Joseph, you have to learn to trust us.”

“Don’t scold him mom. Those were new maneuvers he’d never seen before. I’m sure he’ll do better next time.”

“Well, let’s get some more practice time in while you’re here Joseph. With both of us.”

They were preparing a lot of food. I mean a LOT! If I didn’t know better, I would have thought there would be more people coming for dinner. But I did know better. Velorians eat a lot, and not just when they are mooching off me partaking of my hospitality. Kara was working on roast beef with roasted onions and potatoes and gravy. Crystal was making a salad and Gloria had just put a chocolate cake into one of the ovens. I asked if I could help and Kara said, “No Joseph, there isn’t much left to do. Xara, why don’t you and Gloria take Joe down to the firing range.”

Two things struck me right then. When Kara is talking to me, I am Joseph. When she’s talking about me, even if I’m in the room, I’m Joe. My mom used to do that. And the second thing that struck me was FIRING RANGE!!!!! I love the firing range!

 

Chapter 47

Xara took me by the hand to the tubes and flew us down. Gloria followed using the rungs. We went down to what I thought was the bottom floor, then down another shaft into a cavern. It was totally dark, I couldn’t see a thing, until Xara turned on the lights. There was a vault door built into one of the walls and the firing range opposite it, which was basically a tunnel carved about 75 feet into the rock.

Xara opened the door of the vault and lights inside came on and I saw racks and racks of every weapon imaginable and several I couldn’t imagine. I recognized a Gar pistol, and larger weapons that Gloria said were Heavy Gar rifles. There were also conventional (at least to Terrans) pistols, revolvers, rifles, automatic and semi-automatic weapons from pretty much every army on earth. Not to mention RPGs and various and sundry grenades.

Xara asked me, “Which one would you like to try first Joe?”

I looked them over. Since that day in the cave I thought it would be fun to have a Gar pistol, but as I looked over the contents of the vault, one particular weapon called out to me. A .3006 Browning Automatic Rifle. The BAR was the squad automatic rifle of World War 2. I’d read about them but never actually seen one outside of a museum, let alone had the chance to fire one. Gloria took it down from the rack while Xara rummaged through ammunition cases and found two magazines that would fit it and several boxes of ammunition.

I filled the two magazines while Xara hung up targets for me. I put on safety glasses and ear protection at the firing line, took aim, released the safety and fired off several short bursts. It was a real handful, it’s a lot heavier than modern rifles. The recoil wasn’t bad at all, certainly better than I thought it would be. It had a tendency to force the barrel up and to the right, but it was still manageable in short bursts.

Then Xara did something that stunned me. She took her top and shorts off and flew down to the end of the range, stark naked, and said, “Shoot me Joe!”

“What? Xara! No!”

“You can’t hurt me Joe. See if you can hit my nipples.”

“Xara! Come on! Get back here and put your clothes on!”

“It’s okay Joe, bullets can’t hurt me. Indulge your fantasies!”

Fantasies? What fantasies? She wanted me to shoot her? Is this her fantasy? Is shooting automatic weapons at them what Velorian prom dates are supposed to do?

While I was pondering this Gloria took the BAR from me, pointed it at Xara and emptied the magazine into her. Or onto her. The bullets either flattened against her and plopped to the floor or bounced off to the side and into the walls, which I was told later were reinforced with Vendorian steel. Equally impressive, Gloria was able to hold the weapon steady. The recoil had no effect on her aim. And while it happened very quickly, I’m pretty sure at least a few rounds hit Xara’s nipples.

Gloria said, “See Joe. It doesn’t harm her. No Terran weapons can.”

I became angry. I told them I’d had friends killed by friendly fire and I was very serious about who I pointed my weapon at.

The army trains you to kill the enemy, and I was good at it. The army also trains you to know who you are shooting at and to know where your friendlies are at all times. We had identification systems we used. But still, fuckups happen, and when you lose a comrade to friendly fire it is worse, much worse than losing them to the enemy. So you get very good at not pointing your weapon at a your own guys. You get really good at making sure that tango in your sights isn’t one of yours.

In one of my reoccurring nightmares Dixon and Johnson aren’t killed by the enemy. I kill them. I am shooting at the enemy and when I come to their bodies and turn them over, it’s Dixon and Johnson. I didn’t mention them by name, but I related the nightmare to Xara and Gloria, and I think they understood. Xara apologized to me and said she wouldn’t do it again.

I told them all this, and then, as I was cooling down, I noticed that Xara was still naked. I was just about to ask her to put on her clothes when Gloria went over to the vault and pulled down a Heavy Gar and asked me if I’d like to try it.

“Oh, hell yes!”

I held out my arms for it, but Gloria said, “It weighs over 500 lbs. I’ll set it up on its mount.”

Xara went over to one of the walls of the cavern and shoved her open hands up to her elbows into the solid rock. It looked like there was no resistance to her at all. Then she turned her hands 90 degrees and did it again, then pulled out a large chunk of rock and flew it to the back of the firing range.

Gloria took the Gar over to the firing line and opened up a tripod from its underside. She set it up then showed me the controls. She walked me through powering it up and adjusting the sights, then showed me how the power is set. She set it at its lowest power and then stepped aside. I centered the targeting reticle on the rock and pulled the trigger. The rock just exploded into dust! I loved it! Too bad I was on my meds, because Dixon and Johnson would have loved it too.

I was grinning from ear to ear as I straightened up and Xara said, “Would you like to try it on …”, then stopped talking as she saw my expression start to change.

“Xara, would you please put your clothes back on?”

“Joe, you’re the only man who has EVER asked me to do that!”

At that Gloria started laughing, and then Xara, and then I did too. They let me try out a couple of more weapons until Kara’s voice came over the intercom announcing that dinner was ready. Xara put her clothes on and flew me back up through the tube system to the dining room while Gloria used the ladders.

 

Chapter 48

Dinner was very good. There was a lot of food on the table and the Supremis, as usual, really packed it away. Gloria kept telling me to eat more. As noted before, she wants me to put on weight. I don’t argue with her too much about it because the army doctors tell me the same thing. I always lost weight during deployments but until this last one I was always able to put it back on when I rotated home.

The dinner conversation was … unique. I should be used to it by now, but it still surprised me.

“Mom, he wouldn’t shoot me. In fact, he became quite cross about it.”

Gloria confirmed it, “Yes, it was very unexpected to see him react that way.”

“You guys know I’m here, right?”

“Joseph,” said Kara, “Most men, Terran men, who find out about us are … how to put this … turned on by our strength and invulnerability. Running their hands over our bodies while we hold up seemingly impossible amounts of weight, or shooting us in our … most intimate places, is, for them, foreplay.”

“And you’re okay with this, with men doing these things?”

“Well … we enjoy it too.”

“Aunt Sharon keeps an arsenal just for when Deb is out of town and she brings a man home who knows about her,” said Xara.

“Aunt Sharon?”

“It’s an honorary title Joseph. Though Sharon is less like an aunt and more like a big sister to Xara.”

“A big sister who is corrupting me”, added Xara.

Crystal and Gloria laughed at that.

“Well, I don’t need demonstrations of your abilities to find you ladies attractive. Your beauty and grace, your kindness, your generosity, the way you’ve accepted me with all my baggage, … that’s enough for me.”

“Uh huh”, said Xara, “but you still like the way we look naked, don’t you?”

“Oh yeah!” And it was my turn to laugh. I stopped laughing when Gloria put a big scoop of mashed potatoes on my empty plate.

During my discussions with Johnson and Dixon, the three of us had come up with some questions for the Velorians, and I thought this was as good a time as any to ask them, as I was feeling very full and didn’t think I’d be able to finish those potatoes anytime soon.

“Kara, are Velorians really as powerful as Crystal has said you are?”

“Yes Joseph, we are. Why?”

“Then why don’t you just take over? If you can defeat all the armed forces of the world, why not just announce that you are taking control and order every country to disarm?”

“Good question Joe,” said Xara, “Mom, why don’t we?”

“Joseph, I’ll give you the same answer I give Xara whenever we have this discussion. No matter how benign our rule, because of who we are, because we are untouchable, people would fear us, and eventually resent us. And that resentment would lead to bloodshed. Not our blood, your blood, Terran blood. First, we’d be targeted, and when that didn’t work, the people close to us, or who cooperate with us would be targeted, and then entire institutions. And then we’d be forced to respond.

“This isn’t idle conjecture. The Arions have proven it time and time again.”

“Well,” I said, “Just from what I’ve seen of your medical technology, the earth could benefit knowing about you, working with you, and being united in peace under you.”

“I agree,” said Xara.

“Joseph, you Terrans are capable of getting there, on your own. My job is to keep the Arions away so you can. And even though she thinks she is, Xara isn’t really a goddess.” Kara and Xara both laughed. I think it’s an inside joke.

After dinner, while the other ladies were clearing the table and cleaning up Kara asked me to stay and talk to her. She did most of the talking. I listened.

“Joseph, you are going to get orders to report to the Pentagon for a meeting. There, you will be told that you are to become my liaison with the United States government. I’ve negotiated certain conditions with your government and superiors: You’ll report directly to me, not to your chain of command. You’ll have a single point of contact within the military. You will not divulge, or be asked to divulge, any information about our relationship, how we met, or anything else about us that I don’t specifically approve.

“Even though you report to me, you will still be a member of the army. You will be paid by the army and get your medical coverage through them. I will supplement both, but that will be between us.”

“Kara, this is unusual. It sounds like I’ll be outside the chain of command. The army agreed to this?”

“They did Joseph. They badly want information that only I can provide. They are aware of the Arion presence in this solar system and on this planet, and they are frightened by it. As they should be.

“I will be present at the Pentagon for the meeting. There will be men and women in attendance who are aware of me and what I am doing here. Some are against the arrangements I’ve negotiated, and they may attempt to derail them during the meeting. I may have to assert myself. If I do, it is important that you do not show any fear. Do not be intimidated by me, and do not be intimidated by the others. Do you understand?”

“I do. But what I don’t understand is what I will be doing as your liaison. Will you explain that?”

“In good time Joseph. You’re MOS, I think that’s the right term, will be changing to 35L and you’ll be sent away for training. When you return from that you’ll begin training with me. I know this is new to you and you have questions. You’ll get answers. And don’t doubt yourself. You’ll be successful in your new role. If I wasn’t sure of that I wouldn’t have chosen you for it.”

“Mom, are you done?”, asked Xara.

“Yes honey, I think we are.”

I wasn’t. But when Kara says she’s done, she’s done.

“Good. Let’s talk about something important. The Prom! We have dinner reservations for six tomorrow night. We’ll be having dinner with some of my friends. We’ll have to leave here by five to make sure we get there in time. Traffic can be pretty bad.”

Oh thank God! She doesn’t expect to fly us to the prom.

“The dance starts at seven. You’ll be driving us in one of mom’s cars.”

“I thought Crystal was going to drive us?”

“Change of plans. Just you and me in the car.”

Crystal told me later that Kara was worried about Xara “taking” me, but once Gloria assured her that I’d be on my meds, she decided we didn’t need a chaperone.

“Anyway, mom and Crystal will be helping me with my hair, so you’ll have a couple of hours to yourself in the afternoon.”

“Joseph, I’ll give you cash for dinner …”

I cut her off.

“Kara, I’m a full-service prom date. I can cover dinner.”

“Okay. Is there anything else you need to be ready?”

“No. My uniform is hanging up. Any wrinkles from being packed will be out of it by the morning. I polished my shoes before I left, so I’m all good.

“There is one thing though. What is our relationship? Going to the prom with an older cousin seems a little odd. And creepy.”

“You’re a distant relation of Eric’s. Everyone knows Eric was my stepdad and there is no blood relation. I’ve been talking to my friends about you so I don’t think any eyebrows will be raised.”

