Monday, 23 September 2019 19:39

Belle of the Ball - Year One

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Belle of the Ball

Year One

by

E.E. Nalley

 

Chapter One

When I imagine my perfect life, it’s never like this.

In fact, it’s never even close to this.

Not that waking up in a hospital should be high on anyone’s to do list, but waking up in a hospital surrounded by super heroes ranks right down there with being diagnosed with cancer, but I’m getting there. First off, let me get the introductions out of the way. Hi, my name is Jim Anderson, or, at least it used to be, and I’m a super heroine. I should start a support group. Spandex Anonymous has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

I know, I know, the beginning, I’m way out in the middle and you want the beginning. Ok, let’s see, we’re past the name bit. Um, I’m twenty, middling tall, too slender for my height and a student at Georgia State University. I’m one of those faceless college kids you’ve seen on the news, running for their lives, from some or other super villain’s diabolical plan being interrupted for the God Knows what time by what ever spandex clad altruist is running around Atlanta this week.

Ok, I’m over simplifying, I know, but it feels that way some times. I know they’re not all that bad. I actually go to school with Cavalry, and he’s an ok Joe. He’s a film major of all things. You know, Cavalry, right? Yeah, the one that looks like a horse walking around on two feet. Well, it’s not like he can have a secret identity looking the way he does. He can’t help it; that’s the way it goes when your dad is a Mad Scientist.

Cav’s Dad was a licensed geneticist who was on the short list for getting samples of Mckimpson Strain DNA to better understand why it altered everyone exposed to it with such incredible power. Unfortunately for Cav, his dad decided the best way to figure that out was to try cross combining it with Shire Horse DNA and then injecting it into him In Vitro. Which brings us to how I ended up waking up in that hospital.

I was helping him out on his latest student film project as a Production Assistant, for credit of course, on a location shot off campus in down town Atlanta. It was a pretty tame walking shot filming a conversation between the Hero and his love interest on the streets. Or at least it had been until Power Ball showed up.

Power Ball is a fourth rank thug ramped up to third rate super villain thanks to the Mckimpson Strain he was exposed to before he’d been bounced out of the Army. He’d taken up bank robbing for fun and profit while not free-lancing for what ever criminal master mind was the flavor of the week. Cavalry’s Team, the Stone Mountain Irregulars, put out the all call as they were engaging Power Ball in a running battle through down town. Cavalry hadn’t gotten it as he’d accidentally turned his pager off trying to set it to vibrate. While he does have fingers and thumbs, they’re quite a bit thicker than human norm. Needless to say, manual dexterity isn’t one of his strong points.

So, right in the middle of the hero pouring out his undying love for the love interest on the streets of Atlanta, a car comes sailing into frame that isn’t in the script causing a fairly major annoyance for the road warriors on the up coming commute home. Cavalry starts mixing it up with Power Ball, which is a good thing as he’s really the only one on the team capable of going toe to hoof with him, and all hell starts to break loose.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast and crew, along with yours truly, start doing our best to find other places to be. At least that’s what I had been doing until Spirit Wolf, the martial artist of the Irregulars couldn’t quite get out of Power Ball’s reach fast enough. He used her as a convenient club to swat at Cavalry, who neither bends, nor breaks, unlike Spirit Wolf, who gets four broken bones, two gross compound fractures then tossed aside like yesterday’s newspaper.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the stuff of heroes, but I just couldn’t let Spirit Wolf bleed to death while the others were pre-occupied with Power Ball. So, I crept over and started loose tourniquets on the worst of her bleeding. I say loose because I’m not an EMT, and as I struggled in what was essentially a combat zone, the jacket I was using slipped, causing the artery to spurt blood all over my face.

I blinked furiously trying to clear my eyes, even as the world began to spin as the Mckimpson Strain that gave her her powers, began to re-write my DNA. I got the tourniquet more on the lines of a compression bandage then promptly passed out.

I awoke in the aforementioned hospital, surrounded by Cavalry sitting closest to me on my left. His long grey face was pulled with worry, his trademark open flannel over a tee shirt he’d had custom made that read What do YOU think? were showing their survival of the battle with some scars. The flannel had actually gotten the worst of it. Next to him was Spirit Wolf, her left arm in a cast and sling, looking equally concerned. Her dusky skin was pale from her injury and her buckskin costume was a hopeless ruin, but still kept her modesty.

Standing at the foot of the bed was a very dapper man in a charcoal suit I didn’t know, but he had a kind face and honest eyes. From beside me, I heard the voice of Mortagain, the Irregulars mentalist and magical expert. The rustle of her black, gothic attire accentuating her strange voice which was somewhere between baritone and contralto, but not tenor. “She’s waking up.”

“Jim, how do you feel?” asked Cavalry in his incredibly deep, rumbling voice.

I tried to say, “Like shit,” but my voice wouldn’t respond to my brain’s command. The man with the kind face raised his hand.

“Don’t try to talk yet, Jim. My name is Geoffrey Graham; I’m the United States Marshal for the South East. I’m also the government liaison for the Irregulars. Are you thirsty?” I forced my head to nod. My body feel so strange, like the twenty years I’d spent getting used to it had been washed away and I was now in a new model, fresh from the factory. Which, actually, was far closer to the truth than I’d ever want to know. Mortagain held a paper cup with water in it to my lips. I drank as if I’d never be offered water again.

“I have some good news, and some bad news,” said Geoffrey in an off hand way. “The good news is, thanks to your help, Spirit Wolf is going to be fine in a few days. In addition, because of your selfless act of heroism you, Jim, now have been exposed to the Mckimpson Strain.” Mortagain snorted beside me.

“Might want to think about a new name there, Geoffrey. Jim just doesn’t fit any more.” I looked at her askance. Mr. Graham just cleared his throat.

“That would bring us to the bad news, thank you, Mortagain. Jim, as you might or might not know, the Mckimpson Strain affects each person exposed to it differently. Your reaction to it is, while not unique is rather, well…”

“Complicated,” finished Cavalry.

“What, the fuck, is everyone hedging at?” I croaked, my voice sounding nothing like it should. That should have set off a big series of alarms in my head, but I was chalking it up to having just gotten over being infected with the Mckimpson Strain. I was right, but not for the right reason.

“Look on the bright side, honey,” oozed Mortagain. “You get a government sponsored shopping trip for a complete new wardrobe.” Mr. Graham nearly lost his temper.

“That’s enough, Mortagain. Jim, I know you’ll have quite a bit to get used to. As you might know, anyone who is MS positive is required to be of assistance to the public good, on at least a part time basis. Under the Authority of the Paranormal Regulatory Agency, I’m required to notify you of your draft status to the Stone Mountain Irregulars.”

I forced myself to an upright position to argue the point, but the shifting of two new weights on my chest took any thought of argument right out of my mind. I looked down to stare at a fairly buxom pair of breasts that had attached themselves to my chest for no visibly apparent reason. As I stared, a strand of long, bright red hair fell across my line of vision. It was obviously mine, but much longer and much redder than it had been when I started this day.

I instantly became hyperaware of my body, the new additions and, what was worse, the new subtractions forefront in my awareness. There was no feeling of the ‘boys’ as it were between my legs. “Welcome to the fairer sex, sweetie,” cackled Mortagain.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone could have blamed me for fainting dead away.

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The next time I awoke it was dark. I was on my side, facing the window of the hospital room next to which sat Cavalry who was staring at me, the script for his forgotten student film lying neglected in his lap. “I’m sorry about all this,” he rumbled, marking his place in the script and laying it on the couch he mostly filled.

“Sorry? You’re sorry? Well, damn, Ah guess that makes it all better!” I spat. My voice seemed to have settled in the contralto range, which had the unfortunate side effect of emphasizing my southern accent. Cavalry, whose real name was Edward Filby, became cross.

“Yes, Jim, I’m sorry you got pulled in to my crazy life. I’m also sorry your favor to me was the root cause of it. I won’t be sorry if I have to beat some sense into you. Stop being an ass over what was basically an accident.”

“You’re not the one with a new set of tits!” I yelled, intending to launch into a fairly emotional tirade about the horrible hand fate had dealt me. Edward’s mobile ears on the top of his head slowly rotated backward, the first tell tale he was getting seriously angry put a stopper in my tirade before I’d even gotten started.

“You don’t have the market cornered on physical handicaps, Jim,” he said slowly.

“Sorry,” I muttered as I turned over to face the door. “Look, Ah’m tired, can’t ya’ll let me get some sleep?”

“You’re not tired,” he said flatly. “And you can’t make this go away by ignoring it.”

“How, the hell can you tell me how Ah feel?” I demanded resignedly.

“I can hear your heart beating a mile a minute, and your scent tells me you’re awake and alert,” he responded. I forgot how acute his senses were. It made him a gifted director in training, but right now it was the bane of my dodge.

“Where’s the rest of the Zoo Crew?” I asked, hoping to obfuscate my fear with a new topic of conversation.

“Geoffrey has a wife and kids to go home to. You and Ginnevia didn’t seem to be getting along very well, so I volunteered to watch over you and give you the drill when you woke up.”

“Ginnevia?” I demanded.

“You know her as Mortagain. She can be a little abrasive, but she’s really ok once you get to know her. You should start thinking of a new name; the agency will take care of the records for you.”

I rolled back over on my back to stare at the ceiling as well as return the hulking horse boy to my peripheral vision. “Maybe Ah don’t want a new name, courtesy of the agency? Maybe Ah want to keep mah old name and mah old life?”

He snorted; wither from amusement or derision I couldn’t tell. “Maybe you don’t have a choice. Your old life is over, Jim. You’d best get used to that idea right now. You’ve really only got two choices here. You can choose to make the best of this and make the world around you a better place.”

“Or?” I demanded, although I pretty much already knew the answer. Ed got slowly to his feet, towering over me. Edward stands just shy of seven feet tall. I think the tops of ears could rub the ceiling if he had toes to stand on.

“Or you can choose pain. I don’t make the laws that say that every one who is MS positive has to be a super cop. I just enforce them. You either are on one side or the other, Jim, it’s just that simple. I’m not going to risk you turning into another Power Ball. Too many people I care about get hurt by criminals like him.”

“People like me,” I muttered. He sighed and nodded.

“Yes, people like you.” He reached beside the bed and picked up an envelope that was left there which he handed to me. “Your mother stopped by while you were out. She left this for you. For what it’s worth, Geoffrey isn’t a bad boss, and the side perks are pretty nice. Your mom said since she gave you your first name, she got to name you again. Geoffrey said it was your decision.” He handed me the envelop that was addressed to Jennifer Anderson.

He walked over to the door, but paused and turned back. “I’ll give you some privacy to read it, Jim. Just don’t run. I don’t want to have to hurt you, but I will if you make me.” Then he stepped out the door, ducking his head to get through.

I stared at the envelope for a few minutes, trying to decide wither or not to try running. I wasn’t sure how the Mckimpson Strain had manifested in me, but I knew I’d have extra ordinary abilities because of it. However, the idea of being an nescient paranormal unsure of her abilities going toe to toe with Cavalry, a Super Hero who’d had his entire life to get used to the limits of his abilities didn’t look like a good option.

More to the point, however angry I was at Life, God or whoever else you want to blame for this, Ed was a good friend. He’d taken up for me when damn few would and I was smart enough to realize that our friendship wouldn’t stop him from using every thing he had to keep me on this side of the Law. So I ripped the envelop open and read the note my mom had driven all the way from Canton to bring me.

Jim:

I want you to know first off how proud your father and I are of you for what you did. You saved Spirit Wolf’s life! I know that the changes this has brought are going to take some getting used to, but I want you to know we’ll be right there with you through all of it.

I’d like you to consider taking the name Jennifer as your new name. It was my Mother’s name and your father and I had decided on using it if you had been born a girl.

Also, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When the heroes first started coming out in the late sixties and early seventies, I was in college. I wanted to join them and fight the evils of the world around me to the point of making a costume and learning some fighting techniques. I didn’t do very well, or get very far, never having the edge that Mckimpson Strain gave the others. After I met your father, well, my priorities shifted.

I don’t regret the life I’ve lived, or the blessing in it you have been, but, I would be deeply honored if you’d consider taking up my mantle now that you have this decision to make.

What ever your decision, we will always love you, never EVER doubt that!

With Love

Marie Cooper-Anderson

Southern Belle

I stared at the document for several minutes, trying to imagine my mother, the June Cleaver of June Cleavers, running around roof tops fighting crime calling herself Southern Belle. In any other circumstances, I’d be looking for Allen Funt to jump out of a potted plant with a camera in his hand.

My life had taken a decided turn to the surreal.

As I stared at the letter, half expecting my mothers’ fluid, overly stylized penmanship to flow into some kind of ‘Gotcha!’ message, I heard the door open and the heavy foot falls of Ed returning to the room. I tore my eyes from the letter to look at him.

He crossed the space between us in two strides to offer me one of the cokes he was carrying. Out of habit, I took it, opened it, and then passed it back, taking the other. Ed’s hands don’t allow him to do a number of things we take for granted. With his strength, he could have crushed the can, while full, to a remarkably small size, but he couldn’t open the can with out someone’s help or some kind of tool.

I took a sip, discovered I was dying of thirst, and tossed back a third of the can at a gulp. “Yeah, you’re blood sugar is really low right now.” He told me around a careful sip of his own. His enormously wide mouth made drinking an adventure. “They had you on a glucose drip until your arm pinched out the IV needle.”

“Mah arm pinched out the needle?” I demanded. He nodded around another sip.

“We haven’t done the full work up, yet, but it’s looking like you’ll be about as tough as I am, maybe as strong, maybe not. Dunno yet. That’s also why I’m here.”

“Ah’m not going to run, Ed,” I muttered. His ears perked up at once.

“Really?”

“Ah might not like this, but Ah’m not a criminal. Mah mother would kill me if Ah did.”

“I didn’t know your mom was a heroine in the seventies,” he said. I shook my head in the sheer wonder of it.

“Neither did Ah.”

We drank in silence for a few minutes, me finishing well before he did. I put the empty can on the table beside the bed and looked up at him. He’d changed from the clothes he’d worn at the battle. He was now dressed in his Hero Identity as he put it. It was all blue spandex, a tank top that fit like a second skin to his bulgingly masculine physique over a matching pair of biker type shorts. The outfit was completed by strap on shoes over his hooves, wide weightlifters belt and fingerless gloves that were black leather. Ed’s skin was a light charcoal grey that was exposed, I assumed, but never knew it was like that over his whole body. His mane and the tail that hung exposed behind him were both a deep black.

“What now?” I asked. He finished off his can, crushed it casually down perhaps a sixth of its original size before tossing it in the waste can by the bed.

“Now you get dressed and I take you over to HQ for the night. Tomorrow we figure out the extent of your abilities and you get that shopping trip that Ginnevia promised you.”

“Ah don’t stay here for observation or something?”

He shook his head. “You’re about as changed as you’re going to get. Besides, from the simple tests the doctors have already done, the only thing they can administer for you now is either oral or suppository in nature. Your skin dulled two scalpels and four IV needles.”

