Kiraling – Part 18 (Chapter 112-116)
Written by anonxyzus :: [Saturday, 02 May 2020 08:27] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 02 May 2020 20:22]
Over the next month I noticed a change in Xara. She was still very friendly with me, and still treated me like her best friend, but gone were the comparisons between me and other men. She wasn’t talking about getting married, or moving in. And while I still saw a lot of her, I was seeing less of her on weekends. And she was less… touchy with me. She wasn’t holding my hand or putting her hand on my knee when we were watching TV together.
I’m not stupid. I’d seen this behavior before in my former girlfriends, and in other couples I knew. But it didn’t really sink in that she was moving on from me until…
“Joe, can we have dinner together Saturday?”
“Sure Xara. We haven’t had dinner together on a weekend in a while.”
“Will you make your lasagna?”
“Of course!” Not a surprise. I knew the blondes loved my lasagna. I mean, they ate everything as if it was their all-time favorite and their last meal, but they attacked my lasagna with just a little more gusto than other foods.
“And can I bring a friend?”
“Sure.” Yeah, I was that clueless, I didn’t ask her anything about her friend.
“Great! I’ll bring the wine!”
“Uh, Xara, I’ve still got cases of wine in the garage your mom and Sharon bought for me. Can we drink one of those?”
“Can I pick it?”
“Yes, you can.”
And she skipped off into the garage and brought back in two bottles of red wine. She told me they would go well with lasagna. I wouldn’t know, I took her word for it.
Wednesday evening, she came over and helped me make the Bolognese meat sauce for the lasagna. We had fun together making it. You’ve never seen onions chopped until you’ve seen them chopped at Velorian speed.
While the sauce was simmering, we worked on my Velorian a little more. She agreed to watch the sauce when it came time for me to put on the Deep Teach. We had learned through trial and error that the longest I could tolerate the Deep Teach device was half an hour at a time, with at least six hours between sessions. Any more than that and I stared getting headaches. Gloria told me to listen to my body. If I was getting headaches, cut back. So, I did.
When my time in the Deep Teach was up I went upstairs and checked the sauce. It was done, so I took it off the heat and put a lid on it. Xara gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek and said she’d see me Saturday. It didn’t occur to me until I went to bed that she had kissed me on the cheek, not on the lips. But I thought nothing of it. Until Saturday.
Saturday evening, I had the table set and the lasagna in the oven when a car I didn’t recognize pulled into my driveway. A man got out of the driver side, went around and opened the passenger door, and Xara, I mean Danni, got out. I was a little surprised, I had expected her friend to be a girlfriend.
They came to the door and rang the doorbell. I opened the door and Danni stepped in and gave me a hug, the guy followed, and after the door closed Danni introduced us.
“Joe Ricci, I’d like you to meet my friend, Josh Gilly.”
It was like Michelangelo’s David had stepped off his pedestal into my entryway. The guy was taller than me, hell, he was nearly an inch taller than Danni. He had blonde hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders, a square jaw, his forearms were thick without looking fat, was trim and obviously fit. Wow. That’s what I thought. Wow.
I shook his hand and Josh said, “It’s good to meet you Mr. Ricci. Danni has told me a lot about you.”
“Joe. Mr. Ricci was my dad. Nice to meet you too Josh.”
“Joe,” said Danni, “When Josh found out I knew you, he insisted I introduce him to you.”
“Mr. Ricci, I mean Joe, can I get a picture with you, for my parents? They’ll never believe I’ve met you if I don’t.”
“Your parents would want a picture of me?”
I was confused.
“See,” said Danni, “I told you he was modest. He doesn’t know he’s a hero!”
So Danni took a picture of us for Josh’s parents. Josh and Joe. Mutt and Jeff. Beauty and the Beast. The differences between us were that stark.
During dinner Josh peppered me with questions. It was obvious that he was awestruck by me, and for the life of me, I didn’t understand why. He wanted to hear about my deployments, my views on the wars, what military life was like. During the discussion I learned that his father was a decorated Vietnam vet, who he admired very much.
He wanted to know what I was doing now. Fortunately, the Army had prepared me with a cover story. Though I was still active duty, my cover was that I was on an indefinite medical leave for issues related to PTSD. I even had the paperwork to prove it, if I ever needed to. I didn’t go into detail with Josh, I just said I was on medical leave and left it at that.
After dinner we sat in the living room and talked until late that night. Danni sat next to Josh, hand in hand, or hand on his knee with his arm around her as she leaned into him. Occasionally they’d kiss.
I liked him. From what I saw, he treated Danni with respect. And I told Danni this when Josh excused himself to use the bathroom.
“What do you think of him, Joe?”
“I like him Xara..”
“Sorry. I like him Danni. He’s pleasant and respectful. It looks like he’s treating you well. Is he?”
“Oh yes. He treats me very well Joe. He doesn’t pressure me, and he doesn’t disrespect me behind my back.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve made a point to listen in on guy’s conversations when they don’t know I’m there or know I can hear them.”
“Well, it looks like you’ve found a pretty good guy Danni. I was wondering why I was seeing less of you. I guess he’s the reason.”
“He is, Joe. But don’t worry, I’m still going to be around, I want to you be able to stay off your meds.”
“I appreciate that Danni but use your time for yourself and your new relationship.”
She just nodded.
True to her word, Xara spent enough time with me that I didn’t have to go back on my meds. It bothered me a little, though, it seemed awful selfish of me to take this much of her time, especially when she was finally moving on from me.
Moving on. From me. Oh, I had very mixed feelings about that. I was happy for her, that she had found a guy who, from what I could see, was truly worthy of her. But it left a hole in my heart. I still got a lot of attention from her; she was a very good friend. The best friend I could ever hope for, and that included Dixon and Johnson. But now that I could see she had another romantic interest, I missed having that in my life. I hoped Josh appreciated what he had in her.
I’m not naïve. I knew that it was less likely that Josh was Mr. Right than Mr. Right Now. But what he signaled to me was that Xara was finding a whole new world of men out there, men who would respect her and cherish her and not just be looking for their next lay.
Curiously, I started getting more visits from Kara and Sharon, and they seemed to be very concerned about how I was handling the situation with Josh.
“Sharon, what is there for me to handle?”
“You aren’t jealous Joe? You don’t miss Xara?”
“No, Sharon, I’m not jealous. And just ask Xara, she spends a lot of time with me.”
“I don’t mean the time Joe; I mean her affection. You don’t miss her affection?”
“She showers me with affection Sharon. She’s got a boyfriend, a good one I might add, and yet she is still here three or four times a week helping me learn Velorian and making sure I don’t have to go back on my meds. Maybe affection isn’t the right word. Maybe the right word is love. She is showing me that she still loves me, as a friend.”
For some reason, that seemed to make Sharon unhappy with me, but not unhappy enough to keep her from exhausting me in bed that night.
And then, a few days later, I had almost the exact same conversation with Kara. I kept trying to talk to her about my job, about getting more to keep me busy. She kept brining the conversation back to Xara and her new boyfriend.
“Kara, he’s a good kid! Of course I’m happy for her. And I’m not on my meds. Know why? Because Xara spends enough time with me to make sure I don’t need them.”
“And you aren’t at all jealous of Josh?”
“Jealous? No. Envious? A little. Who wouldn’t be? Xara is a great girl. A once in a lifetime girl. Every guy who knows her should be envious. And she’s happy Kara. What more could I want for her than her own happiness?”