“Did you show them a picture of me? Because everywhere I go eyebrows are raised.”

“They know you are a wounded soldier. That’s enough. My friends are cool. Any who aren’t will find their tires melted into the pavement when they leave.”

“Okay then, it sounds like we have a plan.”

I started to get up from the table when Kara motioned for me to stay seated.

“Xara, don’t you think now is a good time to tell Joe your news?”

“I was going to wait until after the prom mom.”

“I think now will be better. He’ll need the extra time to process it.”

“Process what? What’s going on Xara?”

“Well Joe … did you know I’m graduating next week?”

“No. I thought you were a junior.”

“Well, I’ve taken all the AP courses, some running start courses, some other college courses, and I’m graduating a year early.”

“Well that’s great Xara, congratulations!”

“Thank you, Joe!” She was beaming, and I could understand why. Xara is smart, but still, with the extra course work I knew she had to have been working very hard at her studies.

“Tell him Xara,” said Kara.

“Tell me what?”

“I’ve been accepted into a college.”

“Great! That’s wonderful. Where will you be going to school?”

There was silence. Xara looked at Kara. Kara looked at me, and then back to her.

“Tell him Xara.”

“I’m going to Western Washington University.”

“Really? I’m surprised. You obviously have good grades. And your mom has the resources to pay for a first-rate college education for you. With your aspirations to become a doctor I would have thought that you would have applied to Harvard. Or Princeton or Yale or some other elite school.”

Looking back on it now, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I blame my meds.

“I did. I applied to those schools. And USC, and Stanford, and to several others.”

“They didn’t accept you?”

“They all accepted me. I chose WWU.”

“Wouldn’t a degree from those other schools count for more when you apply to a medical school?”

“I looked into it. Many WWU graduates have gotten into very good medical schools, the best schools.”

“Why WWU?”

“Well,” she said, “It is a good school, and it’s in a beautiful location. The water, the San Juan Islands, the mountains and forests, there is a lot to do there.”

It didn’t occur to me at the time that if Xara wanted to spend quality time with mother nature, she could fly to any forest in the world in a very short time.

“I agree, it is in a beautiful location with a lot of outdoor activities nearby. Kara, what do you think of this?”

“I was ready to pay the big bucks for an Ivy League school, and Kara knew that. I was just as surprised as you are. But it’s her education, she gets to decide where she’s going to get it.”

“Okay. Well, you’ll be in Bellingham. When I’m in town we can visit together.”

“Yes,” she said, “we can.”

“Tell him Xara,” said Kara.

“There’s more?”

“I’m going to live in your cabin Joe. With you.”

Now see, this is what my meds do. I focused on the part where she said she was going to live in my cabin and totally missed the, “with you,” part.

“Umm … what?”

“It makes sense Joe. It’s much easier to fly to and from your cabin than a dorm or an apartment in town without being seen. And I’ll be able to provide security for your place. You know, make sure no one breaks in when you aren’t there, water your plants, that kind of thing. And I’ll pay rent Joe.”

At first, I was a little rattled by this. Okay, more than a little. But then it occurred to me that being Kara’s liaison will probably be more like being in the army full time than it has been since my last deployment. And depending on where I was stationed, I might not be getting back to Bellingham all that often. Having a caretaker for the cabin made sense.

“Okay, I suppose that would be okay. Kara, where do you think I’ll be stationed? If I’m only going back to Bellingham when I’m on leave, then I suppose it would make sense to have a renter. Kara, are you okay with this?”

Kara was quiet, looking down at her nails. I didn’t know why. They are as perfect as the rest of her. Then I found out why.

“Tell him mother.”

“Tell me what?”

“I thought I’d tell him after the prom Xara.”

“I think now will be better mom. He needs the extra time to process it.”

I got the very distinct feeling that Xara had suddenly managed to turn the tables on her mother.

“You’re going to be working for me out of your cabin Joseph.”

“What? Why? How do I liaise with the government if I’m not where the government is?”

“Well, Joseph, while you’re in training for your new MOS I’m having some, uh, improvements made to your cabin. You’ll have advanced communication and surveillance equipment. You’ll be doing more than the liaison job. You’ll also be doing intelligence analysis work for me. And that work is best done away from the center of government, away from military installations in a locale where the Arions won’t be looking.”

And then my mind started going a mile a minute. “With you.” That’s what she said. She said she is going to live with me. Because I’ll be working from my cabin. With Xara as my roommate. An underage roommate. An underage roommate who looks like a goddess and has a crush on me. The army would find out and I’d be up on charges!

“And have Xara living with me??? When the army finds out I’m shacked up with a minor who looks like that,” and I pointed to Xara, “I’ll be in the brig faster than you can say Uniform Code of Military Justice! They won’t believe Xara is my cousin. They will check it out and they’ll know. Kara … Xara, I don’t think this is a good idea. Are you really okay with this Kara?”

“Joseph,” she said, “it may surprise you to know that I understand your concerns and may even share some of them. But this is a time for considered deliberation, not panic.”

“I wish we could have had this ‘considered deliberation’ before you and Xara finalized your plans about my life. Xara, you go to school wherever you want to. But please find someplace else to live.”

“See mom, this is why I wanted to have this conversation after the prom. This is all he’s going to be thinking about for the rest of the weekend!”

“Let’s let him sleep on it Xara. I’m sure he’ll be feeling much more reasonable in the morning. Joseph, we’ll talk more about this later.”

I started to stand up and take a breath to tell them that we were going to talk about this right now. I was halfway up when I felt a hand on my shoulder forcing me back into my seat. It was Gloria, who can be very stealthy when she wants to.

“It’s time for dessert. Chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream. Kara says you’ll talk later. You will not talk about this again until Kara says it is time. Now, eat your cake and ice cream. All of it.”

Xara had a look of shock on her face. Kara was looking at Gloria and almost imperceptibly shaking her head. Crystal looked like she was horrified. They obviously understood that Gloria’s action had potentially escalated the conflict. Potentially. But the pause (with a little help from my meds) gave me a moment to collect my thoughts. This is Xara’s prom weekend, and if there is one thing I remembered from high school, it’s that the prom was very important to the girls. And if Xara is graduating a year early, then this is her only chance to go to a prom. So I looked down at my dessert, contemplated its vastness, and resolved that I wasn’t going to ruin it for her.

“The cake looks delicious Gloria. Xara, tell me about your friends.”

I could almost feel the temperature in the room go down. Xara, who was sitting next to me, gave me a big smile and put her hand on my knee. Kara smiled and nodded at me, Crystal breathed a sigh of obvious relief. Gloria put another scoop of ice cream on my cake.

 

Chapter 49

I thought it would be a simple question that would break the tension, and nothing more. It turned out to be much, much more. Apparently, Xara had gone through a kind of metamorphosis of the character, which Kara credited to me.

In her own words, and with Kara’s concurrence, Xara had been an “entitled little bitch with a goddess complex,” before that day in the cave. She had been rude and condescending towards Eric and anyone who didn’t rise to her standards. Of course, since nobody could possibly compare to her, she had to lower her standards somewhat. She was the most beautiful girl in her school, a cheer leader, came from a wealthy family, and used all that to her benefit. She was the most popular girl in the school’s social elite, dated only boys whose social and economic status was the equal of hers, only associated with the other popular girls, and looked down on everyone else. She was cruel and quick to make fun of, ridicule and embarrass those who were socially or physically awkward, or whose parents couldn’t afford to take them around the world on vacation or couldn’t afford the latest and trendiest fashions.

She was a nightmare for Eric, constantly demonstrating her superiority over him and trying to trip him up with her pheromones in an attempt to break up her mother’s marriage to him. She flaunted the house rules and threw what she described as a “hissy fit” whenever she didn’t get her own way.

That all started to change when she watched, helplessly, constrained by gold, as the Arions tortured and killed Eric in front of her and then told her what was in store for her, her mother, Sharon and Skar-El. Then I walked into the cave and everything changed. For Xara, it was a near death experience that caused her to examine her life and her behavior through a new lens: that of a person who was vulnerable and dependent on others. The very idea that she would need someone like me to save her life shocked her to the core. And so she decided that she needed to understand how the other side lived, and she started with me.

(Throughout the conversation Xara went to great pains to explain that she wasn’t looking down on me, or being condescending, but was trying to learn from me by learning about me.)

This affected her school relationships. Suddenly it wasn’t funny to watch the less popular boys and girls in school get harassed, or picked on, or bullied, or made to feel like they were less because their families had less. She started picking new friends, using a new criterion: the quality of the individual person. Were they nice to others? She’d be nice to them. Did they work hard in school? She’d help them with their homework. Did they value other people regardless of their social standing, who they dated or how much money their parents had? Then she would value them.

So, we weren’t having dinner before the prom with cheerleaders and their jock boyfriends. We were having dinner with mathletes. Geeks (her word) from the computer and chess clubs. Nice kids who volunteered in the community, helped out at home, worked before and after school so their parents wouldn’t have to shell out for gas money or new clothes.

Xara went dress shopping with the girls so she could make sure that she didn’t buy a dress that would “outshine” theirs. (Spoiler Alert: As I was to find out, putting Xara into a dress pretty much guaranteed that she would “outshine” everyone else.) One of the girls couldn’t afford a new dress. Xara helped her pick out a pattern and fabric and then helped her make a dress.

Of course, her old friends abandoned her. She wasn’t invited to parties with the other cheerleaders. The boys she had dated before turned their backs on her, though they “obviously still wanted” her. (Obvious to Xara anyway, and I believed her.)

Xara said she was a much happier person now, and said it was all because of me. Kara agreed. I’m not all that certain about taking credit. I understand the experience with the Arions changed her. God knows combat certainly changed the way I look at the world, but I was just the guy who came along. Could have been anybody, really. Xara and Kara would hear nothing of that, they insisted that I was being too modest. I don’t know about that, but in my mind this went a long way towards explaining Xara’s infatuation with me.

 

Chapter 50

After dinner Xara flew us back down to the cavern that housed the firing range. She took me into a side room, or cave, to show me a project she was working on.

“The motorcycle suit and helmet are okay for low level flying and sight-seeing. But if I want to take you someplace fast, they won’t protect you from the wind forces. And if we go too high you won’t be able to get enough oxygen. So I am working on this.”

This was an Arion pod. On the bottom side she had attached straps. Some really seriously reinforced straps. She stood the pod up on end and put her arms through the straps and levitated up a couple of feet so it was completely off the floor. It was like she’d turned the pod into a big backpack.

“You can ride inside the pod.”

Which now reminded me of a coffin. She lowered herself and the pod to the floor and pulled her arms out of the straps and came around to the front side of it and opened it up.

“Get in, with your back facing the bottom. Let’s see how it fits.”

So I turned around and backed into the pod.

“I’m going to close the hatch slowly, let me know if it pinches you.”

She slowly closed the hatch, until it was completely closed, it fit me pretty well, and then immediately opened the hatch.

“How was that?”

“A little claustrophobic. How am I supposed to breathe? There aren’t any air holes.”

“I’ve been working on that. See those bottles on the bench? Those are mountain climber oxygen bottles. The people who climb Mt. Everest just leave the empties lying around. I collected a bunch of them.”

“You flew to Mt. Everest to get those?”

“Yes. I thought of buying new ones, but it seemed a waste of money when the empties were just right there. I did have to buy a mask though. The abandoned ones on the mountain looked pretty yucky. I didn’t think you’d want to put your face in them.”

“Do you have an oxygen tank, to fill them?”

“Don’t need one, at least right now. For testing purposes, we can fill them with air. If that works and we want to try extended excursions we can get them filled with oxygen.”

“You have an air compressor to fill them from?”

