I still didn't get much sleep. Breakfast was a little somber until Ray and Tina showed up. I was still feeling guilty for being an ass to my best friend. I sent her a text, apologizing. I'm a coward when it comes to things like that, sue me. With my new office came a new laptop that I downloaded upcoming mission briefs upon. I couldn't really do much about them right now, but if we could come across more possible 'volunteers' I'd much rather bring them in early than wait on the off chance that whomever was on the receiving end of Shanahan's good graces at the time she decided to go traitor.
Deciding on civilian clothes was probably the easiest decision I had to make today. It was Phoenix in the summer, so shorts, a lightweight tee, and sandals were easy enough and fairly practical. It made me feel like a little girl standing next to Ray, but I had a feeling he liked the way I looked in white linen shorts that hugged every curve of my butt. He tried to talk me into a tiny shirt that barely covered my breasts, and left about a mile of midriff showing, but even I was a tiny bit modest with my new body. What was even worse was when Tina suggested swimsuits for the role, more specifically me in a bikini. No thanks. But I might be able to be talked into a private showing with Ray.
I rolled my eyes as I stared at the laptop screen while Ray and Tina were going over the specifics of the plan I had drawn up. If Ray and I were going to be a thing for the foreseeable future then I had some decisions to make. The heat between us was obvious, and from the scene in the workout room the other day was any indication, then I was going to be losing my virginity and it wasn't going to be next year sometime.
I know how boys bodies work. From the way watches me all the time, I know he's masturbating. Hell, I did it two or three times a day when I was a guy. Clean living you know. Being a girl eased that tension off a bit. As long as I was distracted with work or dealing with a crisis then I wasn't antsy. At night in bed, was a different story. The new body had a sex drive attached to it. Maybe it was the old one asserting itself into the new female mindset, but it was definitely there. So, sex was a foregone conclusion.
Looking at it from the female perspective it was also daunting. I'd heard stories, and did my research on the internet about how things worked on a woman's body. I wanted to be a good lover as a male. I didn't want to flub my first time being an idiot and I definitely didn't want to hear, 'that's not it' coming out of a girl's mouth when I did my thing.
I knew what a hymen was. What I didn't know was whether mine was intact. If it wasn't then I needed it to go away. I wanted to enjoy my first time, and not have pain or blood associated with it. The guy has enough to worry about without that being involved. Christ! I'm talking about getting laid as a girl!
Forget it, be practical, Kristyn. You know it's going to happen. Deal with it and move on. What was another problem that girls had? Pregnancy. Right. No freaking way in hell was that going to happen. The pill. I needed to talk with Doctor Handsafreezin about getting on the pill, how long before it takes effect, how good does it work, the works. Then maybe some condoms as well, just to be on the safe side.
The word abortion was never in my vocabulary. Right to choose, sure, but since I was a guy it just never came up. I didn't have to worry about choosing. That's why I had a semi-unopened box of condoms in my nightstand back home. At my old home I mean. I'd opened one up to make sure it wasn't all gross and that I had the right size, and knew how to put it on. But they had sat there for six months, unused. What a waste.
If I had a chance I'd get some on this trip. Plan ahead, Boy Scout motto. I wonder if Girl Scouts bought condoms. Probably. I wondered if there was a Girl Scout costume I could wear for Ray. Never mind. Lets not get sidetracked. I think first and foremost… there's that word again… I need to see if I was going to barf at the first sign of his penis. That would probably be a major turnoff. It made the thought of foreplay something altogether different from my perspective as well. Whether a guy or a girl, I wanted to be an attentive lover, and that meant doing things… things that… I think I'm getting air sick.
Closing my laptop was about all I could accomplish before making a dash for the tiny restroom in the back of the plane.
There I stood, looking down into the blue stuff they put in airplane toilets instead of real water. My stomach was rolling, but steady enough not to waste a decent breakfast that morning. Okay, this was going to be more of a problem than I thought. Just get the picture of generic penis' out of your mind. Think about Ray.
A soft knock sounded at the door. "Kris, are you okay." Great, just great.
I opened the door and pulled Ray inside the cramped space along with me. There was barely room for one person much less two, so I scooted my butt up on the counter and had him stand between my legs. Well there's a picture. "We're gonna have sex, Ray."
"Right now?" He sounded a bit on the nervous side until I smacked him on the shoulder.
"No. I mean in the future sometime."
His happy face told me that he was happy. "Uh, sure. I kind of… well."
"Yes, Ray, you play a large role in my fantasies as well."
He tried avoiding my eyes, but, again, tiny restroom. Not much to look at. "So… you have a plan or something?"
"Or something. I have a problem."
I looked down at his chest and the tight t-shirt he had chosen. My hand ran down the length of it over his firm torso. "I don't want our first time to be, weird." He was about to say something, but I cut him off. "I'm a virgin, obviously. I was as a guy as well. And I'm attracted to girls."
He was considering my words.
"I was sitting out there trying to imagine… foreplay. If I could do it right for you."
"Kris, you don't…
"Shh, I'm talking. Yes I do. If we're going to make it as a couple then I need to know if I can."
He was looking at me really strange. "Right now?"
I smacked him again. "No, not right now, but maybe when we get back. I don't want to be in the middle of a romantic evening with you and then go down on you and wind up yakking, because I couldn't handle it."
"Ah." Light dawns on boyfriend's brain. "Yeah I can see where that may be a problem." He considered me again. "Do you feel weird when we kiss?"
I shook my head. "I know I should, because hello, guy. But kissing you has always been very natural."
"For me too. And I'm still attracted to guys, by the way."
"Who wouldn't be."
"Do you think that you could go down on a girl?"
He shrugged along with an unknowing face. "I haven't really thought about it. The other day just runs through my head over and over when I…"
I saw where he was going. "It's okay Ray, everybody masturbates."
His face plumed a brilliant scarlet color, so I pulled him to me for a hug. Conveniently, I wrapped my legs around him and turned my face into his neck. There was something about him. He didn't smell like a guy, or at least what I remembered smelling like myself. I didn't really go around sniffing other guys, If I did then this whole thing would be a moot point.
He pulled back, but not from my legs. I kept him nice and trapped. "What I meant to say was that I never really got around to that point. We are always against the wall… just with less clothes."
I nodded in understanding. I tried not to embarrass him by grinning evilly. "I want to try something if you're willing."
"I'm always willing."
It was time for my grin. "Then when you kiss me in about ten seconds I want you to really get into it and then think about going down on me. I'm going to be doing the same about you. We can see if…"
"You said ten seconds. Times up."
It didn't take ten more seconds to feel like I was going to lose myself to him. So much so that I completely forgot what I was supposed to be thinking about when he backed off. "I'm cool with it," he said confidently.
"I got sidetracked. Can we do that again?" He chuckled and then leaned back into me for another try. God this boy can kiss. My legs tightened around his waist. This time I did think about it, and I think it was all in my mind. He didn't repulse me. Nothing about Ray repulsed me.
My breathing increased and I noticed the warning signs of going to far, so I pulled out of the kiss this time, and loosened my legs. "Okay, I think we're going to be alright." His eyes were glassy and I knew I had pushed him a little bit too far. In fact I could still feel it brushing up against me, how far I pushed him. "As soon as we get back, I'm going on the pill."
"You still won't be ready until after your first cycle."
Ray nodded. "You're already on your, what is it sixth day, seventh day?"
Then a little birdie whispered in my ear. "OH!"
"You said her visions are a hundred percent right?"
Ray nodded. "Yeah."
"She said I have my… cycle this month."
He blinked a couple of times in response to that news. "So there's no way for you to get pregnant, is there."
My grin stretched from ear to ear. "Nope."
"So that means…"
"Yep. Although I do want to see the doctor about a few things. Just to make sure, but I wouldn't see any reason why we couldn't plan on another dinner this week, only with no walk, and possibly you spending the night in my room."
His grin slipped to the side. "Think we could skip dinner too?"
I kissed him. "You're going to need the energy, Ray."
Tina looked like the cat that ate the canary when we came out of the restroom together. "So, new additions to the Mile High Club?"
My mouth worked just a little too fast. "We did not just have sex."
"Uh huh." She didn't even bother looking at us and kept reading her magazine.
"Really, look!" I pointed at Ray's tented shorts. Of course right when I point it out Ray chose that time to dive for a chair. "Ray, you've got nothing to be embarrassed about. Believe me." He was staring daggers at me. "We were just having a private conversation, about sex, Tina."
She nodded, again not looking. "Just as long as we can bring Dani next time then I won't tell a soul."
The pilot chose that time to warn us about strapping in for final approach. I let the subject drop. My reputation had just taken a dive. Yet another thing to be wary about being a girl. Getting laid was great for Ray, bad for me.
I don't know who the driver was. Maybe someone from Homeland Security that was in the know. This made me wonder exactly how big the Center was if they had people positioned in major cities or if the drivers were flown out to destinations ahead of time. If the former was the case, then why did the goon that initially picked me up come back with us on the jet? Don't worry about it Kristyn. Concentrate on what's going on now.
If Michael Hick's information was correct, which always seemed to be the case with Mrs. Stapleton's background checks, his father and sister would head off to work at six and seven, respectively. Then he would leave from his house at seven-thirty, stop by the local convenience store for an energy drink and then head off to the pool, two blocks away, for his morning swim. I chose the convenience store for the initial introductions. Ray would wait in the SUV, and Tina and I would work our magic… hopefully.
Coincidentally, the store had two benches set up outside the front door. I suppose they were there for the people that were dying from heat frustration to take a break, or maybe pass out, in the shade. Egads, it was hot! Freaking seven-thirty in the morning and it had to be pushing ninety degrees already!
"It's a dry heat. At least you're not sweating everywhere," Tina commented.
I had my arms dangling to my sides, not taking any chances. "Yeah, but we're trading sweat for feeling like we're inside of convection oven. Don't they have wind here in Arizona? What's up with that? Shouldn't there be tumbleweeds blowing in the streets?"
She giggled. "That's a misconception. Do you expect everyone in Texas to wear ten gallon hats, or people from Australia to have a kangaroo following them around?"
I shrugged. "Well… yeah."
"You're such a goober sometimes, Kris."
"Bleh… I should have wore the crop top Ray was suggesting."
"Hey, there he… Oh, I mean 'she' is." Tina pointed with her finger so only I could see. "She's presenting as a girl while her family's gone for the day."
Sure enough a very cute girl wearing very short shorts and a baggy feminine t-shirt with two lumps that looked suspiciously like breasts underneath, was walking toward the store. She had a beach towel around her neck and feminine style sandals on her feet. I wouldn't have noticed her, but the face and hair color were definitely the same as the picture we had in our package. The one thing that was different was that she had her hair in a high ponytail. I presumed her swimsuit was underneath her clothes and that it most likely would be a one piece, considering that those breasts had to be fake.
We all smiled, and said hi to each other as she entered the store. Tina and I waited out front for her to get her drink.
When she came back out, Tina was the first to say something. "Excuse me?"
Michael turned and started to look nervous, so Tina immediately tried to put her at ease. "We're new here in town and I was wondering if you might be able to answer a couple of questions?"
His/her, sorry, if I don't know her girl name, it sounds wrong to call Michael a her. Anyway, her body language relaxed and she nodded.
"I'm Tina and this is Kristyn."
"I'm Elizabeth, you can call me Liz."
Thank you! A name! She moved over to the other bench that was closest to me so Tina had to lean forward to see her properly. Her mannerisms were very female, and just like Tina I would have never pegged her as a boy. "So, where are y'all from?"
I took the conversation from there. "We move around a lot."
"Oh, are you sisters?'
I looked at Tina and we both laughed. "In a way, but not by blood"
This seemed to interest Liz and her, shapely but not quite feminine, brow crinkled in confusion. "How's that work."
I shrugged a little. "We both had very similar experiences happen in our lives and… well, it's a kind of bond we share now."
Tina threw in, "Plus, Kris has a superiority complex, and has to have everything neat and orderly."
I tossed a look at Tina. "I do not. I just like things the way I like them."
Liz giggled. "Definitely sisters." After a second and my disgruntled leer at Tina she came to the point. "So are you all looking for something, someplace, or someone."
Straight to the point. I guess she really likes her morning swim.
"Well, we found the someone we were looking for. It's you."
At Liz's fearful look, Tina smacked me on the shoulder. "We're not here to out you sweetie, we're here to help."
Liz uncrossed her legs, and prepared to make a break for it. "Wh…what do you mean?"
Tina tried to look as soothing as she could. "I'm like you. We both are really."
Liz's eyes widened considerably as she looked us over, our hands, feet, throats, and faces. "No way," she said in an almost unbelieving voice. Then her face turned hard. "Did my sister put you up to this?" She looked around. "Where is she?"
"As far as I know, she's at work," I said. "And we are not here to embarrass you. Tina was right. We're here to help you. We know about your 'accidental' fall down the stairs." I threw air quotes up for that one. "We also know that your father had things done to you, which was a mistake."
"Kris, she's getting really agitated. Let me…"
It didn't really take an Empath to figure that one out. Liz had gone all jittery. I held up a halting hand to Tina. "Liz, this time last week, I was a guy."
It stopped her; shocked her. "But… you look so good. SRS isn't… I mean shouldn't you be in bed after the operation?"
I tried to look relaxed and non-threatening. "It wasn't an operation that made me who I am today."
The conversation came to a halt as she popped the top on her energy drink and took a big gulp. Before she started throwing questions at me I started in on my speech.
"Sixteen years ago, before you were born, there was an a problem at a genetics lab, long story short, a bottled water company's water source was contaminated, and they didn't notice for quite a while. Our mothers," I pointed at all of us. "All of our mothers, drank this contaminated water that they thought was completely safe."
The hand she was holding her drink in began to shake. Liz noticed and covered it with her other hand.
"The result was all of us being born intersexed. The boys were born with additional ovaries, and the girl with hidden testicles. Barring doctors actually going in and looking, or an MRI, or something like that, none of us knew that anything was different."
"Are you bullshitting me? Is this some kind of joke?"
I shook my head. Tina added something else. "Liz, I'm a boy underneath these clothes. Kris is a girl, but started off life as something different, like you. So you see, we are sisters in a way."
She still seemed resistant. "Why should I believe either of you? I don't know you."
"Because I can prove it to you, right here and right now." It was time to go for the weird stuff. "The problem with our gender isn't the only thing that you need to understand. There's something else."
She swallowed, expecting the worst. "What. Is it cancer… am I gonna die?"
I shook my head. "No, nothing like that. Each of us, for lack of a better way of explaining it, has a power. Something beyond what you would consider normal."
Liz blinked at me. "So you're crazy, is that it?"
I looked over my shoulder to make sure we were still alone. "Look at my hand. See, no sleeves no weird attachments or anything right?" She did as I asked. "Go ahead, feel it, it's just a normal hand right?"
Eying me for a second, she reached out an index finger and poked my palm. After another moment, she actually took my hand in hers and felt it. "Okay, so."
"Watch closely." Releasing a little of my power I made electrical arcs fly across my fingers. Liz's eyes widened to large proportions, and her face went pale.
"How did you do that?"
"I'm an Electrokinetic." Gesturing to Tina I added. "She's an Empath." Liz looked up at Tina. "And you're a Reikikinetic, a healer."
Now I could tell that she was off balance, not knowing what to believe. So, I upped the ante. "Liz, if you could have a choice right now, would you be a girl or a guy?"
Her glazed eyes focused, and centered on me. "I'm a girl. There's no choice about it."
Lacing my fingers together I leaned forward a little. "Even if it meant leaving your family?"
Tina set her hand on mine. "Kris…"
Sparing a quick glance at my partner, I shook my head. "She needs to know."
"What do I need to know?"
Tina didn't look too pleased, but she nodded, so I explained. "Sometime today, your power, your talent is going to awaken. You'll be able to heal with just a touch of your hand. Six to eight hours later, your body is going to change." At her look of disbelief I added, "We don't know why it happens, something in our genetic makeup, something to do with the talent activating, we just don't know yet. But it will happen. I wasn't kidding when I said I was a guy last week. I was six foot one, and a hundred and sixty pounds, with strawberry blond hair, and a penis."