“Oh,” I said. “I don’t have anything to wear, though.” That struck Edward as funny and he guffawed loudly. I’ll spare you the unkind comparison between his laugh and a donkey braying, but it’s close. “What?” I demanded, becoming more than slightly cross.

“Your first day as a woman, and you’re already complaining about your wardrobe,” he managed around a chuckle. I ‘harrumphed’ while I scowled at him, but had to admit to the humor of it. He pointed over to the dresser in the room where a white wardrobe box lay. “We’ve got both your old clothes back from the cleaners; though I’m not sure they’ll fit any more. And, your mom brought you her old costume. That might be what you’ll have to wear.”

“Well, give a girl some modesty,” I told him. There was no way I was walking around this room in a hospital gown with my rear hanging out around him. He kept chuckling as he withdrew and I was alone once more. I tossed the covers aside and stood carefully, holding the side of the bed rail for balance. My center of gravity had shifted rather substantially in this new form and I was terrified of falling.

I heard a metallic squeak behind me so I turned slowly. My fingers had embedded themselves into the rail so tightly was I clutching it. I got them out, and stared, amazed at bumps I’d caused in the stainless steel. Finally it was time to walk on my own so I timidly made my way to the dresser and its mirror, letting me see the new me for the first time.

I was taller I decided, probably around 5’10” to 5’11”, not to mention I’d lost a good bit of weight, not that I was every terribly beefy to begin with. If I had to guess, I’d say I probably topped the scales at 145. To my terrified green eyes, my breasts were huge, probably in the D cup range or bigger, though they were very firm and the skin on my chest was uncomfortably tight owing doubtlessly to the fact I’d grown them in far faster than was biologically normal. My hair, as I’ve already stated was a bright red and hung now to somewhere in the middle of my back. It was unkempt from the fairly short hair cut I wore my hair in.

However my worst fears were confirmed as far as the rest of me went. I was beautiful. Not cute, not pretty, but drop dead gorgeous beautiful. My breasts would no doubt make sure I’d never have another eye to eye conversation except with another woman, but I’d still have to get myself mentally prepared to beat the boys off with the proverbial stick.

Suppressing a sigh at my lot in life, I turned my attention to the neatly folded clothes lying on top of the wardrobe box on the dresser. Before my life had taken its left turn at Albuquerque I’d worn a fairly simple black tee shirt and jeans. I started there, ignoring the underwear that didn’t belong to my gender any more. As I struggled to pull them over hips that had grown to somewhere around a mile wide, I realized I was wasting my time. Even if I could get them over these new birthing hips of mine, the waist band would hang in a nearly obscene manner.

I pulled off what had been my favorite pair of jeans and opened up the box dear old mom had left. Inside was a jumper that zipped up the back in red, white, and blue. It was made of a stretch cotton precursor to spandex that while it looked like it would stretch up to my new size (I was significantly larger than mom in more ways than one now) it would appear to be painted on. The uniform was a blue cross of St. Andrew framed in white on the red of the body suit. The cross started at the ankles and ended at the sleeve cuffs front and back.

I stepped into the body suit, while remembering my newfound strength carefully pulled over my new curves until it was in place. I’d expect something this old to be frail and running the risk of dry rot, but once it settled it was surprisingly comfortable as it moved with me. It was like being naked in the way it gave me a complete freedom of movement. I realized I didn’t have the coordination to zip the zipper up in the back after a few unsuccessful tries. Also in the box was a belt that was covered in pouches and holsters for various implements that I secured about my new waspish figure. It hung loose and I rather liked the off kilter effect it gave.

The holsters contained four pairs of handcuffs with keys, the oldest mobile police scanner I’d ever seen (Solid State!), an ID/Badge wallet that held a PRA badge with one of the lowest numbers I’d ever seen along with an ID card showing a very young picture of my mom. There was also a domino mask with spirit gum (bet you wondered how they stayed on, didn’t you?). The weapons were obviously old, but well looked after, there were ten Japanese throwing stars, two collapsible sticks on a chain as well as a few other odds and ends I didn’t have names for.

At the bottom of the box was a neatly folded bomber jacket that looked like it dated from WWII and a pair of boots that I could tell by looking at were not going to fit. I found my well broken in combat boots which I hesitantly pulled on. Thank God something went right today, they still fit, though were a bit big. I found my socks; put them on, then the boots again.

I looked back at the mirror and chuckled at the bizarre mishmash of wild hair, body suit, jacket and boots wearing woman staring at me. “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s trailer trash girl!” I told myself.

There was a brush along with some scrunches evidently the nurses had left out of kindness. I dragged the brush through the scarlet jungle before my arm got too tired. I was only half done at that point. Sighing again, I gathered the crimson mass into a hasty ponytail, and then I opened the door to find Cavalry chatting with the night nurse.

“All set?” he asked, rotating an ear my way to catch my reply.

“Can Ah get some help here? The zipper’s in the back and Ah can’t get at it.” The night nurse smiled as she stood and came over to give me a hand. Once the outfit was secure I pulled the jacket back on, nodding my thanks to her.

“You’ll get used to it, dear,” she told me.

“Thank ya’ll, ma’am, but Ah don’t think so, just the same.” She patted me reassuringly on the arm as she led the way back over to the nurses’ station. There, she produced a clip board holding a release form with the signature line highlighted.

“Just sign here, dear, and you’re all set.”

I picked up the pen for a moment of thought, and then realized this decision was already made. Thus, in short, broad strokes, the name Jennifer Anderson was scrawled on the blank.

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Chapter Two

The Head Quarters of the Stone Mountain Irregulars is actually in Marietta. Don’t ask. It’s a small office building predominately filled with other government offices and such on the aptly named Herodian Road. Before he’d dropped me off in the guest rooms, we’d eaten at the Denny’s just down the street. They were used to Cavalry being something of a regular there, but my skin tight attire brought every eye in the restaurant to me.

At least the waiter was gay. That gave me a bit more time to get used to talking to the tops of heads. Afterwards I’d spent a particularly restless night in a strange place.

I’d had breakfast with the very kind Marshal Graham where I’d discovered that Spirit Wolf, while would recover fully, would be in the hospital for a few more days. MS hadn’t manifested any kind of invulnerability in her and the doctors could actually be of assistance for her. Geoffrey, as he insisted on being called, promised to take care of all the new forms my change in gender would require, as well as seeing to it that I got my own ID as Southern Belle to go over mom’s in the badge wallet. The badge was re-assigned to me which made me feel rather special.

It was almost eleven before Ginnevia arrived, looking very bleary eyed and not especially awake. Goths. From the ID machine Geoffrey presented me with an American Express card made out to my hero ID. “With in reason,” he cautioned me, “purchase what ever you’d like in the way of clothing and personal hygiene needs, with the Agency’s compliments. We’re looking for a new apartment for you as well, as you certainly can’t stay in the men’s dorm at GSU now. Do you have a location preference?”

“Ah can’t afford an apartment,” I protested. “That’s why Ah’m in the dorms.”

He chuckled at my inability to grasp my new situation in life. “Belle, the law may require you to answer the call as needed and be a cop. But it’s not for free. You’ll have to withdraw from classes this semester while we get you trained, but your starting salary is fifty thousand dollars a year, for part time on call status.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to imagine what it would be like not to have to worry about money and budgets for school. This was something I could get to like. “Well, then, Ah guess somewhere around here, then. Ah’ll need something furnished, seeing as Ah don’t have any furniture of mah own. But this is about half way between school and mah parents so that’d be just fine, thanks.”

“Alright, I’ll see what I can do. Now go have fun, that’s an order.”

From there, Ginnevia had taken me in her Mustang to Town Center Mall, which, despite the name, is one of the furthest malls from Atlanta. It was a few miles north of the Irregular’s head quarters as well as being north of Marietta in neighboring Kennesaw. You might or might not have heard of Kennesaw. It’s the town in Georgia where, by law, every home owner is required to own and maintain proficiency with a hand gun. It wasn’t one of those laws that were actually enforced, but you can’t really argue with results. In the fifteen years or so since the law had been passed, there had not been a forcible felony committed within the city limits of Kennesaw.

I’ll spare you the horrid details of what shopping for a new wardrobe in a new gender is. Suffice to say that I went through stores I barely knew existed a few days before. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never had a particularly good head for figures, but I was certain we were well past being reasonable. Ginnevia however showed no sign of slowing down.

I was subjected to a complete make over and style at a hair salon, where my mid back hair was shortened to just past my shoulder blades not to mention the lectures I got for letting myself ‘go’ to this point, whatever that meant.

I placed an order for a new uniform in a replica of my mom’s old one made of a spandex and Kevlar weave. Not that I evidently needed the protection the Kevlar would offer, but it would make the costume more durable to the stresses I would doubtlessly put it through as a Super Heroine.

While I had wanted to change out of the uniform from the first store, Ginnevia had pointed out that the only ID I had currently was for Southern Belle, not to mention the fact that our method of payment was also for that person. It would be much harder to convince a store clerk I was in fact Southern Belle if I wasn’t wearing a Lycra body stocking. So I suffered through the stares that followed us throughout the mall, which of course, got worse after my visit to the hair salon.

Around four we took a cappuccino break at the food court. The mall was really starting to get busy then. The high school crowd was taking over their perennial hang out and if I was uncomfortable with the lustful stares of businessmen and the intensely jealous stares of the housewives, that was nothing to the naked rape fantasies displayed on the faces of the American Teenage Male. I could have been naked and they still would have undressed me with their eyes.

I tried to keep my attention on my cooling cappuccino while doing my best to keep my growing anger at my predicament under control. Ginnevia, truth be told, wasn’t bad looking either, if you went into the Goth pretty ugly girl thing. She went a bit over board to my eye at making herself look unattractive. That all appeared to be on purpose, I suppose for the exact reason I was uncomfortable now.

She chuckled over her espresso and gave me a very telling look. “It’s not fun on this side, is it?”

“What do you mean?” I demanded.

“Being raped by every eye in here. Not fun is it? Now you know how the other side feels, don’t ya?”

“What did Ah do to piss you off?” I demanded.

“You personally? Nothing. Your former gender? Plenty.”

“That is really why you wanted me to stay in this outfit, isn’t it? Ya’ll got some score to settle with manhood and Ah was your convenient victim? Sugah, ya’ll have issues way worse than Ah have. Ah might not like what’s happened to me, but Ah don’t plan to be anybodies victim.”

“Is that a fact?” she smirked.

“Honey, that’s God’s Own Truth.”

“Ok. Since you’re not going to be anyone’s victim, look behind you.”

“What?” She gestured with her eyes so I set my cappuccino down and turned to look over my shoulder. Which promptly caused my heart to sink into my stomach. Power Ball, all ten feet of him was just in the process of walking through the glass doors from the parking lot into the food court.

Now Power Ball as I’ve said is ten feet tall. He’d actually be ok looking if his face wasn’t constantly in a pinched grimace of rage. His shaggy blonde hair was wild about his head and frequently full of bits of glass or what ever other building material he’d destroyed settled there. His costume was an all black number with a good number of pockets with in which to stash loot with lightening bolt accents.

I turned back to Ginnevia to get an idea of what to do next, to find her gone, her rapidly cooling espresso all that remained at the table. Then it all settled into place. It was obvious in a previous life, I must have been Adolph Hitler. How else could I have racked up a karma debt like this?

As a world class panic began to take hold of the food court, I stood and faced the peripheral cause of my situation. “You’re almost as tough as I am,” echoed Ed’s voice in my mind. I was about to find out.

“Alright, sugah, that’s enough of that,” I shouted, instantly getting Power Ball’s attention.

He walked over to me, my heart beating a stattico time to his heavy foot falls, the inconsequential fact of tables and chairs barring the way between us not slowing him in the slightest. The top of my head came to about even with his solar plexus. “I didn’t know we were on a pet name basis, honey,” he rumbled, his voice like sandpaper over gravel.

Then he hauled off and back handed me.

I saw stars as the force of his blow picked me up and threw me about twenty or thirty feet sideways, causing more than a bit of a disturbance at the Gyro Wrap where I landed. I extracted myself from the remnants of fairly expensive looking professional grill and leapt over the counter far easier than I would have thought possible. “Sugah, now ya’ll have gone and made me mad.”

I crossed the space between us faster than the small portion of my brain that was keeping track of these things felt I should have as I clutched both fists and swung for all I was worth. My blow struck him just above the navel which folded him over, around my fists. The follow through threw him backwards to the stairs by the doors he’d shattered to the upper level of the food court.

“Son of a bitch,” I breathed, amazed at what I’d done. I mean, my body would never let me forget I’d been infected with Mckimpson Strain, but I wouldn’t have believed I was capable of that if I hadn’t just seen myself do it.

Power Ball picked himself up, a lecherous grin on his face. “I love it when they’re feisty.” Then he dropped his shoulder into a foot ball stance and charged me like a Rhino about to send a Land Rover to the body shop.

I struggled to keep my brain thinking in the sea of adrenaline it’s was drowning in. Thinking quickly, I shifted my weight, what there was of it, to my back foot while reaching out, ready (I hoped) for him. As he got within reach, I collected as much of his shirt as I could, then spun, using his momentum and heaved for all I was worth.

Power Ball went back from whence he came, this time breaking though the concrete stairs and the floor to ceiling windows beyond. He landed across three cars that I intensely hoped I wouldn’t have to pay for and lay still for a moment.

Then I noticed that I wasn’t standing. I was floating about two feet off the mall floor. I can fly! My joy at the newest of my powers to manifest was cut short by Power Ball beginning to stir from out in the parking lot.

Not sure how to fly, it took me a few seconds to work how to will myself through the hole I’d made to the parking lot beyond. When I got there, Power Ball was already on his feet, a Mazda Miata in his fists that was about to pressed into service as a club. Before any other blows could be traded, a commanding voice thundered, “That’s enough.”

Power Ball put the car down, none too gently, on top of an Explorer that complained quite a bit as both cars were crushed into a hopeless ruin. From above and behind the mall, a figure in flowing robes and a cape that looked far too long for a normal person to wear floated down. He was surrounded in a crackling ball of reddish energy that picked up the reds and gold’s of his rather garish uniform.

The outfit was high collared with billowed sleeves in a Renaissance style. Over this were pantaloons under high black boots there were polished to a mirrored shine. His jet black hair fell loose to about his shoulders, held by a circlet of spun gold with the biggest ruby I’d ever seen as the focal point between his piercing black eyes.

“Step back, Randal and let the grown ups talk a moment,” he commanded once more, coming to a hover a few feet from me. Power Ball sulked, but dutifully stepped backwards to lean against a light pole whose protest echoed through out the artificial valley created by the wings of the mall. “Southern Belle, it’s good to see you out and about once more,” he drawled, a tone I decidedly didn’t like clouding his otherwise pleasant baritone.

“Ah beg your pardon, sir. Have we been introduced?”

Doubt flickered in those terrible black eyes for a moment, and then the confidence returned along with a smirk. He sketched as elegant a bow as could be done floating off the sidewalk in a ball of energy. “A thousand apologies, Miss. I was an acquaintance of your predecessor. Allow me to introduce myself. You may call me Sovereign. Might I presume that, based on your attire, you have taken up the mantle of the Southern Belle?”

