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Kiraling – Part 06 (Chapter 14-18)

Written by anonxyzus :: [Wednesday, 26 March 2014 21:48] Last updated by :: [Thursday, 27 March 2014 10:36]

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Kiraling is set in a variation of Shadar’s Aurora Universe, and borrows characters created by Shadar.

Kiraling is a story of a wounded, and in some ways broken, human being who finds himself involved with three super women, and explores that relationship from his point of view.

Thanks to Shadar for his advice and counsel, and not a little bit of editing.

In these chapters a new character is introduced. To learn more about her see Shadar's story "Gloria".

 

Chapter 14

The next morning, at about 8:00, I was awoken by a persistent knocking on my door. I got up and threw on some shorts and my robe and went to the door and looked through the peephole. It was Xara. I opened the door and stepped aside so she could walk in. She said, “Good morning Joe.” Then she looked closer at me and said, “You don’t look so good. Is something wrong?”

I said, “Sharon showed up yesterday to take me out dancing and drinking and I’m a little hung over.”

“Did Sharon get you in bed?” she asked.

“What kind of question is that?” I said. And then, “No, she had her girlfriend with her. I’m pretty sure that will never happen with Deb around.”

Xara said, “No, probably not. And for your own safety don’t ever ask Deb to join you and Sharon in a threesome. The last guy who did that is still looking for his balls. And if you and Sharon ever do get it on don’t tell Deb, or you might be looking for yours.”

“Yeah,” I said, “that’s the impression I got.” Am I really taking sex advice from a teenager?

“So what are you doing here? Have another fight with your mom?” I asked her.

“Oh no, nothing like that,” she said, “It’s time for that surprise I told you about.”

“And what surprise would that be?” I asked.

“Well, if I tell you, it won’t be a surprise. Pack an overnight bag. We’re going on a trip. A plane is waiting for us at the airport.”

“Whoa,” I said, “I don’t get on airplanes. I don’t even like climbing ladders.”

“Mom said you’d say something like that,” she said, “that’s why I’m going to be on the flight with you. I can protect you from anything that can happen while you’re on the plane. You’ll be perfectly safe with me. Mom said to make sure you take your meds before we leave. Have you taken them today?”

“No Xara, I haven’t. And I really don’t want to go anywhere on an airplane. Can we drive?”

“There’s not enough time to drive Joe.” And then she walked up to me and put her arms around me and looked into my eyes. And I very faintly detected that odor, that honey and wild flowers scent, and she asked, “Joe, don’t you trust me?”

And you know what? Right then and there I knew that I could trust her, that I could get on that plane and as long as she was by my side nothing bad could happen to me. So I said, “I’ll take my pills and pack. I can be ready to go in 10 minutes.”

And I did. I took my pills, packed an overnight bag and we got into the car and drove to the Bellingham airport.

Just as we got to the airport the meds must have kicked in, because Dixon and Johnson, who had been uncharacteristically quiet all morning, disappeared. I parked the car and Xara and I walked through the terminal to our flight. We didn’t go through security, Xara said it was her mom’s private jet and we didn’t need to do that. We walked out onto the tarmac and approached the plane, and I stopped, and wondered what the hell I was doing. Xara asked, “What’s wrong Joe?”

I said, “This seems like a really bad idea to me now Xara.” She put her arms around me again, and then I smelled that scent, but instead of feeling like I could trust her my mind just seemed to stop working. I tried to talk but couldn’t. And then Xara just picked me up and carried me up the ladder and into the cabin, put me in a seat and fastened my seat belt.

She said, “Sorry Joe. I should have waited until we landed to tell you to take your pills.” And then she sat down next to me.

A short while after we were in the air my head cleared and the panic started to set in. It was bad, but not as bad as it would have been without my meds. I turned to Xara and asked, “What did you do to me?”

She said. “I forgot that my pheromones work differently when you are on your meds.”

“Will you please explain that to me?” Just then we hit a bit of turbulence and I nearly screamed.