“No, I don’t need one. I can fill them up myself. We burn mostly orgone for energy and don’t really use a lot of oxygen, so the air I breathe out is almost the same as the air I breathe in. Just very slightly less oxygen and very slightly more carbon dioxide. No more moisture than what I inhaled.”

“How do you fill them?”

“I’ll show you.”

She took one of the bottles, unscrewed the top and put an attachment on it. She unscrewed a cap on the end of the attachment, wrapped her lips around it, inhaled through her nose and exhaled into the attachment, and into the tank. There was a pressure gauge on the attachment, and I watched the pressure rise as she continued to inhale and blow into it. She stopped when the pressure gauge came up against a red line.

“Before I had the pressure gauge I had a couple of tanks explode because I over-filled them.”

“That must have been a rude surprise.”

“It was. Not much startles me, but see that indentation in the rock up there? That’s where my head hit the ceiling.”

She took the filling attachment off the bottle and attached a hose to it and attached a mask to the other end of the hose. She helped me put the mask on and I stepped into the pod. She told me to knock on the side of the pod if I had any trouble and closed the hatch.

I felt the pod rise and then start moving around. I couldn’t see anything, but I felt the (slight) acceleration and a couple of times the pod tilted. She must have landed very softly because the next thing I knew Xara was opening the hatch.

“How was that? Any discomfort? Were you able to breathe ok?”

“It was fine Xara. No complaints at all. But I couldn’t see anything. Nice landing by the way, I didn’t even feel it.” That little compliment got a smile from her. Oh my God, that beautiful smile. I could … never mind.

“There are a couple of things I need to work on. I want to put a window in the pod so you can see out and I need to figure out how to regulate the pressure inside it. It’s airtight. As you exhale the pressure increases. If it gets to the point where the pressure in the pod equals the regulated pressure from the tank you won’t be able to breath.

“Also, I want to get a bigger pod, something that will hold you and SCUBA tanks. That will increase the amount of time you can stay inside.

“Mom has a few dozen tons of Arion space craft she took down hidden in an ice cave in Antarctica. I’ve been going through it to see if I can find anything we can use for communication, so you’ll be able to talk to me from inside the pod. I’ve just about got that worked out and it should be ready soon.”

“Xara, why not just poke a few holes in it to take care of the pressurization problem?”

“That works at lower altitudes. But we don’t want the pressure to drop too low, and it will if I take you out of the atmosphere.”

“You want to take me out of the atmosphere?”

“Uh huh. The view of the earth from orbit is spectacular, and you can see a lot more stars from space. I doubt we’d ever be able to get you to the moon and back in one of these pods, but that’s my stretch goal.”

The moon and back? I was stunned. My face must have shown it, because Xara said, “That’s a way off Joe. We’re going to take this one step at a time and we’ll only take the next step when you are comfortable doing so.”

“What’s the next step?”

“If you’re up to it we can go back out to the rocks and watch the sunset.”

I was up to it. Xara strapped the pod on and took it up to the ledge we used earlier. Then she came back and got me. On the ledge I put on the breathing mask and got into the pod. Xara closed it, then strapped it on and we were off.

Inside the pod I felt myself going from vertical to horizontal and back to vertical again. I hadn’t thought about it, but I realized as we were in motion that if Xara angled her body down for descent I was going to slide down until I was standing on my head. But she anticipated that and descended vertically.

She let me out of the pod on the same rock we’d been on before and we sat down to watch the sun sink into the ocean. It was a little chilly, so Xara used her heat vision on the rocks around us. The heat they radiated kept me comfortable. She sat down beside me and put her arm inside of mine and leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder and let out a contented sigh.

Did I enjoy that, sitting next to a beautiful young woman watching the sun go down, feeling her warmth? Hell yes I did. Did it worry me? Oh yeah. But this was her prom weekend, and I wasn’t going rock the boat by trying to tell her I wasn’t the right guy for her. I just hoped I was making the right decision. But as the world became darker around us and I became more aware of the rhythm of her breathing, all my worry just seemed to melt away and I was able to get into the moment.

We stayed out there until the rocks cooled enough that I was getting uncomfortable, and then I got back into the pod and Xara flew us back.

After she opened the pod to let me out, I mentioned the flight angle thing. She acknowledged that and said she was going to devise a “strapping in” system that would hold me in place through violent maneuvers.

“So in the future when you take me flying I’ll be in a pod?”

“No, not for everything. The pod is for times when there is an urgent need to get you somewhere fast, or if high G’s are anticipated, or if I want to show you views from space, take you to Everest, activities like that. For just run of the mill flying around I want you in my arms. I like the intimacy.”

You know, you’d think with a face as burnt up as mine is, that I wouldn’t be able to blush. But I can, and she saw it.

“Do you like the intimacy, or do you want to fly in the pod all the time?”

She knew the answer, just by looking at me.

“I feel safe in the pod, but I like the closeness of the other way …” and I just let it trail off.

And then changed the subject: “How am I supposed to see out?”

“That’s going to be the hard part. We have view ports from those Arion ships mom has in cold storage. I’ll cut a hole in the pod and fit a port in it. That’s easy. Making sure it is secure and won’t blow out if there is a large pressure differential will be the hard part. There is no room for error there. I’ll have to come up with a way of doing some extreme testing, take it beyond any limits you would ever be exposed to.”

We talked about the pod, about securing me inside it, with air to breath and a window to look out, and where she wanted to take me. It was a fun conversation to have, and before I knew it, it was 23:00. I’d had a long day and told Xara I needed to get to bed. She flew me back up the bedroom level and showed me, again, the safe mark on the shower handle. She kissed me goodnight, very softly, and turned and left. I took a shower. When I came out I saw that someone, probably Gloria, had put my night time medications out for me. I took my meds and crawled into bed.

Sometime during the night, I was having a nightmare. I felt an arm around me gently shake me and heard a voice, I think it was Xara, tell me it was okay, go back to sleep. As I drifted back to sleep, I felt that arm pull me close, I swear I thought I was being pulled into Xara’s breasts. And they felt soft, and I remember thinking they can’t be, because I’d seen bullets bounce off them. But when I woke up in the morning I was alone, so I must have imagined it.

 

Chapter 51

I think Kara must have been standing outside my room, listening to me or watching me through the walls, because as soon as I had my pants on she walked in, wearing her flight suit, and announced that she and I were going flying.

“Put on the motorcycle suit, Joseph, not the helmet, you won’t need that.”

I did as I was told and Kara carried me up through the tubes, to the ledge, wrapped me in her cape and took off. But this time was different. Instead of maneuvers designed to make me lose my breakfast (if I’d had breakfast), she went up and out and down. When we landed, we were somewhere in the mountains, and I figured out why she had me wear the suit: It was cold.

Like Xara had, she used her heat vision on some rocks so I wouldn’t get too cold and then said those four words every man dreads hearing from a woman: “We need to talk.”

I didn’t say anything. I let her begin.

“Joseph, what do you think your future is with the army?”

“As your liaison?”

“No, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s pretend you and I never met.”

“Kara, I think one of two things will happen. Either the army will pronounce me fit for duty and I’ll redeploy, or they’ll wait until my contract is up and discharge me.”

“If you had your way, Joseph, what would you do when your contract is up?”

“That depends. If they let me go before a promotion board and promote to E6 I’ll reenlist and stay in the army until I have my 20. If they don’t promote me … I haven’t thought about it. Probably reenlist anyway.”

“And if the army doesn’t let you reenlist?”

“Then I’ll get an honorable discharge.”

“And your medical treatment?”

“The army will make me the VA’s problem.”

“What do you think of that, of having your medical needs met by the Veterans Administration?”

“Not much. The guys I know who went that way, well, it isn’t working well for any of them.”

“Joseph, who are your friends in the army?”

“I don’t have any Kara. The buddies I did have are all gone.”

“Left the army?”

“Left this life. KIA.”

“And you haven’t made new friends?”

“Besides you?”

“Yes, besides me, and Xara and Sharon and my associates.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Why not, indeed. I knew the answer. I didn’t know how to articulate it. But I tried.

“Kara, even with the meds, I’m always on edge. Sometimes just a little bit, but it’s always there. I don’t know anyone who understands that I can talk to about it, because if you’re a soldier, and you understand, it’s because you’re always on edge too, for the same reasons I am, and the last thing you want to do is talk about it.

“And if you’re not a soldier, you can’t possibly understand it, there is no way to explain it.”

“Joseph, you’ve probably figured out that I’ve been keeping a close eye on you. You don’t have any social life at all. You are lonely. I see it, Xara and Sharon see it, we know you must see it. Are you happy?”

“Happy? Kara, happy went out the door in Afghanistan. It just up and left with Dixon, Johnson and the others. No, I’m not happy.”

“You do know, Joseph, that we are your friends, don’t you?”

“Yes. Yes, I know it, and I’m grateful for it. Please don’t ever think that I don’t appreciate you, and all you have done for me.”

“Then Joseph, I’m going to ask that you let us in. Let us help you. And most importantly, Joseph, trust us.”

“But I have let you help me, you’ve -,” and she raised her hand and cut me off.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re fighting us. We’re not trying to take anything away from you, we’re trying to help you have a better life.

“You know, you aren’t the first Terran who has found out about us. But you are very different from the rest. Most Terran men we’ve revealed ourselves to can’t get enough of us. They constantly want us to demonstrate our abilities. They want to be around us all the time. And they want us to do things for them, things that don’t really need to be done. But you’re not like that at all. You’ve never initiated contact with me. You’ve never once reached out to me for help, or for an advantage, and you have the leverage of Kiraling!

“When you’re used to being looked at as a living goddess, coming across a Joe Ricci can be a little deflating.” She said that with a smile and a twinkle in her eye.

“As much as Xara would like to think so, we aren’t goddesses. But compared to you Terrans, we’re as close to that as any of you will ever get to see in this life. So Joseph, take advantage of that. Ask for our help, our advice. It’s okay for you to do that.”

“Kara, I’ll try.”

“There is something else we should discuss. What is wrong with my daughter?”

“She’s young, that’s what’s wrong with her. She is infatuated with me, and I don’t want to take advantage of her.”

“You’re wrong, Joseph, in more ways than one. Yes, she is young, but what she feels for you isn’t infatuation. Before meeting you, the boys she dated were just the flavor of the week. She’d play with them until she was bored, then she’d go on to the next one, either uncaring or oblivious to the trail of broken hearts behind her.

“You are different. She is putting more effort in to you than I’ve ever seen. Part of that, I’m sure, is because she’s never met anyone who can play hard to get the way you can. But most importantly, she’s found you worthy. For a Terran to be found worthy of a Velorian is very rare.And yet not only have you been found worthy of a Velorian, she’s also part Galen. It’s remarkable!

“And Joseph, you have to be feeling very full of yourself to think that you could take advantage of her. Don’t let her youth blind you to her power. I assure you; you will never be able to take advantage of her unless she truly wants you to. And the only reason she hasn’t taken you the way Sharon did is that she respects you and desperately wants you to want her, of your own volition. She won’t admit to it, but that’s how she feels.”

“I thought Terrans were off limits to her.”

Kara laughed and said, “Let’s not overestimate my control over her. She really did learn her lesson when she hurt that boy, she won’t make that mistake again. When she finally wears you down, and she will, I’m sure she’ll have a pocket full of gold chains and necklaces to make sure she doesn’t hurt you.”

“Kara, you know my issues. You probably know them better than the army docs. How can you be okay with your daughter being with me? I’ve got PTSD, I’m unstable, and it isn’t getting better. I’ve seen what happens. I’ve seen marriages break up, children separated from their fathers because of what the war and repeated deployments have done to us. I’ll hurt Xara. I’ll break her heart. Or she’ll see the light and break mine.”

I was getting tears in my eyes as I pleaded with her. She saw and wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close to her. “We can help you Joseph. Please, let us.”