“Ya’ll leave mah mother right out of this, alright?”

Comprehension clicked behind those eyes as I cursed myself for such a stupid slip. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself; I was still real new to this whole secret identity bit. “Ah, I should have realized. The familial resemblance is striking. Looking back, I had no recollection of the powers you are displaying. Fair enough. Belle, your mother might have spoken of me, but then she might not have. Old lovers are a somewhat sore subject to bring up with one’s offspring. I am here to renew my offer to you to join me.”

I took in a deep breath to thoroughly, and doubtlessly, obscenely deny his offer, but his casually raised hand took the wind from my argument. “No,” he said softly. “Decisions made in haste are regretted at leisure. Don’t answer now. Think about the freedom I offer. Think of the world I am building. A world where the simple fact of your biology does not determine the occupation of your life. Think. Ask your mother about me, fair one. I doubt there is blood between us, she certainly never spoke of you, but she has been stubborn before and I doubt that has changed. Ask her. Then I shall seek you out again.”

Another casual gesture caused Power Ball to be encircled by a ball of energy similar to his. Then they both arose into the sky and were quickly out of sight. I stared after them for a moment, then a soft pop heralded the arrival of Mortagain just below and beside me. “Congratulations,” she told me. “You’ve officially made it when Sovereign offers you a new career as a wanted felon.”

“You sanctimonious bitch!” I snarled at her. “You run off right when the trouble starts so ya’ll can pop back and be witty? Ah ought to jerk you into a knot!”

She smirked and crossed her arms over her bosom. “Don’t bitch at me because of the rules, girl,” she purred.

“The rules?” I demanded.

“Yes,” came Ed’s voice from behind me. “The rules.”

I spun to find Cavalry, along with the rest of the Irregulars, minus Spirit Wolf standing behind me. With them was Gravity, who as usual was dressed in his traditional Arab attire, his face obscured by a head scarf, the flowing white and grey linens of the outfit making him look as dashing as the Lawrence of Arabia stereotype he went for. Cavalry stood on a shimmering disk of the gravity waves that was Gravity’s chief power. Hovering next to them was the garish figure of the American Eagle. The metallic wings behind him sprouted from the breast plate he wore, embossed with the Great Seal of the United States. The blue trunks over the red and white stripped leggings ended in equally garish boots which played up the eagle motif. A helmet shaped like an eagle’s head completed the outfit.

“Mortagain came to fetch us as soon as she realized the Sovereign was in the area, Belle,” rumbled the Eagle. “He’s far too powerful for one, or even two of us to fight. The entire team was needed, that’s a standing order.”

“So the new girl gets to keep Mr. Bad Ass preoccupied while the re-enforcements get called in?”

“Sovereign usually wants to talk first,” said Cavalry softly. “Mortagain kept a light mental contact with you. If you had been in real danger I would have had her teleport me here at once while the others were getting ready.”

“Getting ready?” I demanded. “This ain’t exactly a spring social we’re talking about here.” The American Eagle chuckled.

“Sorry, that’s my fault. This isn’t the easiest costume to put on.” I shook my head in amazement. “I’m glad you handled yourself so well, Belle. Have any other powers manifested besides your flight?”

My mouth opened and closed before I got a handle on how I’d respond to that question. “Why yes, Ah do believe Ah’ve gained the power of sarcasm in the face of utter stupidity! Yes, Ah feel the power flowing strongly now!” I’d expected an angry retort or at least something other than the low chuckle that escaped the macabre eagle’s head. The chuckle became a laugh that spread to the other members of the team.

“Well, it’s official,” gasped Cavalry as he wiped the tears from his eyes. “You’re a Super Heroine, Belle. Until you’ve proved you can be a smart ass under stress, the jury’s out. Congratulations.”

Well, I’d always wondered about that. Guess you learn something new every day.

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The rest of the day was spent with the un-Godly amount of paperwork the after math of a major battle takes up. The Use of Force reports alone were obscene. I’d gotten out lucky yesterday being rushed to the hospital. No such luck today. It took us nearly two hours to track down all the owners of the vehicles that had been damaged. Of them all, the Miata owner was the biggest prick.

He threatened to sue, which, as I learned from Cavalry, there’s one in every battle. Fortunately, being cops, we were fairly protected from lawsuits of this nature. The Miata owner was assured that the state would make good on his insurance claim for the fair market value of the car. Beyond that, he was welcome to file suit against Power Ball, AKA Randall Stevens. Not that he’d ever answered any of the thousands of lawsuits filed against him each year. But, hey, this guy might get lucky.

He might win the Lottery too, but it was about as likely.

The Mall Officials were actually the most understanding about our little donnybrook. They had gotten fairly used to this kind of thing. (Which in and of itself is scary.) By the time we’d headed back to head quarters, there was already a construction crew on site working to repair the damage.

I got the team mates to assist me in hauling my new wardrobe back to HQ. There was a bit of grumbling about the number and size of the packages, until Gravity made another of his platforms to stack everything on. As we got the last of it in place, Cavalry shook his head and demanded, “Geez, Belle, did you buy everything out of every store in the Mall?”

I blushed and quickly countered, “Ah didn’t want half of this. Most of it was Mortagain’s idea, gotta have this to go with that, but not without the other. Ah still don’t have it all straight in mah head. Do ya’ll think Geoffrey’s gonna be upset we spent so much?”

“How much did all of this cost?” he demanded playfully.

“Eight thousand, two hundred fifty two dollars and twenty two cents,” supplied Mortagain from her perch on the disk with a sly smile. “Not including the make over, manicure and pedicure.”

Cavalry looked at me askance. “Pedicure?” I shrugged and with my head indicated who had been in the driver’s seat for this particular little trip.

“I think Geoffrey’s gonna have a cow,” said the American Eagle as he surveyed the piles of bags like a shrine offering to the god of Capitalism. Cavalry nodded sagely.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Eight grand? Man you can shop, Belle.”

“Ah didn’t mean for a third of this stuff to be bought!” I protested, fearful of the wrath the hero’s were so casually discussing.

“You had control of the credit card,” offered Cavalry reasonably.

“I suppose Mortagain could have used her mental powers,” suggested the Eagle.

“But I didn’t!” piped up the Goth from her spot on the disk.

“Well, her word is all I need. Yep I’m thinking there might be some charges filed about this.”

“Charges?” I demanded, real fear beginning to settle in. “Like what? Turn this thing around!” I shouted to Gravity who, unheeded, continued on his course to HQ.

“Off the top of my head, I’m thinking misappropriation of government funds,” said the Eagle after a moment.

“Criminal misuse of public trust,” offered Ed as if discussing the weather.

“Of course, there’s the death penalty offense I’m most worried about,” said the Eagle sagely.

“Death penalty?” I shouted. “For shopping too much?”

“That should be a crime,” said the Eagle as he reached up to remove his helmet now that we were high enough not to be seen. “The crime I’m talking about is Criminal Inability to take a joke,” said US Marshal Geoffrey Graham, who was, in fact, the American Eagle.

Men.

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I was wrong in thinking that Gravity was taking us to HQ. His actual flight path took us to an apartment complex close by (whose name all the money in the world won’t be sufficient for me to disclose to you.) The Agency had, in fact, set me up a lease with an automatic debit from my paycheck.

As the disk with us settled to the ground, I was fairly surprised to find my new neighbors taking no notice of our arrival in the slightest other than a fairly subdued wave of greeting in passing. Geoffrey had left his helmet off on the disk as the leasing agent rolled up in a golf cart. She was a fairly standard apartment manager type, middle thirties, comfortably over weight and hiding it badly with pastel business suits she probably paid too much for.

“Marshal Graham, good evening!” she greeted, clamoring out of the cart. I looked about; once more caught up in the surreal turns my life was fond of taking at the moment.

It was then there was a shimmer, like the heat waves that come off the asphalt on a hot day then everyone appeared to be dressed in casual clothes as apposed to the Spandex Club Meeting attire we’d all been wearing before. Ed was back in his flannels and jeans, while the man I knew only as Gravity was now decked out in Dockers and a deep blue polo.

I looked down at myself to find I had on jeans that should have been ridiculously too tight for comfort over a checked flannel with the sleeves rolled up. Even Geoffrey wasn’t immune to whatever had happened, looking to be in his charcoal suit once more. As I glanced about for some rational explanation for all this, I caught sight of Ginnevia standing beside the pick up truck that Gravities disk had turned into.

She winked at me and tapped the side of her head with a fore finger. It occurs to me these super power things are pretty handy.

“You must Jennifer,” came the voice of the agency lady, snapping me out of my private thoughts. I grinned sheepishly and took the hand she offered.

“Yes ma’am. Ah appreciate the extra work something this short notice has got to be.”

“Oh, think nothing of it, dear. We’ve had to cobble together some left over furniture from our display units to get something furnished for you. But, as you assemble your own things, we can take them back out. Come let me show you…”

So I followed and ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ at all the right moments. Suffice to say I got my stuff put away and it was a nice place till I could redecorate and get my old stuff from the dorm. Speaking of which, that would be on tap first thing in the morning.

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Chapter Three

The next morning I awoke with only a small amount of disorientation. I was getting to be at home in my new body, and while the physical toughness of it served to somewhat distance me from the sensations of the world, it served as a constant reminder of who and what I had become. I had purposefully risen late so as, I hoped, to clean out my dorm with the fewest number of people there. So I hopped into the shower for a quick once over, forgetting until after my hair was wet how much longer my morning absolutions would be.

Sigh.

It was my third day as a woman and personal hygiene was a new adventure. My skin was both more and markedly less sensitive. I’d never really experienced nipple erection before and the slightest little brush set them off. Conversely, or depending on your frame of mind, perversely, my sensation of arousal was so much more generalized through out my body I found it a fairly elusive thing. To be completely honest, I really wasn’t sure where or how to proceed. Self gratification from a man’s point of view was a fairly straight forward piece of business.

This would, however, tend to explain the rather lackluster looks on the faces of the few girls I’d actually scored with afterwards as it were. After a frustrating half hour, I gave up, unsure if one of the downsides to being basically invulnerable was going to be sexual frustration.

And that thought brought me up short sharply.

From now until the end of my days, relief from sexual frustration was going to be as a woman. I stood shivering in the probably scalding water thoroughly chilled. I didn’t even know what my sexual orientation was any more. I turned off the water and stood dripping for a moment, trying to think. Like most guys, I’d had vague plans to get married at some point and maybe getting a kid or two punched out. Now, if I kept my up to this point exclusively heterosexual orientation I’d be the one doing the punching out of those kids.

The thought was utterly terrifying.

Which in and of itself was probably ironic. Here I was, the big (!) tough super heroine terrified at the thought of being pregnant. I toweled myself off, then toweled off the mirror to stare myself in the face. My red hair was wild from the shower which went well with the wild fear in my eyes. I tried to look at myself with my old, male, mind.

I could see my beauty. I could appreciate the curves and swimming around in my head from the shopping trip from hell yesterday was the beginnings of a fairly good eye for estimating sizes. I was, in fact, a 40D over a 28 inch waist and 40 hips. By dress size I was a twelve although my height at 5’11 meant some twelve’s wouldn’t hang right.

But the more I stared, the more I realized nothing of the conflicting emotions I felt was anything like lust. If anything, my shopping experiences yesterday probably meant I’d never feel that particular emotion again. I could almost forgive Ginnevia her prank.

Almost.

I pushed my introspection from my mind as I tried to lose myself in my preparations for going out for my first day as a woman ‘solo’ as it were. My hair took a half hour to dry and work into a pale imitation of the salon’s treatment from yesterday. I considered briefly having it cut shorter, just to be more manageable, but as a male I’d always been drawn to women with long hair.

Now that shoe was on the other foot, I supposed I owed it to them to at least experience a bit of what they had gone through. So, for the time being at least, the long hair stayed. My next choice was foundational in nature.

I hadn’t exactly had a lot of experience getting bras off and my first shot at putting one on was the stuff of slapstick comedy. Finally I settled on a plain cotton sport bra which simply pulled over. It went well with the plain cotton panties I’d slipped into the shopping cart when Ginnevia hadn’t been looking yesterday.

The super Goth had evidently been denied Barbie Dolls as a kid and was making up for lost time with me. IF I ever got over my fears and got a sexual partner of some flavor, I sure hope they were into kinky lingerie. I had a dresser full.

Next was the new version of my uniform which had a Velcro closure hidden in the front under the upright of the St Andrew’s cross. It wasn’t as snug as mom’s but, it was just as revealing. Over this went a pair of jeans I’d made sure would fit comfortably without the costume, but still not cut off circulation over it along with a tan cashmere turtleneck sweater.

There really wasn’t a place to hang the utility belt on street clothes that it wouldn’t look like a utility belt. How does Batman deal with this? I took the badge wallet out of it and tucked it into the pocket of the bomber that I slipped on over the sweater. I hoped I wouldn’t need the hand cuffs as I technically wasn’t a cop per se yet, so I really shouldn’t be arresting people.

My experience with Sovereign yesterday made me slip the domino mask and the bottle of spirit gum in the other pocket. I toyed with the idea of experimenting with some of the cosmetics that had also been acquired the previous day, but realized I still basically had no idea what the various items were for so I decided to go for the natural look.

A look at the clock told me two hours had passed from rising to being ready to face the day. My stomach rolled in protest. With all the shopping yesterday, none of it had been food. I didn’t have so much as a can of coke in the place.

At that point, the doorbell rang.

I made my way downstairs to the front door, wondering as I went was I about to get into yet another battle. It turns out I needn’t have worried. Standing at the door was Ed. “Hey,” he greeted

“Hi,” I stuttered, still unsure if something was up.

“Sorry to just drop by, but you didn’t get your beeper last night,” he said, thrusting the small cell phone/beeper and two way radio gizmo at me. I took it, more than a bit hesitant at the personification of my new life. “And, I thought you’d be getting your stuff from the dorm today, so I figured the least I could do is help. I’ve got a truck,” he said, indicating the green F-150 sitting in the shade of the trees of the parking lot.

“Thanks,” I said, realizing that until that moment, the only way I had to get to the dorms downtown was flight or MARTA. Neither option would be particularly suited for trying to move. “Ah really appreciate that.”

He shrugged in a manner that seemed forced. “It’s no problem. Figured it was the least I could do. You, uh, you look great.”

I felt a blush color my cheeks. “Thanks,” I muttered, not sure how to feel about being on the receiving end of a compliment on my appearance. “Ah’d offer lunch, but Ah haven’t really gotten paid yet. Ah didn’t get a chance to give Geoffrey back this card he gave me…” I started, offering up the overworked American Express. Ed shook his massive head.

“That’s yours. It’s your expense account. For the time being, don’t have another shopping trip like yesterday, but if you’re out and you need something, go ahead and use it. Just keep the receipts. You’ll get the full list of what you can and can’t buy later, but don’t worry about it for now. Lunch would be fine. Is Lettuce Surprise You ok?”

