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Lex Appeal

Written by Rip Harden :: [Friday, 27 April 2012 11:29] Last updated by :: [Monday, 06 August 2012 11:21]

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LEX APPEAL

A Short Story in Seven Parts

(c) Rip Harden 2012

 

*** This story is submitted for the April 2012 SWM Workshop ***

 

1. THE CATALYST

The square, three-story concrete and steel building rose fast into the desert air – eighty, maybe a hundred feet and spinning clockwise at more than 2000 rpm.

Two women watched as pieces of concrete, masonry, glass and metal flew from the infrastructure, the smile spreading across her lips of the taller, younger woman betraying the pleasure of her handiwork. Her companion crossed her arms and spoke.

“I thought you said it would implode, Jessica, it’s sprayin’ everywhere.”

“I’m a biochemist not a physicist, mom. What do I know about centripedal forces?”

A loose part of the foundations, a yard wide and the same long and deep, flew from the structure at peak velocity toward an F350 parked on a slice of asphalt to their right and behind. With the overcharged leap of a slam dunk, Jessica sprang at the block, meeting it with a closed fist and turning it to white dust.

“Damn it, if I wanted to be covered in this crap I would’ve just kicked the walls down.”

Any reply from the other was muffled by the building’s return to ground. What remained had at last collapsed into itself, a broken pile of warped steel and fractured walls settling silently a hundred yards from its former foundations.

Looking down on her mother from her height of a couple of inches above six foot, Jessica flicked back her unkempt brown hair and produced a USB stick the size of her thumb from the pocket of a white lab coat.

“So this is all it’s come to, mom, three years of hard work compressed into 8 gigs on a flash drive.”

“Just remember, darlin’, what you were doing wasn’t what we was getting paid for. The real project got canned.”

Jessica looked at the stick with a grimace then walked to the wide body F350 in front of the naked building foundations and torn plumbing. With the driver’s door ajar, she removed the lab coat revealing an over-shoulder bra and a micro-skirt with tights underneath. All were colored charcoal, including heavy work boots, a contrast with the skin covering her taut, angular torso, broad shoulders and a robust chest rising from a small waist above girlishly small hips. Her legs appeared powerful – like an athlete’s – but otherwise there was nothing to give a hint of her omnipotent being.

“Mother, I’m ready to go. You with me?”

“No, I’ll just, umm, clean up a bit.”

Susie Beaumont watched the dust billow behind the truck as it accelerated away then tried to take in the devastation that surrounded her. ‘Perhaps they’ll think it was a bad twister’ she said to herself, ignoring the pale blue sky, then taking a further look to make sure her daughter was well out of sight began to focus on the piles of debris surrounding her.

Ice-white beams shot from her eyes. Broken blocks of concrete and twisted metal melted, the surrounding earth scorched. One by one, slowly and methodically, she blasted debris into nothingness. Aged in her mid-50s with blonde hair splayed across her wide shoulders Debbie Harry-style, her likeness to the 80s rock star was uncanny. At about 5 foot and 7, she had an attractive, almost ageless face and the same tight, hard body she had in her late teens. Like Jessica her hips were small and her waist smaller, but unlike the daughter, her femininity expressed itself in her twin-D bust – untethered, firm and, yes ... spectacular.

Concluding the ‘clean up’ and exploring the remains of the laboratory with her special vision to satisfy herself nothing more needed to be done, Susie strolled to a gray mass of metal sitting upon a pallet-sized tray of the same material. Lifting the tray with her right hand, she shook her head and addressed it as if it was a small child.

“Five thousand tons, huh? Aren’t you a dense little metal? But at a hundred bucks an ounce I’d better find somewhere to keep you ‘til DC tells me different.”

With a small push on the balls of her feet she was gone – airborne and headed toward Texas with her cargo in front of her. A blip on every radar screen and a smudge on every satellite, Susie knew more would come of this. But that could be explained in the future. For now, this very precious metal had to be stored in a very safe place.

2. THE IMPRIMATUR

The tall woman in the blue tunic of a US Navy captain checked herself in the compact mirror before using her own special vision to see whether the expected guest was pacing the West Wing corridors toward her cramped ground floor office. He was late, very late, but as he was the Vice-President attending on her, she was nervy and strung up. And would check her makeup for the third time.

Jenna McAdam at 38 years was a distinguished officer, a veteran decorated with the highest of honors, her particular talents undisclosed, highly classified and, in her opinion, hopelessly underused. She was a natural beauty. Short dark hair, brown eyes, a face not unlike a young Linda Ronstadt, the taut body of GI Jane (a very well endowed GI Jane) and the intellect of a post graduate. For her, the career was the thing. She wanted silver stars on the collar and was prepared for the end-game ... her eyes caught movement. It was he 

“Mr Vice-President, please ... my orderly has left for the evening, err, I should have come to your office.”

“Captain, don’t apologise, I was in the Cabinet Room so it made sense to visit you while I was here. Now, I have also invited, ah, here she is ...”

What the fuck?

“... Captain have you met our FBI Director, Madeline Byng? Madeline this is our war-hero I’ve told you about.”

“Great pleasure to meet you, Captain. Your fame proceeds you.”

“Err, thank you, Director. Please, umm, take a seat, a bit like an old sofa I admit ...”

They shook hands, a professional shake, nothing more. The Veep continued as he sat next to the Director, feigning injury to his right hand.

“She’s a strong’un, isn’t she? Pity we don’t have a fireplace in here, I could get her to bend up an iron poker for you. Ha, ha!”