She reacted like Sharon did. Seemingly unhappy that I wasn’t unhappy, then great sex. And the next morning …
“Joseph, before I leave, here.”
She handed me a box of crystals.
“What are these Kara?”
“Recordings from various listening devices. Low priority bottom of the drawer stuff. Since you’ve been asking for more to do, I’d like you to go through these and see if there is anything worth looking into. Some of it will be encrypted Arion communications, you won’t be able to break into them, but look for patterns.”
“Yes. Time of day, locations, when we have them, anything that might yield some information.”
“Okay, I’ll get right on it.”
“There is no hurry Joseph. Fit it into your schedule, don’t work overtime on it.”
Driving back from the river that night, Janelle had sat in the front seat next to Miguel interrogating him about the gangs. From his description, she realized that she could not protect him and his family, there were too many gang members to contend with. She would have to go on the offensive. But first, she had to get Miguel’s family to safety.
She told him to move his family, that night, into her apartment. It would be crowded, but they’d lived like that before. It had taken Miguel several trips to move his wife and children, and everything they would need. She stayed at his apartment during the process in case the gangs sent someone out that night. They didn’t.
Back at her apartment, with Juanita and the children asleep in her bed, she went over maps of the surrounding area with Miguel. He pointed out abandoned warehouse and manufacturing buildings not too far out of town where the gangs were headquartered. He suspected that was where they kept their drugs, cash, and heavy weapons, technicals he called them, pickup trucks with heavy guns mounted on the beds.
She came up with a strategy. She wasn’t sure it would work, but it was worth a try. She would attack the gangs in these outlying locations in the hope their attention would be drawn there and away from Miguel.
She had Miguel drive her to within five miles of the nearest gang warehouse and told him to wait for her. She laughed at how big his eyes got when she stripped off all her clothes.
“You probably shouldn’t tell Juanita about this,” she joked.
He just nodded.
She had learned several years earlier that when a frails body was broken, it leaked blood and viscera. From then on, she always stripped naked when she was going to play with them, to avoid ruining her clothes. And tonight, she intended to play.
Taking one last look at the map, Janelle oriented herself and jogged slowly into the forest, until she was out of sight. Then she broke into a sprint, covering five miles in minutes.
When she came upon the warehouse, she stopped just short of leaving the forest. Working her way around it, staying out of sight, she saw three guards posted outside. Looking through the walls, she saw five more men inside, along with a cache of weapons, several of the trucks Miguel had talked about, and pallets of cash. She counted ten, one with local currency, the rest American dollars.
She decided she would eliminate the three sentries quickly, then have a little playtime with the men inside.
It would be easy. The three sentries were posted around the outside of the building, out of sight of each other. She could pick them off one by one.
And that is what she did. When the first sentry had his back to her she came running out of the forest, covering over a hundred yards in a heartbeat, stopped right behind him, wrapped her arms around him and crushed him against her breasts. It would have been completely silent, except for the sound his ribcage made when it collapsed.
She then moved around until she had a direct line of sight to the second sentry. She picked up a small stone, judged the distance to the sentry perfectly, and through the rock at him. The rock hit the back of his head and went right through it. She laughed to herself when she thought, “he never knew what hit him.” That tickled her. She’d have to tell her mother about it.
She moved through the shadows until she could see the third sentry. He was walking towards her, so she waited for him. When he was only a few feet away, she stepped out of the shadows, picked him up and slammed his back into her knee, severing his spine. He wasn’t dead yet, stunned and paralyzed, but not dead. She dropped him onto the ground, kneeled down and covered his mouth with one hand and pinched his nose closed with the other and waited for him to suffocate. He tried to fight, but of course his legs were useless. When his arms stopped flailing and he was unconscious, she hurried the process up by positioning a finger above his heart, pushed down and drove the breaking rib through it.
Now that these were out of the way, it was time to take care of the thugs inside. In her examination of the building she had discovered all the doors. The windows were all up high, and barred, so there was no exit through them. Conveniently for her, the doors and frames were all made of metal, so she went to each door and welded it shut with her heat vision. She checked her work to make sure a Terran wouldn’t be able to open the doors.
Then she jumped up, high, onto the roof, tore off one of the sheet metal roof panels, and jumped through it down to the floor of the building. No one saw her, or heard her, which disappointed her because she wanted to make a grand entrance. She chided herself for not checking the positions of the five men inside before just tearing up the roof and jumping in. Apparently, they didn’t even hear the roof being torn up. Disappointing.
She looked around and discovered they had all gone into an office between the time she had first seen them and when she entered their building. So she sauntered up to the office and stood in the doorway. The men were sitting around a table, drinking the local beer from bottles, and hovering over narrow lines of a white powder. She watched for a few seconds and saw them lean down and inhale the powder through their noses. She’d have to ask Miguel about that.
They weren’t looking her way, so she knocked on the door frame. That got their attention and she laughed out loud. They looked up, reached for their weapons, and then when their brains caught up with their eyes, they all froze, looking at her tall, nude body.
“Gentlemen,” she said, “Your work has caught the attention of your superiors, who decided to reward you. I am your reward.” She said this with a smile, running her hands along her sides to her thighs. “Which one of you would like to be rewarded first?”
That got some action out of them. All five of them jumped up and approached her. One of them reached out to touch her breasts, but before he could one of the others slapped his hand away, and suddenly the five men were fighting and arguing over who was going to go first.
When she started out, she had thought it would be fun to use the frails as sex toys. She hadn’t done that in a long while. But the longer she listened to them fight, the more disgusted she became with them. Back on the planet where her father had been an administrator, the frails were all trim, if not skinny. And fit. Because between the rations they were fed and the work they were forced to do, most of their body fat disappeared by the time they were given to Janelle. And those that arrived on the planet too fat and out of shape to work were disposed of immediately. And if the frails were dirty and smelly, she simply hosed them off before using them.
These frails weren’t too fat, but they were dirty and stank. They smelled of alcohol and tobacco and she wondered if they ever bathed. And looking around, she didn’t see anything she could use to clean them up. She was disappointed. Well, she’d have to amuse herself some other way then.
The man in the middle appeared to win the argument, and he approached her, put an arm around her and attempted to pull her into him. She didn’t move, so he ended up pulling himself into her. He looked into her eyes as he attempted to force his lips over hers and she let loose with a little bit of heat vision. Not enough to kill him, but enough to burn out his retinas.
He stepped back screaming, with his hands over his eyes. And then Janelle increased her heat vision a little more and began burning him, first burning his clothing off (she was immensely proud of her heat vision control) and then burning his body. He began to scream, and the four men around him also started to scream. The wavelength of energy she was using to burn him was invisible to the men, so they had no idea she was doing it, at first, but then they figured it out and went for their weapons. Pistols. They began shooting her.
For her part, Janelle continued burning the first man, following him around the room while his compatriots tried to kill her. The bullets either flattened against her body and fell to the floor or ricocheted off her. When her first victim fell to the floor, she shut off her heat vision and listened to his screams while turning her attention to the other four.
“He wasn’t very satisfying,” she said. “Who wants to go next?”
One of them ran up in front of her to put his pistol up against her head and shoot her. That was his intent anyway. It was a very foolish thing to do while the other three were still shooting at her. He was shot in the back of the head. As he was going down Janelle reached out and pulled his pistol from his hand. She examined it carefully, all the while bullets were bouncing off her.