Edward, being some unknown percentage horse was mostly vegetarian. He would eat bread, cheese and some other, naturally acquired foods from animals, but he couldn’t eat meat. Dinning out with him had always revolved around what ever restaurant that was settled on having some fairly extensive salad options. He was the only college student I knew who liked Veggie Lover’s Pizza. “Sure,” I responded. “Ah guess it’s never too early to start worrying about keeping mah figure.”

I pulled the door to and locked it. As he led the way to the truck, Ed remarked, “Don’t worry about it too much. One of the perks I mentioned the other day is biological. MS really speeds up our metabolisms. Once we reach the size MS says we’re going to be we pretty much stay there. It’s one of the reasons you don’t see many over weight super heroes or super villains for that matter.”

A smile lit my face as I climbed into the huge truck. This was the kind of perk I could get used to. “Ya’ll mean Ah can finally eat steak three times a day with out so much as a smidgeon of worry and Ah have to go to a salad bar?” I teased him.

Rather quickly he responded, “No we don’t have to. Would you like a steak house instead?”

“You’re awfully accommodating this morning,” I remarked, giving him a moment to back from the space and make his way through the maze of the complex to the main gate.

“I guess I feel responsible for all this. We got off to a rocky start and I was hoping to make it up to you is all,” was his response.

“The salad bar is fine, don’t worry about it. Ah was just teasing.”

After such a great start, the ride to the dorms seemed like going to a funeral. Scarcely five sentences were exchanged on the way and once parked, the walk to the dorm was in silence. I was becoming uncomfortable the closer we got to the dorm, and once we were actually inside, my discomfort had swollen to just shy of a full blown panic attack. “Are you ok?” asked Edward beside me.

“Ah just feel like Ah’m walking around naked. Like Ah don’t belong here.”

I watched the expressions on his horse-like face as he considered that, finally nodding. “Technically, I guess, you don’t. Not anymore least wise. I don’t think you have to worry about anyone hassling you. I certainly won’t let that happen.”

I rolled my eyes at his gallantry. “Ah am capable of taking care of mah self, Ed.”

“That doesn’t mean you should have to,” he answered softly with some conviction. We reached my room to which I let us in with my key. I paused in the door way to give Louis time to make himself decent.

Louis was the room mate from hell. Short, fat, and the slob’s slob, but until recently the one perk was he could get a conversation going and get a phone number from just about every girl on campus. Not that any of them would ever actually do anything with him, but in a crowded place, he was safe enough, and his well off parents made sure whatever girl was putting up with him at the moment didn’t actually have to pay for anything. Not that I’d have any use for a girls phone number any time soon.

“Hello nurse!” he called, once more demonstrating his complete lack of class.

“Stuff a sock in it, Louis,” I growled, as I made my way through the trash to my side of the room. I’m not a neat freak, but compared with Louis, my room was as clean as new kitchen that hadn’t had the first meal cooked yet.

“Hey, Ed,” he called. “This your girl friend? Where’s Jim?”

The hero couldn’t keep in his braying chuckle. “Hello Louis, no this is Jim.” As I paused to look at the lecherous little troll, I got to savor the look of confusion that played across his face.

“What?” he demanded.

“I got exposed to Mckimpson Strain,” I informed him. “It did this.”

“Whoa, bummer. You doing anything Friday night?”

“Yes, kicking your ass if you get within three feet of me,” I told him.

“Sorry!”

After about an hour, I got my meager belongings packed and hauled out to Ed’s truck. My key I turned in to Mrs. Magilicutty, the dorm mother. I’d never seen a woman so torn between sweeping me up into one of her breath taking bear hugs or fleeing in terror. Another hour at the Registrar’s Office got me dropped from my classes, no refund on the student loans of course. Through out all of it, Ed had taken to answering only when asked a fairly direct question and silence otherwise.

As we walked back to the truck from the Registrar’s Office, I caught the corner of his elbow and turned him to face me. “What is wrong, Ed? Why are you so quiet today?”

His mobile ears flicked to and fro, taking in the sounds around him, but one was always focused on me. After a moment, he shrugged his narrow shoulders. “I don’t know, Jennifer. I don’t know how to behave around you anymore I guess.”

“You don’t know how to behave around me?” I demanded. “What kind of lame excuse is that? We’ve been friends too long for you to go all twilight zone on me now. Now is when Ah need you the most!” He nodded his long head sharply.

“I know! I’m trying to be here for you, I’m just feeling awkward, that’s all.”

“What’s to feel awkward about? Ah’m the one that should be feeling that!”

“I know,” he affirmed. “God, I don’t think I could have dealt with my life if I hadn’t been born this way. I never really knew any other way to be. You? You’ve got almost as raw a deal as I did, and you’re just soldiering on making the best of it. I feel so ashamed with myself for what I had to say at the hospital.”

“Ya’ll did your duty. You had to say it, and it’s what Ah needed to hear. Ed, you kept me from falling into a depression that could have easily turned me into Power Ball. Ah think Ah’ve got a right to be angry about all this, but you gave me a choice to take that anger and do something positive instead. Thank you.”

He snorted. “I threaten to beat her up if she doesn’t toe the company line and she thanks me for it. That’s gotta be a new one.”

“Ah ought to throw you a beating if ya’ll don’t snap out of it. Ah’m not saying it was a perfect speech, but maybe if Power Ball had had a friend like you when he woke up maybe he’d be on our side. That’s a good thing, Ed!”

“You don’t get it, do you? I know I said what I had to say. And I’m glad it did what it was supposed to do. But that doesn’t make it right. You shouldn’t have to be a super cop just because you saved someone’s life.”

“Now you’re starting to sound like Sovereign,” I remarked, as we reached his truck. He stopped as I sensed that my attempt at humor had gone horribly wrong.

Very slowly and extremely quietly, he whispered, “Don’t ever say that again.”

“I didn’t mean…” I started, but his hand snapped up to cut off my protestation.

“I know what you meant. I’m not angry with you, you’ll understand once you’ve gone through training.” Beyond that, I could get nothing else out of him. The ride back to my place was worse than the trip out had been. I replayed the conversation several times in my head, trying to work out what I’d said to so offend him, but finally gave up. I simply didn’t have the information to put all the pieces together.

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There has to be a better way to do this, I thought for the fifth time as the stone wall of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank stopped my backwards motion while taking the breath from my lungs again. I slid down to my knees, struggling to catch my breath through the hazy pain my mind was swimming in.

“What’s the matter, honey? No snappy come back? Where’s the brassy bitch I beat up in the mall?” demanded Power Ball as he closed the distance between us in a short hop. He collected a large handful of my hair in his meaty fist and used it to haul me up to eye level.

“Was that before or after Ah kicked your ass?” I demanded as I reached out with my left foot with every ounce of strength I could muster.

Straight between his legs.

My kick brought up him up to tip toe and crossed his eyes for him. It also had the added plus of him dropping me as both hands sought his crotch to protect it from further harm as he sank to his knees and whimpered like a school boy. I was unsteady on my feet, but I had a moment to collect myself as I interlaced my fingers to make one huge fist. “Give mah regards to the warden, tough guy.”

I had to stand on tip toe to reach his head, but my swing wasn’t slowed that much for it. Power Ball spun around and landed flat on his face, out cold as I sat down rather quickly to conserve what was left of my strength.

“End Program,” came Geoffrey’s voice from off to my right. Power Ball, Marietta Street and the rest of down town vanished to leave me still on my knees in a rather featureless room made of grey steel. I stayed there as the Marshall approached along with Ed and Ginnevia. “Belle, how do you feel?”

“Like shit,” I panted, begrudging every word for the ripples of agony that they sent through me. “Isn’t there a better way to find out what Ah’m capable of than this?”

“Yes,” said Graham as he knelt down beside me. “But they’ll hurt more.”

“Mah tax dollars hard at work,” I muttered, mustering the strength to look in his face. He smiled a sad smile and shook his head.

“Want to hear how you did?” he asked as if one of my professors talking about a rather tame pop quiz. I never thought I’d rather be staring a history exam in the face instead of doing something out side.

“Mah sense of pain tells me Ah did pretty badly,” I told him. “About the only thing Ah figure Ah got right was winning.”

“Well, winning isn’t everything, but it is something,” admitted the Marshal from his squat. “We’ve determined that you’re just below Ed in strength and your ability to take damage. As far as fighting technique goes, you’re miles behind him. I want you to start thinking about a Martial Art you’d like to study to help with that. Also, you have a tendency to fixate on a problem and attack it frontally. No pun intended. You should get into the habit of judging the situation in a manner as detached as possible. Be mindful of civilian casualties as well as keeping the collateral damage to a minimum.”

A number of less than polite responses jumped to my lips that I kept behind them. Finally, I asked softly, “Did Ah do anything right?” Geoffrey smiled as he patted me on my shoulder.

“You won.”

“You successfully looked good in spandex,” supplied Ginnevia.

“That’s not easy,” piped up Edward who shared in her chuckle. I struggled to my feet, but didn’t have the energy to keep the smile from my face.

“Ten thousand comedians on the unemployment line and you two are cracking jokes?”

While Geoffrey was also smiling, he kept his comments professional in nature. “You can fly Belle, and pretty fast at that. We clocked you at a top speed of about three hundred miles an hour. Think in three dimensions and use that to your advantage.”

“Ah got real tired going that fast. And it’s hard to control. There’s not any room for error.” Geoffrey made a calming gesture.

“Control comes with practice, so does endurance. Just keep it in mind for now. Speaking of now, hit the showers. Once you’re better I’ll get your study materials issued.” I pouted as I followed their lead from the Urban Combat Simulator. Bet you thought I was going to say Danger Room or something equally cool, right? Well, this is Uncle Sam we’re doing about. Cool only comes from acronyms. UCS is cool. Danger Room is copyright infringement.

“Ah just got out of college and you’re going to give me homework?”

The trio chuckled as they led the way out of the grey room. “We have some tactics and maneuvers based on the group you’ll have to learn,” said Ed reasonably. “Some of those will change to include you, but others don’t involve the whole team so you need to know them to properly implement them when they’re called for.”

“Not to mention a long and growing daily list of wanted felons to be on the look out for who rather intensely hate us,” added Ginnevia. “Some of them make Power Ball there look like a boy scout.”

“As well as the Annotated Code of the State of Georgia that you, as a sworn Law Enforcement Officer are required to be familiar with,” was Geoffrey’s thought. I took the towel Ed got me from the rack just outside the UCS and mopped my face with it. The sting around the orbit of my left eye made me wonder if I’d have a black eye in the morning.

“Ah haven’t sworn anything, except for the four letter word variety.”

Geoffrey was thoughtful. “Yes, that’s something else I’ve been meaning to bring up. You’re a cop now, Jennifer. I want you to work on cleaning up your language in uniform.”

My eyes rolled in disbelief from pure reflex. “You’re kidding me, right? Ah get drafted, sex changed, and dropped from college in the same week. But that’s not enough? Ah have to keep mah life rated G while Ah parade around in fist fights wearing spandex? What about the First Amendment Mr. Patriot?”

“Mr. Patriot works out of Boston,” Geoffrey responded, utterly dead pan. “I’m not the only super hero wearing a flag either, Southern Belle. Further, I won’t care if you swear like a long shore man. It will make getting those family friendly endorsements that much harder, which your contract does allow by the way. I’ll also only doc you a hundred bucks for each complaint. How’s that?”

“Fines for cussing?” I demanded outraged. Geoffrey shook his head.

“No Belle, fines for complaints about your language. Read your draft order again. Under the section labeled Deportment and Professionalism. See you upstairs.” With that, he and Ed left, leaving me alone with Ginnevia.

“Welcome to the Super Real World,” she snickered.

I satisfied my urges for profanity for a full minute before I got my temper under control again. After the towel was thrown into the dirty hamster with more force than was necessary I turned to Ginnevia and demanded, “How do ya’ll put up with this?”

She shrugged as she turned and led the way to a door marked Women’s Shower. I paused for a moment before I followed her in; beyond the pale in to Unknown Territory. What do you know? Except for the lack of urinals, a bathroom is a bathroom. I’m not really sure what I was expecting. Potted plants or living room sets maybe? But there were just four stalls with doors, four sinks and a doorway that led into the shower area. It was all in a rather drab tile floor and walls with a drop ceiling. “You get used to it, I guess,” was her response. “The money isn’t too bad, and it beats the alternative.”

“Ah’d say this was all still a bit above and beyond the call of duty. Ah didn’t ask to be a cop. Ah didn’t ask to be a role model either, and now Ah have to be both.”

“Look, I’m sorry about the way I acted yesterday,” she said abruptly. “You just had a fairly major trauma and I took advantage of you.” She stuck out her hand which was concealed in a black lace glove with the index and pinky fingers missing. After a moment of thought I took it. I did, I suppose, need every friend I could get just now.

A tingle flowed through me as our hands met and a hazy outline in my shape separated from me, then collapsed into a cloud and swirled down the drain of one of the sinks. “What the fuck!” I shouted, easily snatching my hand away from her. I was mid swing with a punch that might possibly have killed her before she shrank back from me and held up both hands to ward off a blow.

“It’s not what you think!” she shouted. “I was just doing you a favor!” She panted in fright for a few minutes, waiting for a blow that didn’t land. Finally, Ginnevia stood a bit straighter. “I thought I’d save you the time of a shower so I telekinetically removed all of the dirt and dead cells from you. That’s what you saw going down the drain. Sorry, I guess I should have warned you.”

Come to think of it, I did feel remarkably fresh and clean. Even my uniform felt like it was fresh from the dryer. I lowered my raised fist and giggled. “Ah’m sorry too. Maybe we should start over and just be friends.” I stuck out my hand again. “Jennifer Anderson.”

She took my hand and pressed as hard as she could so I could just barely feel it above my invulnerability. “Ginnevia Brown. Pleased to meet you.”

“So, Miss Brown,” I drawled, “Ah’m something of a flying brick to use the generic term for strong, difficult to hurt people. What can ya’ll tell me about mah team mates?”

“Well, Miss Anderson, please call me Ginnevia,” she responded, falling in with my mock formal tone.

“Only if ya’ll will call me Jennifer,” I interrupted her.

“Of course, Jennifer. Well, my powers are based around the mind. I can influence the weak minded as well as project images of things that aren’t there, or alter a memory to protect a secret identity as you saw the other day. I can also cast magic spells as it were, but we’ll get into that later. Marshall Graham, our boss the American Eagle is something of a frustrated engineer. His exposure to MS gave him some kind of weird science inventor bit. He made that costume of his, along with all of his gadgets and most of ours as well.”

I nodded as I went over to my locker and removed my ‘civilian’ clothes and began to pull them on. “Regina Many Pockets, or Spirit Wolf, the benefactress of your good will is Cherokee and a rather accomplished martial artist. She can pull off all those cheesy moves you’ve seen in those Hong Kong martial arts movies and make it look easy. I gathered you’re already pretty chummy with Cavalry so, moving right along there’s Gravity, or Abin el’ Mohammad. He’s what we call an Energy Manipulator in the trade, his specialty is Gravity Waves. He can use them to fly, entangle others, or as an offensive coherent beam.”

I opened my mouth to respond but all that came out was a low moan of pain. The pain was centered in my abdomen, but radiated out in waves as far as the tops of my thighs to the bottom of my rib cage.

