Transformatrix 4000 – Three Months Later

Written by argonaut :: [Thursday, 19 October 2006 11:52] Last updated by :: [Thursday, 15 May 2014 16:05]

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Transformatrix 4000 – Three Months Later

by Argonaut


WRITTEN FOR SGI WORKSHOP 1.9


PART I

She liked to wear something sexy but casual on her shopping trips, so she’d put on a frilly pink chemise and a pair of cut-offs before setting out.  Now, her shopping concluded, Paris Hilton was flying eastward high above the glittering expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the great dome of the Taj Mahal resting lightly on one shoulder.

She smiled languidly, recalling the wonderful day three months ago when she’d been transformed into a goddess – and the world had become her own private shopping mall. Now, she could go wherever she wanted and take whatever she liked, and nobody could stop her – not even goody-goody superwomen like DeeAnn Donovan.

She giggled, remembering the day she’d flown off with the Eiffel Tower, with DeeAnn and four French fighter jets in pursuit. A casual puff of her super-breath had sent the jets spiraling into the Atlantic Ocean; then, swinging the steel edifice like an enormous baseball bat, she’d knocked DeeAnn into a low orbit. Tumbling helplessly, DeeAnn had circled the earth a dozen times before she’d managed to slow herself down. Some “Superwoman”!

The French had been furious, of course, but there was nothing they could do about it. Ha! They should be grateful she was letting them go on using her name for their capital …

She glanced down. Maui – formerly the third most populous of the Hawaiian Islands, now her private estate – was below her. She shifted into a vertical position and began her descent.

She alighted gracefully on the vast, perfectly tended lawn in front of her mansion and set down the dome. Later she’d decide where to put it, but right now she wanted to relax with a nice hot bath. She flew lazily across the lawn … through the sybaritic reception hall … and on into the central atrium.

DeeAnn Donovan hastened forward, nervously smoothing the lace apron of her black housemaid’s uniform. “Welcome back, mistress,” she said, curtsying. “I trust your expedition was a success?”

Of course,” Paris shrugged. “Did you hang those Monets I took from the Louvre?”

Yes, mistress.”

And did you put away those bottles of Chateau Latour ‘64?”

Yes, mistress.”

Tell the chef I’ll have dinner at seven. The Dungeness crab are fresh?”

I fetched them myself, mistress, just half an hour ago.”

Paris turned toward the mountain of letters on the Louis XIV desk. She scanned the fan mail and invitations with her x-ray vision, then plucked three envelopes out of the pile and dropped them on a side table.

I’ll be attending those parties tonight – Tokyo, then London, then Rio de Janiero. You can send the RSVP’s while I’m taking a bath. But first, fetch me a robe.” She was undressing as she spoke, dropping her chemise and cut-offs on the marble floor.

Any one in particular, mistress?” asked DeeAnn, picking up the discarded garments.

Paris yawned. “Surprise me.”

DeeAnn flew off at super-speed, returning a moment later with a kimono of purple silk. “Is this all right, mistress?” she asked anxiously, holding it up.

It’ll do.” Paris slipped her arms into the sleeves and tied the sash; then she rose into the air, toward the skylight thirty feet overhead, which opened automatically at her approach.

As the skylight closed beneath her, she turned and flew off toward Haleakala, the volcano that dominated the eastern half of the island. Alighting at the edge of the crater, she clapped her hands twice, activating an array of video cameras.

Instantly, all over the world, her image materialized on every television screen.

Millions of eyes watched adoringly as she slowly untied the sash of her kimono. Millions of jaws dropped as the garment fell from her body. Millions of spectators held their breath as she rose on tip-toe, raising her arms …

She pushed herself upward, rising in a slow arc. She hung in mid-air for a second … then two … then three … then she descended in a graceful swan dive, plunging into the lake of red-hot lava that filled the crater.

The molten rock closed about her for a long, tantalizing moment; then, like Botticelli’s Venus, she rose, standing in mid-air as the lava slid from her body and fell hissing into the cauldron below.

That’s hot,” she said.