She had been trained in Terran weapons and understood how they worked. She ejected the magazine and examined it, it still had three bullets left in it, and there was one in the chamber.
She replaced the magazine and pointed the pistol at the knee of one of her assailants and pulled the trigger. She hit him, right where she was aiming. Oh, mother and father would be so proud of her!
She lined up her next shot and blew the balls off the next man. The remaining thug ran for the exits. But the exits were welded shut. He went from door to door trying to find a way out. Janelle watched him; it was very amusing. Then he got an idea. He ran for one of the technicals. Janelle thought he was going to use the weapon on it. But instead he got in the cab, started the truck, aimed it for the nearest door and hit the gas.
He didn’t hit the door. He hit Janelle. And Janelle didn’t move. The truck stopped, but the thug, who hadn’t belted in, didn’t stop. He flew forward, hit the windshield, and broke his neck.
Two thugs dead, three screaming on the floor. She looked up at the windows and saw the sky was starting to lighten. She looked at the pallets of cash, thought for a second, and came up with an idea to end her fun.
She pushed the pallets of cash together. She found a bag in the office and stuffed it with local cash from one of the pallets. This would be for Miguel. He deserved recompense for the stress these men had put him through.
She found chains in the building and used them to bind the three thugs who were still alive. Then she stacked them, and their dead compatriots, over the pallets. She went outside and brought the bodies of the sentries in and threw them on the pile.
All this time the three living thugs were crying and pleading with her for mercy. That made her smile. How she had missed the begging of terrified little frails while they waited for what she had in store for them!
She addressed them. “I am not ignoring you. I hear your cries for mercy, they are not falling on deaf ears. I want you to know that your screams of agony as you burn to death will please me.”
They began crying out all the louder, and that made her laugh.
When she was sure that all the bodies, living and dead, were secure on top of the cash pallets, she picked up first one, then a second technical, poked her hand through their gas tanks and covered the thugs and the cash with gasoline. Then she stepped back and lit the gasoline with her heat vision.
The gas exploded into flame, burning the money and the thugs. She stayed until the screaming stopped, then picked up the bag she had set aside for Miguel and left the building.
She looked back from the tree line and watched until she was satisfied that the entire building was being consumed by flames. Then, when she heard ammunition cooking off, she turned into the forest and ran back to Miguel. She was certain he’d hear the ammunition going off, and it would frighten him.
And she was right. When she got back to the car, she saw an extremely nervous Miguel pacing and looking into the forest for her. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her and ran to her with her clothes.
She took the clothes from him, handing him the bag and telling him to look inside, it was for him. She laughed at his surprise.
“Senorita, I don’t understand. This is for me?”
“Yes Miguel. It’s for you. After you get settled back into your apartment, buy something nice for you and your family.”
“But senorita, this is gang money. They’ll come looking for it!”
“Finding you will be the last thing on their minds, Miguel. Trust me, they won’t think you took it.”
She dressed, got into the car, and as they made their way back to town Janelle worked on calming Miguel down. And she was having success until they were passed by a late model German luxury car going the other way.
“Senorita, that car, it belongs to one of the gang bosses. When they see what happened, they will remember seeing this car!”
Janelle turned around to look through the glass and metal of the car and saw the men in it were armed. “Pull over Miguel! Now!”
Miguel pulled over to the side of the rode. Janelle was halfway out of her clothes before she got the door open and finished undressing outside the car. Miguel watched her take off like a shot after the gang bosses’ car. He got out and watched, amazed as Janelle caught up to the car and kicked it. The back end flew up and over and the car landed on its roof and skidded down the road. Janelle attacked the car with her heat vision, and it burst into flame. She watched just long enough to make sure all the occupants were dead, then ran back to her car and dressed.
Miguel was almost pissing in his pants. He’d seen a lot the past twenty-four hours and the strain was showing. Janelle very gently brought him around to the passenger door and helped him get in the car. He just sat there, trembling, so she reached over and buckled him in. Then she got into the driver side of the car and drove off.
“Miguel,” she said, “we have to keep this to ourselves. Do not tell anyone what you saw me do this day.”
Miguel looked at her, and she could see the fear in his eyes. “Yes, senorita Janelle. I will tell no one.”
“Miguel,” she said, “I told you I am very powerful and can protect you. I will protect you and your family. Do not be afraid of me Miguel. I will not hurt you.”
“Yes senorita, but, how, how did you do those things?”
“Miguel, I may tell you someday. But until I do, it is best that you do not ask. Do you understand?”
“Yes senorita. I do.”
Janelle had a great deal of experience with frightened and terrified frails, she knew how their bodies reacted to extreme stress.
“Miguel, do you need to relieve yourself?”
Janelle pulled over and let Miguel get out and walk into the trees to take care of his business. When he returned, they continued back into town.
“I’ll drop you off at my apartment. Stay there with your family for two days. I’ll stay in your apartment for two days to make sure no one comes looking for you.”
No one came looking for Miguel. At the end of the second day Janelle went for a walk, listening to the conversations people were having on the streets and in the shops. Apparently one gang had attacked another, and the town was bracing for a gang war. As she had hoped, no one was looking for Miguel, or for the two thugs she had eliminated.
Fit it into my schedule, she said. Don’t work overtime on it, she said. Hadn’t I made it clear that I didn’t have enough to do? Anyway, I spent a lot of time going through the crystals. I identified a number of encrypted Arion communications. I mean, it isn’t like I had to work to figure it out. Whatever recorded the transmissions labeled them as Arion. All of them had time and date stamps. None of them had location information.
There were voice recordings too, all of them in Terran languages, all of them with translations. All of them with time, date and location information. None of them of any intelligence value. Kara must have cast a very wide net. One recording was of a man at a grocery store asking his wife (I assumed) whether he was supposed to get nonfat or 2% milk. Another recording was of a group of men watching a soccer match on TV. English, lots of slang and liberal uses of the f word. Those people get very emotional about what they call football.
I was getting very bored. Until I was listening to a man and a woman talk, and I recognized the man’s voice. It was Major Aldrich. Kara had bugged Major Aldrich. I stopped the recording and looked at the location data. I checked with Google Earth; the transmission was coming from the Pentagon. Aldrich was making an appointment to see someone named Mona later that evening.
The crystal had very complete location data for this device; I assume Aldrich’s phone, because I could trace it moving from the Pentagon, along roads through a rural area, and to a D.C. apartment building. From there, the voice recording picked up again. It was clear in the first two minutes that Aldrich was having an affair. I felt a little dirty, listening like that, but remembered what they taught us in CI school. Men and women in important positions who were having illicit extramarital affairs were vulnerable to blackmail. So, I continued to listen.
When they were finished, they were silent for a while, then I heard them moving around. The woman, Mona, asked Aldrich to look at a photo with her, on her computer.
“What is this about?” she asked him.
“That’s a soldier who got a decoration, a Silver Star that day. Why do you ask?”
“It says the photo was taken at the Pentagon. Were you there?”
“Yes, I was. What about it?”
I heard some clicking.
“You aren’t keeping any other mistresses, are you?” she asked in a teasing voice.
“No, of course not, I can barely afford you,” he replied laughing.
“Then you aren’t sleeping with these women? They are incredibly beautiful. Do you know them? Should I be jealous?” She said this, again, in a teasing voice. But Aldrich didn’t think it was funny.