“Are you all right?” asked Ginnevia as she rushed to my side.

“No,” I gasped, bend double with the pain. I’d spent two days nearly completely free of pain and I was rapidly forgetting how to deal with it. “Mah belly is on fire. Ah think Ah might have hurt mah self in there.”

“All of a sudden like this?” she asked, somewhat confused. Then a look of understanding flicked behind her eyes. “You’re not hurt, Jennifer. Welcome to the club girl. You’re menstruating.”

Any witty come back or violent denial of biology was cut off by my sudden need to get into a stall where I promptly threw up.

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Chapter Four

Well isn’t this just peachy? Day three as a woman was day one of being on the rag. You’d think I’d have a month or more to get ready for this special little gift from Mother Nature, but no, let’s get the fun stuff out of the way right up front.

After several minutes of confession at the porcelain alter, I was well enough to be grateful for the tampon Ginnevia produced from her purse as well as being able to listen to her quick lecture on how to use it. Thank God I had a new uniform which opened in the front. After about the amount of fumbling you’d think I’d have, I got the thing inside me. It was the strangest feeling I’d ever experienced before.

The closest comparison I can give you is it kind of felt like when you are just becoming aware of the fact that you need to use the restroom, but you weren’t sure if you had to go number one or two. Feeling a bit paranoid, I bought a panty liner from the machine in the stall and added it to my panties, hoping they’d stay the white cotton they’d started out as.

Ginnevia patiently waited for me through it all. Finally I came back out of the stall, shaking and even more conscious of whom I was now than ever before. “You ok?” she asked with real concern in her voice. I forced a nod I didn’t really feel. “I know how you feel girl. I started at twelve and Mom hadn’t gotten up the nerve for that little talk yet. Can you imagine the look on her face when I told her in the kitchen I’d hurt myself but it didn’t hurt?” She giggled.

“Ah’m just not ready for this yet,” I whispered, extremely aware of the betrayal of my nether regions.

“None of us are, Jennifer. We just get used to it. You’ll have to deal with this for another twenty years or so.”

“There’s a bonus to look forward to,” I said drolly as I led the way back out to the lockers to resume putting my jeans and sweater back on. “Will it always hurt this much?” I asked her, pausing one leg in and the other out of my jeans.

She shrugged. “As I recall, my first periods were the worst, then I got used to them. Some women have a rough time of it their whole lives. I’d ask your mom. What ever she experienced is what you’ll probably go through.”

“There’s a conversation I’m not looking forward to,” I muttered as I stepped back into my new boots as I fastened the jeans.

“While we’re on the subject, keep in mind that your used tampons are a biohazard. You’re MS positive now, so you have to be extremely careful not to further spread it.” She cleared her throat nervously. “That includes your sex life, you know.”

“No worries there,” I started, then paused and looked at her. “Why do Ah think Ah’m about to be really pissed off?” Her sheepish grin brought my anger boiling back to the surface.

“By law, you can only have a sexual relationship with someone who is either already MS positive, or passes the background checks for a new MS positive person. Now, the list of MS positive people is pretty big. In addition to every hero out there, there are normal cops who have been give Mckimpson 2A and any combat arms branch soldier who would have been exposed to Mckimpson 1F.”

“Ah have to ask permission to FUCK?” I exploded. She blinked.

“Wow, you do adjust quickly,” she breathed. “I had you figured for being celibate for at least a year, maybe two.”

I fumed, flashing between terror at the prospect of having sex with a man to white hot rage over being told if I found someone I was comfortable enough with that they might not be up to snuff to be exposed to MS. “Who, the hell, do they think they are?” I demanded, anger, as usual, winning out over fear.

“Jennifer, MS is in every fluid of your body now. It can be absorbed through the skin just like it did with you. How would you feel if you found Mr. or Miss Right and had them land in your boat just now?”

“That’s not the point!” I shouted at her. “Ah didn’t get a choice about this. But not getting a choice about who Ah might want to share mah bed with? That’s an outrage!” I jerked the sweater over my head and stormed up stairs to find my would be boss.

The headquarters was five levels of the building, two below ground and three above. Also in this building was the IRS branch office for Cobb County as well as the Battalion HQ for the North Georgia Recruitment Battalion. Which meant there were any number of soldiers, would be soldiers, and every day Joe’s being hassled by the Infernal Revenue Service in the building. It made my trip from the UCS in the basement to the meeting room on the third floor interesting to say the least.

On the plus side, the center of the building is an open atrium that let me use my power of flight to outdistance Ginnevia who had been doing her best to calm me down. No one made the mistake of getting in the way of an obviously pissed off Super Heroine either.

I found Geoffrey Graham in the conference room with Ed and Regina who was just back from the hospital. “You son of a bitch!” I shouted as I entered the room. Geoffrey casually straightened the papers before him on the table as he placidly met my glare.

“Hello Jennifer. I see Ginnevia gave you the biohazard lecture.”

“How the hell did you…?” I started then I noticed Ed wouldn’t meet my gaze. “You smelled it, didn’t you?” I shouted at him. He nodded without looking at me. My anger simmered up again so I returned my wrathful gaze to Graham, not wanting to threaten my friendship with Ed. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

His voice was calm, low, and at any other time would have been terrifying in its stillness. “I think I’m the Untied States Marshal for the South East. Which means I’m responsible for the enforcement of laws designed at regulation of Paranormals and the containment of Mckimpson Strain. And if I think there is a danger of unregulated outbreak of that disorder, I think I’ll have who ever I believe is a danger to my country locked up in Fort Leavenworth. Is that in any way unclear?”

“You’ve got no right…!” I started, but was cut off as he stood, his body mimicking the rise of his own tone.

“I have every right, Belle. Don’t you ever forget that. My team, by Uncle Sam’s Rules, or it’s a one way ticket to the Paranormal Wing of Fort Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. No trial, no jury, just my word and you’re done, got that?”

I could feel my cheeks burn with a blush fueled by my rage. “Ah am a citizen of the United States,” I hissed. “I have the right to a trial by a jury of mah peers and the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.”

“James Michael Anderson was a citizen of the United States with those rights,” countered Geoffrey, regret beginning to cloud his voice. “Jennifer Marie Anderson, also known as Southern Belle is a conscript of the Paranormal Regulatory Agency under Executive Order 1477 and as such is government property, subject to the rules of said Agency with a suspension of all Constitutional Rights save those the Agency chooses to allow at its sole discretion.”

“How, the hell, do you suspend an unalienable right?” I demanded, a bit of cold dread beginning cool the rage that had been fueling my outburst.

“With the stroke of a pen,” was Geoffrey’s answer.

“At least we are paid well,” said Abin as he walked into the room from the doorway with a cup of coffee. He was dressed very similarly to the illusion Ginnevia had put him in yesterday. He was handsome in a dark, mysterious way with his swarthy skin and meticulously groomed hair. I finally got why all the girls went in for that sort of thing. “In my native Egypt,” he continued, his voice blurred by two accents, one evidently Egyptian, the other sounded British, “for example, people such as we are kept in what is called an apartment, but is more like a cell until pulled out to do something for the government. They are not allowed to have any sort of private life. This American way of doing things is something of a blessing of Allah, to me at least.”

“Sorry, Geoffrey,” said a slightly out of breath Ginnevia as she caught up with me. “I guess I blew it.”

“Is this what he’s holding over all of you?” I demanded of the group at large. “Mah way or the grey bar hotel?” No one seemed to want to meet my gaze as I searched the faces of my prospective team mates. My rage cooled into an infinite sadness at my lot in life. “Ah thought better of ya’ll.” I whispered.

“Jennifer,” said Geoffrey softly. “It’s not as bad as all that…”

“You! You shut up!” I hissed. “You want it this way, Mr. Red white and blue?” I demanded as I snatched off my sweater to expose the top of my uniform. I threw it into the chair that had my name in front of it. “That’s just fine with me!” I collected a handful of the jeans, being careful not to grab the uniform underneath and ripped them off. The remnants went to join the sweater on the seat.

“You don’t want to do this, Jennifer,” said Ed softly.

“Do what?” I demanded checking to make sure the domino mask was still secure on my face. “Be a good girl and play by the rules? Ah thought that’s what Uncle Sam there wanted?” That brought a look of confusion to every face on the table. “Yeah, that’s right; Ah’ll play by your rules. Ah have a family to think about too. But don’t ya’ll think for a moment Ah won’t do everything in mah power to change this.”

“There’s nothing against that in your draft order,” said Geoffrey quietly. “Not that it will do you a lick of good, you’re welcome to try.”

“We’ll see.” I spun on my booted heel to storm out, but was stopped by Ed’s fearful voice.

“Belle, where are you going?”

“To get me one of those ‘family friendly endorsements’,” I spat. Then my flight took me from the room and the building in short order.

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From Marietta, my powers took me to Jasper, the First Mountain City of Georgia. At just shy of half the speed of sound, I made the trip in about ten minutes. Jasper was the next city north from my Native Canton at the end of the misnamed Interstate 575. Truth be told, the entirety of 575 was inside the State of Georgia.

Jasper is an odd mix of historic Old South Georgia as well as being up and coming Mecca of Young Urban Professionals buying mountain retreats to escape the ‘undesirable’ aspects of Atlanta. Most of the buildings of the Town Square dated from two centuries ago. Jasper was also the County Seat of Pickens County. As such, there was an office there that held some people I currently wanted an endorsement from.

My dad and I had been Civil War Re-Enactors as a hobby before I’d left for college. It made for some interesting times together and was a father/son thing we had in common other than the perhaps more normal playing ball or hunting. As I alighted in the town square to more than a bit of commotion my thoughts filled with regret about having lost that past time with my dad. Not to mention the bridge building I’d have to do to find some new way to relate to my family.

The reason for my visit was a small store front covered with posters that flew the state flag, new and old. These guys had set up a booth in Sutter’s Row (the area of a Re-Enactment site set aside for vendors) at the last few Re-Enactments dad and I had gone to. We had never given them much of a shot, but their ideas were some what interesting.

And now I wanted to be their spokes girl. How Ironic.

As the townsfolk of Jasper gawked, the Southern Belle stepped into the headquarters of the Georgia Chapter of the Southern Party. If I thought my landing had caused a stir, that was nothing to looks on the small number of staffer’s faces. Finally, a middle aged, somewhat portly gentleman stepped forward, pulling on his suit jacket as he did so. “Can I help you, Miss?” he asked hesitantly as he approached.

“Yes sir. Ah was wondering if the Southern Party had a spokesperson yet. If not, Ah would like to apply for that position.”

He frowned. It was tough launching a new political party as I had learned from my political science classes, and from the look on his face, I could tell he wasn’t going to take me seriously. “Is this someone’s idea of a joke, Miss?” he asked again. Still polite, but with sufficient force to let me know he wouldn’t suffer a fool.

“No sir. Mah name is Southern Belle. Ah was just drafted into the Stone Mountain Irregulars and, to be honest, Ah don’t much care for the regulations Ah’m being told Ah have to follow. The only way Ah can think of to change that is if the South can be its own country again. Which is why Ah’m here.”

“Miss, the Southern Party advocates strictly legislative measures to withdraw from the United States. We are not terrorists, or revolutionaries, merely native sons and daughters of the South dissatisfied with the lack of respect we receive from Washington. While we do advocate independence for the South, we will not use any force other than the ballot box to achieve that end. I honestly don’t think there is anything someone such as yourself can do for us.”

“May Ah have your name, sir?” I asked him softly.

“I beg your pardon, Miss Belle. I’m Jonathan Campbell, North Georgia coordinator for the Southern Party.”

“Mr. Campbell, because of mah exposure to the Mckimpson Strain, Ah have been informed that Ah will be a police officer or Ah will go to prison. Ah am not offering my services as a strongwoman, or an agent provocateur, only as a public official who both agrees with you about Washington being out of control and desiring a South of, by and for Southerners. Ah would be grateful if ya’ll would forward mah request to whom ever can make such a decision. Ah can be reached at the Head Quarters of the Irregulars in Marietta. Good day to you, sir.”

With that, I turned and left. I was long over due to give mom and dad a visit. Not to mention the fact that I had basically run out of excuses to not give them one any more.

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As I flew at a much slower pace than my journey out had been, I got the surprise of my short life. Over a particularly lonely stretch of 575 as I flew towards Canton a tree came flying up out of the seemingly endless forest that was North Georgia. I tried to dodge, but the tree still clipped me causing me to tumble to the ground. I dug a swath about a hundred feet long into the median between the interstate lanes, coming to a stop against a bridge abutment for an over pass.

As I staggered to my feet a familiar figure in red and gold settled to the ground a few feet away. “Hello, Belle,” he greeted; sweeping me an elegant bow with a bit more flourish than was probably necessary.

“Sovereign, as I live and breath, ya’ll sure know how to make an entrance.” He chuckled as he offered his arm to steady me. I politely declined as I looked about to see if anyone else was with him. I may not like Geoffrey just now, but his assessment of me in the UCS had been pretty spot on.

“You’ll have to forgive Randal,” drawled the villain as he picked up on my glances. “He doesn’t take very well to being bested. The fact of you being of the fairer sex as well has hurt his pride quite a bit. My apologies.”

“You know, over a hundred years ago there was a Yankee by the name of Alexander Graham Bell. He invented this gizmo called the telephone. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Let’s people get in touch with other without tossing trees around.”

He chuckled as Power Ball joined us in a short series of leaps that spanned several hundred yards each. “You have your mother’s gift of sarcasm I see. That’s good. Have you spoken with her, yet? I gathered by your trip up here you’re just coming to understand the ‘laws’ being placed on you without the trouble of those pesky ‘rights’ we’re supposed to have. Given some thought to my offer, have you?”

“Ah might not like mah lot in life, sir, but Ah am not a criminal or a terrorist.”

“Neither am I,” he countered. “I am a patriot of a new country. Terrorists are patriots that lose. I don’t intend to lose.”

“Such humility! I’m honored to stand in your presence, sir!” He chuckled his maddening chuckle once more, refusing to rise to my baiting. To be honest, after the way the entire team seemed to be scared spit less of this jerk, I was beginning to wish we could just commence to fighting so I could get this over with and lose. I maintained no fantasies that any other outcome was forthcoming.

“Belle, you misunderstand me. You think of me as you have been taught. You are the hero; Randal here and I are the villains so therefore a bout of fisticuffs is in the offering. No, my dear, my powers are far more insidious to your American Eagle. I offer words. Words are where ideas begin, eyes become opened and empires begin to be toppled. I am the personification of anger against the status quo. That is why he fears me.”

“Sir, Ah am just a simple country girl. Ah care naught for revolutions or revolutionaries. Ah’m just looking to pay mah bills and be left alone. Now, if you and tall, dark and dumb there will kindly move along, Ah’d be right obliged.”

“Let me work her over, boss…” started Power Ball as he took a threatening step forward. Sovereign’s hand interposed itself between him and me, putting a stop to that line of conversation.

“Randal, how many times must I remind you that I do the thinking and the speaking while you do the acting? Is that so hard to remember?”