Liz's jaw dropped open.
"The next thing I knew, I was blowing out all the electronics in my house. My best friend showed up, but I didn't know it was him at the time, because he was a she. She had already gone through the change. He took me in and here I am today, trying to tell you what's going to happen sometime tonight."
Tina squeezed my hand and I turned to see her smiling. I guess that was a good sign. So I nodded to her. "But there's a possible problem."
"What?" Liz's face fell.
"Your ovaries were taken out after the fall. We don't know how that will affect the change. Whether or not it might complicate things. That's why we came early for you, before your talent manifested itself."
"I might need the hormones. This is insane." She was definitely torn. "Can I see the sparks thing again?"
I let out a subdued laugh again. "Sure." Looking around again, I let her see something a little more impressive. Putting my fingers together I pulled them apart and let the arcs run between my hands.
"That is so awesome," she breathed.
"You won't be able to do that. We're, each of us, is different. Some of us are similar to each other, but we all have talent."
"You'll make fifteen, if you are willing to join us. That would mean leaving here and not being in contact with your family ever again, because by tomorrow morning they aren't going to recognize you anymore."
She swallowed again. "So, I either go with you, or my family deals with this tonight."
Well, she really didn't have a choice. "I'm not going to lie to you, Liz. I was taken by force, kidnapped. But if I wasn't, then my father would be dead from when I transformed. I would have blown the house up because of my talent. So, the Center did me and my family a favor." I really didn't need Tina to tell me that this girl sitting in front of me was on an emotional rollercoaster at the moment. "But as you can see, here I am, out in the real world, and nobody is holding a gun to my head or anything. I'm here because I want to be here. I want to help others like us."
We gave her a minute to think about things before she took another drink. "Can we go back to my house and get some of my stuff before we leave?"
I was about to say no, but Tina stopped me. "It would look like she ran away if we did this. They wouldn't have to think she was dead."
Which was worse? Liz almost snorted. "My sister hates me and my father could care less. I'm a major disappointment, not being a manly guy. They'd probably be relieved I was out of their life."
I could see she didn't want to believe that of her family, but sometimes blood is not thicker than water. Sometimes we were better off alone than living in an environment where we were abused, or threatened, or even just plain ignored.
"Okay, but keep it light. You won't need any clothes, because they probably wont fit you after you change anyway. We'll have everything you'll need at the Center."
We stood up and I asked Tina to introduce her to Ray while I grabbed something from the store. "He's my boyfriend, nobody to be scared of."
I darted inside and grabbed a couple boxes of condoms, just in case, and a boatload of updated magazines. The Center doesn't really keep up to date with theirs. The clerk just gave me the weirdest look. "Don't ask. It's better you don't know."
We arrived at her house, actually behind her house, so nobody spotted the SUV. It wouldn't do for people to witness a bunch of teenagers making off with a runaway. Liz did manage to keep it simple. Some CD's, her MP3 player, a laptop, and a few t-shirts that she couldn't part with. She swiped the emergency money from an empty coffee can so that the escape looked authentic. Liz rationalized it as, 'they stole my ovaries, I'm stealing their money.' Fair enough I suppose.
During all of this, I wondered if Liz really believed us or she was just taking advantage of an opportunity to escape from her family. She didn't know us from Adam, but she was trusting enough to go along. Maybe in hopes of starting over somewhere else. I'm sure the possibility of a new life, living the way she wanted, was very attractive. I felt a little guilty for praying on her that way, but I also consoled myself with the knowledge that we were doing the right thing for her, in the short term at least.
She was full of questions on the way back, almost as giddy as a schoolgirl, which in a way she was.
"You mean you're in charge?"
I shrugged, "Sort of. There have been some problems lately and I kind of fell into the role."
Ray leaned over and stage whispered. "She's playing it down. Kris is the best."
Liz giggled and I shook my head. "Ray's biased. He wants my body for his own nefarious use."
"Guilty," he replied smugly.
"Did you like boys before?" she asked me.
I shook my head. "Nope, but I like Ray."
"And you used to be a girl?"
Ray nodded. "I was in band, played the flute. I was a computer nerd. I had a boyfriend, and I lived at the mall on weekends."
She covered her face. "I just can't picture that. You seem so… manly."
He shrugged, and I giggled.
It wasn't long before we touched down, and I showed Liz to the clinic, leaving her in the hands of the evil doctor Handsafreezin. Before I left Tina to watch over her, Liz called out to me. "Will you be back tonight? For…"
"Of course I will. We're your friends now, Liz. Friends back each other up. Once we have a better idea when that will be, then the doctor will call me, right Doc?"
"Of course, Miss Keys. First thing."
I dropped off the magazines in the cafeteria and swiped one of the Cosmo's and a Road & Track. I'm still conflicted, give me a break. At least I'm not bogarting the Tiger Beat for the latest pictures of Justin, and whatever Brother band is hot at the moment. Yea, squeee, vomit.
The rest of the time before lunch I spent in my official office boxing up Shanahan's nonessential crap. I'd decorate the rest later. Mrs. Fine had already made it by to have the office turned, looking for anything incriminating. She did find a USB Flash drive taped on the underside of one of the drawers that looked promising. After review we found out that it was video of the time she spent with Brian. I almost lost my breakfast right there. For as smart as she supposedly was, Shanahan was an idiot as a pedophile.
Lunch had come and gone, along with the early afternoon. I wrote up a brief report for the Colonel as to Liz's status, and the mission success. This was a report I didn't mind filling the blanks in on while I was able to finally enjoy the music that was downloaded on my cell. The minor break obviously wasn't meant to be, before the music was cut off when my cell rang.
"Miss Keys." The Doctor. "Would you mind coming up to the clinic for a moment?"
Something lurched beneath my chest. "Is Liz alright?"
"She's fine, Miss Keys. I just thought you'd like to see for yourself."
I was already shutting the door behind me with my blazer in hand. "I'll be right there. Come on Bonsai. Time to make tracks."
Again my mysterious cat was well ahead of me on the stairs, and waiting by the door for me to open it for her. Not bothering to comment this time I let her run head through the open door of the clinic. Through the outer door I could hear Liz laughing and Tina giggling, so I opened the connecting door that led to the examination room.
"Kris!" Tina almost squealed. "Liz has her powers."
I slowed my pace and came to a stop a few feet from the examination table where Liz was dressed in a posh looking pink hospital gown. I'm thinking about a new look. "Great… so what's the hubbub?"
Liz was holding herself low on the abdomen. "I'm fixed. I fixed myself."
Maybe I was slow today or something. "You were broken?"
"Her ovaries, goober!"
Blink. "Oh!" Something inside me sent a jolt of happiness to my brain and short-circuited any boy impulses for the moment. I took another step and hugged Liz. "That's great! You're going to be a real girl here pretty soon."
"I know, right?" Tears of happiness were falling from her eyes. "You guys saved me. If it weren't for you and Tina…" She leaned back in, lay her head on my shoulder, and started to cry in earnest.
Tina's eyes were welling up as she was smiling at me. I just petted Liz's hair and patted her on the back. "We just provided the ride. You're going to do all the work."
"You'll be here right?" she confirmed.
"I'll be here. They'll let me know." She pulled back and wiped at my blazer. "I'm getting you all wet. Sorry."
I played it off. "Perks of being here. Free dry cleaning. Don't worry about it."
She smiled her thanks at me. "It's impossible that you were born a boy."
Shrugging away what I knew to be a compliment from her. "Why do you say that?"
Liz looked up at me with something that I had never seen before in anyone's eyes, so I couldn't place it. "Because you really care. Boys really don't care."
A little giggle came out of my mouth. "That's not totally true. There are plenty of boys out there that have…" I tried to think of some as I was telling her this. "My dad. He cared. He always made sure I was taken care of and grew up right. Ray, has always been there for me. My best friend Drew… well he doesn't really count."
She leaned forward and kissed me on my cheek. "I'll take your word for it."
Looking around for a decent stool or chair, I found one of those short stools with wheels that doctors use. They get all the cool stuff, right? Once I worked out the mechanics of sitting there with my legs crossed, I found Liz and Tina smiling at me. I really didn't want to know why. "So, tell me how this happened."
Tina started the story off. "When we first got here, they shoved her in an MRI machine to see exactly what was there and what was missing."
Liz nodded. "The doc said that he could tell where they had cut into me and used these tube thingies to cut and pull out my ovaries. He showed me where they were, but … I guess you have to be a doctor or something to read those things. Instead he showed me where they were, touching me here and here."
She set her fingers on her lower abdomen and rubbed them around. "So me and Tina were sitting here, and she was telling me about the Center, and what they do, and some of the things that you've done since you've been here."
My attention centered on Tina. "Nothing bad I hope."
Tina giggled. "Nothing that wasn't true."
That could be interpreted in so many ways.
"It was nothing bad. You did a lot of good, from what Tina says." There was that look again. It was a smile, but more relaxed than normal. "Anyway ever since the doc told me where they were I've kept my hands on them."
My head tilted back a little and realization dawned. "Is this going where I think it's going."
Tina laughed. "Shh, it's her story to tell."
Liz smiled happily at me. "About an hour ago my hands started to heat up, in a warm way, not like burning. But it was really noticeable. I didn't realize what I was doing, but Tina did."
My mission partner nodded. "While we were talking I noticed her pressing down harder and harder on her… well, right there."
I looked and Liz was doing it again, but not hard. It was like she was a pregnant girl rubbing her tummy.
"That's when I felt two sharp pains right under my fingers. Right after that, my hands cooled back to normal." She started speeding up and looking very excited. "I told the doctor, and he looked at me weird then told me that I needed a new MRI."
"And the rest is history." I concluded. "So you're back to normal."
Liz nodded. "I'm better than normal now."
"Plus, you're going to be a girl soon." It was easy to see the excitement on her face. It looked like she was ready and willing for nightfall.
"I'm so pumped. You don't know how long I've dreamed of something like this happening."
I was sort of skeptical, and she saw it on my face. "Kristyn. You don't know what its like to live your live your life in the wrong body… oh, well I guess you do."
"It's not so bad," I commented. It was true. At first I was scared spitless, but I'd adjusted. Probably a lot faster than I should have. "It's just a body. I'm still the same person."
"That's what makes you really weird, Kris," Tina pointed out. "I'd give almost anything to have my old body back."
Coming to my feet I moved over to Tina. "It's not out of the question yet, Tina. Someone could pop up tomorrow with the talent of switching us back. You never know."
She took my hand and rubbed my palm with her fingers. "You really think so?"
I nodded. "You're talking to the girl who shoots electricity out of her fingers. Anything is possible."
She cocked her head and looked at me inquisitively. "Would you go back to being a boy?"
That question took me aback. At first I was about to say, 'of course', then I thought of my responsibilities. If I were to go back to being a boy, would I lose my powers? Would I quit being an asset to the Center? In some ways it would be the greatest thing that could ever happen, but in an other way… "Maybe."
She looked surprised, but then back to normal a second later. "I understand."
Tina nodded. "You care too much, Kris. Liz was right. You see yourself taking charge and guiding us, making sure that we're taken care of, defending us. Kinda like a mom would do."
I rolled my eyes. "I'm not a mom. Maybe a big sister, not a mom."
They both giggled at me, so I backed up a little and made my escape. "I'm happy that you're getting your wish, Liz."
Miss Bonsai bumped against me when I stopped at the entrance to the clinic. Looking down at her I shook my head. "I'm not a mom. No kids for me."
I took the rest of the afternoon and worked out. Ray met with me later, and we worked on centering myself again, along with the beginnings of JKD. It involved standing. So, I've learned how to breath and how to stand. It's amazing how I'd gotten by with just doing it naturally all these years. But, apparently I'd been doing it wrong all this time.
The Colonel arranged for me to have a tutor, or a training specialist, his term not mine. It was all via email at the moment. I'd been assigned thirteen books to read on the subjects of tactics, strategies for platoon size or smaller, etcetera, ad nauseum. Get this: I was actually assigned Sun Tzu's the Art of War. I mean how cliché can you get? Every military role-playing game geek out there bragged about reading it, even though I knew they were lying their asses off. They thought it made them look cool. I thought it made them look pretentious. It helped that I trounced their butts all the time. But now, there I was looking at the book list, with it included amongst the other curious titles, such as: The 33 Strategies of War, Unrestricted Warfare, Six Secret Teachings, The Book of Five Rings, a couple of Machiavelli books. In all I was looking at some of the most boring reading in the free world. That Cosmo was looking better and better every second, after seeing my new study regime.
Strangely enough, the Colonel already had a number of these in his office, so I couldn't get by with, 'the local bookstore doesn't carry these books,' excuse I used on occasion to get English teachers off my back.
What did I get to do with all of this? Write reports. It felt like high school English class all over again. I was supposed to read a section of a book and then write a report about what I got out of it, or how I could relate it or use it for the students the school. This was the start of my military training. Okay, so maybe going back to being a boy was getting to be more attractive.
Dani had taken time to stop by the clinic and do her Pre-Cog thing on Tina, because she was staying with Liz throughout the day. The text I received from the doctor read that the transformation was to take place at seven-fifteen in the clinic. She didn't need the bunker, just support from Tina and me.
Dinner came and went for me. I was too distracted to be a good conversationalist. Everyone thanked me for the magazines. Contact with the outside world had been minimal at best. Most of their news had been in the form of the internet, and we all know how the internet is never wrong. Dani came in at the end and ate her meal with little comment here and there. My sticking around afterward was on purpose. The text I'd sent her earlier was lame. I knew it was lame, and I also knew that she was my best friend and deserved better than a lame apology.
"I'm sorry I was an ass last night."
It's much easier to tell someone that you're sorry while standing behind them. Dani stiffened and then slowly swiveled in her seat to eye me. She pursed her lips and then scooted out the seat next to her. I'd been forgiven. Now I just need to see what I had to do for penance.
When I sat and leaned my elbow on the table Dani started. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have tried to read you without permission. I won't do it again."
"Thank you. I know you were worried, are worried, but I can handle this for now. Once we get on a more… I don't know, a normal schedule? I'll see one of the new counselors."
She reached out and took my hand. "It's a lot of pressure they're putting on you, Kris." She looked down and swallowed. "I'm afraid."
Estrogen surged in me again, and I leaned forward to pull her to me with a hug. "That's why I'm doing this, so you don't have to be scared. I'll take care of everything, so you don't have to worry."
"You can't do everything yourself."
"I know, but I can try, and the Colonel has people coming in to help. They'll take some of the load off."
She sniffed a little and rubbed her nose. "You promise you'll try to make time for yourself in between all the crisis'?"
I nodded and kind of laughed. "Ray and I are planning another date this week." Lightbulb! "Dammit I forgot!"
She pulled back. "What?"
"I need to see the doctor. I was going to get on the pill."
Dani's eyes bugged. "Kristyn! You're kidding? Already?"
With a playful shrug I nodded. "I'm trying to be responsible. Gimmie a break."
"Your friend Dani told you twenty-two days, correct?"
I nodded. The doctor did a minor count in his head. Currently that puts you around day fourteen of your menstrual cycle. Contrary to what you have heard, the pill isn't an instant contraceptive. You won't be protected until after your first cycle.
"But… she said that It'll be, I mean…"
"You can still become pregnant, Miss Keys, even if you produce blood during your cycle. It's rare, to be sure, but do you want to take that chance?"
I frowned. "No."
He smiled, almost humanely. "If you can't wait, then I would suggest the use of a condom. You haven't had your sexual introduction yet, have you?"
With a shake of my head he breathed in let out a sigh. "You should really participate in the class it is quite educational."
"Doc, look. I know all about the female body and what it can do, more than the average guy out there anyway. I know where all the parts area and what they do. I even know about the internal equipment and how it works. There are a few gaps in my knowledge, obviously, but I think I'm okay. Let's just get me on the pill and I'll figure it out from there."