Purring with pleasure, eyes half closed, she clasped her hands behind her head and arched her back. Her breasts pointed straight upward as she let herself fall back into the lava with a splash. All over the world, millions of pairs of hands applauded, paying worshipful tribute to Paris Hilton, superwoman among superwomen, goddess among goddesses …

Earth to Paris – hello?”

Paris blinked, looking around her. She was floating ten stories above a construction site in downtown Seattle, beside the steel skeleton of an office building. A massive I-beam was balanced on her right shoulder, and DeeAnn Donovan was standing in mid-air several stories below her, regarding her with a quizzical frown.

My bad.” Paris descended about twenty feet and set the beam in place, holding it steady while a riveter secured it.

DeeAnn shook her head in exasperation. “Keep your mind on the job, Paris,” she said. “That airhead routine might have been funny on TV, but this is real life. You’re helping to rebuild the city you nearly demolished. So pay attention.”

Sorry.” Flying back down to pick up another I-beam, Paris frowned at the garish orange jumpsuit she had to wear. It’s not fair, she thought. Here I am, doing a zillion hours of “community service” just because I demolished a few measly buildings – and whoever designed this fashion felony is probably still at large.

Meanwhile, DeeAnn’s cell phone had begun to beep. She put it to her ear – from force of habit, not necessity.

Hey, Denise,” she said. “Yeah, we’re still at the Meriwether Avenue site. Are you ready to take over for me? … I know, I know – it’s a thankless job, but somebody’s gotta do it … Okay, see you in a few … Thanks.”

Paris was flying back up to the tenth story with another I-beam over her shoulder. DeeAnn saw that the faraway look had returned to her eyes. Honestly, DeeAnn thought, it’s like she’s off in her own little world. I wonder what’s going on in that mind of hers?

She shrugged. Maybe I’d rather not know …

PART II

A sudden gust of wind blew down Shuster Avenue, drawing scraps of litter in its wake and tugging at pedestrians’ hats and coats. Expectant faces looked up; excited fingers pointed toward a lavender-colored streak moving across the Metropolis skyline.

Look! Up in the sky!”

It’s Ultrawoman!”

Soaring high over the city, Lois Lane smiled. The more things change, she thought …

Her super-hearing, constantly alert for any sign of trouble, suddenly picked up the sound of gunfire and squealing tires off to her right. I guess I’ll be making one more detour, she thought, veering eastward.

Moments later, she was high above Dorfman Plaza, watching an armored car speeding away from the main branch of the First Metropolis Bank. A quick scan with her x-ray vision revealed that the vehicle contained a fortune in foreign currency … and that the drivers’ ID badges were fake. Shoppers and office workers scattered as the car careened across the plaza toward Weisinger Boulevard.

Hmmm, thought Lois. This looks like a job for …

But before she could fly down to intercept the vehicle, someone hurtled past her at super-speed – a headlong blur of yellow and purple heading straight for the plaza below.

Lana Lang – star reporter for WMET-TV – swooped down to the plaza, alighting a few yards in front of the speeding car. Leaning forward slightly, her purple cape fluttering in the morning breeze, she stood with her arms held straight out in front of her. Frantically, the driver tried to swerve, but the hood of the car was already crumpling like tinfoil in Lana’s steely grip. A whiff of burning rubber drifted across the plaza as the car’s rear tires spun ineffectually; then, with a twist of her torso, Lana tipped the car on its side before the felons could scramble out.

Police cars were already streaming toward the scene from every corner of the plaza as Lana strode round the immobilized vehicle. Rising a few feet off the ground, she ripped the right side door off its hinges, letting it fall with a crash, then reached down into the cab and pulled out its two occupants like a magician drawing rabbits from a top-hat. A WMET van squealed to a halt just behind one of the police cars; two cameramen jumped out and began setting up their equipment.

Lana waited, twenty feet up in the air, holding the two men by the collars of their shirts. On the cameraman’s signal, she lowered herself gracefully to the plaza.

This is Lana Lang, reporting from Dorfman Plaza, where just moments ago a pair of gunmen attempted to steal a consignment of foreign currency from the First Metropolis Bank. Fortunately, this reporter was able to stop the two men in the act and turn them over to the police, who are already on the scene.” She smiled fetchingly as she turned toward a police captain and set down the dazed felons. “They’re all yours, officer,” she said.