I wasn’t sure how powerful Sovereign was, or for that matter what all his powers were. But the fact that he could take that tone with Power Ball, and have Power Ball let him without so much as a glance was certainly intimidating. Before anything else could happen, there came a pop that I had come to associate with Mortagain’s teleportation, and then I realized I was surrounded by the people I had just basically told to go to hell about an hour ago.

“Sovereign, by the powers placed in my by the President of the United States, I place you under arrest,” boomed the American Eagle.

“Not this again, Geoffrey,” sighed the villain with obvious long suffering. “Are you so afraid your new conscript will take my message to heart? Or is it something else you fear?”

“Put up your hands and remove the Eye of Horus,” ordered Cavalry as he stepped forward to get between myself and Sovereign.

“We can do this the hard way if you insist,” said Sovereign to the Eagle, ignoring Cavalry for the moment. “But I won’t be held responsible for what happens after, Geoffrey. I’m warning you. Leave now and give me my moment with Belle, or so help me, you’ll regret it.”

“You’re going to be held responsible for every crime you’ve committed, Albert. Including attempting to threaten a sworn officer from his duty just now,” growled the Eagle.

“Albert?” I demanded, struck funny by the ridiculousness of this situation.

Sovereign smirked at me, completely unfazed by my knowledge of his real name. “You can call me Al,” he teased before for his face became set with resolution. “Alright, Geoffrey, we’ll do it your way. Trapdoor!”

In a twinkling we were surrounded by twenty or thirty other spandex clad fashion victims. It would appear that we didn’t have the only teleporter in the State of Georgia. I did know some of Sovereigns followers, but most I’d never seen or heard of before. “Still want to do this the hard way, Geoffrey?” demanded Sovereign.

Before anyone could say anything a rock came out of no where and struck Sovereign across the temple, knocking his head piece loose. It flew free for a second, then changed course one hundred and eighty degrees while picking up considerable speed as it flew into Mortagain’s outstretched hand.

Cavalry came set once more from the kick that had sent the rock on its journey while raising both of his fists. “This is your last chance to surrender, Sovereign,” he growled, both ears back in anger.

“You’ll pay for that, son!” snapped the villain as I stood, rooted to the spot, jaws agape. Edward took a menacing step forward.

“Come get some,” he snarled.

Sovereign turned to Power Ball. “Randal, take your team and retrieve my crown. Do not harm them permanently. The rest of you with me.” Then he was gone along with most of the other fashion victims that had appeared at his beck and call. We were down to a fairly even match, the six of us, against the five of the remainder who were evidently Power Ball’s Team.

Power Ball cracked his knuckles loudly. “Time for your spanking, sonny boy.”

“The only spanking you’re going to be doing is of the monkey variety,” fired back Cavalry as the two strong men began to circle, looking for an opening. From there, I must confess, things got a bit confusing.

People started squaring off and tossing barbs, then blows in a big confusing jumble. It’s not as neat and orderly as you see it in the comics. You know this guy says a complete line, then the other guy’s response then Wham! Rinse and repeat as necessary. Nope, this was everybody talking and hitting at once. More like something you’d see on Cops with the confusing camera motion and the yelling all at once so you can’t really make anything out.

Then it was over while I was still trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. The bad guys were all gone and us good guys were standing about in something of a victorious daze.

Finally Spirit Wolf spoke for the first time since I’d seen her. “Where’s Mortagain?” she asked.

“She’s not answering my mental calls,” said the American Eagle, some worry in his voice.

“They must have taken her in the struggle!” was the conclusion that Gravity came to.

“Settle down!” I yelled. That brought the whole team looking at me with some what surprised, but quickly changing to angry expressions. “It’s five o’clock, ya’ll and we’re standing in the median of an interstate. Unless we want to back up traffic for miles and piss off every commuter heading north, we need to have this conversation some where else.”

Ed blinked, and then chuckled. “She’s right. Got any place near by, Belle?”

Sigh. I hope my invulnerability will protect my backside from the whipping I was sure to get over this. “Mah parents live not too far from here….”

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Chapter Five

“Aren’t you kids a bit early for Halloween?”

The front porch of a quiet home in an equally quiet neighborhood was probably the last place you’d expect to find five superheroes looking to find someplace to have a what do we do now conference. But that’s where we were, much to my dad’s chagrin. My dad, Jonathan James Anderson (JJ as was embroidered on his jackets) was retired from building C-130s at the Lockheed-Martin plant at Dobbins Air Force Base. He’d done well for us, so while I didn’t have Louis’ kind of money I didn’t grow up poor either.

Dad was fifty four, in shape, but slightly paunchy from eating well and sported a full head of prematurely gray-white hair. His keen, but careful dabbling in investment had allowed him to retire early while still helping me quite a bit with college. As he stood in the door way of the house I grew up in, looking more than a tad annoyed I wracked my brains trying to come up with something that didn’t sound too lame to say to introduce him to his new daughter. I failed. “Hi dad. Um, these are mah new friends.”

I’m glad dad had a good, strong heart. “Jim?” he demanded, going pale.

I felt a blush color my cheeks. “It’s, uh, Jennifer now dad. Can we come in? Sorry for the lack of notice.” With a great force of will, he jerked himself to one side.

As I led the way in I heard him shout, “Marie! We have company!”

“Oh?” came her voice from the kitchen. The sound of her foot steps preceded her as the front hall became the traffic jam I’d sought to avoid. “Jennifer!” she exclaimed in surprise, rushing forward to hug me. Mom was forty two, tall for a woman of her generation and still relentlessly in shape. Until a few days ago, I’d never understood why she worked out with such determination. I received both my red hair and my green eyes from her, though her hair color was mostly out of a bottle these days. But, for the first time in my life, I was taller than her and it made our hug very awkward. “Welcome home, love! Come in, all of you.” She turned to the American Eagle who was in the process of removing his helmet.

“Geoffrey, are you taking good care of my baby?” she demanded in a falsely stern tone. The marshal’s grin was sheepish.

“As well as the law allows, ma’am.” He affirmed. Mom beamed as dad tried to get his mind going again.

“You’d better if you know what’s good for you. Come in to the parlor, everyone. I’ll have some coffee in a few minutes. JJ, go put on a pot of coffee,” she ordered, stepping with great enthusiasm into her Hostess Mode.

She led the way through the hall to the parlor. Like a good number of Southern homes, I hadn’t been allowed much into the parlor. It contained the ‘good’ furniture, as mom put it. It was decorated in the Queen Anne style, mostly of rich white fabrics with gold thread inlay of a floral design over deep cherry wood construction. As a young boy, stepping foot in there would have merited a weeks grounding.

Mom got everyone settled, no easy feat with both the biological and fashion considerations of some of us. Geoffrey ending up having to stand. Those metal wings of his would have destroyed any furniture he tried to alight on. “So,” started mom once everyone was seated that was able to. “Is this a social visit, or…?” she trailed off.

Marshal Graham became serious. “I’m very sorry to have to intrude, Marie. We’ve just come from a battle with Sovereign.” The joy on Mom’s face of having guests vanished like a light whose switch had been thrown. “He’s taken one of the team, a young girl by the name of Mortagain.”

“Your mentalist,” supplied Mom instantly. Geoffrey nodded.

“Belle offered your home to re-group in so as to not tie up traffic on 575.” Mom’s smile returned at the mention of my hero identity.

“You’re welcome, of course, Geoffrey. If you will all excuse me, I’ll just go help JJ with that coffee. Please make yourselves at home.”

“Uh, Ah can do that, Mom,” I started. It was obvious mom knew both the ins and outs of the team, as well as Geoffrey on some level. While she didn’t want to leave, her sense of manners was forcing her to do so. Before she could argue the point I slipped out and shut the parlor door. My feet took me through the house to the kitchen where I found dad woodenly going through the motions of making coffee. “Dad?” I said softly, hoping not to startle him.

“Oh, Ji…Jennifer, how are you?” he said after he turned to face me.

I took a hesitant step further into the kitchen. “Ah’m ok, Ah guess. Did mom tell you what happened?” He nodded as he brought the sugar canister over to fill the bowl of the ‘company’ service we didn’t use often.

“Yes, she did. I, uh, I guess I was a little surprised by the reality of it.” I took the lid off the bowl as he filled it. “Is there not anything they can do?” he asked finally.

“That’s not the impression Ah got,” I answered softly.

“Your accent has gotten stronger,” he observed. A nervous giggle escaped my lips I couldn’t stop. This enforced normalcy we were both going for was driving me nuts.

“Ah think it’s because of the way mah voice changed.”

Finally he couldn’t stand it either. He put the sugar canister down and looked me in the eye for the first time. “Son, I want you to know I’m proud of what you did. I know this wasn’t your fault and couldn’t be helped, but you made your mother and me very proud when we saw the clips on the news. I’m trying to make you feel comfortable about all this, but I guess I’m not doing such a good job, huh?”

“Oh, Dad, Ah’m so sorry this all happened!” I exclaimed as I sank into one of the kitchen table chairs. Between sobs I was able to gasp out, “Ah know how mortified you must be over this! Ah’m so sorry. Ah wish Ah had just run.”

“That’s not how we raised you, Jennifer. I’m not mortified by you, son. I might wish you’d dress a bit more modestly perhaps, but since you got that from your mother, I guess I’m out voted.” My sob turned into a snort of laughter that wasn’t a nice experience at all.

I felt his strong hand on my shoulder. My dad had worked with his hands his entire life. They were huge and probably almost as strong as mine were. “If you had run, son, if you’d let that girl bleed to death, then I’d be ashamed of you. The Lord puts nothing on us we can’t handle. I can’t say why this has happened, but it has. I want my daughter to hold her head up with pride. I’m proud of her, so she better be proud too.”

He went to wipe my tears away causing me to jerk away. “Don’t!” I shouted, and then forced myself to be calm. “Ah don’t want you infected, Daddy. Mah tears have it. All of me has it. Ah can’t…!”

“Infect me,” he finished. “Sweetie, you can’t infect me.”

“Huh?” I demanded.

“The Army was how I paid for college. I was an Airborne Ranger. I have Mckimpson 2A. Had it since I graduated Ranger school.”

“But, then how could I…?”

He smiled as he got a dish towel and wiped away my tears. “2A doesn’t transmit either genetically or in my blood. It makes me a bit faster and a bit stronger, it also makes me immune to everything from Anthrax to the common cold and…?”

“All other strains of Mckimpson,” I finished as I swept him into a hug. “Oh, Daddy, Ah feel so alone. Ah don’t know what to do anymore! You wouldn’t believe the restrictions they put on me! They…” I couldn’t finish my thought as I was doubled over by a particularly nasty cramp.

If I could choose between menstrual cramps and fighting Power Ball, I’d pick the fight every day and twice on Sunday. Dad became panic stricken. “Jennifer? Marie! I need help! Jennifer’s hurt!” he yelled at the top of his Army trained lungs.

Before I could get over the cramp, the entire team, plus Mom, had come running to the kitchen. “Honey?” demanded Mom. “JJ, call an ambulance!”

“Ah don’t need an ambulance!” I gasped out. God, this was the mother of all menstrual cramps. It just wouldn’t stop.

“You’re not playing selfless with me, young lady!” snapped Mom. Then she turned on Geoffrey with the ferocity of a lioness defending a cub. “Geoffrey, what’s the meaning of you not getting her to a doctor?” she demanded, fire in her green eyes I’m sure. I could almost feel the battle aura coming off her.

“Marie, it’s not what you think…” started Geoffrey.

“I need an ambulance!” came dad’s voice from over by the phone.

There is no justice.

Ah’m on the rag!” I shouted.

Silence fell on the room with the force of an atomic bomb.

After a moment dad’s voice broke the silence. “Um, I’m sorry to have troubled you, officer; we don’t need that ambulance after all.”

I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life.

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I sat on the porch swing (it’s required by ordnance down here) fuming at my lot in life while Dad and Ed talked quietly a few feet off smoking cigars. Dad picked up the habit in the Army, not that mom would ever let him indulge in the house, but she hadn’t been able to break him of it either. It’s hard to hold cancer over the head of someone basically immune to disease. Ed, I think, got started mostly because cigars are somewhat of a requirement out Hollywood way and as an up and coming film maker, Ed desperately wanted into Hollywood.

That and Dad doesn’t skimp on his cigars.

The rest of the team, including mom was off saving Mortagain. The rookie was dubbed a danger and got left behind. Ed had the dubious position of being the one person on the team, thus far, able to talk sense to the aforementioned rookie so he got nominated to baby-sit.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Mom keeps backups of her costumes. And as she’d passed the Southern Belle mantle off on me, I therefore shouldn’t be surprised she’d already set up a new gig for just this sort of emergency. What rankled was the thought that wouldn’t leave my head that I got sidelined because it was that time of the month.

I hadn’t even been a super hero a month yet for the love of Pete!

“It won’t change a thing, the more you stew over it,” came Ed’s voice, brining me up out of my funk. “There’s no sense getting bent, Jennifer.”

“Ah get left at home, after all that’s happened to me, so mah mother can go confront the asshole who seems to think a little one on one with me is just the thing for me to switch sides, but that’s nothing to get bent over? What, the fuck, is Ed?”

“Watch your mouth, young lady,” said dad sharply.

“Or what, dad?” I exploded. “You’ll spank me? You’ll wash mah mouth out?”

His steel gray eyes bored holes in me through a cloud of blue smoke. Finally, he drawled out, “No, I’ll complain to your boss.”

“Geez, hit a girl where it hurts why don’t ya?” I said rolling my eyes. “What ever shall Ah do without those hundred bucks?”

“Uh, Jennifer?” came Ed’s voice softly. “That fine isn’t per instance, it’s per complaint.”

The implications of that sunk in as daddy dearest chuckled. “Want me to fire up that email bot I got off line? I can set it for any number between one and ten thousand messages…” Well, he wasn’t an engineer for nothing I suppose. My apology was meek and noticeably of a lower volume.

Before the two smoking testosterone junkies could get deep into conversation they were interrupted by a gasp from me. I had gasped because my eyes weren’t showing me the front porch and yard anymore. They were showing me a road sign that said Canton Highway and Sandy Plains Rd SW. “Jennifer?” came the worried voice of Ed.

I tried to wave at him to be quiet, but I couldn’t be sure as my eyes weren’t showing me him. The weird mental movie kept playing as I got the impression I was in the back of some kind of large SUV. I saw it make the turn into a fairly new office park on Sandy Plains just after crossing the rail road tracks. The vehicle came to a stop and the view became somewhat frantic. I got the feeling that the images were coming from Mortagain and she was trying to give me as many land marks as possible. Then Power Ball came into the line of vision. His mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear what he said. Then his massive hand made a slapping gesture at me and the vision ended sharply.

To be replaced with Ed’s long face, filled with worry. “Jennifer? Are you ok?”

I nodded. “Can Mortagain project images? Into your mind, Ah mean?” He nodded. “Ah know where she is.”

“Right, where? Give me your communicator.”

“What’s wrong with yours?” I demanded. He shook a pouch on his belt that rattled the way electronics shouldn’t rattle. Well, he and Power Ball had gone rather hammer and tongs back there on the interstate. I went for mine, and then had to grin sheepishly. “Mine is on the belt loop of mah jeans.”