She put her hand on mine and said, “Humanoids react to certain chemical signals that are delivered through pheromones, airborne chemicals that we can emit. I can make you desire me, fear me, or trust me depending on the mix of pheromones I use. Your meds must mix up the signals somehow. They seem to cause you to become mentally paralyzed by them.”

“That seems manipulative and dishonest,” I said.

“Oh Joe,” she replied, “I’d never use them to hurt you in any way. But I needed them to get you onto this plane. If you want I can use them again to zone you out. Would you like that?”

“No,” I said, “I think I’d rather be conscious and coherent.”

Chapter 15

After about two and a half hours the plane began its descent. I grabbed hold of the armrests and I must have looked pretty scared because Xara got out of her seat, kneeled down right in front of me and looked me in the eye and said, “Just look at me Joe. We’re going to be fine.” She reached out and pealed my hands off the arm rests and put them in hers. I squeezed them as hard as I could and she just smiled at me and said everything would be alright.

The plane landed, very softly. Nothing like I was used to in military transports. As we taxied towards a hanger Xara sat next to me again and said, “When we’re around other people, Joe, my name is Danni. Can you remember that?”

“Yes,” I said. “Why two names?”

“Xara is my Velorian name. Danni is my Terran name. Mom’s Terran name is Lisa. Lisa Banks.”

A light bulb went on. “Did your mom buy my parent’s house?” I asked her.

“Yep.” She said. “If you have questions about that you can ask her.”

The plane pulled into a large hanger and came to a stop. We waited a moment for the ladder to be put in place and Xara and I walked down it. We were met there by a yet another gorgeous blonde. Xara said, “Joe, this is Crystal, Crystal, this is Joe. Crystal will take care of you now Joe. I’ll see you a little later.” And she walked off.

Crystal said, “Nice to meet you Joe. Kara and Xara have told me a lot about you. I’m not sure which one is a bigger fan.”

That was flattering to hear. I asked her, “Can you tell me why I’m here, and where ‘here’ is?”

“You’re in California Joe, to meet with Kara. Now, come with me please.”

And she took my bag, led me to a Mercedes S-Class sedan (really nice car) and opened the rear passenger side door for me. She put my bag in the trunk, came around and got into the driver’s seat, started the car and we left.

As we left I saw we were at a small airport and Crystal said we were going to the Hyatt Hotel on Union square in San Francisco. Crystal told me that Lisa Banks was the head of a pharmaceutical company and that she was Ms. Banks personal assistant.

“Are you one of them?” I asked Crystal.

“A Velorian? No, I’m Terran, though I’ve been enhanced a bit.”

“Enhanced? What does that mean?”

“It means I’m stronger and tougher than most Terrans Joe, but not as strong or tough as Kara or Xara.”

“You called her Kara, but then called her Ms. Banks. When should I use Terran names or Velorian names.”

“Use Terran names when we are within earshot of other Terrans who don’t know who Kara really is. Use Velorian names when everyone is ‘in the know.’ I’ll try to help you with that, okay?”

“Okay.” I said.

When we got to the hotel we got out of the car and Crystal retrieved my bag from the trunk, then gave the keys to a valet. She led me into the hotel, past the front desk and to the elevators. We took the elevator to the 10th floor and got off. Crystal showed me to my room, which was an executive suite. A very nice executive suite.

“Here is the room key Joe. I’ve put out the clothes Kara wants you to wear on the bed. Be ready at 7. All the clothes and luggage you’ll find in the closet and drawers are yours. We’ll make sure it is all packed up for you by the time you leave tomorrow.”

And before I could ask any more questions she turned and left. I went into the bedroom and saw a suit, a very nice suit, laid out on the bed. The closet was filled with very nice clothes. Suits, shirts, casual clothes. There were several pairs of shoes on the floor. New underwear was in the drawers and in the bathroom I found a razor, shaving cream, and other toiletries.

I showered and shaved and then tried on some of the new clothes. Everything fit. Perfectly. I checked, none of the clothes had labels. I was dressed by 6:30 and sat down in the suite’s parlor and turned on the TV. I’ve heard people say that there is never anything on TV. Nonsense. With half a dozen ESPN channels you can always find Sports Center.