The captain grunted with ill-concealed annoyance as he placed handcuffs on the two men.

Careful, Lana, thought Lois. That kind of grandstanding might be good for WMET’s ratings, but it won’t earn you any good-will with the police. She could see that the police had been ready to apprehend the robbers – probably thanks to painstaking undercover work – until Lana, eager for a scoop, had beat them to it.

Lois shrugged and flew off uptown. Moments later, she was diving – too fast for ordinary eyes to see – toward the roof of her apartment building … down an old elevator shaft … and through a hidden panel that led into the bedroom.

Clark – unshaven, still wearing pajamas and a robe – was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at his laptop.

Good morning, sweetie,” said Lois, leaning in to give him a kiss. “What’s up?”

Clark picked up a steel bar from the table and gripped one end in each hand. “Remember how I was able to bend this – just a little – yesterday?” he said. “Watch.” Tensing his muscles, he strained against the bar with all his strength – but to no avail. Grunting, he set it back down. “Nada. Dr. Klein thinks that my body can re-charge itself – but every time a little bit of my power comes back, it vanishes just as quickly … and bam, somewhere another woman becomes super-powered.”

Clark put on a wry grin, but there was no mistaking the bitterness in his tone. Poor dear, thought Lois. This must be so frustrating for him. “Don’t worry, sweetie,” she said. “Once we find out who’s behind the Transformatrix technology, we can put a stop to it – and you’ll be your old super-self again.” She nodded toward the laptop. “Any luck with that?”

Clark shook his head. “No. Chloe’s spent I don’t know how many hours trying to trace this Genrefan … but bottom line, we’re no closer to finding him – or her – than we were three months ago.” He took a sip from his coffee cup. “Ugh, it’s cold.”

Here,” said Lois. She took the cup and warmed it in the rays of her heat vision.

Thanks,” said Clark, as Lois handed the cup back to him. “But on a positive note – you came in fourth in this week’s poll.”

What poll?”

Clark gestured at his laptop. “UberGirlFrenzy conducts a poll of its members each week – ‘Who’s Your Favorite Uber Girl?’ With over five hundred to choose from, I’d say fourth place is pretty good.”

That’s silly,” Lois snorted, but she couldn’t resist peering at the laptop screen. “Kara’s first, then Amber – no surprises there … Huh! There I am, right below … Paris Hilton?”

Clark shrugged. “Apparently she has a strong niche following in the UGF community. And Summer Montabone came in fifth. Not surprising, I guess, what with the trailer for Atalanta just hitting the movie theaters. What’s so funny?”

Oh – nothing,” said Lois. She had just spotted Lana’s name – in ninth place. She stood up. “Well, the fanboys can have their poll. Let’s concentrate on the guy running the site. Meanwhile-” She took a pad and pencil from the pouch in her cape and filled several pages at super-speed. She tore off the sheets and handed them to Clark.

What’s this?” he asked, peering at Lois’s scrawl. The words were edged with brownish scorch marks and the paper was warm to the touch.

Notes from your interview with Ultrawoman. She’s had a busy morning. You write it up. I’m meeting the president of the dockworkers’ union in half an hour – as Lois Lane.” She started to unfasten her cape, but paused suddenly, tilting her head to one side.

Clark knew that look. “What is it?” he asked.

Lois sighed. “Nothing major. A purse-snatching at the corner of Swan and Anderson. I’ll be right back.” She stepped out onto the balcony. Crouching slightly, she swung her arms back, then forward, and leapt up – up and away …

PART III

The 8:00 bell would be ringing in a few minutes to signal the beginning of the first day of classes. A crowd of students were streaming toward the front door of North Shore High School, some at a casual amble, others at an anxious trot. None of them ventured to approach the picnic table where Regina, Gretchen, and Karen were sitting, but many of them cast glances in their direction – glances of curiosity, of envy, even of fear.

But the three “Plastics” paid their classmates no heed. Dressed in their red-and-gold cheerleading uniforms, they were discussing the upcoming school year.