It felt good. Really good. And while my rational mind told me there was no way this could end well, a part of me wanted to believe they could help me find peace.

After a long moment I pulled away and asked, “Was Eric worthy of you Kara?”

“He was.”

“I wish I’d met him.”

“As do I Joseph, as do I.”

“So what do we do. What am I supposed to do?”

“Take my daughter to the prom. Enjoy yourself and have a good time. I’ll talk to Xara about taking things slowly. And trust her Joseph, trust her love for you and her desire to help you heal.”

Just then Kara looked up and said, “Damn!” I almost jumped. I looked up but didn’t see anything.

“What is it Kara?”

“I’ve told your government not to surveil me, or my family, or you for that matter. They have a drone above us.”

“I can’t see anything.”

“They painted the bottom of it sky blue, probably thinking that I won’t see it. I almost didn’t. Wait here.”

And she went straight up like she was shot out of a cannon and disappeared from view. A few minutes later she came back carrying a busted-up drone, what I found out later was a Global Hawk surveillance drone. I’d never seen one up close before. It was bigger than I thought.

“What did you do to it, how’d you disable it?”

“I burned out it’s sensor package then entered the engine feet first and let the fan break apart against my feet and legs. There was shrapnel flying everywhere, I’m surprised it didn’t blow up.

“I’ll take you back to the house. This should be safe here until I have time to drop it in someone’s garden.”

She didn’t say who that someone was.

 

Chapter 52

We got back to the ledge and Xara was there waiting for us.

“Where have you guys been?”

“Somewhere in the mountains. I was wrapped up in her cape, I couldn’t see where we were going.”

“I needed to talk to Joseph”, said Kara, “privately.”

“About what?”

“It was private, honey. Take Joseph down and get breakfast started.”

She took me down the tubes and to the bedroom level so I could change. She sat on my bed and asked, “So what was that all about?”

“She wanted to hear my career plans.”

“Was that all?”

You can’t lie to Velorians. They’re like walking, talking lie detectors.

“No. The rest is private.”

“I can dangle you by your ankles over the cliffs until you tell me.”

“I’m more afraid of your mother than I am of you.” I heard Kara laughing, loudly. Xara wasn’t amused but she let it go.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and pancakes, enough to serve a platoon, all served on large platters. Gloria harrumphed at the food I dished myself, then took my plate away from me and slathered my pancakes with butter, then poured syrup all over them. I’d already put butter and syrup on them. Apparently not enough.

“Gloria, Xara and I are going out to eat before the prom. If you keep shoving food down me, I’m not going to be able to eat dinner and I’ll be too bloated to dance with her.”

Kara, thank God, chimed in, “I think we can let Joseph count his own calories today Gloria.” I was counting that as a win until she added, “After tonight you’re back in charge of his diet.”

Xara turned to me, with an evil grin on her face, and asked, “Who are you more afraid of, mom or Gloria?”

Gloria looked at Xara like that was the most ridiculous question she’d ever heard, and said, “Of course he’s more afraid of Kara. She is much stronger than me!” I just let it go.

Before we left the table Gloria put my morning meds in front of me. I took them, and then Xara and I went back down to her workshop.

I was starting to get more comfortable with flying, and I told her. “With all this flying up and down the tubes and in the pod, I think I’m starting to get used to it.”

“I’ve noticed. Your heart rate and blood pressure are not rising as much. You aren’t hanging on to me as tightly either.”

“I’d like to try some more aggressive flying when I’m not on my meds.”

“What difference do they make?”

“Do Velorians have a fight or flight response to stress?”

“We do. Protector training and conditioning suppresses the urge to flee in favor of fighting, but I think the physiological basis is the same as for humans.”

“Well, with PTSD, it’s like you’re always in fight or flight mode. It doesn’t turn off. You’re always on edge. The meds take some of the edge off. It’s easier for me to relax, to be more comfortable when I take them.”

“Then why don’t you always take them? Why do you go off them?”

That was a good, and fair, question. “The meds … slow me down. I don’t always pick up the things I should be picking up. It is harder to focus. I’m just not as sharp when I take them.” I also couldn’t talk to Johnson and Dixon when I was on the meds. I wasn’t going to bring that up. Too uncomfortable. But that didn’t stop her from bringing up something else that was uncomfortable.

“You also can’t get it up when you are on the meds.I’ve talked about this with mom and Sharon. They can’t find any reason why the meds would immunize you from our sex pheromones or cause you to freeze up. And believe me, they’ve tried. You know mom is in pharmaceuticals, right? She’s discretely asked her top scientists about it. The best they can come up with is that it has to do with your individual brain chemistry, and that’s just conjecture.”

“I guess that will just be a mystery”, I said.

“I don’t think it’s something we can let ‘just be a mystery’, Joe. Our sexual prowess is a big part of our identities, especially our sexual superiority over Terrans.”

“Superiority, Xara?”

She shrugged and said, “It was designed into us Joe. I know it sounds smug, I didn’t realize how much so until I said it out loud, but it is very much a part of our psychology.”

“I’m only one guy Xara. So I’m an outlier. So what? Just let it go.”

She laughed and said, “Too much ego, Joe, for us to just let it go, too much ego.”

We spent the rest of the morning in her workshop talking about the pod and what we could do with it. Or rather what Xara could do with me in it. She wanted to take me into the depths of the oceans, to the tops of the world’s most famous mountains, and above the atmosphere. I admit, I liked the idea of it, the possibilities. She wanted to share with me the wonders of the world, and I wanted to share them with her. But still, it nagged at me, that she was younger, and I would be taking advantage of her.

A little after noon Gloria called us upstairs for a mercifully light lunch, then Crystal, Kara and Xara disappeared to do whatever it is girls do to get ready for the prom. Gloria told me to follow her and we climbed down the ladders (Gloria doesn’t fly) back to the firing range. She opened the vault and said, “Let’s shoot some stuff up!” Oh yeah!

In between weapons I started asking Gloria about herself, and where she got her medical training. She told me the Arion word that describes what she was trained in, then said, “The closest English word for it is veterinarian.”

“Veterinarian, you mean an animal doctor?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“So, you treat, like, cats and dogs and horses?”

“No. Terrans. I only treat Terrans. Why would I treat cats?”

“Gloria, here on earth, medical doctors treat humans. Veterinarians treat animals.”

“Yes. In the Empire what you would call medical doctors treat Arions, mostly betas. Veterinarians treat humans. It’s much the same there as here.”

“You think of Terrans as animals?”

“I used to. I don’t anymore. But that is the attitude of most Arions towards Terrans.”

“What changed your mind about us?”

“That’s a long story. I’ll tell you some other time. You should go take a shower now and get dressed for the prom.”

We climbed up the ladders back to the bedroom level. I took a shower then put on my class A uniform, then took an elevator down to the living room. All the ladies were there, fussing over Xara (even Gloria) and they turned to me as I walked in, and there, in the center of the group, was Xara in a beautiful, yet understated blue dress. As Crystal explained later, it was a High Low Taffeta dress with a slit. And Xara was beautiful in it. Kara brought us over against a wall, where there was plenty of light coming in from the windows and the ladies, out of nowhere, produced at least one camera or smart phone a piece and started taking pictures. A lot of pictures. Then Crystal brought out the corsage and I put it on Xara’s wrist, she pinned a boutonniere on me and there were more pictures.

The contrast struck me. Here are these beautiful Velorians, the most powerful creatures in the universe, (just ask them, they’ll tell you), who can melt steel with their eyes while bullets are bouncing harmlessly off their bodies, and Kara was fussing over Xara just like the mom of my high school prom date did years before. Even Gloria was getting into it. And Xara, she looked so happy. It would be so easy to let myself go and just fall totally in love with her. Thinking back on it, I was probably well on my way there. But I didn’t realize it at the time.

We got into an elevator, with Gloria snapping pictures of us, and went down to the garage. Kara gave me keys to one of her cars, with Gloria snapping pictures, and I opened the door for Xara, then went around to the driver’s side, and drove out of the garage, with Gloria and Crystal snapping pictures, and, I swear, Kara with a tear in her eye.

We drove out of the garage, down the drive through the gate and turned on to the main road. Xara was looking behind us as we headed off. I asked her, “What are you looking at Xara? Is your mom running after us taking more pictures?”

She turned around and said, “No, everything is fine.”

 

Chapter 53

We arrived at the restaurant; it was a fancy place with valet parking. We went inside and were greeted by three other couples who had arrived before us. Xara introduced me to everyone, my first impression was that they were nice kids. As Xara had said, her dress didn’t outshine any of the others, as far as the dresses were concerned. But Xara just made hers look better.

It was while we were being seated at our table that I noticed two things: All the girls were wearing heels except for Xara, and I was the only guy who was shorter than his date. I’m no expert on women, or, in this case, teenage girls, but from what I remembered from high school, most girls wouldn’t date boys who were shorter than them.

Something else: Whatever Xara told them about me worked. There were no awkward stares, or sideways glances. The kids asked me about the army, career options, the best specialties, that kind of thing. Everyone knew there was a war going on, and they asked me where I had been deployed. But no one commented on my wounds or asked me to tell combat stories. They were respectful, interested in what I had to say. I was surprised by the questions they asked me about the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan. They were intelligent questions and though I wasn’t an expert, my answers satisfied them.

It would have been nice if it had only been these kids who were there, but apparently this restaurant is prom central for dinner before the dance. There were several other couples from Xara’s school there, and some of them did point and stare. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Xara could, and for once I had to be the one telling her to calm down.

It was nice to be able to order a dinner with a normal amount of food. At least for me. Xara ordered this huge steak with baked potato and all the toppings. Apparently Xara’s appetite and ability to put away huge amounts of food was well known among her friends, and they good naturedly teased her about it.

Between the main course and desert, one of the girls excused herself to “powder her nose”, and, women being women, they all got up, including Xara, and headed for the rest room. While they were gone one of the boys questioned me, seriously, about the army. He was thinking of enlisting. Despite what happened to me, I really like the army. And so I told him, if he joins, he’ll grow up fast. He’ll have options, and the opportunity to make a plan for himself. He’ll make great friends and he’ll be ready for anything when he leaves.

The ladies came back, except for Xara, one of the girls said she wanted some fresh air and would be back shortly, and by the time she got all that out, Xara was back. She ordered a huge banana split for dessert. This brought about more teasing. After dessert we paid our bill and left. At the valet parking stand there was some kind of ruckus going on. One of the boys from another table was red in the face yelling at a parking attendant. Apparently one of his tires had gone flat and he was blaming the parking people for it. I was just starting to offer to help him change the tire when Xara tugged at my arm and said it was time to go, she’d tell me about it in the car. So we waited for our car and when it arrived we drove off.

“Xara, it would only have taken me a few minutes to change that kid’s tire.”

“He was making fun of you all through dinner Joe. And he’s going to need more than a new tire.”

“Oh. Xara, people are going to make fun of me, or stare at me, or turn the other way when they see me coming. I don’t like it, but I’m used to it. If you’re going to spend time with me, you need to get used to it too. You can’t go slashing tires every time somebody is rude to me.”

“Yes, I can. And I didn’t slash his tire. I melted it. And part of the wheel too.”

“Well, next time you should ask me first.”

I run into a lot of assholes. And I work hard about keeping control. But if someone else wants to step in and melt a tire occasionally … I’d better talk to Dixon and Johnson about this.

“Are you mad at me?”

“No. I should be. But no.”

“Oh good. I’ll try to be a good girl the rest of the night.” She said that with a grin.

“Did you notice I didn’t call you Xara even once?”

“I did, though I also noticed it took you a couple of seconds to react when you were asked how long you knew Danni.”

That was true. But I didn’t make that mistake again.