“No,” he said, a little more forcefully than I thought he should have, “Those women are related to the soldier who got the medal.”
“Ah,” she continued in her teasing voice, “are they sleeping with the general they are talking to?”
That made Aldrich laugh. “In his dreams,” he said.
“It’s funny,” she said, “that a little, ugly man like that would have such tall, beautiful blonde relatives.”
Holy crap! That was my medal ceremony! Those were two of the Velorians, probably Kara and Sharon, she was talking about.
“Do you always go to these decoration events? Do you know this Sgt. Ricci?”
Yep, they were talking about me.
“Not really. I met him at the ceremony. There was a lot of brass there, there always is when these things are conducted at the Pentagon. I go to rub shoulders with the generals. It’s good for my career.”
“Is that what these women were doing, rubbing shoulders with the brass?”
“No, it’s more like the brass was rubbing shoulders with them. There was practically a reception line of generals waiting to meet them. It was funny.”
“Does this happen often at these things?”
“That generals try to hit on beautiful women? Not often, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen it.”
“Same women, or different women?”
At this Aldrich laughed. “You mean are these two groupies? No, I’d never seen them at any other ceremonies.”
That ended the conversation. And then they went back to bed.
There was a large volume of recording from Aldrich’s phone, from dates before and after this one. It looked like the device was being tracked full time. I called Kara and gave her a synopsis of what I heard. Thirty minutes later she was in my basement, listening with me.
“When we discovered he was behind the attack on you, I switched his phone. That’s what enabled me to find your attacker. After that, I totally forgot about him and didn’t turn the phone tracking off. I guess I’ve been recording everything for months.”
Together, Kara and I started going through the recordings. Kara called Sharon and Xara, and when they arrived, they helped. After hours of this it became clear that Aldrich’s mistress, Mona, was constantly and subtly interrogating him about his job, under the pretense of wanting to know him better. To his credit, Aldrich didn’t give up any useful information before she asked about my ceremony and didn’t give up anything after. The man may have been a philanderer, but he wasn’t a traitor.
Kara was worried. “These are the possibilities,” she said. “She’s just a mistress, asking innocent questions to learn more about her lover.
“Or, she’s a foreign agent trying to pump Aldrich for secrets.
“Or, she’s an Arion agent. That she focused on us leads me to believe that may be the case.”
“What are you going to do about it?” asked Sharon.
“First, I have to confirm she’s an Arion.”
“How do you do that?” I asked.
“I’ll get a look at her. I can identify Arions, all three of us can. If she is an Arion, and I think she is, there are several courses of action. The first and easiest is to eliminate her. Another possibility is to try to turn her and eliminate her if that fails. The third possibility is to confront Aldrich with our evidence, then recruit him to be our agent, to feed Mona the information we want her to have.”
“Do you think he’ll do it?” asked Xara.
“Yes. If his father-in-law and wife learned he was having an affair, he’d likely be cut off from the family money.”
“And,” I added, “if the Army knew about the affair, he could lose his security clearance, which would trash his career. He’d never advance.”
That evening we ordered Chinese takeout.
I thought, during dinner, that we’d all be talking about Aldrich and his Arion mistress. But the blondes all wanted to talk about Xara’s new boyfriend, and every time Sharon or Kara would ask Xara a question, they would all, including Xara, look at me while she answered it.
“Okay,” I said, “I understand you want to get your girl talk time in, but why do you all keep looking at me? I’m not dating the guy.”
You could have heard a pin drop. I mean, us normal Terrans could have heard a pin drop. Velorians seem to be able to hear all the pins drop all the time. But what I mean is, they all became quiet.
“Joe,” said Xara, “aren’t you the least bit jealous?”
“The least bit? Yeah, maybe. But isn’t this what I’ve been telling you I wanted for you all along Xara?”
“I didn’t think you meant it. I thought you were making excuses to put me off until you thought I was old enough.”
“No Xara, I wasn’t making excuses. This is truly what I want for you. Do you want me to be jealous?”
She lowered her eyes, and said in a small, quiet voice, “Yes.”
“You guys are so hard to understand!” I said. “Haven’t you been telling me, almost from the day I first met you, that jealousy is a Terran defect? Haven’t you told me that Terran jealousy ruins Terran-Velorian relationships?
“Xara, do you know what jealousy feels like? Do you want me to be in pain because you’ve fallen in love with another man?”
“Yes.” She was almost crying now.
“I want you to fight for me!”
And now she was crying. Hard. It’s strange, the things you remember. Velorians cry, but their noses don’t run when they do.
My heart was breaking for her, but I didn’t really understand why. She wanted me to fight for her? But wasn’t she in love with Josh? I was so confused, but one thing I understood, this wonderful young lady was in pain, and I couldn’t bear that. So I got up and went around the table to try to comfort her. But she didn’t want that from me. As I was about to put my arm around her, her hand shot out and she pushed me away. Hard. I went flying across the room and hit the lip of the kitchen island. There was a sharp pain in my back and the wind was knocked out of me and I went down hard.
I’ve been hit, kicked, stabbed, shot and blown up. I’ve felt some real pain in my life, and the pain I was in then, lying on the floor, was as bad as any I’ve ever experienced.
I remember hearing Xara scream, “No!” Then all three Velorians were standing over me, then kneeling over me. They were talking to me, but I was in so much pain, nothing registered. Then Sharon yelled, “Skietra!” and they were immobilizing me, to keep me from moving.
One of them must have called 911 because there were paramedics, and they put me on a backboard. Every movement was painful, and I remember screaming out because it hurt so much.
When I got to the emergency room, they rushed me to a scanner, for a CT scan, and when I came out two doctors were standing over me and they gave me a powerful pain killer and told me my spinal cord was bruised and they would have to drain fluid to relieve the pressure. So I went from the scanner into surgery.
When I woke up I was in a room with a nurse, who called a doctor, who came in and examined me. He asked me to wiggle my toes, which I did, and he poked me in various places to see if I had feeling, and I did. I looked around, I was in a brace, I didn’t have a lot of range of motion, expecting to see the blondes. But I didn’t see them. Then I found out why. The doctor sent the nurse out to get someone, and a police detective came into the room to talk to me.
He asked me what had happened. I lied. I told him I didn’t remember. He asked me who was with me when I was injured. I said Lisa and Danni Banks and Sharon Best. He asked me how I knew them. I said they were distant relatives. He asked me for permission to search my cabin. I asked him why. He said they suspected that I had been assaulted.
“By whom? Who do you think assaulted me?”
“We don’t know.”
“What do the ladies say?”
“They said one of them pushed you, over an argument about a boyfriend. Are you Danni Banks boyfriend?”
“No. We’re good friends, her boyfriend is a college student.”
“Were you ever her boyfriend?”
“Okay, I’m remembering now. Danni was upset about something to do with her boyfriend. I was going to put my arm around her to comfort her, and she pushed me away.”
“Is that your story Sgt. Ricci?”
“It isn’t a story officer. That’s what happened.”
“Sgt. Ricci, the doctors tell me that the force required to cause your injuries are beyond what you would experience from being pushed away by a young lady.”
“I don’t know what to say detective.”
“May we search your home Sgt. Ricci?”
“May I ask why not?”
“I don’t think it is necessary.”
“I can get a warrant.”
“Uh huh. And how will you justify that?”
He just harrumphed and said he’d be back if he had any more questions for me.
I was left alone for an hour, and then Kara came into the room.