Jenna strangled a laugh as the Director forced a smile. They declined any coffee in order to ‘cut to the chase’ as the Vice-President put it.

“Captain, we have a situation that involves the possible compromise of our most valuable military property. Now, I know that theft is not something that would normally come within your ambit ...”

“Well, no, sir, I’m the President’s advisor on East Asian military ...”

“... I know, of course, but I’ve left the President only just now and there’s something else. Perhaps Director Byng could background.”

“Two days ago on the edge of the NASA facility at White Sands, you know, down in New Mexico, an incident took place that we are only coming to understand now through our surveillance of our satellites that are, well, picking up the spy transmissions of others.”

“Okay.”

“A three story building, formerly the Falstaff Research Facility, was somehow swept up into the air, spinning like a top, before crashing to the earth some way from its foundations. It was a solid, 1950s style complex and built to withstand any unusual weather phenomenon.”

Jenna exhibited a pained look and interrupted.

“That was the facility used by Operation Thundra.”

“Correct.”

“And I’m thinking you’re going to tell me that there were two women seen in the precincts?”

The Veep continued.

“Are you aware of what happened down there?”

“No but I got a pretty good idea. If I may say, sir, the administration has canned Thundra and closed all research at that facility, so we have some covert operatives plus a half dozen scientists that are now redundant.”

“Not quite, Captain. Almost the entire staff has been redeployed. All except two ...”

“The two in our surveillance ...” the Director broke in, “... and I don’t want to appear difficult, Captain, but it will not be any surprise to you to know ...”

“I get it, ma’am, thank you. Umm, could you just tell me, who actually, err, disabled the building?”

Disabled, you say? ...”

The Director continued in her condescending tone.

“... Disabled. Alright. Well, it would seem that it was the taller woman, your sister, Jessica, who tore the building from its supports and, how can I say, flicked it into the air as if it was a tennis ball. I mean, it must have weighed a couple of thousand ton.”

“A few thousand ton is nothing to her and, err, just for the record she’s only my half-sister ...”

As the pit of Jenna’s stomach tightened, the Vice-President interposed in his cool southern drawl.

“Of course this isn’t about the building, no: perhaps it was full of asbestos anyway. Captain, our concern is that we had over five thousand tons of a special type of alloy, umm, I don’t know, ...”

“The 40CD. Yes I know of it.”

The Director came in again.

“Sorry, what was that?”

“40CD. Umm, it’s the strongest metallic substance discovered since Tungsten. We call it 40CD, err, after Jessica, ironically enough.”

The woman stared hard at the Naval officer, her voice indignant.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because it means ... well, it’s a play-on what Jessica was called at college. The academic staff referred to her as FCD – the abbreviation of Fuerte Como Dios, umm, it’s Spanish for ‘Strong as God’ I think.”

The Director dug into a carry bag and extracted a thin folder.

“Captain ... I’d just like to read you something ... umm, here. This is the application form by Jessica Beaumont for her post graduate study at the University of Texas, Dallas, umm, here ‘My ambition is to be like Lex Luthor. Not what you think is some cartoon character, but the original – the guy who can turn an ordinary man into a superman by gene therapy. That’s me. I want to know all I can on genetics and biochemistry so I can do this one day. Create a superman.’”

Jenna shrugged.

“It’s true, ma’am, but she was sixteen then. She’s a prodigy, a savant if you like but she was still a kid.”

“There’s more Captain. ‘The thing I hate is my family with their claim of some ‘curse’ that gives rise to our awesome gift. Sure, we are like superhumans but my mom, my gran, they all think that it is just something to do with a sex-crazed witch. I’m the one who will prove them wrong. I aim to show that what we have is the result of genetic mutation which will allow me to produce a man of equal strength’.”

The small office seemed claustrophobic in the silence. With each woman staring hard at the other, the Vice-President looked stressed but pushed on.

“Jenna, do you know something of this ‘curse’?”

“Sure. I won’t bore you with all the history but it comes from some gypsy a hundred years back. Apparently my great, great something grandmother stole her man and then this gypsy, supposedly, placed some curse that meant that she and all her descendants could only bear girls and each one would have this superpower. And not only that, all daughters would be stronger than their mothers. Just to make it more fun, any second born daughter would be a thousand times stronger than the first. I guess it has all come to pass. As you would know from the files, the descendants have been girls; only girls. All have been, well, very strong and in five generations there have been two instances of sisters being born, with the anticipated consequences.”

“Jessica being the second of your generation. ...”

The Director, like any old beat copper, stated the obvious before asking the superfluous.

“... So that means we have a whole family of superwomen with the person of interest, Jessica Beaumont, being thousands of times stronger than the rest?”

It was becoming too much for Jenna to bear.

“Director, the FBI has been aware of us – my family – and our powers for the past sixty years. Nothing we have done has been without their knowledge yet we are considered model citizens. For fuck’s sake, ma’am, it’s all in your files!”

The Director exhaled hard.

“Perhaps it once was. But somehow these things disappear. Computers and backups are not infallible.”

“Okay, sure. My point is that we are nothing new. The Navy did their due diligence when I was recruited and simply classified my strength as ‘Top Secret’ which means that I’m a threat to national security if I wander down Pennsylvania Avenue picking up tourist buses. As you no doubt know, Director, my own career has often ebbed and rarely flowed following any display of my abilities, no matter that it saves lives and could well have avoided another hot war on the Korean peninsula ...”

"The Shenyang Incident.”

“... Precisely. I got my eagles because of that incident plus a whole lot of heat from the top brass.”