"Can you really, Miss Keys?"
I nodded. Then he had to bring it upon himself to quiz me. Yes, I knew about yeast infections and the signs of such. Yes, I was familiar with various STD's and their signs. Yes, I was familiar with how to keep myself clean and not to use sugary food items in my sexplay down there. God, can my face get any redder? Could we talk about the pros and cons of spanking in sexplay? That would really make my day. Vomit.
I spent the rest of the hour I had to wait, in my office, with the door closed. A glass of water, a burst-pac of an estrogen/progestin mixed pills, and The Art of War. Might as well be as ironic as humanly possible. The doctor popped out the first thirteen pills and the rest were left for me to enjoy to my fullest. This was supposed to make my period experience easier, but probably wouldn't do any good for the one coming up in only fifteen days. I was told to expect bloating, mild cramps, moodiness, all a couple of days before. That's good news. A girl with really destructive powers afflicted by PMS. Can you measure this amount of badness with today's existing technology?
With a deep breath I popped the pill and drank the water. There, done. If I get fat from this I am so electrocuting somebody.
The time was seven o'clock. Only fifteen more minutes. Tina, me, the doctor, the nurse, and the Colonel were all in attendance. The room was bare, except for a single hospital bed. Liz was hooked up to a number of machines, measuring her vital statistics, and a couple I wasn't sure of. The doctor did let me know that none of it was needed for a successful transition. It was just for the scientists that were trying to figure out how the whole thing works. For Liz's part, she accepted what the doc had to say on the matter.
"Can Tina and Kristyn stay with me?"
The doctor frowned. "It's not procedure, Liz. We don't know what will happen to either of you if something…" I kicked the doctor in the shin.
"I'll stay with you, Liz. I can protect myself if need be."
She grasped my hand and we interlocked our thumbs as I set my other hand on top to hold us together. The doctor motioned to Tina. She palmed Liz on the forehead and kissed her cheek. "Good luck. I'll be right on the other side of that screen." Liz nodded and then looked at me.
"Did it hurt when you went though yours?"
I giggled a little bit. "I kind of blocked it all out. I don't really remember much, since mine involved a diving suit and a lot of lightning."
She gave me a weird look. "A diving suit?"
I waved her off with my free hand. "I don't know what it was. Some kind of protective thing that they stuffed me in so I didn't blow up the Center. They have this neat bunker out back that they shove all the potentially dangerous ones in."
She closed her eyes and smiled. "I'm glad I'm not dangerous."
"I'm glad you're not too." We sat there for a minute or two in silence. "So have you thought of a new name?"
Her eyes opened. "They said I could keep Elizabeth since it wasn't documented and I'm taking the last name Baker."
I weighed the name on my tongue. "Elizabeth Baker. Liz Baker. Sounds good. No middle name?"
Her face reddened. "Would it be okay with you and Tina if I call myself Kristina with a K-r-i-s?"
I looked back at Tina and she was all teeth and nodding. "I think we'd like that very much."
Liz's face contorted in pain at that moment. "I think this is it." She looked at me and I could feel her hand shaking in mine. "Don't go, please. I'm so scared."
I tightened my grip and set my free hand atop both of ours. "I'm right here, Liz. Everything's going to be alright. You just think about how nice it's going to be to be a girl."
Her attempted smile was aborted as her whole body convulsed. She groaned and I saw tears start to fall from the sides of her eyes. Her lips tried pulling inward and I could tell she was trying to say something else. I was concerned that she was in too much pain, but it didn't look like it hurt so much as it was just uncomfortable and debilitating.
I leaned in closer so I cold hear what she was trying to say.
I stared straight into her eyes as my own tears started to well. "I'm not going anywhere baby. I'm right here. Just close your eyes and think happy thoughts for me." I brushed her hair back from her face when the changes started occurring. Her eyes whet from Hazel to a sapphire blue in the span of a second. I could feel some sort of energy radiate from her body. It was hot and it felt like my hand, that was grasping hers, was burning. I wasn't letting go. She was a healer, and could always fix it whenever she woke up later.
Her skin darkened, from her original pale shade to a cinnamon color, and her hair darkened as I gaped in astonishment to a shiny deep black. The natural curl fell out and her cheekbones moved under her face. It was the creepiest thing I had ever seen, though her staring at me throughout the event was pretty creepy in itself. The cheekbones stood out more and her jaw filled in, becoming strong yet feminine. It was then that I recognized what was happening. She looked like an Indian, an American Indian, and she was beautiful.
"You're gorgeous, Liz. Do you hear me?" I palmed her face. "Can you hear me sweetie? You're beautiful."
More tears fell from her eyes, and her mouth tried to move into a grin. I know it did. She could hear me just fine.
Another convulsion made her body jump. If it weren't for the restraints she probably would have bounced right off of the table. Her eyes widened and then fell closed.
Her body stilled unnaturally, not even a twitch after. "Liz? Liz?" I turned around "Doc?"
"She's fine, Miss Keys. This is common. The pain becomes too much and once the subject looses conciseness the transition is easier on the body. Watch her hips legs, and feet to see evidence for yourself."
I did. They shifted. Her feet didn't change too much, just a little smaller. Her ankles thinned and the muscles of her legs shifted. I couldn't tell what they were doing at first, but then I realized they were slimming down, becoming more streamline. Her hips widened, and I could only imagine what that would feel like for a conscious person. The her torso underwent the final change. I could see her gown lose depth and width in her waist, and her chest grew slightly. Oh, duh, breasts.
The doctor came out from behind the screen. "She should be finishing up right about now. You can leave now, Miss Keys. I can call you when she awakens.
I shook my head. "I'm not going anywhere. I promised her."
He nodded once. "Very well."
I felt arms encircle me from behind and hug me tightly. "She called you mommy." Tina.
"She was delusional. The pain, probably, and scared stiff."
"I think it's sweet."
"I think you're delusional. And if I'm the mommy then that makes you the daddy."
Tina giggled. "I think Ray might have problems with that."
"Good. Then we're in agreement. This goes no further than this room."
I was trying to flip a page on the Art of War with my lips, which, by the way, is a seriously messed up book, when she awoke.
Her eyes flickered and I noted the page I was leaving off at before dropping it the end table beside her bed. She tried to focus for a moment and then her eyes tracked to me.
"Is it over?" She smiled at her new voice and then it went even wider at my nod.
"You did great, Liz. Everything is perfect. You're a real girl now."
Her hand, that was grasping mine, moved up and she frowned. "Your hand is cramping. I can feel the wrongness of it."
"It's okay. I don't mind. I promised to stay with you, and I always keep my promises."
Liz's other hand moved to where they both gripped it. Heat spread across my fingers and palm. I could feel the muscles and tendons loosen and relax under her touch. "There. That's better." And it was.
Her eyes roved around in confusion. "Where are we?"
I smiled at her. "Your new room. It's right next to mine."
I nodded and leaned backed so she could see. "You want to try and sit up?"
"Yeah." I remember the disorientation from my own awakening, and I gently pulled her into a sitting position. "Just take your time. We're not in any hurry."
She looked down, and her left hand grabbed at her breast. "They're real! And they're huge!"
A shot of laughter escaped my lips. Until I watched her hand drop from there to between her legs. She fumbled for a moment until I saw her face light up in delight. "It's all real. I really am a girl. Oh, God." She lunged into me. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, so much."
Liz's head was tucked neatly under mine. "I didn't do a thing. You did all the work."
"But you made it possible, Mommy."
I closed my eyes and sighed. I have a feeling I have a new title to go along with all of the other ones. She pulled back and looked a little sheepish. "Sorry, I won't call you that if it makes you feel weird."
My face let loose with all the tension I was holding. "If it make you feel good, then call me whatever you want, even if I'm only two months older than you. I want you to feel comfortable here."
She jumped right back into my arms, and squeezed me as tight as she was able. "Thank you. I've never had anyone that I've ever thought of like that, but you showed up when I needed you most, and you told me truths that I couldn't understand, and you brought me home with you, and you held my hand when I was hurting, and you said it was going to be all better, and you didn't break your promise." After a big breath she sighed. "That's what being a mom is. Well that and loving, but I don't expect…"
I have no earthly idea why it came out of my lips. "I love you, Liz. I want what's best for you. I want you to be happy here. And if you need a mom, then that's what I'll be."
I never made it back to my room that night, except to retrieve my sleep shirt and wash my face. Miss Bonsai took guard duty on the top bunk while Liz snuggled under my arm and fell into a restful sleep at my neck with her legs tangled up with my own.
The next morning, we were in the exact same position, and Liz had such a content smile on her face. I sighed and tried to flex my left hand that had fallen asleep sometime during the night. It must have clicked something in her head, because she blinked her eyes open. She looked up at me and blushed.
"You must think I'm a serious head case."
I cleared my throat. "There's nothing wrong with wanting a little companionship. We just can't make a regular thing of it. I think my boyfriend might get jealous."
She giggled into my neck. "I feel so… right. Finally."
An uncomfortable urge hit me. "Well we might want to get up soon, or you're going to need a new mattress. I gotta pee."
Heather was more than happy to skip her first class, and take Liz on a tour of the Wardrobe room in search of clothes, and on a tour of the school. While I was more than happy to take a long hot shower. Hopefully, the coming day would be normal and not full of doom and angst. I had another four full days until my second risky mission. It should give me enough time to come up with a plan, and maybe work on my own education along the way.
When I was dressed, today in a dark green blazer, yellow blouse, and a matching green skirt I was off to breakfast. I got my makeup on the first try, something that I was proud of. It was still light, but at least I was showing progress. Halfway through my meal everyone started showing up, and I closed the book I was studying. I knew better than to try to read at a table full of teens. There were better things to talk about than Variations and Adaptability, Chapter Eight of the Fart of Bore.
Debbie was kind of excited when she saw what I was reading. "I had a chance to see a copy of the original version. It was awesome."
I looked up at her through my eyelashes. "You're kidding, right?"
She shook her head. "The Wee edition almost has it right, but some of the translation was a little off."
I shrugged my shoulders. "As long as I can come up with something half-way intelligent to say for my tutor… sorry, my training specialist, then I'm happy. Some of this stuff is just useless for anything other than massive armies."
Heather swung around the corner with Liz, locked arm in arm, smiling brightly at me. She passed her off to Lara, so that she could stop by and give a kiss to her girlfriend. Once that was over she looked at me, and her eyes actually twinkled. "Hi Mommy, how are you doing this morning?"
"Not you too," I groaned.
"She was soooo adorable when she told me what you did for her. I think it's cute."
Debbie eyed me. "Mommy?"
I rolled my eyes. Heather giggled. "Yep. Our own sweet, Kristyn has some hidden motherly traits that she's been showing to the newbie."
Liz showed up, and took the empty seat to my left, smiling adoringly at me. "Hi Mom. Heather was great, and there was so many clothes. The schoolgirl outfits are adorable! What do you think?"
Debbie covered her mouth, and tried not to look like she was about to burst out in laughter.
I looked her over. "I think you look very cute, Liz."
She almost preened. "Thanks!"
"Let me introduce you to the other girls, and there should be some guys joining us soon." I gestured across the table. "This is Debbie. She understands about a billion languages and seems to have something caught in her throat at the moment." Debs waved and smiled. "That's Lili down there. She's a telepath." Lili looked up at her name and finger-waved.
"The pile of giggles sitting down next to you is Dani."
"Hi, Liz. I've heard all about you. A healer, wow! I'm an Empath and a Pre-Cog. Your hair is so pretty! I'm jealous."
Liz was in heaven, and it was bleeding off on Dani. My best friend was apparently taking her under her wing.
"Well girls, I have to get to work. Have a great day. Think happy thoughts, no drama today."
I stood and Liz jumped up and hugged me in front of everyone. "Bye Mom, and thanks for everything."
Dani's eyes lit up like Christmas had come early. My eyes roved around the table at everyone witnessing the scene. I hugged Liz back. "Heather, Dani, make sure you take care of her today, please?" Then down to the girl hugging me. "And you text, or call me if you need anything."
Her head nodded under mine. When she pulled back, I tugged on my blazer and got rid of my tray. It was weird having Liz act so… daughterly… to me, but it also plucked at something inside my chest too. It made me feel, needed, and not in a, 'deal with this situation,' type of way. It was almost cathartic. I felt buoyant, for the first time since I had arrived at the Center.
Three days without a single incident. The mind boggles, right?
I say, without incident; I mean that nothing happened in the school. James, more so than Lili, was able to meet with the disgraced Dr. Shanahan and ferret out what exactly went down with why she went traitor. After his meetings with her, the Colonel was able to piece together the trail of evidence. It turned out that Doctor Doom was a pedophile before the fact, and was contacted via email with incriminating pictures of her in the act. Basically she was being blackmailed. Brian was just her latest victim.
With each new arrival she would send off what she could from an internet café in a neighboring town on her days off. It really made the Colonel, and me for that matter, wonder who was on the other end. The best Mrs. Fine could come up with was someone in our own government. Most likely, she says, the CIA or NSA. They'd give their family jewels for someone with our powers. Everybody was suspect, and nobody was beyond reproach.
All of the campus staff went through gatherings with James, Lili, Dani, and Tony without incident. I will say that Lili was a little bit worse for wear after everything was said and done. Her head had to be filled with so many dirty secrets by now that she was having problems dealing with it. That's when I stepped in and called a halt to using her for that particular assignment. The look on her face said that she was going to give me her first born child in thanks.
Liz was happy as a clam during her testing, and didn't suffer at all in having her first pelvic exam. She told me it was a rite of passage and it fulfilled an emotional release for her. She cried during the whole thing, but it was with happy tears. The Doctor didn't know what to think. So, she takes top honors for being the fastest adaptable student at the Center, a position I was more than happy to pass on to her. Something odd, no, that's not the right word. Hmm, something… else… that she had to do, was spend some evenings with me. When Ray was busy learning something or was just too plain tired after a long day of training, Liz would spend the evening with me.
She wanted to get started on her studies, and would like nothing better than to sit across from me at my desk and read her text books. Occasionally, she'd look up at me and smile, or even run to fetch me a soda or a snack. No, I didn't abuse the situation and have her gopher everything my little heart desired. She just wanted to be around me. The thing was… I didn't mind.
This threw me more than anything.
Liz loved to tell me about her day and all of her new girl experiences, not to mention how much she wanted to help out at the clinic. The doctor wasn't having any of that though. He told her that once she graduates medical school he'd be happy to entertain the thought of having an additional nurse or doctor added to his staff, but a teenager was out of the question.
I did let her heal my bruised hand after a particularly rough training session with Ray one day. It was amazing to watch her take my hand in hers and feel the warmth as the pain faded away seconds later, good as new.
But I digress.
Ray presented me with a vase full of wildflowers in the morning, at breakfast. "It's for your office."
"Thank you, Ray." I gave him a kiss as a reward, and I smelled at the different selections he had chosen. Liz smiled from her, now permanent, position on my left, and leaned over to have a sniff.
We'd set our second date for the upcoming Sunday, barring any drama that happened to come up along the way, which was only two days from now. I could almost feel my hormonal clock ticking in anticipation.
When I arrived at the office for another day of studying I was almost relieved to hear that the Colonel wanted a visit from me when I came in. His door was open and he was staring at his monitor when I knocked on the door frame. He motioned for me to come in and I shut the door behind me. Without any pleasantries he got right onto the subject at hand.
"Mrs. Stapleton brought something to my attention this morning." He spun the monitor around so we could both see. It was the headlines of the Rutland Herald, a newspaper out of Vermont.
Vermont Vampire Victim Four!
"Oh, you're kidding."
The Colonel didn't bother to respond to my disbelief. "We've retrieved the coroner's report from first three victims. There are no wounds to explain why the victims are dead. The blood isn't missing; it's just dried in their veins."
Our eyes met. "We've missed one," I concluded. He nodded that it was his thought as well.