 

Chapter 54

The prom dance itself was being held a few miles away at a hotel with a pretty good-sized ballroom. There was a theme, something about whales and the future of the earth, I don’t really remember. We just stepped foot into the ballroom when Xara nearly yanked me off my feet to take me to another group of her friends, to introduce me, then off again to meet one of the chaperones and his wife. He was one of Xara’s favorite teachers. It turned out that he served in Desert Storm back in 1991 and I would have loved to pick his brain about his experiences, but his wife immediately intervened and told Xara that if she let us get started she wouldn’t see me again until the lights were turned out. I think she was probably right. So off we went to the dance floor.

I can dance. Not very well, but I can. But when you dance with a Velorian all that matters is that you can stay on your feet. Xara matched every move I made with one of hers that made it look like we had been dancing together for years.

I was having a good time, and so was Xara. In between dances we’d talk with her friends, and I was struck by how mature they seemed, how nice they were, and how they all obviously thought very highly of Xara. It wasn’t all pleasantness though. The jerks from the restaurant were joined by some other jerks, and while I did catch them looking at me from time to time, I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Xara could, and twice I had to dissuade her from going over to them to give them a piece of her mind. And by dissuade, I mean hang on real tight to her hand and hope she didn’t pull my arm out of its socket on her way to giving them that piece of her mind.

“Didn’t you promise to be nice?”

“I wouldn’t have if I thought you were going to hold me to it.”

“Come on, let’s dance.” And we did.

At the end of one of the dances there was a commotion across the dance floor. I heard a female voice call out, “Joe Ricci? That’s Joe Ricci?” I looked over and saw a girl running across the floor, losing both her heals on the way, and suddenly she hit me and wrapped her arms around me and gave me a huge hug.

Xara had an amused look on her face, as I tried to unwrap the girl’s arms and get a look at her. When I did, she looked slightly familiar, and then she said, “Don’t you remember me? I’m Lateica, Caleb’s sister.”

It was Johnson’s sister! I hadn’t seen her in several years, since Johnson, Dixon and I came home from our first deployment. She was such a little thing then, and here she was, at her senior prom.

And then I started to tremble and feel sick. Johnson, Dixon and I had promised we’d take care of each other. We promised our families that we’d each look out for the others and make sure we returned to them safe and sound. And I had failed. The room was starting to spin and I was afraid I’d pass out. And then, Lateica just turned my world up on its head. A crowd had gathered around us to see what the commotion was about and Lateica turned to them and said, “Everyone, this is Joe Ricci. He’s a hero! He got these wounds trying to save my brother!”

And then she turned back to me, “The army told mom and dad that if it hadn’t been for you, we wouldn’t have been able to have an open casket funeral for Caleb. That his body may not have ever been recovered.”

That’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it? I promise to make sure her brother comes home safe and sound, and she’s thanking me for him coming home in a box? And why would the army even tell her family that? Well, Lateica asked Xara if she could dance with me, and Xara said okay, and during the time we were dancing she told me that the army had interviewed them as part of the process of investigating and determining if I should get the silver star I had been nominated for. They heard the story of what happened that day, what I did, and were invited to object to the commendation if they chose to. They didn’t object. They wanted me to get the silver star.

After the third dance she pulled out her phone and made sure to get my contact information, then made sure I had hers, and told me she was going to write, or email, and I’d better answer her. I told her I would and then she raised herself up on her toes and kissed me on the cheek and went back to her date.

The next song came up, and Xara wanted to dance, and she just kept smiling at me. I said, “What?” And she said, “From now on, when mom and I tell you how special you are, you don’t get to say you aren’t. I know it. Mom knows it. Sharon knows it and that girl and her family know it. It’s time you knew it.” I just smiled and nodded.

Next came the crowning of the king and queen of the prom. I didn’t know kids still did that. Several of Xara’s friends said she should have been queen. She just shrugged her shoulders and applauded politely.

After that it was time to get our picture taken by a professional photographer. Xara had him take a lot of pictures, and she ordered the biggest photo package they had.

I don’t know if Velorians have a bladder, but if they do it never fills up. Mine did, so I excused myself to go to the men’s room after having my picture taken for the umpteenth time. It was off the ballroom floor and down a hall, and a group of kids were hanging out there. They made some snide comments about me as I walked by, and about Xara, and it bothered me. I walked right by them pretending to ignore them and went into the men’s room. I waited just inside the door hoping that one or more of them would follow me in thinking if I walked out without any blood on me, that would qualify as not starting a fight. But then I remembered that Xara can see through walls, so I thought better of it and did my business, washed my hands, and came out into the hallway.

Xara was there. They were laughing at her, making jokes about her and her ugly date and I decided right there that if she didn’t explode, I was going to. So I started heading towards them, planning which one I was going to take out first. There were three boys, and I identified the leader. Rule of thumb: In a group of three there is one leader and two followers. Take down the leader with your first one or two punches, get one of the followers next and the third one will turn and run. You go from taking on three at once to taking on two, one at a time, and never have to worry about the third. I was quickening my pace so as to catch them by surprise when Xara intercepted me, put her arms around me and said, “It’s time to teach them a lesson. Don’t be afraid. This might be a little hard on you, but you’ll be alright.”

I was about to tell her I’d be alright, but the assholes wouldn’t, when suddenly I was drawn to look into her eyes, I couldn’t look away, and I had this sudden, overwhelming feeling that I was an insect in the presence of … what? I don’t know. God? That’s what it felt like. My entire body started to tremble. I couldn’t move, I was pinned down by Xara’s eyes, and I felt so insignificant, as if nothing I had done, or would ever do, would matter. I didn’t matter. I was less than nothing. She was a god and I was an insect in her way. And I knew that she could annihilate me, and then forget me forever and it would make no difference to the universe.

And then, after, I don’t know, a few seconds of this, everything changed. Now I didn’t feel insignificant. I felt … loved. Like totally loved. Where a moment before Xara had been the terrible center of the universe, now she was the wonderful center of the universe. She was all that mattered, and she loved me. Me! She pulled me into her and I felt that love radiate out from her and into me and I never wanted to leave that embrace.

After a few seconds of this, she whispered into my ear, “We’re going to come down now. Lean on me and I’ll get you to a chair.” And slowly, not slowly because not even a minute had passed since I’d come out of the men’s room, but it seemed like slowly, the overt feeling of love subsided, and I was left with just the memory of it. I felt drained. I looked around and the boys and girls who had been giving Xara a hard time were just standing there, with their mouths hanging open, like they’d just seen something they couldn’t understand. Xara and I started walking back to the ballroom and they just parted to let us pass, without saying a thing.

In the ballroom Xara found a pair of empty chairs along one of the walls and set me down on one and went to the punch bowl, came back and sat down and handed me a cup of punch to drink.

“Are you okay Joe?”

“I think so. Xara, what was that?”

“I’ll explain on the way home. I don’t think anyone will give us anymore trouble tonight.”

“Did they feel what I felt?”

“Close, but not quite. I’ll explain it later.”

We sat there and held hands while I finished my punch. I quickly recovered and we were back out on the dance floor. And Xara was right. No one gave us anymore trouble for the rest of the night.

 

Chapter 55

The dance ended about midnight and we said good-bye to Xara’s friends. I got the email address of that teacher, and we left. Driving out of the parking lot I asked Xara, “Can you explain to me what happened?”

“Let’s go someplace and park and I’ll tell you about it.”

She directed us to a place on the road that with a cutout that looked out over the ocean. I stopped the car and turned to her, “Please tell me what happened, what you did? I know it wasn’t pheromones, I didn’t freeze up, I didn’t smell them.”

“You can smell them?”

“Yes, like wildflowers and honey.”

“Oh. Good for you. Not everyone is able to make the association between what their noses tell them and what the pheromones do to them. And you’re right, it wasn’t pheromones.”

“Then what was it?”

“I have the ability to project my feelings out, and into, other people. It’s not something that Velorians can do. Mom thinks it’s part of my Galen heritage.”

“The others, did they feel everything I did? Did they get that feeling of utter insignificance? And then that feeling of total love?”

“No. And yes. No, they didn’t feel the domination, but they did feel the love, and they understood it was directed at you.”

“Domination, is that what you call it?”

“I know that word doesn’t capture everything you felt, but that’s the closest I can come to describing what I’m projecting.”

“Why didn’t they feel the domination?”

“Well, I didn’t want you to feel it either. This ability I have, I haven’t learned to completely control it. Sometimes, to get to the love, I have to go through the domination first. And sometimes, to get to the domination, I have to go through the love first, or another emotion. And I’m so sorry I put you through that. I really was trying to just project the love.”

“So they didn’t feel the domination, but they did feel the love?”

“I didn’t know what I would initially project. So I focused solely on you until I got to the emotion I wanted, the love, then projected it out further.

“Honestly, I was so angry with them, I thought of just projecting the domination. But that would have hit you too, and I didn’t want to scare you anymore than I had to.”

“Scared isn’t quite the word for it. What other surprises do you have for me?”

“If I told you they wouldn’t be surprises.”

Chapter 56

We got back to Xara’s home, went inside and were met by Kara, Gloria, and Crystal. They all wanted to hear about the prom, every detail. Over and over. And there were more pictures to be taken. And more questions about what all the other girls were wearing. It just went on and on and on … and Gloria was really getting into it. That surprised me. I mean, really, if you ever spent any time with Gloria, your impression would be that she is the kind of woman who likes long walks on the beach and breaking men’s bones.

After what seemed like forever, but was really only about forty-five minutes, I excused myself to go to bed. After the first fifteen minutes I’d figured out that this was all girl talk, but I didn’t want to be impolite. I don’t think the ladies really took notice as I rode the elevator to the bedroom level.

It had been a long day, so I hung up my uniform and took a quick shower. My evening meds were laid out with a glass of water, so I took them and crawled into bed. I think I fell asleep seconds after my head hit the pillow.

I woke up, I checked the clock, it was 3 am, and I saw Xara standing in the doorway to my room. She was stark naked. No, nude. She was nude. That captures what I saw better than ‘naked’ does. She floated over to me, I mean literally floated, her feet weren’t touching the floor, and she sat down on the bed and said, “We have to talk about something Joe. Mom thinks I should wait awhile longer before we have this conversation. But I think we just had a wonderful evening together, and I want to catch you while you’re in a good mood. You’re in a good mood, aren’t you Joe?”

I heard everything she said, but I was also looking at this vision of beauty next to me, so it took a couple of seconds to say, “Yeah. I’m in a great mood. Are you going to change that?”

“I’ll try not to. Mom talked to me about the conversation you had with her this morning. She says I need to take things slowly with you, to let you come to terms with our relationship in your own time. She explained that my age is an issue for you and that you think my feelings for you are a temporary infatuation. And that you don’t think you deserve me.

“I’m going to respect your feelings Joe. I won’t take you like Sharon did. I’ll wait until you are ready, and when you are, I’ll have you.”

“You’ll ‘have’ me Xara?”

She tapped her breastbone, “Goddess,” then pointed to me, “Terran. I have my place in the universe and you have yours.

“And there is something more we should discuss. Mom thinks I should let this wait, but I think you’ll need a lot of time to come to terms with this. The sooner you start, the better.

“For us, love and sex aren’t connected the way they are for you. This was a real problem for Eric. Mom loved him completely, and he knew this, but he couldn’t overcome Terran notions of love and sex. For us, having multiple sex partners isn’t a betrayal. We can have one husband or one wife, and multiple sex partners.”

“I’d have to share you Xara?” Sounded to me like there was a double standard here, and I wasn’t going to let her get away with it. “Would you be okay with sharing me?”

“Let’s circle back to that. Because there is more. Velorian sexual needs are more intense than yours, and it takes more to satisfy them than you are capable of.”

“Wait, Sharon seemed pretty satisfied with me.”

“She was, and she wasn’t. Her strength was dampened by the gold, but so was her pleasure. I know how it looked to you, but if you ever actually saw a Supremis in the throes of orgasm outside of the influence of gold you’d understand.”