In her frustration, Jenna’s right hand absently gripped the arm of her steel framed chair causing the thick metal to ooze away from her compacted fingers like plasticine. The sight was not lost on her two guests, both understanding the need to keep this woman on the same page. More sanguine, the Vice-President played his trump.

“Err, Captain the President has made an executive order, ...”

Jenna’s eyes flashed up to meet the worried look of the Veep.

“... not even half an hour ago, appointing you to the newly created post of Executive Director, Ultraphysical Activities. ...

“Ultraphysical Activities – what the ...?”

“... it means you are responsible for the affairs of our uniquely gifted citizens and report direct to me on matters of concern.”

“So I spy on my family.”

“You do what needs to be done to ensure the interests of the United States are well cared for. In this case, and I need not spell it out, we have this missing 40CD, as you call it, and we have a renegade scientist who is infinitely strong and seemingly intent on creating superman from a test tube.”

“We have no evidence of that, sir.”

“What we do have is vision of Agent Beaumont, err, your mother, carrying a tray of the metal, one handed I might say, but then she seems to disappear.”

“She’s probably at home. I’ll follow up on that issue, but as to Jess, ...”

“I’ll let you follow up on that as well. I can’t emphasise the importance of this appointment and, oh, I forgot to mention, the position requires the occupant to be of flag rank, so I should also congratulate you, Rear Admiral, on your promotion. It needs to be confirmed by the Secretary of the Navy, of course ...”

The Vice-President’s voice trailed away as he stood. The ‘promotion’ was something he’d just concocted, but he knew he could make it stick. He was the ‘hero’ of his party, the next nominee for President and an early favorite for success come that day in November. He didn’t make it this far without good intuition and he could tell that the superwoman in front of him would not have put up with a whole lot of shit unless she was ambitious for something brute force alone could never provide. The broad smile on her face told him he’d hit pay dirt.

The two women followed the Veep to their feet, the Director’s eyes fixed on the mangled metal now in clear view. With a nod of her head she retreated to the door to avoid the obligatory farewell shake – still uncertain whether Jenna’s little display was for her benefit.

“Madeline, I’ll catch up with you in a moment ... now, Jenna, about this appointment ...”

The Veep moved so that he could grab her left forearm just above the four gold rings, he pulled hard to bring the arm up – it failed to move a fraction.

“... err, in this role you won’t be needing to wear your uniform, in fact I’m asking you to dress civilian. You’re no longer under the watch of the Pentagon, so go and do what you need to do.”

The green light flickered in her mind’s eye.

“Yes sir, oh, and if I may, sir, I’m just wondering why we are so concerned about Jess and her whacky schemes in any event? I mean, all she has ever worked on is the 40CD project.”

“I suggest you might talk to Sandi Stone about that.”

“Who, sir?”

“A former receptionist at Falstaff who’s living in Kansas; don’t worry you’ll know her when you find her. We’ll speak again in a couple of days.”

The Veep walked to the threshold, caught sight of the wounded chair-arm and turned back, smiling.

“Can I ask you one thing? When you were in Shenyang and you had to hold up that stricken Tupolev 2-oh-4 before it plowed into the terminal, umm, can you tell me what that felt like, I mean, weight-wise?”

“Weight-wise? Well it wasn’t much, maybe only a hundred ton ...”

She bent down and with the tips of the fingers of her left hand scooped up the two seater couch her guests had vacated. She moved it up and down in front of the Veep, shaking her head.

“It felt much the same as this, sir, umm, I dunno, I can’t really notice the weight until it gets up around twenty thousand.”

“I know you’re not talking in pounds there, Admiral. Good night.”

“Good night, sir ... and, thank you!”

The Navy’s newest flag officer stood watching the Vice-President catch up with the FBI Director not bothering to tune her hearing into their conversation. It took her a few seconds to realise she still held the couch. Dropping it back to position, the thoughts flooded over her: there was so much that needed to be done. And then her mind was suddenly occupied by the memory of that night in North-East China, a clear recollection to the exclusion of all other thought.

It was ten years ago, having recently finished her postgraduate studies majoring in East Asian security issues, the newly promoted Commander was seconded as an observer to demilitarization talks. Senior DPRK bureaucrats and officers were to meet Chinese counterparts in Shenyang as a preliminary to further talks. Twenty minutes from the runway, the Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-204 from Pyongyang lost all power simultaneously – sabotage was the only possible explanation as the aircraft’s failsafe systems could no longer override the malfunctioning electronics. Unable to lower its undercarriage or back thrust, the plane descended at speed toward the runway; the Chinese panicked, convinced that on its current trajectory the aircraft would explode on impact and engulf the packed terminal.

Jenna knew there was one window of opportunity that would remain open for about two seconds. With the power in her legs she sprinted from the terminal to commandeer an army jeep. Her plan was to get herself under the aircraft then leap from the jeep to the undercarriage, taking the force of the impact when they both came back to Earth.

Good plans don’t always come together. The disabled craft descended much too fast, pushing the jeep as hard as she could she had only a fraction of a second to jump – missed – and then found herself flying under the plane at the same speed. No time to work out how, Jenna grabbed the fuselage and eased the plane to an airborne halt before landing and extracting herself from underneath. Copybook superhero stuff, indeed! Not the way the PLA guards saw it, though. Rounds from automatic weapons tore at her uniform, shredding her tunic and bra. She didn’t care, walking past them, through them, wondering why if they couldn’t kill her in the first thirty seconds, they would think that another minute of shooting would work.