"I need you out there today to see if you can get a handle on this. Take whoever you need."
"What about the retrieval tomorrow?" It wasn't like they could send one of the goons for this one. It involved another Pyrokinetic. Things could get greatly out of hand.
"You'll have to work fast." He saw the look on my face. "If it comes down to it, your team will leave and retrieve the subject. This takes top priority for now. It's already made the papers."
I understood. I was just trying to figure out a way to split us up. We really didn't have the human resources to handle multiple problems at the moment. "I'll have Max cover the Pyro. He can neutralize him at the very least if he goes rogue. I'll send Ray, Christopher, James, and Heather with him. Maybe they can help."
The Colonel nodded.
"I'll take, Dani, Lara, Sheri and Sean with me. I think they'll be our best chance in finding whoever is doing this."
He made to pick up his land-line phone, but his cell went off at the same moment. "Yes?" he answered. "You're sure of this." A major league frown upended itself on his face. He clicked of and holstered the cell. "We may have a bigger problem. That was Mrs. Fine. It seems as if the suspect was killed during another murder attempt."
I cringed. "That can't be good."
"I'm going to assign this one to Mrs. Fine. She has certain talents that will make sure the body of the killer won't make it to autopsy."
"I'm not even going to ask." Really. I don't want to know.
He nodded in agreement. "What are you planning for the Pyrokinetic?"
Adjusting to the quick change in gear that the Colonel was wont to do, I explained. "Considering his talent and EETDG I'm going to pick him up early, willingly if possible."
Ha! An acronym he doesn't know! "Estimated Exposure Time During Gestation – It's to base how strong we think the subject's talent is going to be. His is estimated pretty early, so, his talent is probably going to be pretty strong. If he goes rogue, I'd rather it not be in the middle of dinner with his father in a high income condo."
The Colonel considered the scenario. "What time are we looking at for First Emergence?"
"Six o'clock. Dani confirmed what Tony saw, but her vision was very short. All she could see was that he was in a dark room, and looking at the glow of his watch when his hair caught fire. So we don't even know if I was there or not, or where it was."
The Colonel pressed his lips together, which I was coming to recognize as his, 'making a decision' face. "Go now, gather your team. I'll meet you in the mission briefing room."
I was punching away at my cell, texting everyone involved for a unscheduled mission. When I was passing the workout room I spotted Liz inside with her physical trainer. An overwhelming urge to tell her what was going on overcame me.
Knocking on the door alerted the occupants that I was in the room. Liz smiled big and toothy for a minute. "Sorry coach, I need to borrow Liz for about fifteen minutes." He nodded at me told her what to work on for the next session.
She bounced out of the door a minute later. "Hey, Mom. What's up?"
Something pulled at my chest again; this time it wasn't comfortable. "I have to leave right away. Something's come up. Can you watch Miss Bonsai for me?"
Liz's face dropped in worry. "Is everything okay?"
I shrugged. "There's someone that I have to pick up. He might pose a danger to a lot of people. I'm going to take care of it."
She stopped on our way to my room. Her face went even more worried. "You're not going alone are you?"
I shook my head. "Of course not. I'm taking a good team with me."
"Can I come?"
I gave her my crazy eyes. "Definitely not. You're not trained for this, Liz. Not yet, anyway." She was crushed. Even I wasn't trained for this, but it was my responsibility and with the help of my team, we might be able to do something. "I need you here safe for me, so I don't have to worry, okay?"
And for some reason I knew I would worry anyway. "Just take care of Bonsai for me and make sure you keep up on your studies." God, now I was sounding like her Mom for real. She just nodded and we hurried along so that I could meet up with the team.
I swiped my pass key and opened the door. Rushing into the closet I chose the dressed down version of the commando outfit. Basically everything from last time except for the baggy shirt and web belt. I looked a little butch, but I've seen worse where I grew up. Liz watched as I changed. Concern was still on her face the entire time, but I tried to ease her mind.
"This is part of my job, Liz. You know I have the power to protect myself. You don't need to worry."
When I was dressed I checked to make sure I had my cell. "I'll text you while I'm gone, okay?"
She nodded quickly, and tried to appear brave for me. It almost broke my heart to see. "Come here."
In a second she was hugging me and whispering. "Be careful, Mommy."
I kissed her on the cheek. "I will be, sweetie." Looking up at Miss Bonsai, I said to her, "Bonsai, you watch out for Liz, okay. Make sure you go wherever she goes. Protect her. She's going to take care of you until I get back."
The Calico hopped down the stairs and ran over to rub herself on Liz's legs.
"Okay, baby, I have to go now." My face was flush and my eyes started burning. I kissed her on the cheek again.
Leaving them standing in front of my room, while Liz held Bonsai, wrenched at my heart. It felt like I was abandoning them to the wild or something, to fend for themselves. We were only going to be gone for a half day, one day at the most, but if seemed like it was going to be much longer.
We all met down in the mission briefing room. I was the last one there and the rumor mill was already in full swing when I arrived. Once I gave them the lowdown I dismissed everyone to Wardrobe to get properly attired and had Heather grab me an additional outfit to wear, Identical to the one I had on, and something casual, in case I was totally off base about how the subject dressed. The Colonel stood to the side as I ran the mission out for everyone, and after I dismissed them he nodded in my direction. I guess he approved.
He insisted I arm myself, so I took a butterfly knife and an asp, both easily concealable in my pockets. At my waist I carried, what looked to be mace, but was, in fact, the same crap they sprayed in my face when they kidnapped me. Last resort I suppose.
The teams returned dressed with a couple of overnight bags amongst them. Once we were in the air, The Colonel passed out our ID's.
"We had them made up to ease the way if you ever had to encounter law enforcement. A DC issued drivers license is in there as well. They're yours for the duration. Don't abuse the privilege."
I opened mine up: Kristyn Keys, Special Agent in Charge. The seal of the Department of Homeland Defense was prominent, along with my picture, expiration date, blah, blah, blah. On the other side was a gold, shield type badge with a spread eagle atop, looking like it was about to kick somebody's ass, or maybe snatch a field mouse for a snack… it could have gone either way.
"Um, thanks?" The Colonel was still lurking over me, waiting for something else. What's he want, a hug? "Do we get the neat looking holder things I can wear on a chain around my neck, like on cop shows?"
His eyes drooped, and the frown that I was becoming accustomed to returned. "No."
"Fine, take all the fun out of being a secret agent."
"That's Special Agent."
"Uh huh. Whichever."
Once we were in mid-flight I was getting decidedly uncomfortable. My stomach was tight, and my neck started hurting. It was like I was incredibly tense, and the more time I spent on the plane was making it worse. Constantly looking at my watch, and phone for some reason, was really starting to annoy me. Even Dani, who was sitting beside me, noticed.
"Kris, you look awful," she said at a whisper. "What's wrong." I gave her a frown, but she backed her observation up. "It doesn't take a Empath to notice you are seriously bothered by something. Is it the mission."
The truth was that I was on edge. The thought of having to leave… I groaned. "Liz."
Dani was lost. "Is something wrong with her?"
I shook my head. "Something's up with us. I feel like…" I couldn't figure it out. "Maybe you should take a look. Maybe you can tell what's going on."
She turned in her seat. "Okay, it's easier if you look at me." Meeting her gaze, I watched as her Topaz eyes went to work on my psyche. "You miss her. You're almost in agony having to leave her behind. It's like…" She gasped and broke her connection as she held her hand over her mouth.
"What. It's like what?"
She gathered herself together. "It's like she's really your daughter."
I think one of my eyes twitched. I must have seriously misunderstood what she just said. "I'm sorry, what?"
Dani took my hand in between hers. "You really, really care about her. It feels like a mother abandoning her child."
Okay, now I knew she was taking some serious drugs or something. "How would you know how that feels?"
Her lips pursed. "Kris. I've been working on deciphering my talent since the first week I've been at the Center. What I feel from you is loss, guilt, and love. A lot of love, and a lot of guilt, it's tearing you up inside."
My eyes were burning again. I can't deal with this right now. "How can I turn it off?"
She smiled at me, almost humoring me. "Sweetie, you can't turn off love. It just is." She paused for a second. "Send her a text. I want to see what you feel when you do. It's one way to make sure I'm right."
Steeling myself, I pulled out my cell and raised the text message screen.
"Send something that you feel, and do not try to cover it up, Kris. It needs to be real."
Dammit. I closed my eyes and thought of Liz, and the last time I saw her stand there in the hallway in front of the door holding Miss Bonsai. She was miserable and at that moment, and so was I.
Liz, I miss you. I'll be home as soon as I can. Love, Mom.
Before I could stop myself I hit the send key, and then felt tears drop from my face. Dani slipped a tissue into my hand. "Tina said that you were by her bedside when the transition occurred." I only nodded in conformation. "Maybe something happened.'
I dabbed at my eyes. "She was scared. I told her I wasn't going to leave her. That's when she first called me Mommy."
Dani sat in thought for a minute or two. "Kris, I may be talking out of my butt here, but maybe it's like an imprint or something." I didn't say anything, but I let her know that I didn't understand. "Oh, where's Sheri. She can explain this better than I can."
I turned back and motioned for the purple-haired girl to come up. She turned the seat in front of us around and leaned forward. "What's up?"
"Sheri," Dani opened. "Tell Kris about Emotional Imprints."
She raised her eyebrows and then blinked like she was recalling specific information.
Dani shook her head. "You were just talking about this last week weren't you?"
She nodded. "I can give you the basics. It's related to what I do. She shook her head when she noticed she was going off on a tangent. "Basically, a traumatic event causes them. You've heard of haunted houses, right?"
I nodded as I tried to follow along.
"A major crime, or a particular betrayal that causes a suicide or death are the main causes, but anything specifically, emotionally charged can leave a residue or a bond in the area it happened. Sometimes a specific object can be the holder of an Imprint. That's where being a Token Reader comes in."
"How about between people?" asked Dani.
Sheri considered it and then shrugged. "I've never heard of that happening before. What's going on? Is it related to the mission?"
Dani looked at me, and I rolled my eyes. "Go ahead."
"I think something happened to Liz and Kris during Liz's transformation. Kris never left the room when it happened."
"I was holding her hand," I confirmed.
"And you've seen how Liz follows her around like a puppy."
Sheri nodded her head. "It's hard not to. You think she left an Emotional Imprint on Kris?"
Dani shrugged her shoulders. "All I'm getting from Kris right now is that she is feeling seriously guilty for leaving Liz behind."
I mentally thanked her for not mentioning the love part. Not that she heard.
"So this whole Mom thing is for real?" she asked.
"I'm not her mom," I hissed back. Then I felt seriously guilty for denying that physical fact. "But I feel like I am." My head dropped back to the seat rest. "Somebody just shoot me, please."
Dani continued to rub the back of my hand. "Kris, there are worse things in the world than being a mother."
"There are a lot of sixteen year old mothers out there," confirmed Sheri.
"I haven't even had sex yet."
Sheri laughed. "Well there's only one virgin mother that I know of, and you ain't her, sister."
My cell chirped at me. Did I want to look? I opened the inbox and saw it was from Liz. When I opened the text I read her message and the waterworks started again.
Mom, Miss Bonsai and me are in bed. Lili told the doctor that I was crying and he made me go to my room to sleep. Mrs. Fine let me in your room to swipe your pillow cause it smells like you. I'm okay now. I miss you. I love you. Come home soon. Love Liz.
"Oh, Kris." Dani held me for a minute until I could get myself under control, then she made things worse, or maybe better. I'm still trying to figure it all out. She made me tell her everything that I thought of when I pictured her in my head.
I'm not going over that because It's very personal, but it was obvious that I thought of her as my daughter. There was no other explanation for it. The only thing I wanted to do at that moment was land in New York, kick the living crap out of the pyro for pulling me away from her, and get home as fast as I could. Okay, maybe I should just spray the pyro in the face with the magical sleep potion.
So, I just sat there, grinding my teeth, facial muscles working overtime to provide a nasty scowl, left leg and foot bouncing along in with nervous energy.
Is this what it's like for mothers that leave their daughters with a babysitters, when they go back to work, after the whole birth thing?
The good part about this? I won't have to hold the pyro's hand while he transitions as well. I'd be a crispy critter if that happened. One daughter figure in my life is more than enough… too much actually. God, I felt guilty when I thought that.
We must have looked quite the picture stepping off the plane at JFK Airport. Me in my urban teenage-rebellion outfit, Dani in a short skirt and heels, Sheri and her purple hair, James in Dockers and a red polo, Max dressed in the latest Manga-chic, and Rita, in her jean shorts and green tank, not to mention her funky red hair. All of us were being led by the Colonel who was still in his off-the-rack, blue, two button suit.
Just one SUV this time, and the Colonel was riding shotgun. Goon was driving. By the time we had made it to Greenwich Village, through the traffic, it was almost nightfall.
Jason Knapp was a clubber, spending most of his time, when he wasn't at his summer job, at one of the more seedier dives in Greenwich Village, Industrial dance music was his pleasure, hence why I was wearing the urban outfit. It opened at eight and the line was already forming was quickly being dispersed down into the basement club. The two bouncers were swiping a wand over the customers, so I took out my knife and Asp and gave it to the Colonel.
He nodded and handed the Asp back to me. "Ceramic."
Right. Patting myself down I made sure I had my newly issued ID, and a wad of cash. The Colonel handed me a ear piece, which I looked at for a second. "You haven't been to a place like this before have you? There's no way I'll be able to hear anything once I get inside that club, and you can forget trying to hear me."
Sheri confirmed my description, before checking my makeup one last time. It was dark, matching my outfit and the general theme of the club. She did make me take off my sports bra, saying it was expected with the outfit. Her last gesture to me was to hold up a lipstick. "For touching up."
I grimaced. "I'm not going in there to make out with anyone."
With smile she almost laughed at me. "How, exactly, are you going to get him out of the club?"
Set phasers on stun. "Uh."
"Right," she said with more than enough satisfaction in her voice. "Take the lipstick."
I grabbed it and put it in a thigh pocket.
"Do you at least know how to dance?"
I gave her my best withering glare before opening the door and sliding down to the concrete. The Colonel opened his window and gave me the once over. I shook out my hair to make it look a little messy and arranged the back of my tank into the waist of my pants. "How to I look?"
His eyes stopped at my unbound breasts poking from the inside of the tank. "Young."
I smiled. "Good enough." My cell holster was belted down as I double checked and gestured to it. "I'll text you every thirty minutes. Send me one when he arrives."
He leaned back in his seat and I took off across the street.
Fifteen dollars to get in! I guess there's something to be said for living in a midsized American town. I've never had to pay more than five dollars to go to the under eighteen clubs back home. Maybe the all ages thing here had something to do with it. Probably. With the nicely faked DC ID I was able to acquire an armband that let me do whatever I pleased inside.
The stairs were lined with those white Christmas lights and I could already hear the thumping of dance music. My ears weren't going to be thanking me by night's end. When I hit the club proper, I noticed the walls weren't normal. They were dressed up cave-like, and the wall just to the left of the entrance had hand holds, like those rock climbing walls in the mall. I looked up and there was something akin to a tree house up there. I could see a couple of arms flailing about. This place is weird.
The bar was pink lit in the background and black light was everywhere. It wasn't too busy just yet. The dance floor was only a quarter full at the moment and the long bar had ten people waiting on their drinks served by three tenders. There were too many off shoot rooms around. It was going to be a bitch finding Knapp when he did show up. I didn't want to be standing at the bar watching the door the whole time. I'd be too tempted to drink. When one of the bartenders pumped his chin at me and smiled, I also know that I'd have to have a decent cover.
"What you having, baby?"
Oh god. I'm a single girl in a dance club. Maybe this wasn't such a good plan after all.
My usual fare from my boy days would be a Crown and Coke, but that wasn't going to fly here, plus I didn't want to get drunk. I think that would probably be frowned upon. What's a good chick beer? Something lite, obviously. "Bud Lite."