Okay,” Regina was saying. “So we got hosed at the state cheerleading finals last spring-

Totally,” Gretchen chimed in. “That DQ was so not fair. Where does it say in the rule book that cheerleaders can’t use super-powers in their routines?”

All right, Gretchen,” sighed Regina. “We’ve been over that like a million times. The point is, this is a new school year. We’re seniors, we’re cheerleaders, and we’re super-girls. We – Karen, what are you doing?”

Karen looked up sheepishly from the open textbook on the table. She had been turning its pages – idly at first, then faster and faster, until now they were a blur.

Sorry, Regina. I was just looking at my math book. It’s amazing – I got a D in algebra last year, but I totally understand everything in this book! I guess my brain got super along with the rest of me, huh?”

Regina rolled her eyes. “Well, duh. Why don’t you join the chess club while you’re at it?” A flick of her forefinger sent the book flying against the wall of the school building. “Now, as I was saying – this year we are gonna totally rule … so let’s get started!”

Regina stood up and strode imperiously toward the front door, closely followed by the other two. The few stragglers moved aside quickly as the three girls swept by. They paused for a moment in the lobby, staring down the long corridor thronged with students busy at their lockers, talking excitedly, frowning at their schedules as they scurried to their first-period classes. Regina placed her hands on her hips and rose several inches into the air. Gretchen and Karen did likewise.

Okay, new rule,” said Regina. “Never let your feet touch the floor.”

The three girls began to glide down the hallway. Students stopped and stared, moving to the sides of the corridor to let them pass by.

Regina stopped suddenly in front of an open locker door that stood out at right angles to the wall. A pair of sneakers were visible under its bottom edge.

It’s no use trying to hide, Aaron,” said Regina. “I’ve got x-ray vision, you know.” A puff of super-breath slammed the door against the figure hiding behind it.

Ow!” Rubbing his bruised shoulder, Aaron stepped forward. “Uh, hi, Regina. How’s it going?”

Oh, I’m fine, Aaron. In fact, I’m just super!” She tilted her head to one side. “And how are you? And how’s your little girlfriend – what’s her name? Cassie?”

Cady.”

Whatever. Well, I hope the two of you are very happy together. A couple of losers like you deserve each other.”

Aaron gulped, averting his eyes.

Oh, Aaron,” laughed Regina. “You don’t think I’m upset just because we’re not a couple any more? That’s silly. I’m totally okay with that. After all,” she said, raising an eyebrow, “you’re not exactly in my league, now that I’m – well …”

She hooked her forefinger into the frame of the locker door and tore it off its hinges with a gentle tug; then she began crushing the door into a basketball-sized wad of metal as casually as if she were crumpling a page from a newspaper.

Here, catch!” she said, flipping it lightly toward Aaron. Without thinking, Aaron held out his hands and grabbed the metal ball. It fell to the linoleum floor with a crash, dragging Aaron down with it.

Aaron scrambled to his feet and began to run away down the corridor; but he hadn’t taken more than three strides before a red-and-gold blur overtook him and he found himself staring up at Regina once more. She rose a few more inches into the air and looked down at him with hauteur.

She laid a forefinger on Aaron’s chest. “But I am a teensy bit upset about one thing, Aaron,” she said. “All summer long I kept hearing that you’d dumped me. That you’d dumped me.” She emphasized each pronoun with a jab of her finger, pushing Aaron back two steps and nearly causing him to fall down. “Now how do you suppose that story got started … hmmm?”

I – I don’t know, Regina. It wasn’t me, I swear-”

Shut up, Aaron.” Regina grabbed Aaron’s shirtfront and lifted him effortlessly into the air, smirking as Aaron flailed about helplessly at the end of her outstretched arm.

Let’s get one thing straght, Aaron,” she said. Her voice was quiet, but she spoke with cold fury as she glided down the hallway with Aaron dangling from her fist. She stopped outside Mr. Greene’s classroom, holding Aaron above a plastic recycling bin.

Regina glanced over her shoulder. “Get out your camera phones,” she told Gretchen and Karen. “I want this recorded for posterity.”

She turned back to Aaron. “Listen carefully, Aaron. My boyfriends don’t dump me – I … dump … them!” And she released her grip on Aaron’s shirtfront, letting him fall into the bin.