When the chaos died down, the young Commander was lauded by the very echelon of Chinese and Koreans alike. There was no sabotage, just an unfortunate conflation of errors and mishaps but everyone agreed that if the plane had disintegrated the North would have cried ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war upon the South. Back home the Pentagon was appalled, threatening court martial for disclosing her secret and immediately recalled her to San Diego – only then for the State Department to intervene and demand that she be appointed head of the US delegation. The DPRK ‘trusted’ her like no other. It won her another quick promotion. And many enemies.

She was woken from her dream by the cleaner. He mulled over the crushed chair-arm. Jenna simply smiled, wished him well and departed in haste. There was much to be done.

3. THE VISIT

“Hey, mom!”

“Hey, Jenna darlin’, fancy seeing you down home!”

“Got a promotion and a new job.”

“Wow, so you’re now a ...”

“Rear Admiral, lower rank, which means I just have one star. It’s what I’ve waited for.”

“And the job?”

“Oh, yeah, well, I’ll tell you about that. How’s Ned?”

“Fine. He’s out the back getting some rays if you wanna say ‘Hi’.”

“I'll later but can I ask you something? It’s about Jess and what happened at Falstaff.”

Susie’s head swung back in surprise, the blonde hair dancing across her bare brown shoulders.

“You been talking to her have you?”

“No, although I need to. The FBI has both of you pegged as persons of interest in the disappearance of the entire national stock of 40CD.”

“Disappeared my ass, Jenna, it’s all under the house.”

“We don’t have a cellar.”

Susie laughed.

“Do now, darlin’, when it comes to liftin’ buildings, who would you trust more than your own mother?”

“Well, Jessica for one. How did she get that lab into the air?”

The older woman pursed and lips and demonstrated a flick of the right wrist – like screwing in a light bulb. Jenna groaned.

“That easy, huh? Damnit, you know when I try and get a building that size off the ground it just cracks into pieces.”

“She’s good, I’ll give you that. Still she’s also lazy. She thinks it’s all about brains and brawn.”

“I’ve got the footage on my cell if you want to see it, mom, shows you blasting the debris with your heat thingy then you’re disappearing into dust with the metal.”

“I travel at Mach-40, Jenna. It wouldn’t show me for long.”

“I don’t get it, how can you fly at that speed and not strip yourself naked? I mean, I’ve thought of trying it, but ...”

Susie led her daughter to a small room at the back of the house where she kept her gear. Pushing the tube top down off her firm breasts and abdomen (displaying the perfect even tan which Jenna guessed her mother had been working on in that morning’s early Spring sun) and choosing the tight charcoal colored sweater she wore that day at Falstaff, Susie held it up to Jenna then put it on top of an upturned plastic wash basket. Telling Jenna to ‘watch this’ the two white beams reappeared from Susie’s eyes, blasting into the fabric of the sweater. Jenna was incredulous.

“Shit. Nothing happened. I mean, at the very least the basket should’ve ...”

“That’s the 40CD for you. You see, darlin’, that’s what Jessica and her team were working on. They was developin’ body armor – trying to find that balance between how little they could use to intermesh with polyester to create an invulnerable protection. Trouble was, it just cost too much for the Government’s liking. What Jessica and I wear are the prototypes. They act just like superman’s outfit – only they’re a much better look.”

“So you can be as ‘super’ as you want and the outfit doesn’t burn or shred.”

“I got no objection to flyin’ around naked but the bosses get a little nervy. Now, if in this new job of yours ...”

“You guessed it, mom. The Vice-President told me to dress all civilian. He also said I should feel free to use my gifts, whatever he thinks they are.”

“I thought it’d come to this ‘cause I reckon Jessica’s got ‘em a bit nervous. Here.”

Susie opened a bottom cupboard and pulled out more 40CD gear – this time in a navy blue.

“I got this top and tights combo from the second batch. I thought you might be interested one day.”

Jenna began to strip.

“Today’s the day, mom.”

While the long sleeved sweater and tight pants had a similar consistency to the charcoal version there were two obvious differences – both cosmetic and both very flattering.

The first was that the tights had a ‘worn’ look, a lot like denim. Hugging Jenna’s small ass and hips made her look hot, even to a disinterested observer like Susie. The second was that the sweater was made with a plunging collar – on the voluptuous brunette, the top of the garment separated like the Red Sea, an expanse of untethered breast pushing up into the space below her chin.

“Oh my God! I look like Power Girl!”

“She’s a blonde, darlin’, but you should know this 40CD holds those melons in place better than any bra. Now all you need is a bit of a tan up. Just hold still.”

The white beams struck Jenna’s chest and pulling down on the sweater, Susie gave the twin peaks a good going over.

“Hey, that tickles!”

“Good for getting rid of unwanted hair too, Jen, although you prob'ly know that.”

 Susie compared the work of the ultra-violet to the work of the ultra-woman and satisfied with her effort, ducked into the cupboard for the coup de grace. For her part, Jenna was mighty impressed.

“Ahh, of course. Boots! Hey, they’re good. Shiny black, calf high, a bit of heel. Mmm, classy.”

Having pulled on the size nines she stood back to survey herself in a hand mirror. It was only then that her mother’s half-nude figure seemed to take on meaning.

“I thought you were putting that top on.”

“Err, no, I was planning ...”

Susie pushed off her skirt along with the top that had rested around her waist.

“... to go back outside with Ned, you know, get some husband and wife time in.”

“Ah, okay, I might find out about Jess.”

“Go find Sandi Stone first, darlin’. Things'll become clearer once you do.”

"How’s that?”

“Spend some time to get to know her. It’ll be a benefit if you use your assets to see inside her.”