Chapter 16

At 7 pm, on the dot, there was a knock at the door. I opened it and there was Crystal, looking beautiful in an evening dress and heels, and right behind her Xara, looking even more beautiful in her evening dress. Xara came forward and slipped her arm around mine and said, “You’re looking very dapper this evening Joe. Time to go.”

“Okay,” I said as I walked out of the room and closed the door. “Where are we going?”

“Out for an evening of food, entertainment and dancing,” she said.

We went down the elevator out the front door where the Mercedes I’d ridden in earlier was waiting for us. Crystal opened a back door for me and I looked in and saw Kara in the middle and a very attractive women sitting to her left. I was surprised, not because the Velorians had another woman with them, I was getting used to that, but because this woman had black hair.

I slid into my seat and Kara turned to me and said, “It’s very nice to see you again Joe, have Crystal and Xara been taking good care of you?”

She called her daughter Xara, so the raven haired woman must be in the know.

“Yes,” I said, “They’ve taken great care of me. The room is wonderful and I assume I have you to thank for the clothes, is that right?”

“Yes Joe, and you’re welcome,” she said. And then, “I’d like you to meet Gloria. Gloria, like Crystal, works for me.”

Gloria and I leaned towards each other and over Kara a bit to shake hands. Her hair may have been black, but she had the same beautiful blue eyes that the Velorians have. Her handshake was warm and firm, but the skin was very smooth and soft. I asked her, “Gloria, are you a Velorian?”

She said, “No Joe,” in an accent very similar to Kara and Sharon’s but different too, “I’m an Arion.”

I sat back in my seat and looked at Kara. Crystal was watching me in the rear view mirror and Xara, who was in the front seat, was twisted around looking at me. I said to Kara, “The last Arion I met was trying to kill me, and you too. Has someone declared a truce?” I was really wishing Dixon and Johnson were there.

Kara smiled at me and said, “A truce would be nice Joe. But no. Gloria has defected from the Arion military and is now living on earth under my protection. I think Crystal told you I have a pharmaceutical company?” Crystal nodded. “Gloria is a medical consultant. She’s been trained as both a doctor and combat medic for Arion Betas and is an expert in human exo-biology.”

Exo what? I just stared blankly until Gloria said, “I can also treat Terrans.”

We arrived at the restaurant. Kara said, “For most of the rest of the evening, Joe, we are Lisa and Danni.”

“Okay,” I said. “And Gloria?”

“I’m always Gloria,” she said.

We were seated at our table and Kara Lisa said, “Danni tells me you had a visit from Sharon last night Joe. How did that go?”

“It was a little bit strange,” I answered. “Sharon seems to like me, but her girlfriend doesn’t seem to think much of me at all.”

Xara Danni said, “She doesn’t like men, period. I’d tell you not to take it personally, but since she does, you have to. Watch yourself around her.”

Lisa said, “I’m sure Sharon won’t let anything happen to Joe.” Then she turned to me and said, “But just in case, follow Danni’s advice.” And then they all laughed. I was the only one who didn’t get the joke.

We were eating in the fanciest restaurant I have ever been in. It was one of those places that serve a number of very small courses. I had enough to eat, barely, and I was wondering about Xara Danni. So I asked her, “Danni, did you get enough to eat?”

She gave me a very puzzled look and said, “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“The last time we had dinner together you polished off a whole pan of lasagna.”

And then they all laughed. I was starting to think I could go to Velor and make a pretty good living as a comedian.

“What’s so funny?”

“It’s a matter of metabolism Joe. We’ll explain it to you on our way to the club.” There is always a “later” with these women.

As we left the restaurant I was the last in line and watched them all walk out. It was more like gliding or floating. They seemed to move effortlessly and very femininely. If I hadn’t taken my meds that morning I’m pretty sure I would have been sporting quite a boner. As I looked around the restaurant I could see almost every male head turn to watch them leave. I saw a few wives or girlfriends express their disapproval.

When we got back into the car Gloria explained Velorian metabolism to me. She said that just as humans convert excess food to fat, and then use the fat as a source of caloric energy later, Velorians convert excess food to an energy source that is stored in their bodies. In the case of females, it is stored in their breasts.