The 8:00 bell rang. The few students who were still watching turned and hurried off to class. The three girls looked down disdainfully as Aaron clambered out of the bin and slipped into Mr. Greene’s room.

Good morning, girls. Shouldn’t you be in class?”

The girls turned around. A petite, thirtyish brunette was standing in the empty corridor, looking up at them through horn-rimmed glasses.

Oh – hello, Ms. Norbury,” said Regina casually. “We were just on our way. Don’t you have a class to teach?”

Not until ten o’clock,” Ms. Norbury replied. “I’ve been appointed assistant principal, so my course load has been reduced. Actually, I wanted to talk with the three of you. Now listen carefully. This is a public school, and you girls have the right to be here. But your super-powers do not confer any special privileges, or any exemption from our rules. We will not tolerate vandalism, or hazing, or bullying. Are we clear?”

Totally clear,” said Regina. She let out a tiny puff of super-chilled breath – just enough to make the lenses of Ms. Norbury’s glasses fog over.

Ms. Norbury blinked, then removed her glasses and put them in her jacket pocket.

Actually,” she said, “the glasses are just an accessory now.” She folded her arms and rose into the air until her eyes were level with Regina’s.

Now go to class,” she said. “I’m sure you don’t want to miss cheerleading practice on account of detention.”

Regina and Ms. Norbury appraised each other through narrowed eyes.

Yes, Ms. Norbury,” Regina said. The girls turned and glided down the corridor.

Dyke,” Regina muttered under her breath when they had turned a corner.

I heard that,” Ms. Norbury called after them.

PART IV

Rectangles of afternoon sunlight lay on the floor of the empty classroom as Jill Henderson made her final preparations for the opening day of the school year. Maps and posters were up on the bulletin board, the desks were arranged in neat rows, and the blackboard proclaimed “AP American History – Ms. Henderson” in Jill’s firm cursive.

Jill was sitting at her desk, entering names from her class rosters into her attendance book and savoring the anticipatory quiet of the classroom. As a student, and then as a teacher, she had always loved the excitement and promise of a new school year. Tomorrow morning the classroom would be full of students, chattering away about their summer vacations. One of them was bound to ask “And what did you do, Ms. Henderson?”

Oh, nothing much,” Jill would say. “I got some rest, spent some time with my folks in Massachusetts, and watched the Red Sox.”

She smiled quietly, imagining how she might reply. “Oh, nothing much. I gained super-powers, spent some time at a secret detention facility in Nevada – oh, and I’ve been dating Supergirl.”

A tap at the door roused her from her reverie. “Can we come in?”

Jill looked up. “Bobby!” she beamed. “And if it isn’t America’s super-sweetheart!”

Amber grinned as she and Bobby entered the classroom. “Stop it!” she said, blushing. Ever since she had been proclaimed “America’s Super-Sweetheart” on the cover of People magazine, everyone she knew had been teasing her mercilessly about it.

So,” said Jill, as her visitors sat down at two of the desks. “What brings the two of you here?”

Amber’s flying me and my stuff to Metropolis tomorrow,” said Bobby. “Freshman orientation at Metropolis University begins Thursday. We wanted to stop by and say hello.”

I’ve been spending a couple of days with Bobby and his parents,” said Amber, giving Bobby’s hand a squeeze. “And tomorrow night my family finally gets to meet him. We’ve got reservations at Marko’s – that’s my favorite restaurant. It’s got a great view of Metropolis Park, and you can see the LexCorp Tower and the Daily Planet building. And afterward I’m giving him a special aerial tour of the city.”

I’m sure he’ll enjoy that,” said Jill. “And what are your long-term plans? I heard about your problem with the admissions department at M.U. …”

Yeah, that sucked,” Amber admitted. “Daddy was furious. He was going to get a lawyer from the ACLU to sue the university, but I didn’t want to be in the middle of a high-profile lawsuit. I mean, can you imagine what the newspapers and cable networks would have done with a story like that?” She shuddered. “Besides, I’d been giving some thought to what you said, and … well, I’ve been accepted at that super-heroine academy. Classes start next week.”