“Xara, this conversation is starting to get uncomfortable. Is your mom okay with us discussing this?”

“She is. And I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable now, because I’m about to make it worse.”

“Oh god.”

“No, goddess. When two Supremis have sex, no gold involved, the forces are tremendous. And so is the pleasure. Both go well beyond what a Terran can provide or survive. And we need this Joe. We are beings created to have sex with the gods. We crave it, and we can only get it from other Supremis. Pairing with a Terran can be a lose/lose proposition. If the Supremis is limited to sex only with a Terran, he or she starts to feel resentment. If the Supremis satisfies his or her urges with another Supremis, the Terran feels slighted, insecure, and becomes jealous and resentful. So to make our relationship work …”

“A relationship we don’t have Xara.”

“Yet. A relationship we don’t have yet, Joe. We will, you just don’t realize it. So, to make our relationship work, you’ll have to come to peace with me having sex with other people. And to make this easier for you, I’ll limit myself to Supremis. Velorians. Probably mostly messengers. I’ll be as discrete about it as you want, and I promise I will never, ever, rub your face in it. Mom did that to Eric once, and it was a huge mistake on her part. I’ll not make that mistake.”

“So, if you get to have sex with others …”

“Same deal for you Joe. You will also limit yourself to Supremis.”

“No Terrans?”

“No Terrans. Terrans do fall in love with other Terrans they have affairs with. I’d hate to see some poor woman fall in love with you knowing she could never compete with me.”

“You wouldn’t worry about a Supremis trying to steal me away from you?” I knew damn well no one was ever going to try to steal me. I see myself in the mirror every damned day.

“No. Sex for us is just sex.”

“This seems pretty convenient for you. What Supremis is going to want to have sex with me?”

“Have you forgotten Sharon already? And it won’t be just Sharon. Though you will see more of her. As soon as she finds out you spent a celibate weekend with two Velorians and an Arion she’ll be knocking on your door.

“Right now, your rescue of us is being kept under wraps. Only highly placed Velorians know about it. But word will get out, and when it does, there will be opportunities. And I’ll be fine with you taking advantage of them.”

“Suppose I find a Terran woman and fall in love with her. What then?”

She stood up, stepped back and floated up so I could see her entire body, head to toe, and said, “I’m not afraid of competition. Bring it.”

“And you’re okay with Sharon …”

“I am.”

“And when does this arrangement begin?”

“When you consent to me moving into your cabin with you.”

“You’re not going to live with me after all?”

“Not until you invite me to. And you will invite me.”

“Does this mean you’re going to another school?”

“No, I’m still going to WWU. I’ll put in an application for a dorm room tomorrow. You’ll still see plenty of me, and I will keep an eye on the cabin for you when you aren’t there.”

“And what happens if you find a guy you like at school?”

“Well, our arrangement doesn’t start until I move in with you, so we’re both free to do whatever with whoever until then.”

“And if you fall in love with someone else?”

“I’ve made my choice Joe,” and then she smiled and said, “And really, you should have more confidence in yourself. And in your charms.”

And with that she leaned down and kissed me, then floated, slowly, out of the room, making sure I got a good look at her ass as she left. I’m going to have to have a long talk with Dixon and Johnson about this.

This was a lot to process. And I could think of all kinds of problems. She actually believes she is a goddess. Placed above me in some kind of hierarchy. What would that make me? Her pet? And she thought, at her age, she had found her one and only. Except I wouldn’t be her one and only in the sex department, and how old is she anyway? I’d never asked. If she is graduating a year early, does that make her 17?

Was she proposing that we get married? Or did she just want to shack up with me? And either way, when the day came that she opened her eyes and saw what kind of wreck I am, would she walk away? Of course she would.

I like Xara. I really do. And it would be so easy to fall in love with her. My last thoughts before I fell asleep were that Xara had actually given me, and her, an out. She wouldn’t move in with me until I invited her to do so. She’d be in college, meeting all kinds of new and interesting people, about half whom would be new and interesting young men. I’d just have to wait her out and make sure I didn’t fall into her web until she grew up a little and came to her senses.

 

Chapter 57

Kara woke me up at about 9:30 Sunday morning and announced that we were going out and told me to put on the motorcycle suit. I did, and she took me up the tubes, and out, and to the same mountain she had the day before. She heated up the rocks, it was cold, and looked up and scanned the sky.

“No drones. We have some privacy.”

I looked around and didn’t see the remains of the drone she’d taken down. “What happened to the drone you caught yesterday?”

“I gave it back.” She didn’t elaborate. “Did you enjoy yourself at the prom last night?”

I told her I did, and told her about the domination and love projection thing that Xara did.

“That’s a mystery to us Joseph. We’re not sure how it works. I’ve never heard of it in a Velorian, we think it must come from the Galen side of her. I hope she didn’t frighten you too much.”

“Frighten isn’t really the word for it Kara. After experiencing the domination, I can understand why she thinks she’s a goddess.”

“Oh, she thought she was a goddess long before she discovered that. She told me about the conversation you and she had last night. I heard most of it, but it was good to get her perspective on it. I’d like you to tell me how you felt about it.”

I looked at her for a good ten or fifteen seconds trying to figure out how honest I should be with her. I decided not to withhold anything.

“Kara, this goddess stuff, it’s a little worrisome. It means she sees a real power imbalance, in her favor, in our relationship. That doesn’t seem healthy.”

“Joseph, that power imbalance isn’t in her head. It’s real. There is also a power imbalance in our relationship, and the relationship you have with Sharon. We don’t throw it in your face, we treat you with respect, as we treat all Terrans with respect. But surely you must realize that when Sharon took you, you had no choice in the matter.”

“Well, that salves my ego,” I said sarcastically.

Kara laughed and said, “Don’t feel bad about it, or dwell on it. Xara wasn’t wrong when she explained her place in the universe relative to yours, but it would have been more, politic I think, to have not said anything at all.”

“Okay. I’ll accept that. Or at least I’ll accept that’s what you believe. How old is Xara?”

“She’ll turn 17 next month. If you’re available we’ll invite you to celebrate with us.”

“What does a 17-year-old girl know about love and commitment? She has no experience. She’s way too young to be saying she has ‘made her choice’.

“Joseph, I agree with you to an extent. But she has more time than you can imagine to make commitments, see them through, and then move on to the next one.”

“What does that mean?”

“How old do you think I am?”

“Well, you look like about 21 or 22. But you have a daughter who is about to turn 17, so I’d say you must be in your late 30s or early 40s.”

“Not even close Joseph. We live much longer than you do, and we age very, very slowly. I won’t look too different from this on the day I die, from old age if I’m fortunate to get there. Xara has time to fall in love, make mistakes, fall in love again, over and over.”

“Is she in love with me Kara?”

“I believe she is Joseph.”

“I think that’s a mistake. I think she’s too young to be making a commitment like she is proposing, and I think I have too much baggage, I’m too screwed up, to be a good choice for her.”

“You may be right from your perspective Joseph. But from ours,” and here she grinned, “think goddess vs Terran.”

“Well, she made a major concession to me last night Kara. She won’t insist on moving in with me. She’ll wait for me to make the decision. All I have to do is sit back and wait for her to mature, meet some other men, and come to her senses.” While I was saying that, it occurred to me that just thinking in those terms, that she had made a concession to me, affirmed that I did in fact recognize the power imbalance in our relationship.

Kara smiled and said, “Sounds like you have a plan Joseph. Now, I need you to tell me about the Johnsons. Mrs. Johnson called this morning to invite us to her home for dinner. I turned it around and invited her family to come to my home. I didn’t think it would be fair to expect them to try to feed Gloria.”

Kara never worried about expecting me to feed Gloria.

“They are wonderful people, the salt of the earth. Mr. Johnson is a mechanic at a Toyota dealership. Mrs. Johnson works for a medical clinic, handling insurance claims. Lateica was just a little kid the last time I saw her.”

“What about their son, Caleb?”

“Caleb was one of my two best friends. He was devoted to God, country, family. His parents were very proud of him and for good reason. He was an outstanding soldier and a better all-around human being. To lose him, my God, that must have been horrible for them.”

“And this will be the first time you’ve seen them since coming home? Why is that?”

I hesitated. I didn’t want to admit why. But she was looking at me, smiling, she reached out and put a hand on my shoulder, and I said, “Because I let the down, and I’m ashamed. I promised, we all promised, me, Johnson and Dixon, that we’d make sure we’d come home safe and sound to our families. And I failed.”

“From what Xara said, it doesn’t sound like they feel that way. But I understand how you feel. And I didn’t invite them here because of Gloria’s appetite. I did it so you’d be, not exactly on home turf, but something closer to that.”

“Thank you, Kara. I appreciate that.”

And with that, she picked me up and we headed back to her residence.

 

Chapter 58

When I returned to my room my meds were out. I took them, then changed into jeans and a shirt. Xara came to get me for brunch, it was too late for breakfast, too early for lunch, dressed in cutoffs and a shirt that bared her midriff. Over the time I’ve gotten to know the Velorians I got used to the fact that they never wear bras without a very good reason. Gloria was the same. Crystal did wear one. I suggested they might want to dress conservatively for the Johnsons. They got a good laugh out of that. I wasn’t trying to be funny, but they seemed to think so.

Xara and Kara decided that since it was a nice day, they’d have dinner on the patio. After we finished eating, and wonder of wonders, Gloria let me dish my own food and decide how much to eat, Kara sent Gloria and Crystal out shopping. Xara took me down one of the tubes and we cleaned the patio. Basically swept it and made sure the seat cushions for the chairs were clean.

After that we went back up the tubes to Xara’s bedroom and started looking at the student accommodations at WWU.

“Mom says I can have a single room if I want one. I have to decide if I want that or to have a roommate.” We began reading through the descriptions of the dorm facilities. Xara brought up Google Earth and started examining the areas around the dorms for spots where she could take off and land without being seen.

“I’m surprised you and your mom aren’t seen all the time. How do you manage it?”

“It’s easier than you’d think. It never occurs to Terrans to look up.”

She identified several candidate dorms, then decided that she would go all in for the college experience and request a double room with a roommate. After that, she showed me the WWU catalog and the classes she had picked for her first quarter. She was very enthusiastic, and I couldn’t help but smile at her as she talked about starting a new phase of her life. She didn’t mention our conversation of the night before, or even ask me what her mom and I talked about.

“Is there a Pre-Med major?”

“No. The school gives some guidance. I’m going to get a double major in biology and chemistry. I might throw some biochemistry in there just for fun.”

“Doesn’t sound like fun to me. It sounds like a lot of work.”

“It is, but I can handle it. I only need a few hours of sleep at night, I’ll have plenty of time to study.”

“What are you going to do for fun?”

“The University has a lot of recreational opportunities. I plan to take advantage of them.” And then she got this big smile on her face and said, “And I plan to spend some time in a certain cabin on Lake Whatcom seducing the owner.”

“Hmm. If I’m entertaining female company should I put a necktie on the doorknob to warn you off?”

“Oh, you don’t need to do that. I’ll be able to see if you have company long before I land. How do you feel about threesomes?” I nearly choked. She laughed and poked me in the ribs.

“Ow! Take it easy!”

“I was taking it easy. I didn’t even use my flight powers!”

“Umm, what? What difference would that make?”

“It’s basic physics. And the biggest advantage we have over Arion Primes. We can fly and they can’t.”

“You can get away, and attack from another direction?”

“Yes, but that’s not what I had in mind. Here, I’ll show you. Stand up.”

We both stood up and she moved to the center of her room. She stood straight up with her feet together.

“Push me over.”

“Really?”

“Really. I won’t resist. Put your hands on my shoulders and push me over.”