“So that’s what Xara meant when she told me all that lasagna she ate went to her breasts.”

“Exactly,” said Gloria. “And the energy is stored very efficiently and very densely.”

“How densely?” I asked.

Xara said, “The last time I dove into the sun I came out three cup sizes larger than when I went in. I had to boil a good sized portion of the upper atmosphere of Jupiter before they shrank enough to fit my clothes.”

“You can dive into the sun?”

“It’s the best way for me to get a tan.”

No one laughed.

We got to the club and people were lined up around the block to get in. The ladies and I walked right up to the front of the line. The bouncers stepped aside to let the ladies in, and then closed ranks to block my path. The biggest one said, “Get lost freak.”

“Freak”. I’ve heard that before. And then I remembered being called “Toad boy” the night before. If I hadn’t been under the influence of some of the best anti-psychotic drugs the Army can buy I probably would have demonstrated the hand to hand combat skills that helped get me nominated for a Silver Star. And then, since there were three of them, and they were all big, I probably would have gotten the shit kicked out of me. But I was on the drugs and while I was still contemplating knocking the guys front teeth out Xara Danni (damn, why is so hard to keep the names straight?) pushed her way through them, took me by the hand, and told the bouncers, “He’s with us. If he leaves, we leave.” And then she glared at them and they stepped aside and let me in.

We walked through the door and I was assaulted by very loud music. People were dancing on the floor which was surrounded by tables and booths. They had a DJ playing the music. There was a very large bar and waiters and waitresses were going back and forth between it and the tables and booths.

Everyone in the place was dressed to the nines. And they were all what I’d call “beautiful people.” Imagine what a Ken and Barbie convention would look like. With Xara Danni as Skipper. Or a party for the casts of all the CW shows. And here I was, with the face that sank a thousand ships. I was starting to feel self conscious.

Danni led me to a booth (I got the name right!) where the other ladies were. Someone had ordered drinks and I wondered how Danni got away with being in here. Then I looked at her, in her beautiful dress, with a pearl necklace, and realized that she easily looked like a 21 year old.

We sat down and I asked, “Your mother lets you drink?”

Lisa answered for her (these women have really good hearing) saying, “Alcohol doesn’t affect us. She’ll be fine.” And then Danni showed me her very convincing fake ID.

One by one, I went out onto the dance floor with each of the ladies. Like Sharon the night before, they matched my moves and steps perfectly, almost like they knew what I was going to do before I did it. It struck me as funny at the time, and then not so funny as the events of the evening unfolded, that when I danced with Gloria I got the impression that I was the girl.

We’d been ordering drinks between dances, and at one point it had been awhile since we’d seen a waitress, so I volunteered to go the bar. I gave the bartender our order and he said someone would bring it to our table in a few minutes. I started to head back to the table when two guys blocked my path. One was wearing a tag that said “assistant manager” and the other was obviously a bouncer. The manager asked me, “How did you get in here?”

I said, “I walked in through the front door, like everyone else.”

He said, “I’m sorry sir, I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave.”

I’d been insulted once last night and now twice tonight and I was just so fucking tired of it. And my meds were starting to wear off. I wasn’t seeing Dixon and Johnson yet but I could feel my temper rising and my control dropping. I didn’t want a fight, so I said, “If you’re sorry and afraid, just don’t ask me to do anything,” and I turned to walk around him to get back to the table.

I’d only taken one step when the bouncer grabbed me by the arm and said, “You’re leaving asshole. You can leave on your own or I can mess up your face more than it already is and throw you out.”

Outside there were three bouncers. Here inside it was just the assistant manager and one bouncer. The manager didn’t look like the type who liked to get his hands dirty so this would be one on one and I really liked those odds. Still, I didn’t want to spoil the evening by getting blood on the new clothes Kara bought me, so I tried to lighten things up a little. I said, “You can try. But I have to warn you that anything you do to my face will only improve it.” I thought that was pretty funny. He didn’t. He pushed me. I pushed back.