Amber, that’s wonderful!” exclaimed Jill.

Well, the reason I wanted I wanted to go to med school was so that I could help people,” said Amber. “I figure I can do that by using my super-powers for rescue work and stuff like that. And the curriculum includes emergency medical procedures. So yeah, I’m pretty excited. You should apply, Ms. Henderson!”

Jill smiled. “Well, I’m not really the super-heroine type – despite what some people might have thought.” She lowered her glasses and frowned at Bobby with mock severity. “I mean, I’m always ready to put my powers to good use – discreetly – if the occasion arises. I just don’t see myself making a career out of it, that’s all.”

Then you should join the faculty! Did you know that Supergirl’s going to be teaching there – the original Supergirl? And Bobby’s always telling me what an awesome teacher you are. I feel kinda cheated that I never got to be one of your students.”

Jill was touched. “That’s sweet of you – but I doubt that the academy needs a history teacher.” And besides, she thought, I prefer to keep my professional life separate from my love life.

It must be kind of weird for your students and the other teachers here, though – knowing you’re a transformee. I mean, they must know, right? You passed out in the hallway outside your classroom right around the time all those other women were getting zapped-”

People pass out for all kinds of reasons, Amber. I passed out from overwork and an iron deficiency, which I now control with medication. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. And thanks to Laura Carter, all the databases on the transformees have been erased. So I might have a shot at keeping a low profile.”

Amber stood up. “Well, good luck with that, Ms. Henderson. And thanks for taking me under your wing back in the compound. You really helped me through a tough time.” Her eyes were glistening as she gave Jill a hug.

Bobby held out his hand. He still felt awkward in Jill’s presence. “Well, good-bye, Ms. Henderson,” he said. “Thanks for being such a great teacher and – uh, for being so understanding … “

Jill shook Bobby’s hand. “Good-bye, Bobby. I’m glad you dropped by. You certainly made my life more complicated, but – well, I wouldn’t go back to the way things were. So thank you.” She smiled. “Good luck at M.U. And don’t turn any other unsuspecting women into super-girls, okay?”

Oh, you don’t have to worry about that, Ms. Henderson,” giggled Amber. She wrapped her arms around Bobby and squeezed. “I’m all the super-woman he can handle – isn’t that right, sweetie?”

Right,” said Bobby, grinning. “Oh – I almost forgot.” He extracted a pair of tickets from his shirt pocket and handed them to Jill. “Amber and I got you a present – tickets for that exhibition game that Jennie Finch will be playing in New York next week. I figured you might enjoy seeing the Yankees get clobbered by a girl. And you can, um, bring a date.”

I wouldn’t miss that for anything,” said Jill. “Thank you!”

At that moment, the wail of sirens drifted through the open classroom window.

A grain silo’s on fire off I-28,” said Jill, gazing westward with an intent yet faraway look in her green eyes. She had already removed her glasses and was briskly unbuttoning her denim shirt. Within moments, she had tossed aside her everyday garb, revealing a sleeveless black leotard underneath.

I guess I can lend a discreet hand,” she said, tossing her outer garments into a drawer of her desk. “Coming, Amber?”

You bet!”

Bobby suddenly realized that he’d been staring openly at Jill’s costume change. Blushing, he turned toward Amber … and stood agape at what he beheld.

Amber had shed her light sundress and stood before him in an outfit that he’d never seen before – a snug blue halter top, emblazoned with Kara’s “S” shield … a pleated blue miniskirt … and a pair of red boots.

Amber grinned, seeing Bobby’s reaction. “I was planning to wear this outfit tomorrow night, for our tour of the city,” she said, “but I guess you get to see it early.” She stood on tiptoe and rose gently a foot or so into the air. She pirouetted gracefully, her long blonde hair twirling about her face, her short blue skirt twirling about her thighs. “So? What do you think?” She slid the palm of her hand along her bare midriff. “Tell me the truth,” she said, pouting theatrically. “Does this outfit make me look fat?”

Bobby’s mouth had become very dry and his tongue seemed to be stuck to his palate. “I … uh …” he managed to stutter.