So I put my hands on her shoulders and pushed, and she rocked back on her heals, and keeping her body straight fell backwards, until her head was about an inch from hitting the floor and then levitated back up.

“Did you have to exert yourself to do that?”

“No, not really, I had all the leverage, it was easy.”

“Okay, now do it again.”

She stood straight up again, feet together, and I pushed. And I pushed. And I leaned into it as hard as I could and I couldn’t budge her. Finally, I gave up.

“That time I used my flight power to hold myself in place. As hard as you pushed on me, I was able to push back, without needing my feet or legs. If I braced myself without using my flight power, a sufficiently strong opponent, and a Prime is sufficiently strong, would be able to overcome the friction of my feet on the ground or floor or whatever and push me back. But if I use my flight power to brace myself, I have much more going for me than just that friction.

“When a Prime throws a punch he generates power the same way a boxer would. They transfer power from their legs and torso through their shoulders, arms and hands. But when a Velorian throws a punch she can put the flight power behind it too and generate much more power.”

“Interesting. So that gives you an advantage over the Prime.”

“It does, but we have to learn how to use it. Primes can’t fly and they train extensively in hand to hand combat to learn how to overcome that disadvantage. Protector combat training is more about applying maximum power in everything she does. There is very little technique. Mom is having Gloria teach us to fight the way a Prime does. Know thine enemy.”

We spent the rest of the afternoon in her room talking, mostly Xara talking, me listening, about going to college, being away from home, exploring campus life, meeting new people, and so on. She was actually making me feel better, because it was obvious to me that a girl that gregarious, and that excited about college, would have no trouble forgetting me and meeting a guy much more suited to her. And the conversation kept me from thinking about the Johnsons.

 

Chapter 59

At about 17:30 Xara looked up and said, “I hear the Johnsons coming up the road. Let’s go downstairs.”

We took an elevator this time. Kara was already outside showing the Johnson’s where to park, then she escorted them into the house. They had aged since I’d last seen them. Well, duh. But I hadn’t thought about it so I was surprised to see more grey hair (and in Mr. Johnson’s case, less hair) than I remembered.

Kara introduced them to Gloria and Crystal, Lateica introduced them to Xara (Danni), and then Mrs. Johnson saw me, came up to me and put her arms around me and said, “Joe, we heard about your parents. We are so sorry.”

They had lost their only son, and they were sorry for me. Didn’t make sense.

Mrs. Johnson stepped aside, and Mr. Johnson clasped my hand and shook it, then embraced me in a bear hug and said, “It’s so good to see you again son.”

I tried to say something, but I couldn’t think of the words. Thank God Kara saw this and said, “Let me show you my house, then we’ll go downstairs to the patio. We have a beautiful breeze coming off the ocean this afternoon.”

So Kara gave them a tour of her home while Xara and I went down to the patio.

“Are you okay Joe?”

“I didn’t know what to expect Kara. I think I’ll be okay.”

“Don’t worry Joe, you’re among friends. And I think the Johnsons are pretty happy to see you.”

And they were. Kara brought everyone down to the patio and Mr. and Mrs. Johnson started peppering me with all kinds of questions. How many surgeries did I have? How am I feeling? Have I recovered? Have I heard from the Dixons? (No.)

Mrs. Johnson finally said, “Joe Ricci, stand up so I can get a good look at you!”

I did, and she looked me up and down and said, “My goodness Joe, you’ve gotten so skinny! Have you been eating at all?”

And Gloria chimed in, I couldn’t believe it!

“I am always telling him to eat more. I put more food on his plate and he just pushes it aside.”

And then the two of them got into a protracted discussion about how best to fatten me up. And it was like I wasn’t there. By the time the evening ended Gloria and Mrs. Johnson were trading recipes. Mrs. Johnson contributing her old family recipes for ribs, sweet potatoes, meat pies, and Gloria discussing the many desserts she had made with chocolate that she couldn’t get me to eat enough of. It was like seeing a whole new side to Gloria. Even Kara joined in. And they got into a general discussion about how I had to take better care of myself and what they were going to do about me. And it occurred to me that I may have lost my birth mother, but I now had three adopted mothers.

Somewhere in the middle of this I noticed that Xara and Lateica were talking about each other’s college plans, and they disappeared, up to Xara’s room I suppose.

It got a little interesting when Mrs. Johnson turned to Kara and asked, “Lisa, how do you know Joe?”

Now it was my turn to watch someone squirm. Kara explained that I was her deceased husband’s third or fourth cousin that they met at Eric’s family reunion, and Danni and I hit it off, so Danni asked me to the prom. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson responded with knowing looks. I just rolled my eyes.

When we sat down to dinner, steaks with asparagus, baked potato, salad, dinner rolls, enough to feed a regiment, Kara began asking the Johnsons about Caleb. I stiffened up, but soon realized that they wanted to talk about him. They went through his childhood and teen years, then turned to me to talk about his army experiences. And I did. I told them stories about how our friendship started, the three of us, myself, Johnson and Dixon, about going to Mariners and Seahawks games when we could get tickets, pretty much everything except our deployments. I didn’t want to talk about that, and I think they understood, but at the end of the evening Mr. Johnson asked about that last day. I hesitated. I looked at the three of them trying to gauge what it was they wanted to hear. Everyone was quiet and waiting for me. I said, “Caleb was an outstanding squad leader who took exceptional care of his soldiers. They were his first and last priority that day, up until the end. You should be very proud of him.”

And then I stopped, because I couldn’t go on. Mr. Johnson said, “Thank you Joe. The army shared with us some of what happened that day, including what you tried to do. If it isn’t too much to ask, if you do receive the silver star, we’d like to come to the ceremony.”

They also had a lot of questions for Kara. What she does, what organizations she is involved with, that kind of thing. They were very impressed with the residence (who wouldn’t be?) and had a lot of questions about the architecture, decorating, that kind of thing.

By time the evening was over I was stuffed. Between Mrs. Johnson and Gloria I’d had two steaks, more potatoes than anyone should ever have to eat and if I never see another chocolate chip cookie, or chocolate cake or chocolate brownie it will be too soon.

The Johnson’s left about 21:00 and I helped Xara clean up. She had an interesting way of cleaning the grating over the gas burners of the stove. She just burned off the residue with her heat vision. I’m not sure what that does for the life of the grating, but it was clean. After that we spent some more time in her room, discussing college, and I asked her about her summer plans.

“Well, I was planning on moving into your cabin but that’s off. I’ll think of something to do, and I’ll visit you as often as I can. I think I’ll be concentrating on solving some of the problems with the pod. You’re going to have a meeting at some point about your work for mom and I’m planning on coming along. You may not see me, but I’ll be there.”

“About that, do you have any details you can share with me?”

“If I did, mom would have already shared them with you.”

Mystery after mystery. About 23:30 I excused myself to go to bed. My night meds were out. I took a shower, took the meds, then went to bed. I slept straight through until morning with no visitors.

 

Chapter 60

Xara got me up for breakfast. My morning pills were already out, how Gloria moves so quietly was and is a mystery, so I took them, dressed and went down for breakfast. It was just me, Kara and Xara.

“No Gloria or Crystal?”

“It’s a workday Joe. Crystal has some errands to run before she takes you to the airport. Gloria is packing your bags for you.”

“I could have done that Kara, you didn’t have to ask Gloria.”

“I didn’t ask her, it was her idea.”

“Is she going back to Bellingham with me?”

“No, she’s staying hear. You have a flight to SeaTac, and then a connecting flight to Bellingham.” She slid an envelope over to me, it had a company credit card in it. “Use this for cab fare back to your cabin. Check your orders when you get there.”

Crystal arrived shortly after breakfast. We said our goodbyes and Crystal drove me to the airport. I used the breathing techniques Gloria had taught me and I made it through both flights. I got back to the cabin and unpacked and discovered why Gloria packed my bags. In every spare nook and cranny Gloria had stuffed chocolate cookies in Ziploc bags. Some of them were broken and mashed up but most were intact. She included a note, “Eat All of Them!”

I fired up my laptop and logged in to the AKO system and found that I had orders. I was to fly to Washington D.C. for a security briefing. And I was to be awarded the Silver Star.

 


To: Special Agent John Boling

From: Agent Ann Lattimer

Subject: Surveillance of Sgt. Joseph G. Ricci

Agent Boling,

Per your instructions, Agent Julie Carlyle and I followed Sgt. Ricci to the California home of Lisa Banks, aka Kara Zor-el. We set up our surveillance in a secluded area that gave us both cover and an unrestricted view of the drive leading up to Ms. Banks home. This past Saturday evening we observed Sgt. Ricci leaving the home in the company of Danni Banks, aka Xara Zor-el. We were attempting to follow when the elder Banks woman dropped from the sky directly in front of our vehicle, blocking us. She motioned for me to roll down my window and approached. She said her daughter was off to her Prom, and she didn’t want any distractions and could not permit us to follow her. She offered us a choice: We could either follow her to her home, or she could disable the car and drop it, with us in it, on a nearby mountain peak. We chose the first option.

We followed her to her home and were invited inside, after being instructed to leave our phones and weapons in the car. In the home we were introduced to Ms. Banks personal assistant, Ms. Crystal Danson, and another, rather imposing woman, who was introduced simply as Gloria. No last name.

We sat at a kitchen table while Ms. Banks brewed and served tea and chocolate brownies, which she said were made by Gloria. At first we demurred, which seemed to upset Gloria, so we relented and each ate a brownie, and then another, and then another, at the insistence of Gloria.

During the evening we attempted, several times without success, to interrogate Ms. Banks about her relationship to Sgt. Ricci. She refused to answer questions about their relationship, how they met and how she came to choose him as her intelligence liaison. She did, however, speak very highly of his personal integrity and courage, and questioned us about our opinion of how returning vets with medical issues were treated by the armed forces medical establishment. Agent Carlyle, being an Iraqi war veteran, engaged in this conversation, though nothing of intelligence value came from it. Ms. Banks expressed her opinion that too many veterans were returning to civilian life with unresolved medical issues.

After that Ms. Banks began interrogating us about our families, experiences raising children, and especially dealing with “gifted” teenagers. She came across as any other mother of a teenage girl might. When we attempted to turn the conversation towards the relationship between Sgt. Ricci and her daughter, she deflected.

Next she gave us a tour of her home, then invited us to play pool in the game room until a little past midnight when she told us we would have to leave. She suggested we return to our hotel room in town and not “come to her attention again.” Under the circumstances we accepted her terms. As we drove down the mountain back to the main highway, we observed Sgt. Ricci and Ms. Danni Banks coming up the mountain back to the residence.

Our impression is that Ms. Banks and Ms. Danson are very personable, and while obviously a very powerful person, Ms. Banks does not come across as threatening. Gloria definitely comes across as threatening. Agent Carlyle and I advise giving her a wide berth.


 

Supremis mythology holds that their race had been developed, by the Galens, from the humans of Earth, or Terra. And Supremis were forbidden to interfere with Terra, or its inhabitants.

Mythology is mythology. Some people believe it, some don’t. Some Arions and Velorians believed the Galens were extinct, some didn’t. But no one, Arions or Velorians, wanted to risk finding out the Galens were still around and watching, by taking overt action towards Terra. So while the Velorians were out forming alliances with humans across the Galaxy, and the Arions were attempting to conquer all the human worlds (and others), they both took a low key approach to Terra itself.

The Arions decided to infiltrate the various Terran societies and subtly, over the course of years, centuries if need be, conquer the earth and its inhabitants.

Velor saw this, and decided earth needed a Protector, but one who could act discreetly, on her own, with little or no support from Velor. Fortunately for Velor, they had a renegade Protector. She was practically native to earth and was familiar with the locals. The Velorian Senate very discretely communicated to her the seriousness of the Arion threat and told her to take care of it. But don’t mention Velor or the Senate. Nod nod, wink wink. And oh, by the way, we’re sending you a Scribe. She’s very powerful but not the most discrete. Please try to keep her in line.