Suddenly Gloria was there. Imagine a beautiful super model with the fitness, attitude and athleticism of Venus Williams, only much more so, especially with the attitude, and you’ll have an idea of the impression she made. She grabbed the bouncer by the arm he had on me and must have squeezed pretty hard because he let go. Then she grabbed the manager by his upper arm and pulled them both towards her. The bouncer started trying to pull his arm away from her. I must have assessed the manager pretty well, because he was whimpering.

The music kept playing, but everyone in the place stopped dancing and talking and turned to see what was happening. I heard of couple of gasps from the table nearest us, and when I looked up at Gloria’s eyes I understood. She looked dangerous. Dangerous and frightening.

Gloria looked directly into the manager’s eyes and said, “This gentleman is my guest. Why are you letting this man”, and she turned to look at the bouncer, “put his hands on him so rudely?”

The bouncer was trying to peal Gloria’s hand off his arm, to no avail, and his face was turning red, I think from pain.

The manager didn’t answer, and Gloria pulled him closer and said, “Answer me little man or I will break your arm.” She must have squeezed his arm harder because I saw his knees buckle, but he didn’t go down. Gloria was holding him up.

The manager whimpered again and sputtered out, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t know he was with you. He can stay. He can stay. Please don’t hurt me!”

This satisfied Gloria and she released him saying, “We’re at that table over there. Put all our drinks on your tab.” And with that the assistant manager scurried away like a frightened little rabbit.

Then she pulled the bouncer closer to her and said, “Apologize to my friend little scummy thing, now, before I break your frail little arm.” This guy must have been really stupid. Instead of apologizing he grabbed Gloria’s arm with his free hand and started to squeeze so hard I could see his tendons standing out. Gloria just laughed and then I heard a snap and the bouncer screamed in pain. She’d broken his arm.

Gloria looked at me and said, “I didn’t hear him apologize. Did you?”

I said, “Nope. Maybe if you let up on him a little?”

“Do you think so?” She asked with a smile. She was obviously toying with him, and enjoying it immensely.

I said, “Yes, I do.”

She loosened her grip and he said, “I’m sorry. I apologize. It won’t happen again.”

She said, “See to it that it doesn’t. If you ever lay a hand on my friend again it will please me to break every bone in your body, slowly, one at time.”

And then she released him. In his hurry to get away from her he almost slipped and fell in a puddle of his own urine.

I almost felt sorry for the poor S.O.B. Almost. But not quite. On the one hand, he clearly had no idea what he was dealing with. On the other hand I was really getting tired of taking shit from assholes like him.

I looked at Gloria and saw the same smile on her face as the one that was on that first Arion who came at me in the cave, and a chill ran up my back. This woman scared the shit out of me and I decided I never wanted to be on her bad side.

And then an amazing thing happened. The place erupted in applause. People got up and gave Gloria an ovation! She responded by putting an arm around me, dipping me down towards the floor and giving me a kiss. A really, really, good kiss. When we came up for air she shouted, “Everybody dance!” And nearly everyone went out on the floor and started dancing! After dancing with me we made our way back to our booth.

Gloria was all smiles as she sat down and asked Kara, “Did I do that right boss?”

Kara smiled back at her and said, “I don’t think you needed to break his arm. The manager was the real problem, not the bouncer. Next time let’s tone it down. Just a bit.” Then Kara turned to me and said, “Subtlety is not the Arions strong suit.”

Crystal was smiling and looking at me, and I looked back at her and said, “What?”

She said, “According to Kara you’re a decorated infantryman who has distinguished himself in battle. How do you feel about having a woman come to your rescue?”

“Is there a point you’re trying to make?” I asked her.

“Well, in my experience tough men like you think that having a woman fight your battles for you is … how do I put this … emasculating.”

“Indulging in a bit of stereotyping Crystal?” I asked.

Gloria chimed in with, “Why would he feel belittled? I’m bigger and stronger than he is and there were two of them acting like a couple of Arion Marines!” (I found out later that Gloria equates bullies with Arion Marines, and for reasons she didn’t explain to me at the time, she strongly dislikes Arion Marines and anyone who reminds her of them.)