“Err, okay and she’s ...”

“Living behind a trailer park just this side of Topeka. You’ll know her when you see her. She’s got a real case of the Daisy Dukes.”

“Great, mom, thanks. Have a good time with Ned.”

“Always do, darlin’.”

4. THE REVELATION

If she was honest with herself, Jenna would say this whole flying business was pretty cool. There remained a tinge of guilt at not doing things conventional-like but it sure did beat driving. Just a half jump, her right fist out in front, the sound of a whip crack as the signal she was through the sound barrier and a few hundred feet skyward. From this vantage she could see the houses, trailers and farms of Kansas without effort. Still, she thought, she had much the same chance of finding Dorothy and Toto. With her vision, finding needles in haystacks was easier.

After half an hour of frustration Jenna stumbled upon a likely suspect. Descending to a quiet location – landing was like jumping off a truck – she spied a tall blonde woman, maybe early 20s, washing the back of a motor home.

“Good grief!”

The woman looked up, saw Jenna and smiled. The only possible response was to smile back and wave. The woman waved and Jenna took it as an invite.

“Hi there. I’m Jenna.”

“Hey, I’m Sandi. How are ya?”

It was difficult to believe her eyes. This woman was tall – maybe six foot – but the estimate was skewered by her wearing these huge heeled shoes, her tanned legs long and physically perfect, a very short pair of cut off jeans and a tied at the front shirt, unbuttoned and hardly covering the contents. Blue eyed, a big smile. She was a stunner.

“Very good. I was hoping to have a word.”

“Sure.”

“You know my sister, I think, umm, Jessica Beaumont, from Falstaff.”

“Oh, yeah, Dr Beaumont, yeah, she and I worked together.”

“You were her ... receptionist?”

“Oh, yeah, but more than that. I helped her with stuff, umm, she did an experiment on me. It worked too!”

Jenna’s blood chilled.

Experiment! What did she do?”

“Oh, yeah, she said she altered some, err, genes or something, you know, some science thing. It was real cool and made me real strong.”

Before Jenna could speak, Sandi dropped the sponge in the bucket of water and with her left hand under the rear of the Winnebago, lifted the rear wheels over a foot off the ground.

“See? That’s easy for me to do now.”

“I’m impressed.”

Jenna was gobsmacked. Now there was suddenly another ‘ultraphysical’ being she was accountable for. And she had no idea who this woman could be or worse, how many more were like her.

“It’s not all ...” the wagon returned to terra firma with a thud “... look what I can do to this!”

To her right was the frame of a small box trailer made of stainless steel. Sandi bent from the waist and with a giggle tore a three foot section from its mounting. Holding up the length for Jenna’s approval she bent it over as if a piece of cupboard.

“Now watch this, Jenny ...”

Two orange beams sprang from Sandi’s eyes hitting the top of the warped metal. In an instant it would glow red hot.

“... see? It’s so awesome!”

Sandi touched the red hot area with her fingers and giggled again.

“You couldn’t do this, it would burn your hand off.”

The advice of Susie Beaumont for her daughter to ‘use her assets’ was at the front of the Admiral’s mind.

“Actually, I can and I will and by the way, the name is Jenna, Rear Admiral Jenna McAdam of the US Navy.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry ...” she giggled “... but, hey, I thought you said you were Dr Beaumont’s sister.”

“I am. It’s just we have different fathers.”

“Oh, yeah, like me and Brad, my bro.”

Jenna took the metal at the hot end and, as if it was wet paper, scrunched the shrieking metal into a ball. Sandi squealed ‘Awesome’ and the useless scrap was thrown into a pile of rubbish. The blonde gazed doe-eyed at her new found friend.

“So, Jenna, did you have the experiment too?”

“You could say that, Sandi. Umm, why don’t we get a soda and talk about what we can do.”

"Oh, yeah, let’s!!”

Sandi looped an arm through Jenna’s as she led her guest off to the small store to share a club squash. As uncomfortable as Jenna may have appeared, Sandi took to her like a flame to paper, telling about her great admiration for the two Jessicas (Beaumont and Simpson); her plans to audition for America’s Next Talent (as a singer not a ‘circus’ act) and maybe even a shoot for Playboy. Jenna was becoming convinced this girl was a threat only to good taste when she dropped her bombshell. Dr Beaumont had recruited her ‘bro’ to help with her new experiment: an even more potent version of the first. The thing was, she hadn’t heard from him for a week and had no idea where they were at.

Feeling an adrenalin rush and her stomach tighten, Jenna stood and made an apology before sprinting from the store and resuming her new affair with the air. Her first thought was to return to Texas but recalling her mother’s afternoon plans, changed course for Washington and a visit to the FBI. They were certain to know where Jessica was at that moment. If she could neutralize her sister’s little experiments before another superhuman is created, it was one less problem to solve.

5. THE CONFRONTATION

“The time has come, Bradley. I want you to repeat what I do ... first, this metal plate here.”

Jessica picked up a 50lb weight plate and using only her fingers, pushed the sides toward the middle producing a ‘8’ shape. She held it up for Bradley to inspect then stretched the metal back into a rough circular shape with the ease of straightening out a wash cloth.

“Now you. And remember, do it the same way I did.”

Brad gingerly took the repaired plate and with his hands to each side, holding the plate hard and tensing himself, a grunt signalled the beginning of his effort. Slowly the plate disfigured and a broad smile consumed the young man’s face.

“Fuck, yeah! I did it!”

“Of course you did. I told you, Bradley, you now have the gift.”

Awesome!