“Kara, the police want to search my cabin!”
“I know Joseph. I’ve already put my legal team on it. They won’t be searching anything.
“How do you feel Joseph?”
“I think I’m on pain meds. And these braces they have me in don’t allow me to move. It’s uncomfortable.”
Sharon came into the room.
“What did you tell the detective, Joe?”
“I told him Xara pushed me.”
“Good. That’s what we all said. Joe, I’m so very sorry this happened.”
“As am I Joseph.”
“You two aren’t the ones to apologize to me. Neither of you did anything.”
Kara bit her lip, then said, “Xara is in with the detective now. Joseph, she feels very badly about what she did. After her timeout I’m sure she’ll apologize to you in person.”
“What she did was inexcusable Joseph. She’s been trained since childhood to control her strength, especially when she is feeling emotional. We have meditation exercises we do to reinforce the training. After the police are finished with her, she’ll be spending two days on the moon centering herself.”
“On the moon? She can’t do that in her dorm, or at home?”
Sharon chuckled and said, “No, she can’t Joe. I suspect there will be several new craters on the moon before she is finished.”
The detective knocked on the door and walked in.
“I’m finished with all of you now. All your stories are consistent, and Danni is quite distraught over what happened. Ms. Banks, I suggest you see to your daughter. She is in a terrible state right now.”
Kara left to look after Xara. Sharon stayed with me. “I won’t leave until Gloria gets here Joe.”
“Okay Sharon. Thank you.
“Sharon, I don’t know what I did wrong.”
“This isn’t your fault Joe. This is all on Xara, and as Kara says, it’s inexcusable. It’s bad enough to carelessly injure a Terran, but a Kiraling … inexcusable.”
“I don’t mean the injury Sharon. I mean, how was I supposed to react to Xara and Josh?”
“You did nothing wrong there either Joe. Chalk it up to youth, inexperience and immaturity. And maybe to her environment. She didn’t grow up on Velor, it may be all the Terran influences in her life.”
Kara came back into the room with a nurse who said she was giving me something to help me sleep. When she left Kara told me she and Sharon would stay with me until Gloria arrived. I didn’t answer, whatever they gave me to help me sleep was putting me out fast.
When I woke up Gloria was in the room talking to a doctor over by the door to the room. Kara and Sharon were talking to a man in a suit. When they noticed that I was awake Kara introduced me to the man and said he was my lawyer.
“I’m representing you Sgt. Ricci. Do not talk to the police unless I am present. I can’t stress that enough. If the police want to talk to you, tell them you have to have your lawyer present.”
“Why do I need a lawyer?”
“Joseph,” said Kara, “there is something strange going on here. The police detective questioned Xara about Josh, and now he’s been questioning me and Sharon about him. I suspect you’re next.
“And,” said the lawyer, “he’s been talking about getting a search warrant for your cabin again.”
“Don’t worry about it Joseph. I’m handling it.”
The doctor left the room and Gloria came over.
“Joe, I’m tired of seeing you in hospital beds.”
“Me too Gloria.” She was in a good mood. I hoped that meant I would be okay.
“Your spinal cord is bruised. The doctors believe you’ll fully recover, as do I. But we must be very careful while you heal to avoid exacerbating your injury. You are very lucky, none of your vertebrae were fractured or dislocated and the doctors controlled the swelling before it cut off the blood supply to your spinal cord.
“You will be there for three more days. It’s important that you don’t move or move as little as possible. I’ll be with you. Do not worry Joe. You will recover. We’ll let the doctors treat you here, their way, and when we get you home, I’ll provide a more advanced treatment.”
Then the detective, the same one from the night before, came in, and said he wanted to talk to me in private.
“Detective, I’m Sgt. Ricci’s council. You may question him in my presence, and in my presence only. I will tell him which questions he may and may not answer.”
The detective just shrugged, and Kara, Sharon and Gloria left the room.
“Sgt. Ricci, how well do you know Josh Gilley?”
“Not very well. I met him once.”
“How did you meet him Sergeant?”
“Danni wanted to introduce him to me, so I had them over for dinner.”
“When was this dinner?”
“About three weeks ago.”
“Tell me about that evening.”
“Well, Danni had been telling him about me, and he thought of me as some kind of celebrity. He even had Danni take a picture of us together for his parents.”
The detective held up a tablet and asked, “Is this the picture?”
“What did you talk about that evening?”
“Mostly he had questions for me, about army life, what I was doing, that kind of thing. He and Danni talked about campus life. It was mostly small talk.”
“And what was the purpose of this dinner sergeant?”
“Like I said detective, Danni wanted me to meet him. She was showing him off.”
“Have you seen Mr. Gilley since that dinner?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Has he been in contact with you since that dinner?”
“No, he hasn’t.”
“How much time does Ms. Banks spend with Mr. Gilley?”
“I don’t know.”
“Has Ms. Banks spent any time with you since then, other than last night?”
“Danni and I are good friends. I see her several times a week.”
“Has Ms. Banks ever asked you to hold anything for her?”
My lawyer broke in. “Be more specific detective.”
“Has Ms. Banks ever asked you to hold drugs for her Sgt. Ricci? Was your injury the result of a dispute over drugs?”
“What? No! What the fuck detective! What are you saying?” I was shouting. If I could have gotten out of that bed and punched him, I would have.
Kara, Sharon and Gloria were outside the room, and they heard. They came in, and Gloria was red in the face, and stomped right up to the detective and I thought she was going to brain him, but Kara held her back.
“You are upsetting my patient,” she said. “This interview is over! Get out! Get out now!”
In this account I’ve tried to describe how intimidating and scary Gloria could be. I don’t have the words to describe it, she was terrifying. The detective turned white as a sheet and left the room without a word, Gloria glaring at him until he left.
And then she turned to me, and the terrifying, intimidating, scary Gloria was gone and Gloria the doctor was back.
“Breath Joe. Don’t think about the detective. You must calm yourself.”
Then she turned to the lawyer, and it was his turn to blanch. “You are supposed to represent him! Why did you let the detective question him that way?”
Kara intervened; Sharon moved beside the lawyer. I think she thought, as I did, that he was about to faint.
“Gloria, he was doing his job. He’s not to blame.”
That didn’t calm Gloria down, but she backed off. I thought the lawyer would need something out of a bottle to calm down. Not the kind of bottle you could find in a hospital.
“Kara, is Josh a drug dealer?”
“It appears so Joseph. While the detective was keeping me focused on squashing a search warrant for your cabin, the police were executing a warrant so search Xara’s room in the dorm. They found nothing.
“Last night I woke Senator Jackson and he contacted the FBI. They informed me that there is an ongoing investigation of drug dealers in this part of the state, and Josh is one target.
“They also explained that the police suspected your injury was due to a drug deal gone bad. That is why they wanted to search your cabin.”
“But certainly, Xara didn’t know Josh was a dealer.”
“No, Joseph, she didn’t. But now she is putting things together and in hindsight she thinks the clues may have been there.”
Gloria picked up the phone in my room, dialed a number and said something medical to whoever answered.
“I’ve ordered a sedative for you Joe, to help you calm down.”
“I don’t need a sedative Gloria.”
“Joseph,” Kara said, “you’re trembling, and your face is red, and I can hear your heart beating faster than normal. Take the sedative.”
When it arrived, I took it.