“The jeans you ripped off in tizzy and left back at the base?” he asked with resigned frustration. I nodded. “Well, that’s just great.” I stood.

“Well, she ain’t gonna get saved with us standing here jaw’n.”

“Maybe you missed the part where Geoffrey explicitly told us to wait here,” he said slowly.

“Maybe Ah don’t give a rat’s ass what Geoffrey explicitly said or not,” I fired back. “Ah know where our friend is being held by the poster boys of Nasty of the Month. Ah don’t have any way of making the American Rooster aware of where that is. And, unless you do, Ah have no intention of making her have to stay their prisoner one second longer than it takes for me to get there. Now, ya’ll can either accept what you can’t change and help the poor, little old on the rag rookie, or ya’ll can pound sand. Which is it?”

“Can the poor normal get a thought in here?” called dad’s voice before Ed could respond. We both stared at him. “I suppose it might not have occurred to you spandex types, but there’s this thing called 9-1-1? You call it and you get SWAT teams and even super heroes when you really need it. So surely they have Geoffrey’s number.”

“Sure,” I agreed, “After about an hour of wait and run around. Sounds like a plan for you, dad. Me? I’m heading out there. Ah guess Ah’ll be playing the Cavalry. So is Cavalry coming with me?”

“I can’t run as fast as you can fly,” he mumbled. His defenses were crumbling as I zoomed in for the kill.

“Ya’ll don’t weight that much, Cavalry. Any cracks about me riding your pony, though, and Ah swear Ah’ll drop you like third year corner back trying to buck for free agent status.” He took a drag off his cigar.

“Is this a smoking flight?”

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A few hasty minutes of making sure dad had has much info about the site as I could glean from the vision and one heart pounding flight south later, the Equine Wonder and I were perched on the roof of a Wendy’s that over looked the office park. Out of Mom’s utility belt I took a pair of fold up night vision binoculars that had a number of interesting other little tricks built into them. I now knew the strengths of the various alarm systems in the office park, as well as which had motion detectors, closed circuit door alarms and the like.

As I lowered them after a sweep to pass them to Ed, I said quietly, “It’s a good thing mom is such a straight arrow. Ah didn’t know they made things like this.” He took them with a quizzical look, and then followed my sweep of the office park. He blew a fairly wet raspberry that was as close to a whistle as his lips would let him pull off.

“They don’t as far as I know. Where did you get these?”

“They were in the utility belt,” was my answer.

“You have a really cool mom,” he observed. “What’s she calling herself again?”

“Night Shade, Ah think. Night something anyway. So, why did Sovereign call you son? Was that a figure of speech kind of thing or…?” He sighed noisily as he passed back the binoculars.

“No, it’s a familial thing. Dad experimented on himself before he decided I needed to be his guinea pig. He was cool with the regulations until the Higher Ups found out about me. They took me when I was five. Grew up in orphanages and foster care mostly, being shuffled around the country trying to keep me one step ahead of dad. But when he got the Eye of Horus back in eighty eight was when he really lost it.”

“What’s up with that anyway?” I demanded. “Take it off was the first thing you said to him. Is it his power focus or something?”

“No, it’s just a big, honking ruby some body thought would sound cool with an Egyptian name. The tech guys tell me it focuses his brainwaves and makes his mind control powers easier, but I really wouldn’t know. Since he stole it, every time I take it away from him puts him into ‘Must recover my crown’ mode and makes him more predicable. Otherwise it’s schitzo city trying to figure out which way he’ll jump next.”

“So, how do we bust in there and get Mortagain?”

“We?” he demanded looking at me side long. “You made it quite clear this was your show Miss I can Pound Sand. I’m just here for moral support as my ideas got tossed twenty minutes ago.”

“Big help you are.” He stuck his tongue out at me. I’m not sure why I got a chill by how long it was, but that wasn’t a line of thinking to be pursuing just then. “There’s the classic brick approach…” I thought out loud.

“Make somebody a new door, posture in iambic pentameter for a bit, and bust heads? Not something I’d want to try when there’s thirty of them and only two of us. And I should tell you Sovereign will probably use his mind powers on you this time. When he does, don’t hold it against me when I knock you out, ok?”

“What if he puts the mojo on you and Ah have to fix your little red wagon?”

“One, I’m a way better fighter than you, no offense. Two, he can’t. Our brain waves are just close enough because we’re related that it’s like him trying to mind control himself. So, sorry ahead of time, ok?”

“Maybe we’re going about this all wrong…” I said. As he looked at me again I put the binoculars away in their protective case, becoming more excited as I did so. “Just because we’re not Jackie Chan doesn’t mean we can’t do this quiet and smart.”

“Quiet is arguable. Smart is waiting for the others,” he countered. Seeing I was a bit miffed, he smiled and gestured for me to go on.

“If they’ve got Mortagain, that means Sovereign has his manhood back, right? The only reason they pinched her was she had it. She should be so much excess baggage now; maybe not even guarded that well while the Crowned Heads try to cook up something to turn having her to their advantage.”

“Sovereign is smarter than both of us and keeps backups of his backups,” cautioned Ed. I made a calming gesture. In the distance there was a wail of sirens.

“Yes, but now he has to deal with the boys in blue. Our distraction just arrived.”

“We can’t let Sovereign and his goons pound cops while we do a bad ninja movie.”

“We can until there are three of us to their thirty and we have a mentalist too…”

He let me pick him up again, his only complaint was, “I’m gonna get written up for this, I just know it.” I let his moaning slide without comment as I flew up to the line of Cobb County Police cruisers leading the SWAT van and, just behind them was an AEGIS (Area Emergency Georgia Interdiction and Support) truck.

AEGIS was the State’s answer to Shield. They worked with the Irregulars, along with the other Super Teams from around the state and were given over all jurisdiction of Para-Normal Felons until one of the aforementioned teams could show up. The lead cruiser came to a stop, right in the middle of Sandy Plains road where I deposited Cavalry. “Keep them busy for as long as you can!” I called to him as I flew off towards the office park.

He gave me a wave then I gave my full attention to getting to the warehouse I wanted without letting it’s occupants know that company was about to drop in. From about five hundred feet I saw the cops encircle the building. Cavalry began the siege by picking up a Suburban that was parked out front, doubtlessly the one from the vision, and tossing it against the brick work of the building.

Well, that certainly got their attention!

If I thought the last battle was a bad episode of Cops it was nothing compared to this. That must be my cue. I worked my self to head down, and then dived full speed. The roof passed in something of a gravel/steel blur. The interior of the warehouse was pretty much one big open space that was something out of a bad horror movie, mad scientist send up. Between the chemicals, and the high voltage transformers and the banks of do dads that God alone knew did what, it appeared this place might be pretty important to our old pal Sovereign.

Darn.

The Bad Guys turned from filing out to fight the bad fight in something of a collected, ‘Huh?’ Mortagain was strapped down to the gynecologist table from hell with only Power Ball standing watch. I felt a grin pull at my face as I used the big lug to stop with. “’Scuse me!” I called as he flew sideways, into a particularly large knot of his buddies. There hadn’t been a bigger pile of bodies since Debbie Does Dallas.

Not wanting to waste time un-strapping her, I snatched up the whole table and flew back up through the considerable hole I’d made. “After her!” roared Sovereign. On the way, I did go ahead and get Ginnevia and the table into two separate loads. The heavier of which, I just dropped.

Right into my pursuers.

I probably wasn’t making any brownie points with the Brotherhood of Nastiness. Roused from her plight of hostage, Ginnevia didn’t argue when I snapped, “Bring help!” She simply vanished; evidently free of whatever Sovereign was using to stop her teleportation. Then I got down to the serious business of trashing bozos.

While the braggart in me would like to include a blow by blow here, I must admit it was all something of a blur until Ginnevia popped back with the Irregulars and a whole slew of new spandex types that I took to be on our side. As they then commenced to trashing bozos, I feel pretty vindicated in calling that. Then our bozo punching bags found other places to be, but quick. The unconscious ones got fitted for Power Inhibiter restraints and loaded into vans.

The grin that was plastered all over my face didn’t diminish as the Eagle landed and walked purposefully in my direction. His body language told me I was in for Rookie Ass Chewing Lecture number 5, but before he could truly get his ass chew on, we were both somewhat blinded by mini-spots that hid the owners of the voices launching questions at us a mile a second.

“Southern Belle, how does it feel to come out of retirement?”

“American Eagle, what was the key to your victory?”

“Belle, do you feel that your costume casts the South in the negative light of hill billy bigots?”

Say what?” I demanded. The microphone holding suit flinched, but my angry demand had shut the others up. The bait had been taken. “What does mah costume have to do with how the South is seen? Do Ah cast the movies that all have Southerners portrayed as ignorant, inbred morons? It’s a costume, not a statement, boys!”

“Then why do you incorporate the Stars and Bars into your uniform?” he demanded.

“First of all, this isn’t the Stars and Bars…” I began heatedly. Before I could go any further, the Eagle deftly elbowed me to one side.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please, how many times must I ask you to remember the Irregulars do not give post-incident interviews? Please step back behind the curtain and your agencies will receive an official statement of tonight’s incident in the normal channels.”

There were questions flung at the Eagle all the way back to the police cordon where the regular boys in blue took over. Geoffrey pointedly ignored them all. After a moment, he was back with me. “You and I need to have a discussion,” he said without preamble. His tone left no room for doubt.

It was going to be a very long night.

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Chapter Six

“A month’s pay?” I shouted. “Ah pull your tail feathers out of the fire, save one of mah would be team mates and you’re going to doc me a God Damn month’s pay?”

The Round Room echoed with the slap my mother planted on my face. My pride stung, along with a certain bit of smugness that she had to massage her hand afterwards. Truth be told, otherwise I hadn’t felt a thing. “I’ll put up with a lot from you, Jennifer,” she said softly in that I am in very deep trouble voice. “But blasphemy won’t ever be one of them.”

“Just because you got away with putting both your life and Cavalry’s life in serious jeopardy, doesn’t mean you get a pass,” put in Geoffrey as he tried to smooth out his prematurely graying hair from a serious case of helmet hair. “What would you have done if we hadn’t showed up?”

I made a great show of putting my index finger by my mouth to feign deep thought. “Hmm, gee, what would Ah have done? How did ya’ll get there again? That’s right; Mortagain brought you after Ah got her loose. Gosh Mr. Boss Man Ah don’t know what Ah would have done.”

“Do you want to go to jail?” he demanded angrily.

“Do you want me to join Sovereign?” I shouted back, just as furious. I guess it isn’t every day that somebody actually stands up to the United States Marshall for the South East when he says ‘Boo!’ but I have officially had enough. “Go ahead, Geoffrey, push me just one more time. Ah’ve had it with trying to toe your damn company line. Ya’ll turn mah life upside down and shake thoroughly then push? Ah’m just about done trying this the legal way! Now ya’ll can back off, or God as mah Judge Ah’ll do mah best to make you sorry you ever knew Ah was alive!”

The Marshal said nothing as he sat and worked the controls of the big screen that sat behind him. I won’t describe the picture he called up. I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer the nightmares I have since. “Ok, Belle,” he said at last. “You win. Just get used to seeing sights like this one. If you’ve got the stomach for it, I guess I’ll see you on the field of battle. There’s the door.”

My stomach rolled in protest in time to the spasm of a cramp through my abdomen. Before I could say anything, Ginnevia quickly inserted herself into the ass chewing, “Behind you, second door on the left. I’ll bring you a fresh one.”

I ran.

As I lay sprawled on the floor by the toilet, my emotions overwhelmed me giving rise to the longest crying jag I’d had since my age had been measured in two numbers. Somewhere in the middle of it, I became aware of Ginnevia helping stay in a seated position which was a cracking good excuse for hugging me so hard I could feel it over my invulnerability. “Ah can’t do this,” I balled into her shoulder. She kissed my forehead as she hugged me.

“I never got to thank you for coming to get me, Jen,” she whispered. “I know Geoffrey’s being a prick, but look at the egos he’s got to work with. Hell, I’m almost too much for him to handle as it is.”

“Ah can’t do this,” I repeated as I fumbled for toilet paper to blow the nose that was threatening to run off my face. The sound of it was deafening in the tiny bathroom. “Ah’m not cut out to be cop. Ah’m just a college student for the love of Pete! Ah can’t even decide on a major to declare! Ah’m not a role model! Ah can’t even balance mah checkbook.”

“You’re made of some pretty stern stuff,” she countered. “There’s not many who would have come through that roof alone. But you did. You can do this, Jen. Hell, you are doing it and a damn fine job by my book.”

“Why me?” I sobbed as I looked into her endless brown eyes. She looked confused so I elaborated as best as I could. “Why did you send the vision to me?” Her eyes left mine to look at the cheap tile of the floor.

“I touched you last. They had an inhibitor on me. Geoffrey’s helmet blocks a lot of mental powers. It’s designed to. I figured you’d be with them. Besides, you were the only one I could reach. I’m sorry. This is all my fault.” I violently shook my head to argue the point as my voice was uncooperative at the moment. “Oh, Jennifer I am so sorry. I don’t know how, but I’ll make it up to you, I swear I will.”

As my voice was still out on its leave of absence there was little I could do to persuade her that the very opposite of what she was saying was true. I was so into trying to figure out how to do that with just body language I was completely taken by surprise when she did the most un-super-heroic thing she could have done.

She kissed me full on the mouth.

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Well, isn’t this a fine kettle of fish? Twenty years of being your basic heterosexual loser, but three days in a new gender is all it takes for women to start hitting on me! The only hang up is, I got nothing to press the attack with as it were. God does exist and my current situation is proof of both that as well as the fact He has a twisted sense of humor.

To say that the remainder of my time with Ginnevia in the bathroom was awkward is like saying Nixon might have slightly bent the truth a bit. I got the tampon changed in only five minutes this time. Yew! Then went back out to face the others.

Mom and Geoffrey still looked seriously angry, while Ed and Ginnevia looked more concerned than anything else. I didn’t know either Regina or Abin well enough to judge their reactions. “Ah don’t know why this is so hard for me,” I started slowly, talking to no one in particular. “Ah’ve been trying really hard to fit in and all that. Ah know you’re mad, Geoffrey, but in the absence of any real way to get in touch with you quickly, Ah feel Ah did the only thing that was correct at the time. If you don’t want it done that way, Ah guess Ah’ll remember that for next time. But Ah don’t think what Ah did was wrong.”

“Sometimes it’s difficult to remember you haven’t been doing this for some time, Jennifer,” he said softly. “You are something of a natural at this. I shouldn’t hold a breech of SOP you can’t be aware of against you. I will hold your temper against you. If you don’t find some way to control it so we can get you trained, well, I don’t want to start the consequences argument again. The end never justifies the means. That’s what I want you to remember. We’ve been fighting Sovereign for over ten years so you might want to learn how we’ve been successful at it. I won’t doc your pay, this time.”

“Thank you,” I muttered. I was well and truly down off the adrenaline now. Standing was becoming difficult to say the least.