He reached down and in the span of three seconds had a longneck on the bar with the top popped. "Eight bucks."
FOR A BEER?!
I only pissed myself for a second before tossing a ten beside the bottle and walking off with my single drink. Maybe Budweiser is spiking club beer with mood altering drugs. It was the only thing I could come up with.
You want to know something? Walking around with no bra is annoying. My breasts were jiggling with every single move I made. Thank god I wasn't cursed with something in the overly large size. C-cups were big enough, and quite unwieldy when they were unleashed.
The vibration of my cell alerted me of a text.
Hi mom, I hadn't heard from you in a while and was getting worried. Are you okay?
The tightening in my chest, that I didn't realized I had, eased a little. I breathed out and smiled after, before returning her message.
Hey sweetie, Mom's on the job at the moment. Have you been studying like a good girl? Is Miss Bonsai watching over you? If you scratch her on her back right near her tail it makes her poke her tail straight up. I miss you baby. Mom.
I reviewed the message before I sent it and smiled then frowned. When did I get all… sweet and girlie? Liz would like it, and right now what made her feel good made me feel good, so I hit send. Deal with my new oddities later.
Three check-ins later and I felt another vibration. It was from Dani.
By the time he arrived I had the whole dancing as a girl thing down pat. The beer was long gone and the Coke that I had in my hand had to go. I knew guys, and I also knew that guys zeroed in on girls with certain drinks. Beer was low maintenance, and the girl, aware of how she drinks. Mixed drinks were high maintenance, cold and annoying. Mixed drinks were too girl-aggressive, something that I didn't want show and put him off. His file said that he was more likely to be the aggressor in a relationship. Wine was totally out, and frankly nasty. It was the shot-girls that interested guys went after. They were looking to get drunk, get out, and get laid; not necessarily in that order.
I made it to the bar at exactly the same time he did, purposely. My skin was glowing from the dancing I was doing. I knew I looked hot, and not in a, 'can someone lower the thermostat, please,' way. The bar was crowded so I slid sideways, and pressed my breasts against him as I tried to squeezed through. I know, I'm awful.
I was looking at the pink lit mirror behind the bar and saw his face drop down and his eyes widen at the contact. That was way too easy. A different bartender pointed at me.
"I need Sex on the Beach." Yeah, I purposely said it that way.
The bartender laughed and I turned my head to the body that I was pressed up against. Knapp's eyes jerked to mine, and I gave him one of the smiles I reserve solely for Ray. "Sorry, I'm really hot and really thirsty." Stress on the word 'hot'.
Making a production out of eying his body and smiling satisfactorily I asked, "What's your name?"
"Jason," he yelled over the music.
"Ten!" the said the bartender. I tossed a twenty at him and smiled. "Thanks!"
Taking the shot glass I upended it into my throat, and swallowed in a single gulp, shook my head and smiled as bright as I could. Knapp grinned along until I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him down. "I'm very horny and I want to have sex right now!"
Letting him go was kind of funny. He didn't move hardly at all, just enough to see my face. I gave him my best interested look. Oh shit. Maybe I went a little overboard. His hand was behind my back and his lips were on my mouth. I guess that's one way to test the waters. It wasn't Ray, and I wasn't good enough to try to fantasize that it was him kissing me, so I stuttered a little at first, but eventually I guess I convinced him. I may have to brush with bleach tonight to get the taste of a random guy out of my mouth, but I didn't think I'd yak right there in the club.
His hand dropped down and squeezed my butt, so I did the only thing I could and grabbed him by the belt as I turned away, and pulled him along with me. I grimaced on the way out. Hopefully the alcohol from the drink would burn away the guy cooties that were in my mouth. Sheri was just going to love the fact that I couldn't get out of there without a lip-lock.
I already knew the answer, but once we got outside I immediately asked him where he lived. He got a little nervous. "Um... I still live at home."
"That's cool, are your parents home right now?" I already knew the answer to that too.
"My dad works nights."
I didn't ask about his mom, 'cause she was dead, and if she were there he'd say something. "Let's go then. Lots to do."
He looked like he hit the jackpot. Too bad that this slot machine wasn't paying off tonight. Knapp's condo was two blocks over from the club and on the third floor. He insisted on holding my hand. It probably would have been rude not to go along with it considering what I was going to do to him tonight, not to mention it would have looked a little weird asking him to have sex, and not look eager until we were inside closed doors.
Surprisingly, the place was very tidy. Not surprisingly, it was very male. It almost seemed like home to me in a past life sort of way. It made me miss my father more than I already missed him.
"Can I get you something to drink?" he politely offered.
"Water for me, please. Feel free to drink whatever you want."
The beer didn't do anything to me, but I was feeling very loose from the shot I downed about fifteen minutes earlier. The irony of being handed a bottled water wasn't lost on me. Well, I wasn't giving birth any time soon, so hopefully I'd be okay.
Knapp mixed himself a screwdriver. It was teenager's mixed drink. It's hard to mess up the ingredients. Believe me, I'd know.
"Jason, I have something to tell you, and I need you to hear me out."
He stopped stirring his drink and his shoulders slumped. "You aren't a guy, are you?"
I actually laughed at that one. "Um, no." He brightened.
"Good, I swear, I have the worst luck sometimes. Some guys out there can really pass for girls. I mean reeeeeally pass."
I know, one of them is a good friend of mine. I didn't say that, but I did nod in understanding. "This isn't about me, well, in a way it is, but this is about you."
Now he was stumped. "Do I know you?"
"No." I took out my DHS ID and showed him. What the heck, it might make him take me seriously. He took it and was, well I guess stunned would be a good word. He was just looking at it like he didn't understand what it was and why I was showing him. He did look up at me and down at the photo a few times.
"Is this for real?"
I nodded somberly. "Yeah."
He swallowed. "You're not really horny tonight are you."
I shook my head.
"And you really don't want to have sex, either."
They weren't questions. He knew I'd led him here under false pretenses.
"No. I'm here for another reason."
He frowned at his drink and turned to the wet bar to toss it down the drain, but I stopped him. "You really might want to hold on to that for now. You're gonna need it."
The glass started shaking and a some of his drink spilled over the side. He caught himself and set it down. "Is this about my dad?"
I shook my head again. "No, this is only about you."
Gears were in overdrive within his brain trying to figure out what it was that he did. Then his eyes widened. "Look, I can erase the downloads. I really didn't want the music anyway. It was Mitch, he said it was cool, but I knew better…"
"Jason! Stop, I'm not here about illegal downloads." I was just making things worse. "Bring your drink let's sit down."
Once I had him on the couch and he'd drank about half a glass of alcohol he seemed to be less nervous. I explained the bottled water fiasco. It was something that he never knew about. His dad never told him anything about his mother. It was a touchy subject in the Knapp household.
"So, I'm intersexed is what you're saying?"
"What does that mean?"
I leaned over and poked him twice low on the abdomen. "It means, here and here are ovaries. They aren't functional at the moment. That's why you haven't had any health problems, and you don't have any feminine characteristics."
He stared at me for about thirty seconds like he didn't believe me before he downed the rest of his drink in one long pull. I watched as he returned to the bar to have another drink. Maybe I'd discovered a new way to introduce this to new subjects! Just get them drunk and lay it out. For some reason I didn't think the Colonel would go for it. He was probably going to be pissed that I didn't drink Coke for the whole evening.
"I have to get these things out of me, right? An operation?"
I shook my head. "That probably wouldn't be a good idea. We have… I'm skipping over things here. Come sit back down."
I nodded, and was about to suggest bringing the bottle along, but he beat me to it. When he situated himself, he took another drink and set the glass on a coaster, but still held onto the vodka bottle as some type of familiar object. Well, I know people that cling to teddy bears, why not vodka bottles? More cathartic in my opinion.
"The water did something else to you."
Before I got it out he just blurted, "It's gonna turn me gay isn't it? I thought telling Mitch that he was looking good the other day was just a nice thing to do. I mean he was going out on a date with Stephanie Hightower and he asked. I mean what was I supposed to say?"
He caught me off guard with that one. I just stared on, a bit open mouthed. Then I clicked it shut and shook my head. "No. As far as I know, you aren't turning gay. That's entirely up to you and your own lifestyle."
I jumped at my cell phone vibrating. Lifting it up, I saw that Liz had sent me another text.
I love you.
I smiled and it made my heart warm at the thought. "Sorry, it's my daughter… never mind. Just a sec." I typed in a return. Almost done, sweetie.
"How old are you?" he asked with skepticism. "I mean you don't look…"
While he was processing that, I dove in to the meat of the subject. "You have a talent, a power that's going to manifest itself tomorrow night." Okay, I'd lost him with that one. "Watch."
I did the arcs between the fingers party trick. He totally ignored the orange juice and took a hit right from the neck of the vodka. His eyes started watering, and he took a deep breath to cool his throat.
"What the hell was that?!"
"My talent. I'm a Electrokinetic, just like you're going to be a Pyrokinetic."
The phone rang at that moment, startling both of us. Jason stared down at the remote phone sitting on the coffee table. At the same time, my own cell started chirping at me.
"Answer it. I've got a call too." I watched him numbly pick up the phone as I clicked on mine. "Keys."
It was the Colonel. "Was that the house phone going off?"
"Uh, yeah. What, are you listening?" Duh, stupid question. I'd totally forgotten about the whole tapping into the cell phone spy thing that they can do.
"Three teen-aged males are entering the building. Did your subject let them in?"
"Hold on." Jason just set down his phone. "Who was that?"
He shrugged. "They said they had a delivery for my dad."
I had a really bad feeling something really bad was about to happen. "We're hitting the stairs, Colonel. Clear the way!"
I grabbed his hand and jerked him to his feet as I rose. "We have to leave now. Those weren't delivery men. Come on!"
"What? What's happening?"
We were to the door, which I opened it to check the hallway. "Which way to the stairs?"
"To the right, by the elevator. Where are we going?"
I pulled him into a run, but he wasn't feeling the danger. "Those guys you just let in are probably coming to kill us. I'm getting you to a safe place." It was sort of true. They would probably try to kill me, which I'm sorry to say is a little more important on my not to do list.
As we hit the door I heard the ding of the elevator announcing that the car was arriving. Of course this elevator out of all the slow clunkers in America happened to be the fastest. I shoved the door closed and hoped that they didn't hear. I looked around for some thing to block the door, like in all of the spy movies. There'd always be a heavy trash can or maybe a old timey fire hose that I could conveniently tie off the knob so it wouldn't open. Apparently the engineers that planned this particular building hadn't seen those movies.
I held my finger to my lips and shushed any further conversation while I tried to listen at the door. Nothing. Pointing down, we made tracks down the stairs until I heard the patting of shoes racing upward. We stopped and I pushed Jason against the wall out of the way. "Stay there. Let me deal with this."
It didn't take long. Another few seconds and a blond-haired boy rounded the corner, he reached up one hand to his ear and the other out at me. My dad didn't raise a stupid child. Nothing good was coming out of that hand at me, and I wasn't going to wait to see what it was.
All he got out was, "They're in the…," before I gave him the shock of his life… literally.
He slammed back into the wall behind him and collapsed to the floor.
"Come on, move!" I felt like the Roadrunner, my feet were spinning so fast on the stairs. "They know where we are."
The second floor whizzed by and we were about to the first when I heard gunfire from outside the final door. "That leads to the outside, right?"
Jason, already out of breath, nodded. "Hang on, I have friends out there. We'll be safe soon."
Something exploded and I heard rain. Rain? Max! "When I say run, you run straight toward a big black SUV. It should be right outside the door. Okay." He nodded. I pushed against the emergency door and, of course an alarm sounded. Well that might not be a bad thing.
A quick check and I saw the team about fifteen feet away. The Colonel was popping shots off at a car to the left and Max was using a fire hydrant to blast a jet of water at them. Perfect.
"Max, get'um wet!"
All I saw was a smile from his face when I rounded the door. "RUN NOW!"
Pulling up a large amount of my power I let loose in the direction of where the water was landing. Remember Max's warning about water and electricity not mixing very well? I did get to see something from the movies that I've always wanted to see. A car explosion!
By the time I turned to make a break for the SUV, Jason was diving inside and the driver was backing up to make a break for it. The Colonel jumped back in the truck and I was a couple of steps away when something hit me. It was hard enough to spin me around and drop me to the concrete below.
"KRIS!" Someone female, screamed.
I was dazed for a second and then the searing pain in my shoulder hit me. Landing as I did I had a perfect view of the front of the building and the two teens that were standing there, one of them holding his hand out at me and grinning. Fear, pain, anger, and everything else that was coursing through me screamed up and out, as I let loose with another bolt of energy directed right at them.
A jolt of energy coursed through me.
"Dude! You can't do it that many times, you'll kill her."
The Colonel's voice filtered through my aching head. "Keep him out of the way. Keys? You awake in there?"
I honestly didn't have the energy to answer.
"Charge it again."
"Give me a chance to tie off the pressure bandage, dammit!"
"Try her hands, that's where she's always recharged before!"
Two circular somethings were pressed into my palms. "Clear!"
Okay, I felt that one, and it felt good. My eyes blinked open.
I groaned. "Fuck… is my arm still on?"
The Colonel leaned back on the heels of his feet. Apparently I was on the floor, and from the looks of things, already on the jet. "Yes, but you have a really big hole there." He looked over at Sheri. "Kirsch, start a unit of B negative for her. She's lost too much blood. Marks, hand me that kit."
The burning at my shoulder started to increase to the point where I was about to say something, but the Colonel beat me to it. "I'm going to give you something for the pain. It'll probably knock you out."
I nodded in thanks. Yes, drugs would be good right about now. "Liz."
"She'll be waiting for us when we land. You worry about yourself."
A little prick at my left arm let me know that he was already shooting something into me.
"I want her to heal me. She can do it."
The Colonel gave me a stern look. "She hasn't been trained to do something like this, Keys."
I grabbed at his hand, and he took it, squeezing reassuringly. "I trust her. I want her to do it."
I didn't get to hear his answer before he blurred out, and my eyelids grew too heavy to hold up.
The sound of somebody weeping woke me. My right hand was being squeezed to death and the back of it was wet. I blinked my eyes open and I saw a mass of raven black hair hovering over my hand laying on the bed.
"Hey," I said. My voice was a little rough from sleeping, but before I even had a chance to clear it, Liz's hair whipped up and around, as she jumped out of the chair and on top of me.
I wrapped my arms around her and it felt like the best thing in the world to me at that moment. It was amazing how much I could miss a person that I hadn't known for less than a week. Whatever this imprint, bond, or link we had actually was, I wasn't seeing a downside at the moment. I'd probably retract that statement at some point, but the feeling of holding someone that I considered my daughter at that moment was absolute heaven for me.
Her voice was muffled at my neck, not to mention the sobbing that was going on, but I could still understand her quite clearly.
"Never again. I'm going where you go. You don't ever leave me again. Never. Ever."
I squeezed her tighter, and she broke down into my arms.
The door opened and I saw the doc stick his head in. A frown from my face, and one returned from him wound up with him closing the door. Since there wasn't a gigantic bandage on my shoulder and I wasn't in any pain I deduced that Liz had been at work.
"You fixed me."
Her head nodded quickly. "Uh huh."
She pulled back and I could see she was a mess. Her eyes were swollen and red, along with her nose. "Mom, you gotta promise to take me with you next time."
I looked to the side, where a small table was set up, complete with a box of tissues. Plucking one, I dabbed at Liz's tears and smiled. "Sweetie. It's dangerous out there for us right now. I'd never forgive myself if you got hurt."
"But it's okay if you get hurt?" she gasped and then grabbed at the tissue to blow her nose. "I could have helped you."
I nodded. "And we were in a gunfight as well. You could have been shot and then what would I have done?"
She didn't like that question, and instead of arguing, she lay her head back down against my breast. "It feels so good to have you back. I missed you so much."