I was lucky. Once the spinal cord swelling went down, partly due to the doctors draining fluid, partly due to the body’s ability to heal, but mostly due to the contraptions and drugs Gloria used to treat me, I recovered fully. Not quickly, but fully. Oh, there was also the physical therapy, administered by Gloria, who was sympathetic when she was hurting me. And it did hurt, but she said it would help me heal, and I believed her.
They discharged me after three days. I rode home in an ambulance and was wheeled into my living room. That’s where I’d be sleeping until I was on my feet.
I don’t really understand what the thing Gloria used on me did. I just called it zapping my spine. I could feel it, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. What was uncomfortable were the daily injections, for about three weeks, using a really wicked needle at the end of a syringe full of some alien drug Gloria had access to.
After about a three weeks of Gloria’s treatments I was up and around, though moving very slowly and gingerly. Gloria sent back the hospital bed and I was able to sleep in my own bed. Though I was worried, Gloria assured me over and over that I’d fully recover, and I believed her.
Xara didn’t come to visit me while I was in the hospital. She wanted to, but Kara thought it best to keep us separated until she was “centered”. Which was supposed to happen on the moon, but she couldn’t leave right away because the police wanted her for several rounds of questioning. Kara came by to see me and gave me regular progress reports. The police had decided that Xara really didn’t know anything about Josh’s drug business, and when they told her they were done with her, she left for the moon.
When she came back, I was in the living room, in my hospital bed, reading a magazine Gloria had picked out for me. I don’t know why she thought I’d be interested in Sky and Telescope, but that’s what she bought for me.
Xara came in from downstairs, I didn’t hear her, and then stopped and waited for me to notice her. I didn’t notice her until I put down the magazine. She was standing there in her flight suit, tears running down her cheeks, looking like a beat puppy.
“Come here Xara.”
She came to me, hesitantly. I said, “Xara, you’ve told me never to be afraid when I’m with you. Do I need to start being afraid of you?”
Well, that certainly opened the flood gates. And I was glad for it. For all the pain she put me through, she deserved some for herself.
“No,” she said through her tears. “No Joe, I’ll never do anything like that again. I promise.”
“Why did you do it Xara?”
“Joe … I, I, I just wanted to push you away from me. I didn’t want to hurt you. I lost control, and I’m so deeply sorry for it.”
“Sorry isn’t good enough,” said Gloria. “You broke him, now you have to help fix him.”
That was surprising. Very surprising. I hadn’t heard Gloria speak that way to one of the blondes since she and Kara had their conversation about driving lessons.
Anyway, she said it, and Xara nodded.
“Good,” said Gloria. “Give me your schedule. When you aren’t in class, I expect you to be here. You can do your studying here. You will empty and clean his bedpan. You will track everything he eats and drinks and measure his urine before you flush it (I was catharized). I will show you the exercises for his physical therapy. You will fix his meals and feed him. You will give him sponge baths. You will sleep here, on the couch, and take care of his needs during the night.”
“Gloria,” I said, “I’m not ready to have her in my home …”
She cut me off.
“No Joe Ricci! She has come here to apologize, repent and do penance. You will let her repent and do her penance.”
“Joe,” said Xara, “I am sorry, and I want to make it up to you.”
I was going to say no, but Gloria was glaring at me, daring me to say it.
“Okay Xara. Maybe it will be good for us to talk things out.”
She smiled at me and kissed me on the forehead.
If I was surprised that Gloria talked to Xara that way, I was shocked when Kara and Sharon came to visit, and were just as hard on her, if not harder. Up until now, they had always acted like three very close sisters. But as much as Xara was in the doghouse with me, it was worse with Kara and Sharon.
“We owe you our lives,” said Kara one day while Xara was in class, “and she nearly took yours. She should be ashamed. She should have to make it up to you. She should have to work her way back into your good graces, and mine and Sharon’s, and even Gloria’s.”
Sharon told me a little bit more about Velorian customs.
“Velor has a gold core, which depresses our powers. We are still very strong, and live a long time, but not as strong as outside a gold field, and we don’t live as long as we do off planet. And we can’t fly.
“Off planet assignments are coveted. No Velorian who has ever lived fully empowered wants to return to Velor, and there are extremely strict rules which must be followed.
“Any Velorian, outside of Scribe, Protector, Messenger and certain diplomatic personnel, who seriously harms a Terran, unprovoked or unjustified, out of animosity or carelessness is subject to recall. And a recall is always a one-way trip. We take these rules very seriously Joe.”
“Sharon, if Xara is here for punishment, what does that say about our relationship going forward?”
“Not punishment Joe. Repentance, penance, and ultimately, redemption.”
“Who is going to judge that Sharon?”
“We all will Joe, including you.”
So Xara moved in with me and except when she was at class or studying, she was my caretaker. And even study time wasn’t sacred. If I needed something Gloria would interrupt her to take care of it. She got most of her studying done at night, when I was asleep.
Thinking about this, it was ironic. Xara had been pushing to move in with me, and now she had, but not under the circumstances she had envisioned.
There were a couple of times when she wasn’t in class and wasn’t at the cabin. I didn’t find out until he had been caught; Xara was tracking down Josh. Apparently someone tipped him off when the police were searching Xara’s room and he headed for the hills. Or, Canada.
Hindsight is 20/20. Once she knew Josh was a drug dealer, things started falling into place in Xara’s mind. He had asked her, on several occasions, to drive up to Vancouver B.C. and pick up packages for him. She had declined because, by coincidence, the timing of the trips always coincided with some other activity she had planned, whether it was time spent with her friends, or time spent with me.
“He also objected to the time I was spending with you, Joe. I thought it was jealousy, and it was cute, and he was just being a Terran. But now I realize he was trying to pull me into his world.”
“How did you find him Xara?”
“He had given me the address in Vancouver to pick up the ‘package’ he wanted me to get. I flew up there a couple of times, and when I saw him there, I tipped off the police.”
“Did the police ask you how you found him?”
“Don’t be silly Joe. I phoned in an anonymous tip with a burner phone.”
About the time I moved off the hospital bed, for good, Kara, Xara and Sharon and I had a sit-down meeting about Mona, Aldrich’s mistress.
“I wanted to put surveillance on her,” said Kara, “but my team backed off when they saw the trade craft she was exhibiting. Whenever she goes out, she looks for surveillance.”
“Like a surveillance detection route?” I asked.
“Exactly,” Kara replied. “She is exceptionally good at it. The only way we are going to get eyes on her is from above.”
“What do you need us to do mom?” asked Xara.
“I want to see who she meets with,” said Kara. “I want to know if she has clients other than Aldrich. Her banking activity indicates she does. I want to know who they are.”
“Okay,” said Sharon, “where does she live and how do you want to schedule us?”
Kara put together a surveillance schedule. It wasn’t perfect or airtight. She and Sharon had businesses to run, Xara had school, and Gloria wasn’t ready to let Xara out of her nursing duties yet.
Mona was going through her appointment book to find time for a Department of Agriculture analyst. He’d called to make an appointment and she promised to get back to him that afternoon.
She was hoping to get a look at the next winter wheat forecast. The Empire had been able to earn substantial funds in the futures markets with the information she had obtained, funds which financed a growing network of influence.
There are not many opportunities for Betas to rise through the ranks of the Arion covert services. She had a plum assignment, one which could pay her big dividends in the future.