Taking back the plate, Jessica compacted it to the size of a golf ball then using her right hand only, crushed it into its component atoms.

“You won’t reach my, umm, unique levels, Bradley, but you’re already the strongest man alive. Let’s try something else.”

A 40lb dumbbell sat against the dry wall. Jessica scooped it up and held it out for her new phenom who took it with a hand at either end.

“That’s right, Bradley, push them down and bring the ends together.”

He did just that. Another grunt and the dumbbell buckled in the middle. As the ends and his fingers met he looked up at the scientist with sheer delight. This time Jessica just tossed the warped object to the side.

“That’s all for today, Bradley. You’ve done very well and your progress is well ahead of schedule.”

“Oh, awesome, Dr Beaumont. Umm, can I leave now, I, err, I’ve been here for the past three days and ...”

“I like to keep you close until you get familiar with these new found powers, I mean, we can’t have you tearing off a car door by accident can we?”

“Umm, oh no, ma’am, but ...”

Jessica smiled and slipped off the ubiquitous lab coat letting it fall behind her broad shoulders. She wore the same bra and skirt combo seen when she tossed the building earlier that week. Brad was now taking it all in with mouth agape.

“I think maybe it’s time we became much better acquainted. Y’all a strong boy now, Bradley, I reckon you can handle a strong girl like me. ...”

As Brad mouthed a platitude, Jessica hooked her index finger under his chin and lifted him a few inches into the air.

“... And just in case you might wanna sneak away without me knowing. I’m very fast.”

She flicked her finger away and he gripped at the stretched skin of the upper throat. Turning to a small open safe in the corner (the door hanging by a hinge), Jessica retrieved a handgun and clicked off the safety. Aiming at her left hand she fired, closing her fingers on the flattened slug as it hit her palm. Having examined it to her satisfaction, Jessica flicked it into the torn safe door then stood and gave the gun to Bradley who immediately aimed at his spare hand as he spoke.

“Hey, I could do that!”

NO! Err, no, Brad, I don’t want to waste ammo. I’m expecting a visit from the FBI and it could come in very handy. And I’m also assuming you can handle a weapon.”

Brad looked down the barrel with disappointment and said nothing. The awkward silence shattered by a fevered knock.

“Hello, it seems our guests have arrived ...” in a second the double-locked steel framed door fractured under an extreme force “... ah, the McAdam calling card: even better.”

Jenna entered the room and stood with hands on hips, feet slightly askew.

“Afternoon, Jess, been playing with grown-up’s toys have we?”

“You are such the joker, sister dearest, but it’s good to see you again – and I mean all of you.”

Readjusting her cleavage line, Jenna walked toward Brad.

“I’m guessing your friend here is Brad, the brother of the superstrong receptionist from Falstaff.”

Needing no instruction Brad pointed the handgun at the stranger’s heaving bosom demanding that she stop. Jenna laughed and stepped closer.

“Well go on then, you’ve got a big enough target.”

He fired off two rounds which ricocheted into the ceiling and wall.

“Fuck, you’re bulletproof too!”

“It runs in the family, Bradley. And since you’re the only one with a gun, I guess it’s superfluous.”

“Huh, sue-per what?”

A scarlet beam sprung from Jenna’s eyes toward the tip of the barrel, closing it without heating up the whole weapon. Jess moved her body onto one leg with one hand on a hip as she answered the question.

“It means you don’t need it anymore. Not that it’s much use after that little laser show.”

Jenna ignored the boy and turned toward her sister.

“Surprised are you?”

“Not at all. I’m just glad that after all these years the Navy has finally let you use the abilities our mother’s genes have given us. I thought it was all hush-hush-top-secret.”

“It was. Just as what we did at Falstaff was a secret until you went on your own crusade and turned a small town girl into superwoman.”

“That’s because you don’t care about my plans to prove this curse that you and mom are so accepting of is nothing but a waste of words. My little friend over here is now the strongest man of Earth: pathetic compared to you and nothing compared to me but in the end game strength is all but relative.”

What? You ... made Brad into some modern day superman?”

"As a work in progress, yes. ...”

Jessica swung back to point to the bent up dumbbell.

“... Bradley, grab each end of that and bend it up the other way.”

He did as directed, the metal not exhibiting any worthy resistance. Jenna shrugged.

“Impressive I admit, but ...”

“Oh, sorry, Jenna, yes, it was already bent up. Well, what about this, a small 20lb plate, yet it’s just sitting here by itself next to the couch. Maybe this needs to be bent up too, Bradley!”

Jessica’s demeanour was mocking, the plate picked up she grabbed each side and presented it to Brad as if a trophy. He took it where she held it and pushed it together like the last, a perfect ‘8’, his fingers meeting in the middle. Jessica took the plate off him and offered it to her mollified sister.

“Satisfied, Captain?”

“Umm, I’m a Rear Admiral now but, yeah okay, you’ve got me. Like Sandi he is a success, a major achievement for you and your program, whatever that may be.”

Whatever, indeed! ...”

Jessica strutted toward Jenna who, involuntarily, took a step back against a timber book case. The younger woman’s voice spat with venom.

“... Well, Admiral McAdam, let me tell you this! ...” she grabbed Jenna by the elbows, lifting her and pushing through the shattering bookcase and against a brick wall “... I have broken the code. I know the genetic fingerprint needed to create an army of superstrong men and women, all invulnerable to conventional weapons.”

“I have no doubt.”

Jenna struggled to break the grip. It was hopeless.

“And unless the Government accedes to my request ...”

Request? What request? Ughh!”