I said, “Let me tell you a story. Early in my deployment to Afghanistan a Marine patrol made contact with the Taliban and engaged them. A number of them were wounded and a helicopter was sent to bring them out. On board were two Navy Corpsman, both of them women. They got the wounded loaded up and started back to base. About half way there the helicopter came under fire from small arms and RPGs and had to make a crash landing on a hill top. The pilot and the copilot were injured and they came under attack by the Taliban, and radioed for help.

“My platoon was ordered to rescue them. So here is the situation. The helicopter was disabled, it wouldn’t fly. All the men on board were wounded or injured. Only the two Corpsman were uninjured and capable of fighting.

“It took us an hour to get to the bottom of that hill. The Taliban were trying to flank the helicopter and we held them off while advancing to the top. Gunships were called in to take the pressure off the marines in the downed helicopter.

“When we got to the top of the hill we saw the two Corpsman, women mind you, calling out targets and engaging the enemy with rifles and grenades. Those marines were under their care and they weren’t going to abandon them. When the enemy sighted our platoon they withdrew. We counted six Taliban that were killed by small arms fire from the top of that hill. Every single marine that was on that helicopter made it out of there that day. Do you think that any of them were bothered by the fact that two women were doing all the fighting? After I saw what they did I told them that I’d trust them to have my six anytime.”

Gloria asked, “What is a six?”

Kara explained that it referred to six o’clock on a Terran timepiece, and that it meant the rear or the back. Gloria looked at my wrist watch, furrowed her brow and said, “I don’t understand. Where is the six?”

Kara said, “It’s the bottom number on an analog clock. Joe’s watch is digital.” Gloria seemed to be satisfied with that.

Crystal said, “I’m impressed Joe. You’re a feminist.”

I laughed and said, “I wouldn’t go that far. But the army has taught me that any problem can be solved with the proper application of superior fire power and overwhelming force. I think that describes Gloria very well.”

Gloria beamed.

A bit later one of the other patrons told me that the only thing wrong with this club was the attitude of that assistant manager and his willingness to sic bouncers on people for almost no reason at all. He said most of the regulars had been waiting a long time to see someone stand up to him. They just never expected that a hot woman like Gloria would be the one to do it.

All night long men came to our booth to ask the ladies to dance, and they did. Sometimes Gloria went out to find her own partners. I don’t think anyone was brave enough to say no to her after she demonstrated that she was not one to be trifled with. I didn’t ask any other women to dance with me. Partly because I was a little tired of rejection, partly because I was already sitting with and dancing with the most beautiful women I’d ever seen in my life, and partly because I was afraid of what Gloria might do to anyone who said “no” to me.

A number of men tried to pick the ladies up, and were all politely turned down. The last one who tried came to the booth while I was there with Danni and asked her if she’d like to leave with him. She scooted right up next to me, put her arm around me, and said, “I’m going home with this stud.” And then she turned and kissed me, passionately, on the lips. The guy just shook his head and walked away. And then Danni and I broke out laughing.

Chapter 17

On the way back to the hotel Gloria sat in the front seat and Xara and Kara flanked me in the back. My meds were starting to wear off and every now and then I’d get a glimpse of Dixon or Johnson.

I wanted to tell the ladies how much this night meant to me, but I couldn’t find the words. With Xara snuggling up to me on one side, and Kara holding my hand on the other, for the first time in a long time I didn’t feel like a “freak”, as that bouncer put it. I felt like a man. I felt like a MAN!

It had been a very long day for me, and I fell asleep on the ride back to the hotel. There was something about being in that car with those women that was just so … soothing is the best word I can find. Like all my cares just melted away.

I woke up when we got back to the hotel and we all piled out of the car. Dixon and Johnson were standing there with goofy grins on their faces. Gloria took a black case out of the truck and then Crystal gave the keys to the Valet and we all went up to my suite.

I didn’t know what to expect, and I had to work hard to keep from laughing as Dixon and Johnson were looking the women up and down and speculating as to what they thought would happen. What happened was totally unexpected by all three of us.