Her job was simple. Develop contacts with Terrans in government positions that had access to sensitive information and mine that information for nuggets that would be valuable to Near Earth Command. And the job was fun. Not so much the sex, frails are not good at sex. But hunting down a source, reeling him in and extracting information, that was fun.
NEC chose Betas for this sort of work because Primes were just not well suited for it. Sex with a male Prime was almost always fatal for frails, even if he did wear gold. Once his passions were aroused, he just couldn’t be trusted not to kill the frail with his strength and enthusiasm. Female Primes were just as bad. If the frail didn’t satisfy her, and few could, she would end up killing him or her out of frustration. She’d heard that Velorians had cracked the code for how to have satisfactory sex with a frail without killing it, but Arion High Command either didn’t know how to teach this to Primes or wasn’t interested.
And that created openings for Betas such as herself to operate on Terra and build the kind of reputation that led to larger opportunities and more rewards.
It had taken her several attempts to develop her techniques. Confident men like Aldrich were the easiest. You manufactured a reason to bump into them once or twice, showed a little leg and a lot of cleavage and soon they were buying you drinks and trying to figure out how to get into your pants.
The shy ones, like her Ag dept. analyst, took more time. The less experience they had with women and the nerdier they were, the easier it was to scare them off before you even introduced yourself to them. They never have the courage to initiate a conversation on their own, let alone offer to buy a girl a drink, so Mona had to develop different tactics for them.
She’d dress down, wear either a long skirt or a pantsuit (YUK!), cover up and deemphasize her bust, tie her hair back and carry around a book, such as a science fiction novel, or a text on econometric analysis, which is what she was carrying when she made first contact with her Ag. Analyst.
She had identified him on social media as a promising source and had been following him around, discretely. She discovered that he spent Saturday mornings at his local public library. She sat down at his table one day with her textbook and opened it up and soon noticed him watching her. Well, not her, but the book.
“Have you read it?” she asked. She kept her eyes lowered. Something about the blue eyes of a Supremis heightened the natural insecurity of the timid ones.
“No, I haven’t, I was just going to ask you what you think of it.”
“It presents a strong statistical foundation, but some assumptions the authors make seem a bit contrived.”
“Yes, I’ll show you.”
And that led to coffee after the library, and later to lunch. And then it got tricky. She couldn’t afford to have jealous frails, that would get messy. So she told him, that to support her studies, she worked as a Sugar Baby. That nearly scared him away, but he became interested when she told him she liked him enough to consider him as one of her Sugar Daddy’s.
She went with Sugar Baby because she was sure that calling herself and Escort would scare him off. Escort implied a businesswoman with very expensive tastes. Sugar Baby sounded less professional and, for this man, less intimidating.
Negotiating the price, that was always tricky too. She had to set a high enough price to make the target believe he was getting something special, but low enough that he could afford to see her at least three times a month. She always researched her targets and always had a good idea what they could afford.
After the price was settled came the reveal. Or, as she liked to call it, after seeing it on social media, the unboxing. For the frails, seeing her nude for the first time was always breathtaking. And it was especially so for the shy nerdy ones, because she had gone to great lengths to hide what was under her clothes.
Her Ag. Analyst had been especially cute. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as she stood before him in all her glory, and while undressing him, when she grasped his erection, he came in her hand. He was so embarrassed! But she told him it was okay, not to worry, she’d have him ready to go again in no time. And she id.
The sex with the shy, nerdy ones was always better than with the confident ones. Not because they had better skills. Far from it. But they knew they didn’t know what they were doing, so they asked for help, for her to tell them what she liked. The confident ones? They took offence when she tried to give them direction, as if they knew everything there was to know about love making and it was her duty to acknowledge their sexual prowess.
Afterwards, while he was in the shower, she opened his laptop, which he always had with him, inserted a USB drive that loaded specialized software that defeated the hard drive’s encryption, and downloaded the latest agricultural forecasts, which had yet to be made public.
The winter wheat forecast was due out in five days, and the analyst was asking for an appointment a week out. She needed to see him sooner if the information was going to be any good, so she called some of her other clients and moved their appointments around, then called the analyst back and told him she couldn’t see him in a week, but could the next evening. And he agreed.
The next day, while he was in the shower, Mona was downloading reports from his laptop, unaware that far above Sharon was watching her.
Janelle checked the child’s temperature and other vitals and turned to the mother and told her it was just a head cold, he’d get over it, and not to worry. As the mother and the child left, Janelle sat back in her chair and tried to figure out how this had happened.
Juanita showed up at her office one morning with another woman and a sick child and asked Janelle to examine the little boy. She had done so, and then, it seemed, word had gotten around. Soon there was a steady stream of mothers and children coming to her office for medical care. And then adult children were bringing their elderly parents to see her. They were all poor, they couldn’t afford doctors and they couldn’t afford to pay her. Not with money anyway. And it didn’t matter to Janelle, she never asked for payment. But pay they did. With casseroles, handmade clothing, some of it very nice, one man built a bookshelf for her. She had even been given a pair of chickens. She was getting invitations to homes for dinner and family parties, and she was always treated as an honored guest.
She worked out an agreement with a local pharmacy. She would write a prescription, give it to the mother in the case of a child, or to the patient if it was an adult, and then later the pharmacist would visit her for payment plus a small bribe.
Janelle had covertly studied the gang-controlled neighborhoods. She noted that the gangs lived materially better lives than the poor, financed through extortion, protection payments, kidnapping for ransom and drug sales. The inequality she saw was appalling. On Aria the Primes always lived better than the Betas, but the Betas were not destitute. There was plenty of food and none lived in squalor. She’d need more money soon to finance her small but growing veterinary practice. She could ask NEC for it, or she could get it herself, and she knew exactly where to find it.
NEC was at first surprised to learn of her activities, and then supportive, as it dawned on her superiors that she was, accidentally, pacifying the town, or at least the poorer sections of it, and was conducting an ad hoc experiment into how to bring an area under Arion control. So NEC encouraged her to continue building ties in the community, and if she could strengthen those ties by giving the people relief from the gangs, so much the better, as NEC had long ago identified criminal gangs as among the groups that would resist the Empire.
The gang war never materialized. The gang bosses knew that war was bad for business, so they had a meeting, to discuss what had happened.
At the warehouse, nothing had been taken. The drugs stored there were still there, though now unsellable. The money that was stockpiled there was burned, not taken. In the tense days following the warehouse attack, there had been no other attacks. In their meeting, the leaders of the gangs concluded that they were under attack from an outside force. But who?
It wasn’t the local or national government. The gangs had infiltrated and corrupted all levels of government; they would have known if someone was planning an attack like this.
The American DEA was known to conduct anti-gang operations in the country, but they always worked with the local government and always publicized the results of their raids, showing off the cash, guns and drugs that they seized.
The Cubans had been making noise lately, asking for more money for safe passage through their airspace and waters for the boats and planes delivering product to the American market. And the Chinese and the Russians were competing against each other to establish ties with the surrounding countries. Could one of those countries be behind the attack? But for what purpose? No one had made any demands. It was a puzzle.
My back was getting better. The hospital bed was gone, and Gloria had me doing exercises on the Bowflex. I was working on my conditioning on the stationary bike and Gloria was close to clearing me for the treadmill.
Xara was falling all over herself to show me how sorry she was for injuring me, and how much she wanted to get back into my good graces, as Kara put it. Gone was the talk or speculation about having a sexual relationship. She wasn’t referring to herself as a goddess anymore. Sharon told me that Xara would be thrilled if, after I didn’t need her as a care giver, I would invite her to dinner.