Running my fingers through her hair soothed something inside me as well as her. She sighed with satisfaction. Before long, I heard her breath deepen, and knew she was asleep. I must have dozed off again as well, because the next thing I knew, someone was touching my shoulder. Ray.
"Hey beautiful," he whispered.
I smiled up at him. "Hey yourself."
Leaning down he kissed me sweetly on the lips and stroked my hair back. "How are you feeling?"
I shrugged lightly. "A little tired, but Liz fixed me up."
He looked down at her, and turned his head like he was studying her sleeping face. "She was almost hysterical when she found out what happened to you." His face turned serious. "And I've got to say that I wasn't too happy myself." After giving me a disapproving purse of his lips he added, "I can't believe you left me behind."
"If the mission went as planned you would have never been needed, Ray. But that's changed. Now, every mission is going to be very high risk."
He nodded and then looked down at Liz again. "What's up with you two? She wouldn't even leave your bedside when the Colonel ordered her to. She told him to fuck off."
My eyes widened at that, but it brought a smile to my face. "I'll have to talk to her about that."
"Kris, she thinks she's your daughter, like for real."
There was that satisfaction feeling back again. "In a way, she is."
At his inquiring look, I explained. "Dani thinks she imprinted on me when she transitioned. I was there with her the entire time."
He considered my words and Dani's guess. "Is there a way to break it."
Liz and I answered at the same time. "No."
She cringed when she looked up at me and I gave her the raised eyebrow treatment. "Been listening for long, miss nosy pants?"
Liz ignored my question. "I don't want it to be broken. Please don't let them break it."
By this time I was wholeheartedly in her corner about that topic, but I was also the adult figure, between the two of us, so I had to consider the best thing for her. "Sweetie, I want you to think about something. What happened to us isn't exactly normal. I'm only a couple of months older than you are, but I feel as if I gave birth to you," I frowned. "As weird as that sounds." Before she could get a word in edgewise, I continued. "We don't look anything alike, so I can't even say we're related like sisters."
Her face was crumbling again. I know she thought I was rejecting her. Tears started to stream down her face. "Liz, I'm just saying you need to think about this, and not just go with your heart."
"I'm not dumb, Mom. You don't think I realize how weird this is? When I woke up after I changed, and you were there, holding my hand, I felt so loved and wanted. It was just like I imagined having a real mom would be. So what, if we're a little weird. So what, if you're just a little older. When I'm with you I feel so safe, like you wouldn't ever let anything bad happen to me."
I nodded. "That's how I feel. I have sympathy for the person that even looks at you wrong around me."
She looked at me like that should have been so obvious. "See. Are we hurting anyone?"
I shook my head.
"Are we hurting ourselves, by loving each other this way?"
"Probably not," I admitted.
"So where's the harm?"
I cupped her face and then set her head back down. "No harm at all, baby girl." I kissed her on top of her head. "No harm at all."
Ray looked wistfully at the two of us and smiled. "We are going to have such a weird relationship."
I shrugged. "Who wants to be normal?"
Liz's hand slid around my ribs and her breath was warm and humid against my neck. "Can I change my last name to Keys?"
We wound up spending the rest of the night in the hospital bed so the doc could keep an eye on me, and review Liz's talent at work. By mid-morning I was finally allowed to leave the clinic to take a shower, and get into some real clothes before heading off to a debrief with the Colonel.
He didn't seemed surprised to see me up and around. I was beginning to think that he had two moods, plotting, and suppressed anger, never surprise.
"Recovered from your nearly fatal wounds?"
I made a face at him. "Thanks to my daughter."
He acknowledged that comment with mild interest, but other things held more of a priority. With a spin of his monitor I saw the front page of the New York Post.
Terrorist Strikes In Village
There was a picture, probably taken by a cell phone. It wasn't very good, but I could see a decent profile of my body. Luckily my face was obscured.
"The President wasn't pleased."
I glowered at him. "Well then next time that we have to defend ourselves, I'll give him a call and ask his permission first."
He almost smirked, but caught himself in the end. "It wasn't that. That could be explained away any by any number of believable scenarios. It was the lightning strike on a clear night, the resulting explosion, the virtual destruction of the front of the building, and the resulting black out in a ten block radius, that held most of his concern." He held his finger up so I didn't interrupt. "Not to mention the death of two former members of Naval Intelligence that happened to be electrocuted, and half blown up from the car explosion down the street."
"I'm not done yet."
The Colonel spun his monitor back around and clicked a few key on the computer before spinning it back to me. "These two were supposedly missing in action almost twenty years ago in the Iraqi dessert. They were assumed dead until now."
That brought a frown to my face. "So, it is our own people that are against us."
He nodded. "It's a fair assessment to say the President is disturbed by this, and has called a meeting with the directors of every agency to the White House. He want us there representing Homeland."
He nodded. "Me, you, select members of your team. A sampling. He's going to lay it out in the open and hopefully put a halt to whatever is going on."
I clicked a second later. "He wants to out the person responsible."
"It's a fair assessment to deduce that one of the directors knows about their own group's existence."
With a nod from me he closed down his computer. "I want you, James Cook, Christopher Duncan, Debra Webb and Sheri Kirsch at the meeting."
Liz isn't going to like that I'm leaving again so soon, and without her. "May I bring Liz along as well?"
He didn't answer right away. "What's this unusual attachment that you two have formed? Don't think I didn't notice you calling her your daughter when you sat down there."
Just rip the band-aid off. "She's imprinted on me, as near as we can figure out, anyway. It makes her believe that emotionally I am her mother, with the reverse effect on me as well."
The Colonel opened his mouth, but then closed it again.
"She wants to change her name to Keys as well." I looked away at that admission. That little something in my chest? It was almost purring at the thought of making our relationship official.
I may have slumped a little in my seat, to subconsciously reduce my target size for his response.
"And you?" He voice was short and measured.
I shrugged, but nodded afterward. I couldn't bring myself to verbally respond to his question. Maybe it was the last remnants of maleness in me that was dying off. I was a young woman now, and I was taking a major step of womanhood, officially becoming a mother. Being responsible for the care and well being of my semi-adopted daughter was beyond anything that I'd ever imagined. That would mean changes and new responsibilities, but with those came a grounded feeling, a sense of delightful contentment. It might not be the real thing. I might not have physically given birth to a sixteen year old girl, but I honestly couldn't tell what the difference could be.
The clacking of his keyboard brought me out of my musings. The Colonel's jaw was grinding a little. He wasn't mad, I could tell that much, but he wasn't exactly happy either.
"There you go. Miss Keys, you are now officially the mother of a one hundred and ten pound bouncing baby girl. Your request to have her attend tomorrow is accepted. Have your team ready, and dressed in the uniforms that will be delivered to your rooms. Make sure this is on the QT."
I blinked. "On the what?"
I'm sure the Colonel was feeling his age when he replied. "It's a phrase that old people use. It means, on the quiet. Keep the information on a need to know basis, Miss Keys."
I nodded and realized I was being dismissed. Before I made it to the door I turned around. "Um, I thought you said I wasn't going to be wearing a uniform."
His hazel eyes turned to me. "I lied."
We were heading out that afternoon. I'd have to miss Jason Knapp's transition, but he as secure in the bunker until it happened. I did stop by before going up to check out the uniform I was supposed to wear.
After opening the door, I stuck my head inside. "Hey, you want some company?"
"Holy shit, your arm is healed!"
I smiled. "One of the perks we have. Instant healing."
Jason jumped up off the bed and tossed the magazine he was reading to the side. Neither of us knew what to say at that point. I mean I never had the chance to tell him about the last part of the situation involving his transition.
Looking around the bunker I marveled at how there was nothing in there, and the walls were scorched. They looked clean, but I guess you can only clean so much, and what was the point in painting. "This is where I changed."
I nodded. "I don't remember it too much. I was a little out of it at the time."
"Lucky you. The waiting is killing me, and the vodka wore off hours ago." He didn't wait too long before asking the inevitable question. "Is it true, that you used to be a guy?"
I nodded. "Yeah. Last week sometime."
"And I'm really going to change into a girl," he commented with a depressed finality.
"Yeah, that's pretty much a given." I tried to joke a little to lighten the mood, or at least try to. "If it's any consolation, we're all pretty nice looking. You probably won't be a…"
"It's not." I got really uncomfortable. It seemed like Jason's way of dealing was to ask questions. "They said that I might look like I was born as a different race."
"Yeah, I was white bread, big time. Now I look Mediterranean or something. We're guessing it has something to do with what nationality your ancestors were. I'm guessing recessive genes or something. I wasn't that big in biology, sorry."
"I'm a mutt. You name it and it's in my bloodline." He kept staring off at one of the walls, like they weren't ever there.
"Have a preference?"
He shrugged. "I kinda like Italian, but… body hair." He shivered. "Maybe Swedish, that would be kind of cool."
"Blond hair, buxom, tall…"
"Yeah, good point. Maybe not. I wasn't that big of a breast guy."
I laughed a little. "You seemed to like mine well enough."
He shrugged, shyly. "Well, there was supposed to be sex involved at the time."
"Good thought. That always skews the viewpoint."
He rubbed at his chin and the darkening peach fuzz that was there. "My mom was supposed to be from East Asia somewhere." He shook his head. "Forget about it. It doesn't matter. I don't have any control over it anyway."
"Maybe you do." I shrugged. "We don't know a lot about this Jason. If you want any control of an uncontrollable situation then try to make a difference. It'll give you something to think about other than how much time you have until the evening.
"What do you mean?"
I was making it up as I went along. How was I to know? "I dunno. Try to visualize a race, hair color, body size, everything. See if it works."
He sighed and closed his eyes before growling in frustration. "I don't want to be a chick, dammit!"
I stepped in and took grabbed a hold of his wrists to pull his hands down. "Well, neither did I. Now do you want to look like a big blond bimbo, or do you want to have any say in the matter? If you don't care, then lay back down there and enjoy the last few hours of your masculinity, but if you want to accept that the change is going to happen whether you like it or not, then try your damnedest to tailor it, so you can accept what you are."
His hands were shaking, and I could see that he was seconds from breaking down in front of me. "Jason, we don't have a choice. You don't have a choice. But it's not the end. We've all dealt with the change, and come out better for it. I have more friends here than I ever had before. I have a daughter that I love, and that loves me, and I also have a guy that I am severally attracted to. We get to make a difference in people's lives every day that we hang on and push through."
His hands had stopped shaking, and he was staring at me, but there was still something missing.
"When's the last time that you really made a difference in someone's life, Jason?"
He shook his head.
"Well, you're going to have a very strong talent. You will be right by my side when we go out there to help others like us. I need you there, Jason. I can't do this by myself. The others help, but they just can't know what it's like to control real power. So, I need you to cowboy up, mister."
He blinked at me, his mouth looked like it wanted to function.
"Now, what nationality do you want to be?"
"Asian," he whispered.
"Fine, what color hair?"
He smiled and looked off to the side with his eyes. "Light purple."
"Ahh, manga. You'll get along with Max, real well."
He choked on a laugh. "I doubt it. I like girls."
I shrugged. "Leave that for later then until you figure out what you want. How tall do you want to be."
"I don't know?"
"Well, don't go too tall. They make you wear high heels around here until you're used to them. How about five-six, five-seven?"
"Pick one, Jason."
"Great. You want long legs, and a tiny waist, big breasts? What kind of butt? Big feet, tiny feet? Concentrate on it, Jason. Get a damn good picture in your mind and make it happen. Can you do that?"
He sniffed and then nodded.
I gave him a single nod, and leaned in to hug him. "Good luck, Jason. I mean it. I'm right there rooting for you."
By the time we made it to Washington DC I was fidgety. Liz was spending her time looking out of the window, and the rest of the gang was busy talking it up in the back. The Colonel spent most of his time on the laptop doing secret black bag research or something, or maybe it was online poker.
The big taxi dropped us off at the Willard, just down the street from the big guy. It was ritzy as all get out, but the White House was flipping the bill for this one. Your tax dollars at work. The team got one three bedroom suite, and the Colonel, a room for himself.
While Liz was in the shower, I kept a watchful eye on the time. Jason would be coming into his powers very soon and I expected an update to how he was handling the whole situation. The President chose a really crappy time to have this getting to know you summit with the rest of the Directors across the Executive Branch of the government. Having one of my own going through something as traumatic as a transition was a big deal in my book. I should have been there instead of a hotel, a mile away from the White House, twiddling my fingers.
"Shower's free, Mom."
That still sounded so weird. It made me feel like I was thirty-six instead of sixteen. "Thanks, sweetie."
Liz beamed every time I called her that. It was like an affirmation of our connection. I watched as she crossed the floor to the desk that she was using as a temporary make-up table. She sat down and started brushing the dampness from her long black hair. She frowned a little and swiveled in the chair.
"Mom, would you brush my hair?"
I didn't think anything of it. "Sure I can."
A few steps later and I was making sure the ends of her hair didn't have any tangles before I start the long sweeps. A motion off to the side brought my attention to the bed and Miss Bonsai watching us.
"I think Bonsai's jealous of you."
Liz grinned. "I'll make sure to give her good skritches behind her ears when you are in the shower."
She closed her eyes, and smiled happily. I've had my hair messed with by other people. As long as it isn't Heather and her manic date-night hairstyles, it was actually pretty nice. So, I could see how much enjoyment Liz was getting out of my brushing her hair. When it was pretty much dry I excused myself and hit the shower.
Nine o'clock was when I received the call.
"Miss Keys, this is Ms. Fine." She didn't sound too enthused, but then again Ms. Fine never seemed to get excited about much.
"How is Jason doing?" I asked without any preamble.
"He went rogue, Miss Keys. At six-thirteen this evening he experienced his First Emergence, and by eight-twenty five was attempting to burn a way out of the bunker. He was put down at approximately eight-thirty-seven."
I tried to act nonchalant. I knew this was a possibility, but I thought if I did something, just my mere presence at some point would make a difference. The arrogance I possessed was astounding.
"Did… did you try…"
"We tried subduing him a number of times before taking final action."
'Putting down', 'final action', pretty words for such an ugly act.
"Miss Keys, he was beyond control. We will have to add an extra layer of protection to the bunker. The heat he was using actually exploded several of the cinderblocks of the inside wall."
I nodded to nobody. "I'll be expecting your full report by morning, Ms. Fine."
"You'll have it. Would you like me to inform Colonel Harris?"
"No, I'll do it."
"Very well, Miss Keys."
The connection ended without any salutations. The Colonel took the news like any other factoid I'd delivered to him before. No emotion, just acknowledgement, like this thing happened every day. As an afterthought, I suppose that it did happen often enough. I had only been at the Center for a little over a week and personally knew of two rogue deaths, one of which I was the executioner. It was a bleak future if the percentage of rogues was this high.
The others were watching television in the main room of the suite. When they saw the somber look on my face as I entered, I think James understood what had happened before the other three.
"Jason didn't make it." There were no gasps of disbelief, or empty platitudes offered, just grim faces. They, more than me, had seen this sort of thing time and again. But me, as their leader, had to put on the happy face, or at least the positive face. "We'll figure this out. There's a reason that this happens."
Well that didn't do any good, and it really shouldn't have if you possessed any semblance of a heart. "Get some sleep. We have a meeting with some bigwigs tomorrow and I need every one of you with your A-game."
A potential friend and ally just took one to the head. Good night kiddies. Sweet dreams. Yeah, I'm a great leader.
The uniform was U.S. Army. The breakfast was Continental. Miss Bonsai was stoned on catnip. Liz was busy scratching my cat's tummy while she lay twisting her butt around with contented kitty smile on her face.
The Colonel and I were reading the report Mrs. Fine sent via some funky military secured connection. Everything was all nice and neat, with a big timeline of events as they happened, down to the second. All very efficient. All very emotionless. I glanced at the Colonel's face as he read. His jaw was set and I couldn't see any change whatsoever.