As Jenna spoke Jessica pushed harder against the wall, a large ‘crack’ heralded a six inch gap opening between the wall and ceiling.

“I’ll tell you what request!”

Jenna didn’t wait for the next words. She blew from her mouth as if a two year old putting out a candle. Jessica flew across the room, crashing clean through the dry wall and onto the tiles of the bathroom floor. The officer grasped at her pained arms while slumping to the bottom of the fractured wall, fearing that the phenom thousands of times stronger than herself would now unleash her true strength. For his own part, Brad tried to rush to Jessica’s aid, not that it was needed. The younger sister stood in the bathroom brushing debris from her pale skin.

“Okay, Jenna, perhaps I deserved that. It’s just ...”

She tore through the hanging masonry to return to the chaos of the living room.

“... well, it’s just I’m so fucking frustrated that I’ve done so much that this Government can use for good, that unless they come to the party, I fully intend to use it for bad.”

Jenna looked up at the woman towering over her.

“No need to spell it out, Jess. I can see you plan to impose your protégé here on humankind unless you get whatever it is you want.”

“I want my own laboratory and a government contract. No one can argue that I don’t have the qualifications with two doctorates before the age of twenty one. ...”

She reached over and offered Jenna a hand to stand up.

“... You know, it’s not that I want to go all Lex Luthor on them, but they just won’t listen to me. Per-haps ...”

Jenna sighed and brushed splinters and brick dust from her blue-jean tights.

“Okay, Jess, I’ll take the bait. I have a meeting with the Vice President tomorrow at Noon. He’s really more concerned about the 40CD than anything else so if you agree to let Thundra operate out of this facility and get mom back to provide the security for the 40CD then I’m sure I can sell it.”

Jess was nodding and smiling. It was an easy concession to make.

Like siblings throughout the world, the contretemps that left the apartment in ruin were immediately forgotten. They embraced, wished each other well and Jenna left for dinner with her mother and step-father. Once alone, Jessica ignored the destruction and corralled Bradley into the bedroom. The Queen Bee had won her battle. It was now time for her to claim her prize.

6. THE DISCOVERY

Every woman has power of one sort or another. The power of beauty; of being able to control, to manipulate, to charm: Jenna McAdam was no different and in the Vice President’s cottage that morning she had exhibited all these assets to the nth degree.

She was abetted in her endeavour by her new ‘work’ gear – the plunging neckline, the sumptuous breasts, the Vice President’s rampaging libido. She also acted different – the pose and strut of the superheroine: hands on hips, legs and feet apart, stomach tucked in. She looked the part and the Veep was but powder in her strong-girl hands.

Jessica Beaumont achieved everything she wanted. The Government got its 40CD back. Susie would return to her role of guardian of the oh-so-precious metal. Everyone was happy.

Or mostly happy.

Jenna was still discomforted about what to do with the super-siblings. Maybe the process could be reversed? Maybe she should have tried to strike a harder bargain with Jess in the first place. Or maybe now she could try a bit of a bluff – tell the scientist that her experiment could only be conducted from scratch and in a controlled environment with a carefully monitored methodology. Hmmm, maybe.

Arriving at the entry to her sister’s hold-up, Jenna could be forgiven for thinking that the place had been abandoned. No response to her ‘Hello Hello’ was heard at first although her enhanced vision picked up the sight of Brad attempting to secrete inside a wardrobe that was much too small for that purpose.

“Brad come out of there – you look silly.”

“Oh, umm, sorry but Jessica, err, Dr Beaumont told me to stay in hiding especially if, well, you know ...”

“If I paid a visit you mean. Well I’m here now so where is she?”

“Dunno. And I’m being honest. She just left.”

“Maybe you could make this place a little more presentable ... here ... get rid of these for a start.”

Jenna flicked a 50lb weight plate toward Brad (the mate of the one he bent up the day before), instead of catching it with ease as she expected, he fumbled and dropped it on his foot, causing him to let out a shriek of pain.

“Hey, Brad – you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, fine, I’m just clumsy that’s all.”

‘Clumsy my ass’, Jenna thought to herself, still she didn’t want him to know of her suspicious mind – for he would report straight to Jess – rather she ignored him and continued to move debris into a large pile near the door.

“Brad, these weight plates and barbells you did your work on yesterday – you don’t want them anymore do you?”

“No, no, ma’am, Dr Beaumont said we won’t be doing that anymore. ‘No need’ she said.”

Jenna had no doubt that the statement was literally true – Brad wouldn’t be bending up steel bars and plates anymore. Or any less.

“Okay, well I’ll take these with me and, err, dump them somewhere. Tell Jess when she gets home to call her mom. She’ll have some good news.”

“Thanks, ma’am, good to see you.”

He was nothing if not polite and arriving at the FBI’s own laboratory in Quantico, she was certain there was something mighty amiss with the Mighty Maid’s weight set.

“I really appreciate you looking at these for me, Todd. I need to get a handle on it real quick.”

“Not a problem, Captain, err, Admiral. There’s not much need for a master’s graduate in metallurgical science at the FBI. It gives me something meaningful to do.”

Todd Halfpence was one of the redeployed scientists from Falstaff. He had spent the last five years working on the 40CD program and was nationally regarded as an expert in his field. Jenna watched as he handled the mangled metal with such care and deference that they may have been relics from the arc of the covenant. After a number of tests and much nodding and cross checking he was done.

“Yes, yes, I’m confident I’ve got a handle on this now.”

“Which is?”

“There is a definite difference in the molecular structure of these plates and the bent bar.”