We walked into the suite and Kara turned to me and said, “Joe, we need you to strip down to your boxers and,” – at this point all three of us, Dixon, Johnson and I leaned in to hear what was next – “Gloria is going to give you a medical exam.”

I said, “What!?” Dixon said something along the lines of getting to play doctor with four nasty nurses. Johnson thought that was a pretty good idea.

Kara said, “We have a very special bond with you Joe, and we want to understand all your medical issues. There may be a way we can help.”

I said, “Kara, I can get a copy of my records for you. You don’t need to examine me here.”

She said, “I’ve seen your records Joe. I want you looked over by a physician that I trust.”

I didn’t like this. I didn’t like it one bit and Dixon and Johnson were telling me I should tell them all to fuck off. And I was going to. But then Xara put her arms around me and said, “It’ll be alright Joe. You can trust us. It’ll be a quick exam, you’ll see.” And while she was saying this I caught that scent again, and suddenly all my objections just melted away, and it did seem like this was the right thing to do. I looked at Dixon and Johnson and they were nodding their heads and saying I should let Gloria examine me.

Since we were all three in agreement I nodded my head and said, “Okay. In here or in the bedroom?”

Gloria said, “In here is fine.”

I started to undress, and then stopped and said, “I feel a little self conscious.”

Xara said, “You’ve seen us naked. Don’t worry. No one is going to judge you.”

So I finished undressing, down to my boxers. Crystal and Gloria gasped and their jaws practically hit the floor, and I think I started to blush.

Gloria said, “Kara and Xara told me what has happened to you, but I had no idea of the extent of your injuries.”

Xara came up beside me and started rubbing her hand up and down my back; I think to help keep me calm. It worked. All four of the ladies walked around me and looked me up and down, and Crystal started to cry. Kara began touching my scars, one at a time, and asked me to tell her how I got them.

So I told them. I told them about the firefights. I told them about the IEDs. I told them about the surgeries. I told them about that day in Afghanistan when Dixon and Johnson’s squads were cut off and how I led my squad in two attempts to try to reach them. I told them how we saw the Taliban dragging the bodies of our soldiers away, and how we made a third attempt and finally broke through. I told them how I got two knife wounds in hand to hand fighting before we recovered all our fallen. I looked at Dixon and Johnson and told them how sorry I was that I didn’t get there in time to save their lives and begged them for forgiveness. Then I collapsed onto the couch, sobbing.

Xara asked, “Who are you talking to Joe?”

Kara said, “Not now Xara.”

Kara knelt down in front of me and took my face in her hands and said, “Here is my Kiraling. My brave and honorable Terran who gave everything he had on the field of battle trying to save his friends, and then, with all his wounds and scars, somehow found the strength and courage to fight for us, to save me and my daughter.”

And then she said something in a language I didn’t understand and all of us, including Dixon and Johnson, were crying.

After a bit we all recovered, and Gloria started examining me. She used small electronic instruments that I’d never seen before. They reminded me of the Star Trek reruns, the ones where Dr. McCoy used instruments that looked like salt and pepper shakers. Except these didn’t look that cheesy.

Gloria asked me if I’d brought my meds with me. I said no. Kara asked Xara to get them. My suite had a small balcony. Xara opened the doors and stepped out and then floated up into the air and out of sight.

Half an hour later Gloria was finished with my exam and Xara returned with my meds. She was wearing her flight suit. I asked her about her evening dress and pearls. She said they didn’t make it to the Oregon border.

Gloria brought me some water and I took my pills, and then Kara told me that Crystal would stay in the suite over night and take me back to the airport in the morning.

Kara opened her handbag and pulled out a watch. She gave it to me and said she’d like me to have it, and wear it, as a token of our friendship. I thanked her and took off my watch and put it on. I told her I liked it very much, and she kissed me on the cheek.

And then Kara, Gloria and Xara left. Kara and Gloria through the door, and Xara off the balcony. As Gloria was walking out the door she turned and said, “I would be proud to have you on my six anytime Joseph.”