Would this be what I turned into in twenty or thirty years, a robot that could just read dispassionately about killing someone that was under my care? If there was one thing I'd learned in my short time at the Center, it was compartmentalization was a necessity of life. One of the main reasons that he chose me for my particular position was because I didn't break down at the drop of a hat. If I did feel overly emotional then there was no way I'd be able to do my job. It's kind of hard to pull the trigger on a psycho if I was arguing the validity of every action in the back of my head.
Keeping all of this in mind, I realized how much I'd changed in so short of a time, and I wasn't liking what I was seeing.
I blinked out of my introspection and looked at the Colonel. With a resigned sigh I answered him. "I want to try something with the next subject." See, I couldn't even say, the next teenage boy or girl that we might have to kill.
"As soon as they come up on the radar through Dani, Tony, or whoever, we go ahead and pick them up."
He tried to read my mind or my face, one of the two. "Why?"
I told him what Jason and I talked about, with my suspicions of possibly being able to control the change somewhat. He looked thoughtful. "How about the rogue element? Any ideas on that?"
I shook my head. "I got nothing. What have the scientists come up with?"
"Nothing new. They haven't been able to sedate any subject that has gone rogue. It makes it more difficult to gather the necessary sample for blood workups. Once the subject is neutralized then all bets are off."
After clearing the screen on the laptop I shut it down. "What's the plan for today?"
The Colonel shook his head. "Your guess is as good as mine. The President doesn't want to show any of his cards before the meet. The only thing everyone knows is that he's pissed."
Glancing over at the table the gang had commandeered about twenty feet away, I saw Liz give me a short wave. My lips thinned for her in some semblance of a smile, which she frowned at sympathetically.
"The uniform looks good on you."
I grimaced. "I feel like an imposter. I didn't earn this."
After taking a sip from his mug of coffee he set it down. "You earned it. Maybe not in the traditional way, but still. Whether you are conscious of the fact or not, you are a member of the United States Army, Kristyn. You've entered into combat against the enemy of this country. Just because they live here as well doesn't change that fact."
My lips pursed at the thought.
"As such, you are entitled to the recognition of your position. I've already sent in the paperwork for your Purple Heart."
My eyes widened. "What?"
"It's a medal."
I narrowed my eyes. "I know it's a medal."
"You were injured in combat. It's all part of the package."
"Yeah, but it wasn't like I was laid up for any length of time or anything. Shouldn't those go to guys that lose limbs?"
He nodded a single time. "They get theirs too." With a frown he added, "Kristyn, there are people out there that are awarded the Purple Heart who never actually earned it. A number of politicians come to mind." Pointing his finger at me, my arm specifically. "You almost had your arm blow off, so shut up and take the medal when it comes."
I had a feeling that Colonel Harris didn't like backtalk.
He cocked an eyebrow at me.
The White House, while impressive and all It wasn't so welcoming as I thought it would be. I tugged on the Army issue skirt that I was wearing while I took in the gigantic meeting room where we were waiting for all the chairs to fill up around the conference table. I call it a table; it was more like something from a TV show. There had to be about fifty good-sized chairs surrounding the monstrosity.
Marines were all over the place with their hands not too far away from their sidearms. I was nowhere near good enough to take more than a couple out before they'd do so to me, and they were professionally trained to kill people. Not that I had plans to do that or anything.
The Colonel ignored scene as he was perusing the morning memos that Mrs. Fine had sent to him. It was him and me sitting at the table directly. Chris, Debs, Sheri, James, and Liz held chairs directly behind us. They were dressed in Army dress uniforms as well. The difference was that they had a single decorative red circle on their left sleeve, near the shoulder, not to mention their last names on a black pin above their right breast pocket.
Liz was happy as a clam to be sporting Keys. I was proud that she thought enough of me to want my last name.
Me, on the other hand…
I was wearing the red circle as well. But I also had these silver bars on my shoulders with a single black pip in the center. The Colonel informed me that was the rank insignia of a Warrant Officer. He did tell me that it was not in the least bit out of the ordinary for someone with 'specialist experience' to be given the rank. It was these people that had little experience in actual soldiering that the regular grunts knew served a purpose.
I was also sporting a set of curved wings below my left breast pocket with two tiny placards hanging off that read Team and Field. You can take that to mean that I was in charge of my crew and why I was sitting at the table beside the actual guy in charge.
People were dribbling in; old people. I made it a point to check out the name plates where they sat and they were fairly impressive. Directors of Central Intelligence, National Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Justice Department, Defense Department, you name it, they were there along with several people that didn't look too happy to be there.
All of them, every single person that walked through that door, spied us. We were the anomaly at that meeting. Teenagers.
Chris made sure that the girls, at least, had professional looking makeup, letting us give the appearance of looking a couple of years older. The boys were screwed.
There was one guy who looked like he should be in a military uniform that gave the Colonel a surprised look before heading in our direction. I nudged him under the table and Harris closed his laptop and looked up.
"Harris, I though they drummed you out of the Army," the older man said with a mild look of distaste on his face.
The Colonel's face was like stone, much like every other time I've seen him. "Appearances can be deceiving, Wallace."
The old man's eyes narrowed. "That's General Wallace."
The Colonel didn't seem intimidated in the least. "You're retired, Wallace. I'm active, and I don't answer to you."
I ping-ponged my eyes back and forth at the exchange.
"As long as you wear that uniform, you do."
"Then I suggest you take it up with the President. In the meantime I have work to do. If you'll excuse me."
With that, the Colonel turned around and promptly ignored the guy. Once the Wallace made his way around the table, he sat behind the Department of Defense nameplate. Well, I guess that explains that.
Once all the chairs were filled except for three at the head of the table, a door at the opposite end of the room from the main doors, opened.
"Stand," the Colonel whispered.
Two people I didn't recognize entered followed by someone that I'd only seen on TV.
The President didn't look too happy. Well, if I were him, I probably wouldn't be either. One of his underlings was killing innocent civilians and generally making themselves annoying.
"Thank you all for coming today. The topic of this meeting is considered Eyes-Only. If I hear word of this even hinted at in the press I will personally see the person or people responsible never see the light of day again."
The general mood of the room dropped. Tension rose. Presumably the people present were used to these kinds of things. They were the ones that protected the United States in all ways. One would assume that they'd been involved in something that should never be in the public eye.
The President motioned to one of his aides. The lights came down and four screens dropped down from the ceiling.
We were briefed the same way that Colonel Harris informed me about how the students of the Center came about. The Colonel wasn't paying attention to the presentation. Instead he was scanning the room. Once he made a complete sweep he turned in his chair and leaned back to Christopher and whispered something, then to James as well. When he returned to the table, proper, he scribbled something on a piece of paper and slid it over to me.
Remember those acronyms from a while back? SecNav is military speak for Secretary of the Navy. Without turning my head, I looked up at the guy sitting next to the Department of Defense Secretary that was rude to Colonel Harris.
His name plate read Adm. George Kinsey. Behind him were his two aides, much like every person in the room had accompanying them. The thing that threw me was that one of the aides was looking at me. An intake of breath behind me took my attention away, but I still returned the stare. Then things got stupid.
A feeling of complacence washed over me. I blinked and tried to clear my head, but the compulsion to do absolutely nothing was too much for me to overcome.
Everything in the room went quiet and still. Everything but the SecNav's two buddies. The one that was staring me down stood up. His buddy stayed where he was and looked like he was concentrating. That had to be the one keeping me down, not to mention everyone else in the room.
"You just had to bring a telepath to the damn meeting and ruin everything, didn't you, Kris."
The only thing I could do in response was blink. I didn't know this guy, but he knew me. After pulling the SecNav out of the way, the guy stepped up on top of the table with a satisfied look on his face.
"And you, Mister President," he said with a large amount of disdain in his voice. "What the hell took you so long? Almost eight years after you found out about us and you're just now having a department meeting about it?" He laughed then paused.
Turning to my team, he squinted in the low light. "Well, you want to know what's going on. Now you get your chance." Taking out a cell phone, he punched a couple of buttons and then replaced it in his pocket. The main doors opened and three more people came inside.
Oddly enough they were dressed professionally, with one guy in a black two-piece suit and the other in a gray double-breasted ensemble. The black suited guy looked kind of familiar, but I couldn't place him.
"Is everything secure?" he asked.
A tall brunette girl carrying a backpack nodded. "The White House is in Lockdown."
Without a second thought the girl set the backpack on the table and pulled out several metal rings.
Fuck this. I may not have been able to move, but my hands were on top of the table and I didn't aim with my anything but my mind. Focusing straight at the guy I deduced was causing my paralysis, and the douche bag standing on top of the table, I pulled up a goodly amount of energy and let it loose.
Ozone burned the air and there was a crackling of static electricity made the Colonel's hair stand up in my peripheral vision. That's when I saw the leader's eyes widen. He made a dive to the opposite side of the table and internally I was smiling maniacally. Blue and white arcs of energy shot out from my fingertips, burning the table as it made its connection with the guy holding us back, slamming him against the wall and burning a hole through his chest.
My head snapped around to the two extra guys that had entered. The black-suited guy was holding something in his hand and I didn't give him a chance for me to find out what it was.
It came down to who was faster with their talents, and I was through screwing around. Another jolt lanced out, arcing over one of the Directors to hit the guy that was threatening me in the face.
Shots rang out.
"Everyone chill the fuck out or he's dead."
Douche Bag was holding a gun to the SecNav's head. By this time all of the guards had their weapons out. The girl and the gray-suited guy were shot and down. Half of the guards had their weapons trained on the hostage-taker.
"You're kidding, right?" I said. "You're in the same room as the President. Everyone else here is expendable, and can you pull that trigger faster than I can fry every nerve in your body."
Colonel Harris stepped in this time. "Put the gun down, and you might live to see another sunrise."
Douche Bag cringed. "It wasn't supposed to be like this." His eyes moved around, frantically, trapped like a rat. "Fucking Keys. It's all your fault."
Before he said anymore I ramped up a stunning jolt and sent it waiting at my fingertips. "Last chance. Put the gun down, and I'll let you live."
The sound of running boots sounded down the hall. Security was on its way. That was the last hurrah for Douche Bag. All hope to get out of the area alive left his face.
"Kris. He's going to kill himself," James hurriedly whispered.
Dammit. I waited until I saw the slightest flinch of his hand move and then I zapped him. Of course every other guard that had a clear shot also chose that moment to unload a round into his body.
Do you want to know the most screwed up thing about the whole situation? Once the bad guys were down, all the guards were pointing their guns at me.
The room was cleared except for me and my team. The Colonel was off trying to find out what the hell was up with detaining us like we were the cause of everything going wrong. Next time, I was letting everyone get shot.
Liz was as close to me as her chair would allow without actually crawling up into my lap. If we weren't in the White House then I'm sure that she would have been right there. My energy was down. I wasn't about to pass out, but I could tell I needed a boost of electricity or maybe an energy drink.
The Colonel returned about thirty minutes later accompanied by one of the guys that came in with the President at the beginning of the meeting. He stopped and talked to the guards while the Colonel briefed us at to what was happening.
He didn't even get to start, before I jumped in. "Can we go home now, or do I get to go to prison for saving the President's ass, not to mention the free world."
The Colonel actually cracked a smile. I thought I'd entered an alternate dimension or something. "Good, then you know exactly what you just did."
I shrugged. What can I say, I get cranky when I'm tired, hungry and low on juice.
"They want us out of here ASAP. You can imagine how nervous all of the military and intelligence services are with a telepath in the same room with them."
James' eyes bugged. "I didn't…"
The Colonel held up his hand. "I know. I told them of the warning signs when someone is being read. Everyone fessed-up that nothing happened. They still don't want you around, or any of you for that matter." He looked poignantly at me. "Especially you."
I didn't get a chance to respond before the other guy sidled up. The Colonel turned. "Miss Keys, I'd like to introduce you to the President's Chief of Staff, Brandon Hall."
The forty-something balding gentleman nodded and gave me a tight smile. I noted the lack of handshake. I almost snickered. I did just get through deep frying three guys with my hands, so I didn't hold it against him.
Liz's hand settled at my lower back and I could feel James, Sheri, and Christopher forming a semi-circle behind me.
"The President would like to convey his thanks for what you did today."
"Uh-huh." He saw my lack of enthusiasm.
"You'll have to understand about the security issues as to why he can't be in same room with you or your friends."
I squinted my eyes at him. "They're my team, and they just saved his ass, Mr. Hall. Pardon me if I don't think…"
"Keys," hissed the Colonel.
I snapped my eyes to him and then frowned. "Can we leave now?"
"Of course." Mr. Hall stepped aside. "Your luggage is already being gathered at the hotel and in the process of being transferred to your plane. "If you need anything, please don't hesitate to contact my office."
Nice. Thanks for the save. Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. "Yeah, recognition would be nice. Not to mention not being treated like a criminal."
At the Colonel's frown, which was directed at me, I held my hands up in surrender. The team of five armed guards and the hyper-awareness of what had to be fifty Secret Service agents followed us out to a waiting SUV. We were given a police escort all the way to the airport and then issued priority clearance to scoot to the head of the line. Did I understand why they were doing it? Yeah, I did. That still didn't make it right.
Maybe I was becoming an idealist, expecting maybe a handshake and a job well done comment or two from the man in charge. We were the ones that were actually trying to make a difference, putting our lives on the line. Was that asking too much?
Once we were in the air, the Colonel stood and took his position at the head of the plane.
"Job well done, people."
See, was that hard?
"It may not seem like it, but today was a win for our side." Liz squeezed my hand, and I scratched behind Miss Bonsai's ears.
"Miss Keys, Mr. Cook, if I could see you for a few moments."
I handed my cat to Liz and waited for James to pass before standing and joining them both at the front where Colonel Harris held court in privacy. He pointed to the chair beside him and James sat across from us both. The telepath didn't look too happy at all. Upon seeing that I felt the tension in my neck increase. Great, more bad news. The Colonel punched up a few buttons on the console beside his seat.
"Alright, we're secure. Tell us what you picked up."
James' eyes darted to me and I saw his lips tighten in regret. "Ray Lomax is a mole. That's where they're getting all their information now that Shanahan's been flushed out."
My hands tightened around the arms of the chair. I didn't let the information throw me into hysterics. I'd been betrayed in the worst possible way.
"You got that from the douche bag's mind?" I asked in a low tight voice.
He nodded. "I'm sorry."
Withdrawing my cell, I pulled up Ms. Fine's number.
"Kristyn, what are you doing?" asked the Colonel.
"Calling Ms. Fine. There's no telling what Ray's been up to since we've been gone."
"Fine," the head of security snapped into the phone.
"Ms. Fine. Keys here. I need you to find Ray Lomax, sedate him without his knowing and stick him in solitary confinement."
Her no-nonsense tone played in her voice. "Any particular reason?"
"He's a traitor. We just leveled off and are heading home. See you in about four hours."
This time, I didn't wait for her to hang up before disconnecting. Try as I might, it was incredibly difficult to compartmentalize the betrayal of the guy that I was going to give my virginity to. I'd been played, and taken advantage of. How had I not known? How could he have gotten past James and Lily when they did their telepathic thing on everyone after the incident with Brian?
"Continue," ordered the Colonel.
"They operate in cells, usually five person teams which report to one person. Even they don't know how many people they have."
I nodded. "Just in case one of them fall into our hands, they don't lose the whole organization." Turning to my boss, I asked him, "You don't think this is a government agency doing this anymore, do you?"
He shook his head. "No. Their execution was sloppy. If I'd planned that attack, everyone with talents in the room at the time would have been dead in about ten seconds after I played my hand. He was grandstanding and had a particular grievance against you for some reason."
I shrugged. "I've never seen him before."
James nodded. "He hated you, Kris. I mean really loathed you."
"And you couldn't tell why?"
He shook his head. "I was trying to get information about the organization. His personal quirks weren't as important."
"You did fine, Cook," the Colonel said. "Anything else?"
"Just that that was the entire cell. Then Kris did her thing."
James was dismissed after that.
The Colonel stuck his hand inside his blazer's pocket. "They were the same cell that we encountered in New York."