Later, when she had a child through natural means, which was considered decidedly unnatural in polite Velorian society, the Senate decided to overlook it.

Earth’s political makeup, many countries, many social systems, many languages, and especially many conflicts made the job of the Arions easy. Insert operatives, stir up trouble within and between nations and societies, then, at the right time, show up in force to offer “humanitarian assistance and bring order to chaos.”

For Kara, finding and rooting out the Arions was made more complex by this fragmentation. So she decided she needed to, discreetly, enlist the aid of the various governments on earth. Finding a government or governments that she could work with, and trust, that was the tricky part. Not only was the earth fragmented into many governments, but many of them were fragmented. The monolithic governments were not trustworthy. In her opinion many of them were nearly as bad as the Arions. So she decided to look for allies among the planet’s democracies. And since she was all but born and bred in the United States, she started there.

She needed help and cooperation, intelligence and surveillance, from organizations that could cast out a much wider net than she could. The problem was, even those organizations were fragmented. There was the FBI, DIA, NSA, CIA, and other, minor agencies. Each branch of the military had its own intelligence gathering section, and they were rivals.

There was a man, a United States Senator, that she thought she could work with. William Andrew Jackson (no relation to the former president) came from a southern family. The family had made a fortune in the Old South growing and selling tobacco and cotton. Unlike many other large plantation families, William’s great, great grandfather saw the writing on the wall and realized the days of slavery, and the economy slavery supported, were numbered. So he sold the planation, moved the family north, and built a textile mill in Pennsylvania. From there he branched out into other industries and made a killing selling weapons to the Army of the Republic when war broke out.

After the war, he looked at the South and saw opportunity. So he moved his family to Virginia and started developing coal mines. His descendants branched out from there.

By the time William Andrew Jackson was born the family had its fingers into more pies than anyone could count (or at least the IRS could count) and was worth billions. None of the wealth the family accumulated was dirty, it was all gained honestly, but with a commitment to privacy and obfuscation. After watching what the Carpetbaggers did to the South, the Jackson family was convinced it was best to stay out of the limelight. So while they had great wealth and lived very comfortably, they weren’t ostentatious.

William Andrew Jackson grew up with a strong work ethic. He was dedicated to his family and to the working people who made his family rich. While many of his peers obtained student deferments or questionable medical exams to keep them out of the draft, William enlisted in the United States Army right out of college. He attended Officer’s Candidate School and came out of it a Second Lieutenant and, after some additional training, shipped out to South Vietnam.

Jackson served several tours of duty in Vietnam and worked his way up to the rank of Captain. Then, in an action that ended his army career and for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, he was wounded and lost his left foot.

Jackson returned home and used his GI Bill benefits to attend law school, where he graduated first in his class. He went to work for a large New York law firm and was doing quite well when the senior Senator from Virginia died from a sudden heart attack, and the Governor of the Great State of Virginia appointed William Andrew Jackson to serve the final three years of the term.

Jackson liked the senate, and the voters of Virginia liked Jackson, and so he ran for the seat at the end of three years, and won it, and won it again six years later, and just kept winning it.

During his time in the Senate Jackson showed an aptitude and expertise in military matters and was appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He also had a good head for intelligence and won an appointment to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Jackson married and began, with his wife, raising a family. The couple had three sons and a daughter, Arlene, who Jackson doted on. Her brothers often remarked that Arlene had her father wrapped around her little finger, and it was true. He could not say no to his daughter.

Jackson had a very deep and abiding respect for the United States Military and the young men and women who served. He would often throw barbeques for young enlisted men, officers and their families at his family home in Virginia. One young officer, Second Lieutenant Michael Aldrich, a recent West Point graduate, caught the eye of Arlene. They started seeing each other, were engaged and married. Much to William Andrew Jackson’s chagrin.

William had known a lot of officers during his army career. Many good, some awful, and he judged Aldrich among the latter. In Jackson’s view, Aldrich was self-centered, narcissistic, and saw the blood of soldiers under his command as lubrication for is ascent into the upper ranks of the Army. William tried to dissuade Arlene from marrying Aldrich, but he just couldn’t bring himself to say no to his daughter, so he relented.

Arlene loved Aldrich. He told her he loved her, but really, his attraction to her was based on her father’s wealth and position. He recognized that Jackson had a soft spot, almost a blind spot, when it came to his daughter and would use her influence with him to benefit his career.

Jackson was definitely going to use his influence. From listening to his son-in-law (Jackson was a very good listener) he judged Aldrich to be a very poor leader of men. An opinion shared by the officers in Aldrich’s chain of command. An unspoken agreement came into being between Jackson and the Army General Staff. They’d tolerate Aldrich, let him advance, but he’d be kept out of harm’s way, and by that they meant that he would not be put into position to put other soldiers in harm’s way.

Aldrich was eventually promoted to Captain and was put in charge of a Dining Facility in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Captain is the rank of a company commander. While other captains were leading soldiers into battle, Aldrich was leading them to lunch.

The Green Zone suited Aldrich. He thought he was there because the Army recognized his abilities to organize and lead (his commanders got a good laugh out of that) and he had access to some very beautiful women, Army officers who had been away from their husbands too long and were lonely.

Eventually a time came when Aldrich needed to move out if he was ever going to move up. He requested a company command. His father-in-law intervened and suggested Army intelligence might be a good fit. And so he was given an appointment to Army Intelligence, went to training, was promoted to major and got an office in the Pentagon.

After having secured his positions on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees, but before his daughter’s engagement to Aldrich, Senator Jackson was on a junket to California when he was approached, in the cocktail lounge of the hotel he was staying in, by a beautiful young woman claiming to be Lisa Banks, the CEO of a well-known pharmaceuticals company. She tried to strike up a conversation with him, but it became apparent almost immediately that the Senator was suspicious of lovely women young enough to be his daughter who showed up at a bar to strike up a conversation with a man his age. A United States Senator his age. He excused himself and went up to his room.

Kara wasn’t sure what reaction she would get from the Senator, but that one was certainly not expected. So she decided to try a more direct approach. She left the bar, changed into her flight suit, and took up station directly above the hotel. She waited for the senator, and the guests in the rooms around him, to go to bed, then she approached his room from the outside. The senator usually opted for basic rooms, but the hotel manager, recognizing the name, upgraded his room to a suite with a private balcony. Kara landed on the balcony and began gently knocking on the glass door until a light came on and the senator put on his robe and came to the window to see what was going on. For effect she levitated a foot off the balcony.

Senator Jackson looked out the window, then up at Kara’s face, then down to where her feet were not standing on anything and just froze there, trying to process what he was seeing. Kara bent down and waved her hands in front of his face and pantomimed opening the door. Senator Jackson just nodded, opened the door and stepped back and watched as Kara floated in and landed on the floor. He was still staring at her in disbelief when she gently moved him out of the way and closed the door and the curtains. She then guided him to a chair, helped him sit down, and went to the min-bar to get the Senator a bottle of water. At that point his awareness seemed to return, and he asked her to bring him something stronger. She reached into the mini-bar and pulled out a small bottle of scotch. He asked her to get two.

Kara explained who she was, who the Arions were, and tried to explain the threat to earth, and then asked him for help getting the assistance of the various intelligence agencies of the United States, and then, hopefully, of other countries.

The good Senator agreed to help her, but advised Kara that in order to be believed, she’d have to put on some kind of demonstration. He suggested rising into the air from a seat might do the trick. She told him she could do much better than that. And she did, using the President’s private bowling alley to demonstrate her overhand bowling technique and flying to the end of the alley in time to catch the bowling ball before it smashed through the opposite wall.

Over time Kara began sharing information with the highest levels of the U.S. intelligence community. Very few people were read in, and there were rivalries among the various organizations. Early on, it became clear that the Arions were on the CIA’s radar, at the very, very edge of their radar. They knew somebody was out there stirring up trouble, they just had no idea who they were and where they came from.

The relationship between Kara and the intelligence community was, at her insistence, an arm’s length one. She was comfortable talking to Senator Jackson, she liked him, but didn’t want to deal with a lot of other people who she hardly knew and whose motives she couldn’t be sure of. The intelligence agencies, on the other hand, wanted a closer, more formal relationship. They wanted to imbed an agent with her to facilitate communication that was more frequent and more detailed. This tension went on for some time until one day she was captured by the Arions and rescued improbably. if not impossibly, by a young solder named Joseph Ricci, who took on her Arion captors armed with nothing more than a primitive popgun and won!

As she studied Ricci, his past, his war record, his medical issues, she became convinced that without her intervention he was headed towards a life of homelessness and addiction, at best, and suicide, at worst. This was not something she could allow to happen to her Kiraling. She could make sure he always had a home, she had the resources for that, but he would also need a purpose. So she approached Ricci with an offer to be her liaison with the United States Government, and Ricci, who though at times seemed clueless, did have a vague appreciation of where his life was headed, accepted.

She told Senator Jackson she would accept a liaison and told him who she had picked. This caused a cascading effect as all the agencies who had been read in on the Arion threat started working on determining who Joe Ricci was, and what it was about him that made Kara pick him. (They did try the direct approach, asking Kara, “why him?”, but she wasn’t telling.)

Joe Ricci was the property of the U.S. Army, and so Army intelligence argued, successfully, that they should, “run the show,” so to speak. They invited Kara to come to a meeting and begin negotiating the terms of the new arrangement. One of the U.S. Army officers present at this meeting was one Major Michael Aldrich. He thought he was there because of his keen intellect and nose for intelligence. He was actually there because the Pentagon had a major appropriation bill stalled in the Senate, and army brass thought including him in the discussions would help them suck up to Senator Jackson and move the bill out of committee.

Aldrich’s first thought on meeting Kara Zor-el was, “I’m going to fuck that!” And he decided his chances of bagging Kara would be immeasurably increased by displacing Sgt. Joe-Nobody as liaison. And so, after the meeting, while everyone was trying to figure out what was special about Sgt. Ricci, Major Aldrich started arguing that the position of liaison to Kara Zor-el, the alien standing between earth and the other aliens (he hadn’t been paying attention to much more than Kara’s bust and legs) should be an officer. And who better than Major Michael Aldrich, son-in-law of Senator Willian Andrew Jackson, nod nod, wink wink.

He didn’t get anywhere with the brass. His father-in-law shut him down immediately. Senator Jackson loved his daughter, tolerated her husband, valued his friendship with Kara and wasn’t about to put something so important into the hands of a clueless suck-up.

Not having a plan B, Major Aldrich invented one. Sgt. Ricci would be liaison to the Velorians (Kara hadn’t told anyone Velor left her ass hanging out on this one) and would report directly to Major Aldrich. He sprang this on Kara during the second round of negotiations. Kara had been warned by Senator Jackson about his son-in-law. She didn’t like the way the conversation was going, so she decided to change the rules. The liaison, Sgt. Ricci, would report to her. He would operate outside the Army Chain of Command. He would interface with one, and only one, person on the Army’s side, and she would have to approve of who that person was. She asked that the Army present her with candidates, and she would choose one.

The army presented her with candidates, starting with Major Aldrich. She didn’t even bother reading his jacket. They presented more candidates, she turned them down. Until, finally, they proposed one she found acceptable. Captain Sarah Moore, an army intelligence officer working just down the hall from Major Aldrich.

Captain Moore hadn’t been read in on the Arion threat, knew nothing about Velorians, and had never heard of Sgt. Joe Ricci. She had heard of Major Michael Aldrich and was disappointed when she was told she was leaving her current assignment and being assigned to a special project under him. Her disappointment evaporated when she was introduced to Kara Zor-el, Protector of Earth, from the planet Velor.

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