“As if, for example, it was steel in one part and then another substance, like say, low quality pig iron, in another.”

“That was how I supposed it at first, too. But the tests don’t show that. The atomic structure of the metal is homogenous, that is, it isn’t different. It has just, well, been made to act differently.”

“How can that happen?”

“The closest I can explain is like when limestone might turn into marble after being subject to thousands of tons of pressure over thousands of years. What seems to have happened here is that the steel has changed to perform more like, umm, say a badly inflated car tire. It still has structure and appearance but no longer acts like metal.”

As if to prove his point, Todd took the U-shaped barbell at each end and while struggling a little with its 40lb weight, bent the bar to almost straight. Jenna sought confirmation of the obvious.

“So would it be possible for that to occur in an instant by the exertion of an extreme force on the surface?”

“I can’t think of any force known to mankind that could do that in an instant.”

“Not even, say, superman?”

“There’s no such being as superman and even if there was, I’d reckon the force would need to be even greater than what he could harness.”

Jenna laughed.

“I think you once said that you saw Jess Beaumont flick around a couple of thousand tons of 40CD as if she were planning to shoot a few hoops.”

Todd cleared his throat and grimaced.

“Dr Beaumont? Well, she’s something else again. Umm, I ... don’t ... really want to comment on whether ...”

“Thanks, Todd, you’ve told me all I need to know. Have a great day.”

Jenna strolled from the facility, chest thrust out, stomach tucked in, confident and happy. She had recalled watching Jessica hand Brad a 20lb plate with two hands – not because he’d drop it on his toe but so that she could perform her little trick. The application of millions of tons of pressure by her fingers and thumb alone was perfectly within her capabilities.

Now things were making a whole lot of sense.

7. THE END GAME

“State of the art.”

“Thank you, Admiral, as you can see your negotiation skills have paid off handsomely.”

Dressed in her Navy whites, the one-star admiral was being led around the US Government’s latest research facility and secure home to the nation’s supply of 40CD. Her host wore her white lab coat buttoned from top to bottom, sensible shoes and hair tied back in a bun. Behind them, in earshot, was Susie, typically in her charcoal ‘work’ gear.

“So why do they call this place Fortitude Bay? It’s not even on a river.”

“Again a play on words, my dear sister, taken from Dea Fortitudus.”

“More Spanish?”

“No, Latin. It means ‘Goddess of Strength’.”

 “Such modesty.”

“I could include you and mom in this; after all, you played your part to perfection.”

“I was conned. By my own sister.”

“Oh come on you love it, Jenna, you’ve always wanted to use your strength to get back at the brass-asses. And you have to admit it was a neat trick with the metal plates and barbell.”

“I agree with you on that one. You had us all fooled, even poor Bradley who couldn’t believe it possible that superman could suffer a broken bone in his foot. How is he anyway?”

“No idea, once they put him in plaster we shipped him back to Kansas.”

“To be with his super-bimbo sister, who still hasn’t been explained as to how she fits into your plans.”

“Well ... she doesn’t. It’s that simple.”

“So why is she hanging around the back of a trailer park lifting anything that moves and plenty that doesn’t?”

Susie’s voice cut in.

“I told you, darlin’, you had to look inside her, use your powers to look inside.”

“I tried to do that, I mean, I took her for a soda, listened to her innermost ambitions, umm ...”

Jess and Susie broke up laughing, Susie continued.

“No, darlin’, I meant look at her insides. She’s a cyborg. If you’d used your vision you would’ve known straight away.”

“I’ve never done ... What? What were you doing conducting experiments on cyborgs?”

Jess put her hands up in a ‘surrender’ pose.

“Okay, okay I’ll explain. You see she came to us in Falstaff as a receptionist but she wanted to know all this stuff that no ordinary receptionist would ever need to know so we got suspect. Mom, being mom, checked out her inside and voila! Knowing you can’t intimidate a cyborg we did the next best thing. We reprogrammed it then covered her up in a film of 40CD so her operators couldn’t reinstall the proper software. That’s why we made her into Daisy Duke who thinks I’m her Dr Frankenstein.”

“Mmm, a super-strong Daisy Duke who’s still on my patch.”

“Don’t worry she’s harmless.”

“So did you find out who embedded her at Falstaff?”

“The CIA.”

Jenna was incredulous.

“Really? Why would they ...”

“They wanted to get a piece of the 40CD. You know, other than the military, it’s only the FBI that has access to it.”

“Urggh. Mom, why am I thinking that the FBI was using me as a modern day supergirl to retrieve their precious supply of metal?”

“’Cause Jess and me are a bit too independent for their liking, Jen. Unlike yourself who’s spent her whole career following orders.”

Jess was nodding with exagerated movement.

“And when I tossed the lab at White Sands they fretted that mom and I might’ve gone over to the other side. That’s why it was so easy to go all Lex Luthor to get my job back.”

Jenna shook her head and walked away then turned and pointed toward her mother.

“Something’s telling me that Agent Beaumont here may’ve done some record keeping of her own at FBI headquarters.”

“Been breakin’ in there for years, darlin’.”

“And you should’ve seen my new application for college, Jenna. That would’ve raised someone’s blood pressure.”

“I’ve been suckered on this one. Fucking big time.”

“Hey, chill, sis, you got a star on each shoulder didn’t you? And just think, now the Vice President will want you to rid the nation of any more of these rogue CIA cyborgs with powers just like Sandi. It should be fun.”

Jenna frowned and stared out a small side window at the expanse of Virginia countryside then responded in a low monotone.

“Yeah ... it’ll be fun.”

 

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