"How do you know?" I asked.
When he opened his hand, two silver-colored bearing balls were in his palm. "We pulled one of these out of your shoulder that night. Best guess was Magnokinesis."
"Let me take a wild leap," I said as I picked one of them up and looked closer at it. "He was some kind of magnet man?"
The Colonel nodded. When I squinted at the ball, I saw something scratched into the metal. "What's is that?"
I looked up at him. "You're kidding."
"You were his main target. This one is mine." He held up the other ball.
"Great, there are actually psychos out there writing out names on metal balls for killing us." After a moment's contemplation I realized something. "Is it me or were those guys perfectly sane."
The Colonel worked his tongue along the inside of his cheek. "Just because the people on their side aren't rogue doesn't mean they can't choose the wrong side in this war."
I blinked and leaned back. It wasn't the thought of evil people being out there. They've always been there in one form or another, evil people. It was the fact that I was now a central figure in a war that had only now bled out into the mundane world. For some reason I'd become a key player, regardless of how short a time I'd actually been in the game.
What had I done except for defending myself and others? Nothing. Then again I was pretty much in charge of the Center. That may have been reason enough for my name to enter into the fray.
"We need to build up the defenses around the school," I offered.
"Agreed. It's already being implemented. Once Shanahan was exposed I knew we were vulnerable. Secondary bases are being arranged. Beta site is in the Colorado mountains, and Delta site is in the Texas plains. Once they are at a skeleton operations stage you'll be informed of the details."
I nodded. Three Centers. With the influx of students expected over the next few years, we'd probably have to use at least two if not all three of them at some point. That didn't sit well with me.
When all is said and done, I had become somewhat of a control freak since my transition. Unless someone came along that could handle themselves and treat the students like I wanted them treated then we were going to have serious problems.
I was stalling. The plane had landed an hour previous. I was out of my uniform and into my urban commando outfit again. The combat pants, boots, and black tank let me feel a little more removed from the reality of what I'd have to do. There was no way that I was going to face my traitorous ex-boyfriend in a skirt and heels. I didn't think I could pull off the uncaring detachment of Ms. Fine's business suit.
Ray had seen what I could do dressed as I was. How I turned off all emotion and did the job that had to be done, dressed. I went ahead and put on the black bandanna to hold my hair back and the fingerless gloves as well. I wanted to remind him of what I could do, because I wanted answers. But most of all I didn't want him to know how much he'd hurt me.
Fifteen minutes was all I spared for a small breakdown in my bed when I got back. Eye-drops got rid of the bloodshot look afterward, and a complete lack of makeup let me feel normal.
Bonsai paced on top of my bed as I sat there staring at the opposite wall, trying to center myself, trying to turn off the warring emotions within me.
My phone chirped. I didn't even bother looking to see who it was.
"You asked me to call you when Lomax woke," Ms. Fine said with an even tone.
"On my way."
I clicked off and looked over to Bonsai. "Wish me luck."
She gave me an annoyed but reluctant cry. I nodded. "Yeah, I know. This sucks." Pushing myself up and off the bed, I looked back. "You want to stay in tonight or roam the halls?"
That was a stupid question. Bonsai leapt to the floor and went to stand by the door.
The isolation rooms weren't too far from the briefing rooms where we prepped for missions. The only difference was that it was completely sealed off from the rest of the building. A large steel door, reminiscent of a bank vault opened at my approach. I noted the camera in the upper right corner that kept an eye on the hallway.
I only recognized one of the five armed guards on duty as being the African-American receptionist I saw in the Main office the other day. They all either nodded at me or flicked their eyes in recognition when I passed. Ms. Fine was standing in front of the door I assumed Ray was behind.
She noted my outfit with the slightest lift of her left eyebrow. "Is there a mission tonight?"
I shook my head. "This is what I wore for my first kill. Ray will see the significance."
Ms. Fine looked thoughtful. "He was in his room when he was tranquilized."
"Did you pull up the log with his whereabouts?"
"What log?" It was more of a denial that one existed instead of a question about what I was talking about.
"Ms. Fine, you really don't want to dick with me today."
I suspected they had us Lojacked through our phones. There was no other way for Shanahan to know where we were when Dani had her vision that sent us to Houston so I could vaporize a girl.
Her tongue slipped over her front teeth with a measuring glare. "He's either been in his room, or the training room for most of the days. There are no oddities."
I nodded. "Computer?"
"Clean. He doesn't even look at pornography."
I nodded and looked at the door. There wasn't a large pane of reflective glass so I could see him. Apparently those only existed in movies. Considering the kind of people that would be locked up behind the doors, it was probably a good idea. There was an eye-hole so he could be monitored. I assumed there was also a camera of some sort inside.
"Does he know why he's in there yet?"
She shook her head. "You said to knock him out not question him."
With a nod I peered through the eye-hole. He wasn't wearing his normal clothes and he was chained to a table. "Ms. Fine I need an earpiece so you can talk to me while I go fishing. Something concealable." She didn't bother asking why and headed down the hall.
I took out my phone, pulled up the contact list and hit a number.
"Lili, I need you down in holding for an interrogation."
Dani was next.
"When did you get back in?" she asked.
"Just come on down, Dani. The sooner the better."
When I looked back up, Ms. Fine was wheeling a cart down the hall with a monitor and a wireless set up on top.
"I'll be able to monitor you from out here, video and audio." She handed me what looked like a small hearing aid. I nodded and stuck it in my ear then watched as she turned on the video hook up. Ray didn't look too good, nervous, maybe a little scared. He was wearing a hospital gown.
"Why is he wearing that?"
Ms. Fine's lips quirked to the side. "Ray Lomax is a human weapon, Miss Keys, and anything in his hands makes him that much more dangerous. Something as simple as a belt or a shirt sleeve could be used a lethal weapon. The gown is made of very fine material that will shred with very little pressure. Do not let your guard down around him."
I looked back down the hall. "Tell Dani and Lili to join in from out here anytime."
Before I could lose my nerve, I opened the door and entered. Ray looked up at me and his face changed a couple of times. First it was relief at seeing me. Then, when he saw my face, it moved to confusion.
I held up my hand and he stopped talking. "I almost got killed today, Ray. Again. Except Liz was there this time." Grabbing the chair opposite him I noticed it was actually on rails and bolted down so it could be moved back and forth about two feet, but that was it. Once I sat down I faced him, head on. "So, you can see where I'm supremely pissed off right about now."
He played his part well. If I didn't know any better I'd totally believe he was actually concerned. "Nothing much. Big meeting with the President. Some of the bad guys were there. I killed them all and we came back."
The chain that was holding his wrists to the table rattled a little when he moved.
I gave him a grim smile. "But before their leader -- and I use that term really loosely -- died, we sucked his brain, found a few interesting tidbits."
His face kind of turned to stone at that point. "Is this where I'm supposed to confess?"
I just looked at him, interested. "Do you have something to confess, Ray?"
He shrugged. "Not particularly. It's all making sense now. One minute I'm reading, and the next I wake up in here wearing this drafty hospital gown."
"He's annoyed, Kris," came Danielle's voice over the earpiece. "He feels betrayed."
I nodded. "You want to tell me why your name came out of this douche bag's head?"
He leaned back, but the restraints wouldn't let him move much. A quick tug and a sharp rattle later and he stared me down. "Maybe he's a fan. How should I know?"
"He's telling the truth," said Dani. "Do you want Lili to go into his head?"
I was so confused. Could he beat Danielle's empathy powers with a built-in lie detector? Did he have some hidden mental powers that we didn't know about? How did he pass the check up with… the telepaths. I slammed my hand down. "Fuck! I'm so fucking stupid." I was out of my chair and to the door, slamming it open.
Electricity crackled between the fingertips of my right hand when I eyed Lili. Without breaking my gaze I asked a question. "Ms. Fine, where is James Cook right now?"
I pulled out my phone and dialed up Liz.
"Liz, I have a very important question for you. I need you to remember what happened right before the attack at the White House."
"This is really important, Liz. Who gasped right before that guy froze us in our seats?"
She giggled. "Sorry, that was me. I realized that I didn't leave Miss Bonsai's litter box out at the hotel. Those White House guys probably got left a couple of presents."
"Thanks, sweetie. Where are you at right now?"
"I'm in my room."
"Okay, lock the door and do not answer it for anyone until you hear back from me. I'm serious, nobody. Okay?"
"Is everything okay, Mom?"
"No, not really. I gotta go, bye."
Then I thumbed the phone off.
"Hey, can I get some clothes here?" Ray called out.
"Cook is leaving his room and headed toward the cafeteria," relayed Ms. Fine.
"Let Ray go. He didn't do anything." And I had probably lost my boyfriend because I didn't get the whole damn story from everyone right after it happened like I should have. However, I was too busy trying to compartmentalize my feelings of betrayal, doing what the Colonel expected of me, that I didn't trust my heart.
I left everyone just like that. Danielle looked worried and Lili looked like she was going to be sick. Racing down the hall, I could hear my boots echo in the otherwise quiet wing. I slammed into the connecting door to the dormitories. When I saw the open area at the end of the hall I slowed and readied myself for a weak shock to my target. I wanted him alive, so I could kick the crap out of him at my leisure.
When I rounded the corner I spotted several students. Sheri, Rita, Heather, Debs, Max, Sean, and Christopher, all seated, enjoying their lunch, but no James. Christopher was the first to spot me. There was a smile on his face which turned into not so much of a smile.
Half of everyone there looked at the food line. I snapped my head around and James was exiting the line, standing there holding his tray with a surprised and panicked look. I felt the tell-tale tickle at the base of my brain, letting me know he was reading me. He dropped the tray, scattering his meal on the floor and brought up his hand.
It came to me all in the span of a microsecond. He wasn't just a telepath. Before I had a chance to let loose my powers, something in my head rang like a bell. A very loud and painful bell that might or might not be slamming me upside the head at that moment.
"Too bad you found out, Keys. Now everyone's got to die."
I grunted and dropped to my knees, grasping my hands over my ears for fear my brain was going to leak out after it was through with the frappé setting it was set on.
My vision cleared and the incessant ringing stopped long enough for me to open my eyes and see Bonsai latched onto James' back ripping her claws into his neck. Was that ice cream on her whiskers? Ah, saved by my cat's insatiable need for Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla.
I raised my hand and concentrated. "Bonsai!" She jumped clear and I let loose with probably more energy than was needed. Sue me. James hit the floor, twitching like crazy. Bonsai's fur was all on end and she was hissing, seriously pissed off at the boy that had betrayed us all.
Footfalls sounded behind me the soft puff of an air pistol sounded and I saw a tranquilizing dart hit James' thigh.
"Kris!" I looked up wearily to see Heather standing there. Her white face showed her shock. "Your eyes are bleeding."
I felt wetness on my face and reached up to wipe away trails of blood. Fumbling for my phone, everything started going blurry. "Oh hell."
It was two weeks later when I woke up. Liz had fixed my head, but apparently the shock of the attack had kept me down for the rest of the time.
Colonel Harris briefed me on what happened after all the hubbub. After being sedated and interrogated by Ms. Fine, Lili, Danielle, and the Colonel, it was found that James was doing everything, all the time. Shanahan was his contact with the outside world. She'd turned him the first week of his arrival after finding out the potential of his powers.
In a one on one fight, James could kick my ass, or melt my brain, take your pick. He was, what was now termed, a Full-Tiered User. Mental domination was his specialty. Telepathy, moderate mind-control, memory manipulation, and psychic weapons like the blast he sent at me.
He was the one that interrogated Shanahan for Ms. Fine. He was the one that planted suggestions in Douche Bag's head to rail on me. That was his mistake. Douche Bag, wasn't as incompetent as he seemed. James messed up his wiring when he took control at the White House. That particular cell was supposed to subdue us, wrap those collar things around our neck that was suppose to render us powerless, and then they would play their own games with the President and the others. James had blown the whole operation because he didn't know what was going on.
With Shanahan out of the way, James had nobody to relay orders to him. So he took things into his own hands. His priority was getting rid of me. He hated me with a passion. I'd come in and screwed his life up. He was receiving special privileges from Shanahan and with me there he was just another grunt.
Luckily for me, teenagers are petty.
In a private ceremony within the confines of Colonel Harris' office, I received a commendation for distinguishing myself by valor and meritorious service. There was a medal involved. That and a Purple Heart for almost having my arm blown off. There was a little oak leaf cluster to add to that uniform ribbon for having my brain half-way melted as well. I never understood medals. Whether I wanted them or not, they had to go on my uniform or Colonel Harris said he'd personally kick my butt.
It was one of the downsides of actually being in the military, weird stuff like this. As far as I was concerned, they could keep their uniform
and give me a vacation instead. Maybe in the tropics somewhere away from all the back-stabbing, and drama.
Speaking of drama.
"Miss Keys," the receptionist said over the intercom in my office. "Ray Lomax is here to see you."
After a sigh, I said, "Send him in."
Ray and I hadn't spoken in the three days after I was released from the infirmary. I was feeling tremendously guilty for suspecting him and I was sure he wasn't going to forgive me. Danielle said she'd given him the low-down on what actually happened. If I was him I had no idea what I would be feeling or even if I'd want to continue where we'd left off.
Regardless, I straightened my blazer and made sure my hair wasn't standing on end. Better to go out in a blaze of feigned confidence than to slither away with tearful regret.
He appeared at my door right when I pushed my chair back, and damn, he looked good. Tight black jeans, a lime-colored button down that matched his hair and brought out the brilliant green of his eyes.
"Hey, don't get up," he said.
I felt silly half-way raising myself off the chair and then dropping back down. He closed the door and sat down.
"You mind doing the privacy thing?"
I shook my head and withdrew my cell to block any unwanted ears from listening. When I set it on the desk, I looked back up at him. "Ray…"
He held his hands up forestalling me. "Let me get my piece in, if you don't mind."
His demeanor was serious and that didn't really bode well for me. "I talked with Dani, and with Liz too. Actually she hunted me down. I get why you did what you did."
"I'm sorry." What can I say? I couldn't let him keep talking without at least informing him of that fact.
A moment of strained silence fell between us, broken by him half a minute later. "And I also know you'd do it again if need be."
My lips pressed together with displeasure of knowing he was right.
"I just don't think that I can be with someone that doesn't implicitly trust me."
My eyes started to burn, but I swallowed down the emotion. "I understand. You shouldn't have to."
He blinked. "What, that's it? You're just going to give up?"
My mouth opened, but nothing came out.
He sighed in annoyance. "You're the girl now, Kris. You're suppose to be more," he flipped his hand around looking for the right word, "defiant, when your boyfriend is faking the heave-ho."
I swallowed and realized what he was saying. I didn't know whether to jump over the desk and kiss him or strangle him. "Faking?"
"Duh." He sniffed and looked around the office while I composed myself. "So, dinner tonight?"
I nodded. "Do I need to alert Heather?"
His eyes widened and then he nodded. "Oh yeah. I like the dress she picked out last time."
"That was Dani."
He nodded. "Cool, well tell her too. I thought we might take a longer walk. Maybe a picnic. They can't come though."
The resulting grin on my face hurt, it had been so long since I'd actually smiled at anything. "Should I bring anything?"
He shook his head. "Just you. I'll handle everything else."
I nearly slammed my chair back when Ray stood. Racing around the desk I pushed him back against the wall and gave him the best apology kiss I could manage in my tight knee skirt.
Afterward he held me for a few moments until I reluctantly backed off and wiped at his bottom lip. "That shade really doesn't work well on you."
When he left, I turned around and saw Miss Bonsai atop the filing cabinet staring at me. "What? You're staying with Liz tonight. I have a feeling I'll be too busy to take care of you."
She blinked lazily at me and licked her nose.
"That's fine. Act like you don't care. You and I both know you can't sleep right if I'm not in the room."
Picking her up, I sat her in my arm and scratched behind her ears. "Want to go to lunch early? I think there's a big can of tuna waiting for you."