I was becoming more and more disposed to forgiving her. This was the first time I had ever personally been targeted by friendly fire, and while at first I thought I’d never get over it, I found that I was. Getting over it. I was getting over it. Gloria said just the fact that I was thinking of it as ‘friendly fire’ rather than hostile fire was and indicator that my attitude was changing.
I knew that everything would be okay between the two of us when I found myself asking her about her school work, and if she missed her friends. She did miss them, so I talked Gloria into letting her have some time off. I think Xara sensed things were going to be okay too.
It’s hard, when your best friend hurts you like that, to continue thinking of that person as a friend. At least it’s hard for me. Xara understood that. We didn’t have to talk about it. And while all this was going on, she was grieving the loss of her relationship with Josh. The realization that he had been trying to turn her into a drug mule was very upsetting to her.
Kara called a meeting to discuss the group’s findings regarding Aldrich and his mistress, Mona. From the spotty observations the blondes had made, they discovered that she had a revolving door of U.S. Government personnel visiting her. They’d seen her accessing laptops and tablets owned by these men and had heard her asking them about their work.
Kara said, “She has two apartments. One is her residence, and the other is used for meeting men. She sweeps both apartments for bugs twice a day. She keeps all her Arion communication equipment in her residence.”
Gloria said, “We don’t have any equipment that can hide from an Arion bug sweep. How are the sight lines to her apartments?”
“There aren’t any good ones,” said Sharon. “Either by intention or accident, she chose locations that would be impractical to surveil from a neighboring building.”
“I’ve been going through the crystals,” I said. “I’ve found transmissions that appeared to be random noise. But once I knew where to look, I discovered they were coming from her residence. I matched up the time stamps with your reports of her contacts, and it appears she makes a transmission after every one of her meetings.”
“Those are probably contact reports,” said Kara. “It’s SOP for undercover Arions.”
“What are we going to do about her mom?” asked Xara.
“I haven’t had a lot of luck turning Betas,” said Kara. “Most of them choose death over cooperation. Before I confront her, I’d like to try using our friend, Major Aldrich, as an agent.”
“Who would be his handler?” asked Sharon.
“I was thinking of Captain Moore,” answered Kara. “Most of the time it’s only her, or her and Major Aldrich in the room when they communicate with Joe, so we should be able to keep the circle of Terrans who know about this to a minimum.”
“Kara, wouldn’t the government want to know that they had been penetrated by an Arion spy?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “I’ll talk to General Rosenthal. I feel bad about keeping Senator Jackson in the dark about this, but I don’t think it will help us to reveal his son-in-law is cheating on his daughter.”
“Though it will motivate Aldrich to cooperate if you hang the threat of exposure over his head,” I said.
“Who approaches Aldrich?” asked Xara.
“All three of us, I think,” said Kara.
“Why all three of you?” I asked.
“Because I want to fuck with the sob’s head,” said Kara. Xara and Sharon laughed.
“Joe, contact Capt. Moore on your secure phone and set up a conference call.”
I set up the conference call the for the next day, after Captain Moore was off duty. Kara explained the situation to her and asked her to sit tight until she had talked to General Rosenthal. Kara made that contact herself, apparently, she had him on her speed dial. Rosenthal agreed to it and asked if they wanted him to order Aldrich to cooperate. Kara declined, saying she’d like to contact him directly. Rosenthal didn’t care for Aldrich any more than anyone else did, and he bought off on it. Someday I’m going to have to sit down with Kara and find out how she gets powerful people to cooperate with her so easily.
Aldrich was off duty and had an appointment with Mona. He hadn’t seen her in two weeks and was looking forward to it. The woman was so hot, and so hot in bed, it made him smile to think about her.
He was taking his usual route, out into rural areas before heading back into the city, when he saw Xara drop out of the sky onto the road ahead of him, at exactly the same location where she had trapped him before.
His blood ran cold as he slowed his vehicle to a stop. He thought about turning his car around and heading back the other way, but when he looked in his rear-view mirror, he saw Sharon behind him.
He was looking back at Xara when he heard a tap on his driver side window. He was so startled he nearly jumped out of his seat. He turned and looked and there was Kara, motioning for him to lower his window.
“Call Mona,” she said, “and tell her you have to cancel your appointment tonight. Give her some excuse, anything you want, but don’t tell her we’re here.”
Aldrich called and canceled his appointment, saying he had to stay late at work.
When he hung up Kara said, “Open your passenger door, we’re going for a ride.”
He unlocked the door and Kara went around to the other side of the car and got in next to Aldrich.
Aldrich was scared out of his mind, but he remained calm enough to ask, “What’s this about?”
Kara handed him a slip of paper and said, “Drive to this address. We’re going to have a meeting.”
“Just drive Major.”
Aldrich didn’t need to program the address into his GPS. He recognized it as the address of a house on a lake that the brass used for retreats. It wasn’t far away. When they arrived Kara opened her door, turned to the Major and said, “Come inside.”
When he walked inside, he saw Xara and Sharon were there, along with Capt. Moore and General Rosenthal.
General Rosenthal said, “Sit down Major, we have a new assignment for you.”
Aldrich sat down on a couch. Xara walked over and sat down next to him and smiled at him. Aldrich did a good job of keeping his face blank, though she could detect the little tells, but he couldn’t hide his racing heartbeat from her. He was afraid.
“Major Aldrich,” said the General, “I’ll cut right to the chase. Your girlfriend is an Arion spy.”
“What?” asked Aldrich.
“She’s an Arion Beta,” said Kara, “and she’s using her cover as an Escort, or call girl, or mistress, or whatever she told you she is, to get close to men who have access to important information.”
“General! I’ve never said anything to her that would compromise security!”
“We believe you, Major,” said the General. “We’re going to use you to run a counterintelligence operation against her.”
“How did you know …”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Kara, “what matters is that you cooperate with us.”
“Who else knows?” he asked.
“Not your wife, and not Senator Jackson,” said General Rosenthal, “and if you work with us, they never will.”
Aldrich sighed. He wasn’t stupid, he could see he was trapped.
“What do I have to do?”
Kara answered him. “Keep up your relationship with her. Report back to us what she asks you about. When the time comes, you’ll begin feeding her info we want her to have.”
General Rosenthal said, “Captain Moore will be your handler. You’ll take instruction from her and report to her. She’ll pass your reports to Kara through Sgt. Ricci and will report directly to me.”
Kara said, “Do not underestimate her Major. Arion Betas are very intelligent and bullet proof. She is at least ten times stronger than you, maybe more, and wouldn’t hesitate to break your back if she thought you had become a threat to her or her mission.”
Aldrich asked, “What is my risk level here? What am I exposing myself to? And my family?”
Sharon answered him, “Do as your told and nothing more and the risk will be minimal.”
Kara said, “Your family will be safe. I give you my word.”
“Am I her only mark?” Aldrich asked.
“No,” said General Rosenthal, “and for security and compartmentalization, that’s all we’re going to tell you. If we need you to know more, we’ll tell you. Don’t ask about it and don’t ask her about other clients.”
Kara stood up, which was the signal to Xara and Sharon to leave. Before walking out the door Kara turned to Aldrich and said, “Don’t try to be a hero Major. We aren’t asking you to take any unnecessary risks. Do what we ask, when we ask, and you’ll be fine.”