Silly!” Amber leaned forward and laid the tip of a finger on Bobby’s nose. “Hold that thought, sweetie,” she said. “I’ll be back before you can say ‘Faster than a speeding bullet’!” She turned to Jill. “Let’s go!”

Jill and Amber leapt through the open window and flew off in a burst of super-speed. A few loose papers on Jill’s desk fluttered into the air and began drifting to the floor as Bobby let out a long breath and sat down slowly, a happy grin spreading across his face.

PART V

Janet Klyburn stood outside the bar, her head cocked to one side, listening intently to the heartbeats of the patrons inside.

What reached her ears was a disorganized cacophony, but she sorted and arranged the tempos, weaving them into a pattern, a slow, steady beat. It was early in the evening – a few traces of sunset still lingered over San Francisco Bay – and everyone inside seemed to be relaxed, at ease.

Perfect, she thought. Now let’s shake things up a bit.

She pushed open the door and walked inside, pausing to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear and take a long, slow look around the interior of the upscale tavern. A few heads turned casually in her direction, then more and more. Within moments, the din of conversation had ceased as every eye stared at the newcomer – a six-foot-two-inch Valkyrie in stiletto heels and a leather miniskirt, with a cascade of bright red hair that gleamed like burnished copper.

She closed her eyes, listening. She always loved this moment – it was like hearing a Mozart concerto shift into a major key. Heartbeats became quicker, stronger. Her nostrils inhaled the pheromones drifting toward her. Like a connoisseur tasting a fine wine, she noted the strong musk of desire, the tang of fear, and a piquant whiff of erotic jealousy from the female patrons.

Slowly, languorously, she strolled along the bar and slid onto an empty stool at the far end, next to a young man in a dark blue suit. She looked into his eyes and smiled.

May I sit here?”

Uh – sure!” The words came out as a squeak. He cleared his throat and spoke again, bringing his voice closer to the baritone range. “I’m Brad. Can I – buy you a drink?”

Brad.” She drew out the name, puckering her lips as she pronounced the b, flicking the tip of her tongue behind her perfect white teeth as she pronounced the d. “I’m Janet. Thank you.” She turned to the bartender and ordered an expensive cognac. Having inspected Brad’s wallet with her x-ray vision, she knew that the drink was going to put a considerable dent in his ready cash.

So … Brad … what do you do?” She lowered her eyelids as she took a sip of her cognac.

I’m, uh, I’m with a law firm. Maybe you’ve heard of it – Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe?”

How … interesting. Are you a partner?”

Um, not yet – but in a few months … “

Well – best of luck.” She raised her glass and touched it to his. She set down her drink and ran her forefinger lightly along the young man’s upper arm.

My,” she murmured. “You must work out.”

The young man blushed. “Well, some,” he stammered. His eyes ran hungrily along the sleek contours of her bare arms. “What about you? You look like you’re in pretty good shape.”

She threw her head back and laughed. “Me? No, I don’t really work out.” She moved closer, lowering her voice confidentially. “But I am pretty strong.”

Oh, yeah?” The squeak had returned.

She nodded. “Want to see?” Her voice was a throaty whisper; her breath was warm on his face.

Mutely, he nodded.

She stood up and reached underneath the young man’s seat, wrapping her fingers around its steel support. She could feel the metal crumple in her grip. She tugged gently. Bolts popped out of the floor-plate as she raised her arm in a smooth, swift motion, holding the stool and its terrified occupant over her head like an Olympic torch.

Silence had fallen over the room. Every eye was upon her; every mouth hung open. Hearts were beating in wild syncopation; the scent of arousal was a heady musk.

Casually, she set the stool down on the polished wooden counter. The young man swayed, nearly falling off; desperately, he grabbed the circumference of the seat with both hands to steady himself.

She drew a hundred-dollar bill from the pocket of her leather skirt and placed it on the counter. “That should cover the damage,” she informed the bartender, who nodded automatically.

She smiled up at the young man. “Thanks for the drink,” she said. “Give me a call when you make partner – we’ll celebrate.” And she turned and strolled back along the bar toward the door, basking in the awe-struck gaze of the customers like a diva basking in applause.

Outside the bar, she paused and smiled. There was no part of that that wasn’t fun, she thought.