I was totally drained and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up, took my meds, and stepped into the shower. When I came out all the clothes Kara had bought me were packed in the luggage she bought for me and fresh jeans, a shirt and a jacket were laid out on the bed. I dressed and then stepped into the parlor. Crystal had ordered room service and we sat down to eat breakfast.

I tried to apologize for my behavior the night before but she shushed me and said, “You have nothing to apologize for. After all you have been through it’s a wonder you can function at all.”

Yeah, I thought. If you call this functioning.

After breakfast she drove me back to the hanger and supervised the flight crew who loaded my luggage onto the plane. I stood there looking at the plane wondering how I was going to get up that ladder when Xara appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. She smiled brightly at me and said, “Xara’s Escort Service, ready to go for a ride when you are Joe!” (No, she really didn’t think about that before she said it.)

“Do you need some help getting up the stairs?”

“Let’s see if I can do it on my own.” And I did.

Chapter 18

After we were in the air and I was settled down about as much as I could in an airplane that wasn’t on the ground Xara turned to me and asked, “Can we talk?”

Of course, given that I had never heard a woman say that when everything was going well I was immediately on the defensive. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that kind of talk.

“Mom is very distressed by your wounds Joe. So am I. But mom worries about you a lot.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“She’s seen your medical records. She won’t tell me everything that is in them but something in them concerns her. A lot.”

Well, you know, my medical condition concerns me a lot too. But it doesn’t do me any good to worry or dwell it. And when I do get too introspective and start to feel sorry for myself I can always count on Dixon and Johnson to buck me up.

“Xara, you can tell her that I said she shouldn’t worry about me. The Army is doing a pretty good job of taking care of me and I’m going to be alright.”

“There’s something else Joe. I hear her cry in bed every night. She misses Eric.”

“Do you miss him Xara?”

“I do.”

“Were you and Eric close?”

“In some ways we were. But in other ways, no. I spent a lot of time trying to push him away and making life hard for him.”

Well, this intrigued me. I can imagine someone like Xara could make anyone’s life difficult. So I probed a little.

“How did you make life hard for him Xara?”

“I challenged his authority. On almost everything, even when I knew he was right. I used my pheromones to make him uncomfortable. I tried to make him feel inferior.”

Her eyes were starting to well up now.

“I’d push and push and push, until he lost his temper, then I’d tell him he was too weak to do anything about it.”

“That must have upset him Xara. Did you really dislike him that much?”

“Sometimes yes, but other times no. There were times when mom and I would get into it pretty heavy and if he agreed with me he’d take my side against her. He’s the only person I’ve ever known who could get away with that. He was tactful; he’d wait until he could speak to mom when he thought they were alone, but I could hear any conversation that went on in the house.”

Now tears were running down her face.

“When the Arions were torturing him he begged me and mom for help, but there was nothing we could do. I was so mean to him so many times and I am so sorry for the way I treated him and I’m so sorry I couldn’t help him but I can’t tell him that now. I would do anything if I could go back and trade places with him.”

Now she was sobbing. I didn’t know what to say, what to tell her that would make her feel better, so I just listened to her and let her cry. Then, trembling, she asked me, “Do you think I’m a horrible person?”

My heart went out to her. She was in so much pain, and in a lot of ways I knew what that pain felt like. I said, “No, I don’t think you’re a horrible person. The conflicts you had with your step dad sound pretty normal to me. You just had a few advantages over him that most teenagers don’t have.

“I used to get into it with my parents too. Oh, you should have been there when I told them I was joining the army instead of going to college. Did you know that I was a miracle child?”

This made her raise her eyebrows.

“I was born knowing everything.”

That made her laugh. I think she could identify with that. “I think that my parents always knew that I loved them. I bet Eric knew that you loved him too.”

“I hope so,” she said. She didn’t sound very convinced. I thought to myself that she was suffering from survival guilt. I wondered if Kara did too. That would be something all three of us had in common.

Eventually the plane landed in Bellingham. We got off the plane and Xara and the flight crew helped me load my new clothes and luggage into the Prius. Then Xara hugged me and said goodbye and I drove back to the cabin.

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