“For the time being, I think we should all get some sleep. Jennifer, I’d like you here by ten, alright? Let’s get you trained so this kind of thing stops happening.”

I nodded as I paused before filing out with the others. Ed fell in step with me as we walked through the eerily dark and empty building. “Can I give you a ride home?” he asked softly.

“Yeah, sure. Sorry if you got your butt chewed in there.”

“It was nothing I didn’t deserve. I have been doing this a while. I knew better. It’s all good, Jennifer, don’t worry about it.” Once we cleared the building, he fished his forgotten cigar from a protective carrier in one of the pouches off his belt and got it going again. “Be sure to tell your dad how much I appreciate this,” he said as he puffed. “It’s probably the best cigar I’ve ever had.”

I forced a chuckle, but nodded the same. The short ride to my apartment complex was in silence while my sleepy brain struggled to process the last three days worth of over stimulus. Between the chaos reigning in all aspects of my life I couldn’t keep a straight thought for any length of time before some other I-must-think-about-this-right-now thought popped in my head.

“We’re here,” he told me, bringing me out of my daze. I looked around numbly as I nodded thanks to him for the ride. As I started to climb out, he caught my hand to stop me. “I’ll pick you up at nine thirty, ok?” Another nod evidently wasn’t sufficient for him to release me. As I looked at him quizzically, I saw him work up the nerve for what ever it was he had to say. “Look, I know this probably isn’t the best time to ask this, but maybe later, when you’re settled about all this. Well, maybe I could take you to dinner or something.”

“Dinner would be fine, Ed. Ah’ll probably be hungry tomorrow after all mah training gets into high gear. Ah’ll buy this time, k?”

He shook his head. “That’s not what I mean, really, Jennifer.”

At last comprehension worked its way into my foggy brain. “You mean a date?” His gray skin darkened which I took as a blush. He nodded. In a haze I realized he’d released me so I numbly clamored out of the truck while I kept staring at him in disbelief, unable to say a word.

Finally he mumbled a “Sorry,” and rumbled off into the night while my shock rooted me to the spot until well after he was gone.

“Ah just got asked out on a date,” I told myself in shock. “Mah life can’t get any stranger.”

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The next month went by doing a perfect imitation of a college cramming session nightmare that wouldn’t end. What are we going to do tonight, Brain? The same thing we do every night, Pinkie, learn about saving the world! The topics were a bizarre mishmash of Law, Civil Rights (the kind other people get, not me), History, Crisis Management, Para Medicine, Crime Scene Procedures, Crowd Control, Victim Psychology Counseling and a few hundred other topics that pranced around in crazy parades through my dreams. As if the seven classroom hours weren’t enough, there were also two UCS hours of tactics and team fighting and another hour of Hopkedo lessons I had to take from a tiny little Japanese man who took a perverse delight in tossing me around the room.

He could do things with momentum and leverage that ought to be against the law.

All this, plus having to go out with the team twice a week on Patrol as well as answering the four emergency calls we got that month. Sleep became a distant wish that I lost almost all memory of.

On my ninth day of being a woman my first period finally stopped. The collective sigh of relief could be heard from Macon to Chattanooga. I was miserable, my team mates were miserable, but on the plus side, Geoffrey was miserable too, so that was my one bright spot. Ug, I don’t think I ever want to use the adjective spot again.

It was Friday, the sixth of February when I graduated Super Hero School and became a Sworn POST (Police Officer Standards Training) officer. My badge and ID were officially presented to me by Governor Perdue in your basic media circus. Fortunately, the American Eagle did all the talking at my debutante ball as it were, as he promised. All I had to do was overwork my smile muscles and look pretty.

Looking pretty was easy, I guess. With curves like mine, it’s actually hard to look otherwise. Smiling became difficult as the press took advantage of my inability to make a scene by attacking my uniform again. Governor Perdue made this very touching speech about the heritage and history behind the flag I wore, but then he’d have to. The last governor of Georgia had lost to Perdue (the first Republican governor of Georgia in 140 some odd years) over removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the State Flag.

Then it was finally over and I could change into some civilian clothing and leave the State Capital. I had chosen jeans, boots and a sweater under a leather jacket due to the blustery of the day in general. Not that I need to. I was finding that I was significantly less aware of temperature since my change. Neither the cold of the winter, or the scalding hot showers I took so I could feel the temperature of the water.

Ed had been waiting for me as I emerged from the Ladies Room, a grin on his face. “You made it. Congratulations.” He handed me a small, brightly wrapped package.

“What’s this?” I asked, taking the package none the less.

“Kind of a graduation present.”

“You shouldn’t have,” I started, preparing to open it, when the elevator opened next to us, depositing a slew of reporters and camera jockeys. I froze in abject terror. The domino mask went further than you’d think in concealing my identity. But a tall, busty red head opening a present in the State Capital next to Cavalry couldn’t be anyone other than me. I was about to be outed.

To my surprise, while a few of the bigger name anchor types greeted Ed casually in passing, nobody asked a question, or shoved a camera in our faces. When the last of them was gone, Ed asked me, “Are you ok?”

“Why aren’t they outing me?” I asked in shock.

“They can’t, it’s against the law.” He answered with a chuckle. I looked at him with a question plain on my face. “It’s a little gray with me, seeing as I am basically incapable of having a secret ID as it were, but there are intensely heavy fines and jail time if one of them ‘outs’ you. It’s not something that is really enforced, (it doesn’t have to be) it’s just an understanding they have with us. In spandex, you’re fair game so watch what you say and do, but like this, they won’t bother us.”

“Ah didn’t think honor was a word that existed in a newsroom,” I whispered.

“It’s not. But once a couple of reporters who did out some heroes back in the seventies had super villains busting into those newsrooms to get more info on their particular nemesis, the news directors put together this informal code. Protects them, protects us. Congress passed the law, but it wasn’t something we hadn’t already taken care of.” He shrugged. “You hungry?”

“Ah could eat a horse…” I started as I was preoccupied with opening my present. I stopped mid-rip of the paper and blushed head to toe.

“Really?” he asked around the most lecherous smile I’d ever seen him wear.

“Get your mind out of the gutter!” I snapped at him without real venom. Open mouth, insert foot firmly. I got the paper off to find a beautiful wood grained box that had brass appointments. After the paper made its way to a trash can I carefully opened the box. To find an assortment of tubes mostly identified in Spanish. I looked up at him, knowing what they were, but somewhat confused just the same.

“They’re Puros Indios number 5 Especials,” he told me with great enthusiasm. “I enjoy a lot of Honduran cigars and I thought the 36 ring gauge would be more, I don’t know, comfortable for you.”

A dry chuckle escaped my lips. “It’s very thoughtful, Ed. The only problem being Ah don’t smoke.”

“You don’t?” he asked, looking terribly crestfallen. “I’m sorry, I guess since your dad was such a great aficionado I thought that you…” He trailed off, and then made to take the box. “I’m sorry I’ll get you something else.” I kept the box from him.

“Now, what kind of person would Ah be if Ah didn’t accept a gift you put so much thought and effort into?”

“You don’t have to do that just to save my feelings,” he told me as we walked outside into the chilly February afternoon. At least I assume it was chilly based on how everyone else was dressed. “Besides, I wouldn’t want them to go to waste.”

“So, the truth comes out, you really bought them for you!” I teased him. He tossed his head in his somewhat exaggerated ‘no’, and then chuckled.

“I guess I really spaced on this. Are you sure I can’t get you something else?” I took two from the box along with the functional, but still beautifully worked cutter that was in the humidor along with it. From growing up around Dad, I knew how much money Ed had shelled out for all this and was deeply touched. This was a very expensive gift. I handed him one while keeping the other.

“Well, it’s not like they can hurt me, right?” I asked with a bit of trepidation. “But if you laugh at me…” I threatened him. He quickly made a Scouts Honor gesture before talking me through the use of the cutter. His was custom made so his thick fingers could make use of it. Besides, this was something I’d have to learn anyway.

The cigars were a petit corona type, about half an inch around and five inches long. He lit us both as I focused my muted senses on what I was feeling as the last month had trained me to do. There was a very strong coffee taste to the smoke which surprised me, which then trailed off to a mildly sweet taste I couldn’t put my finger on. I began to see why Dad enjoyed these so much.

“What do you think?” he asked being careful with his own. They were significantly smaller than what he normally smoked which caused him a bit of difficulty.

“It’s different,” I gasped, suppressing a cough as hard as I could. Just because I needn’t fear any kind of physical damage from them didn’t suppress the responses my body had to them. He coughed as well in what I think was a reaction to clamping down on the laugh he promised he wouldn’t do. “They’re not as harsh as Ah would have thought. So, where do you want to eat?” I asked him.

“How about Planet Hollywood? We’re not that far from it.”

I sighed. “The chances of you happening to run into Arnold who would of course be up on all of your student films and insist on you working on his next picture are pretty much nil, you know that, right?”

“I can dream, can’t I? Besides, they have a killer Cobb Salad.”

“How can you call it a Cobb Salad when you have it made without the chicken and the bacon?” I teased him as we made our way to his truck.

“Variety is the spice of life,” was his answer. “If I order a Cobb Salad, hold the meat, then I’m having a Cobb Salad. If I just have lettuce and cheese and dressing all the time, that’s boring.” I snorted a laugh around a drag of my cigar that I can proudly state didn’t set off a coughing jag.

“Self deception, thy name is Vegetarian.”

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Lunch was exceptional, but when you work for a guy who takes his name as seriously as the Governor of California, you can’t risk having a bad day. You never knew when he just might show up. Not that he did, as my prediction was accurate, but Ed did sign autographs for the staff, as well as a poster that was a photograph of him lifting that MARTA bus that had slid half off an overpass last year.

They even insisted on comp-ing a delicious ice cream cheese cake thing. Over coffee and our forgotten cigars, I sighed with contentment. Guilty thoughts of the complete pig I’d made of myself could come later. “So,” he said somewhat hesitantly. “We have the rest of the day free. Would you like to catch a movie or something?”

My grin was sly. “Is this your new stealth date technique? Don’t bother to ask, just get one going on the sly?” He blushed.

“Well, I’m not trying to be sneaky about it,” he managed. “I just thought…”

“Ah’ve got her out and Ah already know she doesn’t have anything going on,” I finished for him. “Ed, first off Ah want to apologize over how Ah acted last month when you asked me out. Ah was just so shocked and Ah wasn’t ready for that.”

He became concerned as well. “I’m sorry too, Jen. I don’t really have a lot of experience with that and I just kind of blurted it out before I could lose my nerve.”

My mouth fell open. “You? Lose your nerve? You’re probably the bravest man Ah know. You don’t think twice about staring down Power Ball or Sovereign, but little old me makes you loose your nerve?”

“I can talk with you,” he countered, seeking to obscure his blush behind a cloud of smoke. “Most of the women who are around me are either scared spit less of my size or just some kind of superhero groupie looking to either get the power or cash in on the talk show circuit. That’s most of the reason I had that shirt made.”

I frowned. “That shirt that reads ‘What do you think?’ What is all that about anyway?”

He chuckled. “It’s the answer I got tired of giving to the question everybody seems to keep asking.” I rolled my eyes.

“Alright, tough guy, Ah’ll admit mah mind is drawing a blank here. What is the question everybody keeps asking?” His blush became darker.

“They want to know if I’m ‘hung like a horse.’”

“Oh,” I stuttered, my cheeks burning with embarrassment. Well, I guess I had kind of walked right into that one. “So,” I started, looking to change the subject. “Now that Ah’m all trained, what now?”

“Now you get a couple of months off from school until the next semester starts while you’re down to just the Hopkedo lessons and biweekly patrol. You’re also not going to avoid my question about a movie. There’s not a whole lot new out that’s interesting, though. Lord of the Rings is still playing, if you hadn’t seen it yet?”

“Ah saw it on opening day, but Ah haven’t seen anything since. When have Ah had time? Alright, Ah guess there’s no point arguing with you about it.”

He beamed. “Well, what are we waiting for?”

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It was my first movie in my new gender. I’ll forgo the heavy handed commentary on the irony of that. What bothered me was it was like I’d never seen it before. I didn’t notice the special effects or the epic scale of the film. What I saw was the friendship between Frodo and Sam. I saw the parallels to my own life in the laugh in the face of death attitude of Gimli and Legolas. And when did Viggo Mortenson become such a hunk?

I didn’t see the Return of the King so much as I felt it. I cried like a baby.

It was nice that we had the theater pretty much to ourselves, except for the ushers who came in every now and then to make sure Ed and I weren’t doing this and that in the theater. It was all very innocent.

Ok, he brought up the armrest between us by the time the watch fires had been lit. And by the time Aragorn was heading into the city of the dead his arm was around me, but I didn’t mind that. He was warm in a theater that given my new powers I found strangely cold. For being so hard and strong, Ed is surprisingly comfortable to lean up against.

Finally the spell was broken by the scroll of the credits and I realized that I was leaning up against the personification of masculinity in a theater having just balled my eyes out watching a movie. Unleashed, my emotions ran the gauntlet from sick horror of myself to a detached observation of how comfortable I’d spent the last hour of the movie snuggled up against him.

His keen senses clued him in to the war going on in my head. Cautiously, he asked me, “Jen, are you ok?”

“Ah…Ah don’t know,” I stammered. “Ah can’t believe Ah just did that.”

“What?” he asked sounding confused. “Watch a movie?”

No,” I corrected him somewhat over forcefully. “Ah’m on a date. With you. Ah just cuddled up against you like it was nothing, and Ah cried at a movie. Ah’m sick of crying, Ed! Ah’ve cried more in the last month than in the last year!”

“Who are you?” he demanded in a slightly detached fashion.

“What?”

“Who are you?” he repeated, insistent. “You’re not Jim Anderson anymore. You’ve got to realize that. So, who are you? What do you want out of life? What are your goals and dreams?”

I opened my mouth to respond to him, and then the realization of the enormity of the question sunk in. The wheels in my head turned in high gear as I did my best to answer the question to myself, let alone to him. “Ah don’t know,” was all I could answer.

“Did you enjoy our afternoon together?”

“Yes, but Ah shouldn’t have!”

“Why?” he demanded again.

“Because it’s not right!”

“What could be more right than two young people enjoying each other’s company over a meal and one of the best films to come along in years?”

I couldn’t answer his question. The more I thought about, the more painful the war in my mind became. Who was I? Was I the young, healthy woman on her first date that I appeared to be? Was I truly a Super Hero? I couldn’t answer any of these questions. I realized that, until I could, I ran the risk of hurting him and everyone around me who mattered. I had to find out. I had to be comfortable in my own skin and I wasn’t.

I floated up so as to be on eye level with him. “Ah’m sorry,” I whispered as I kissed his long cheek. Before his arms could encircle me, my flight took me up and out of his reach.

“Jennifer…” he started.

“Ah can’t, Ah’m sorry.” Then I flew down to the front of the screen and out the emergency exit door. With in moments the theater was far behind me, but the questions keep thundering in my mind.

Who was I?

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Chapter Seven

My flight took me to the least likely place you’d expect to find in Atlanta. While the New South warred with the Old South on the architectural field of battle, modernism, Art Deco, Art Nuevo and Environmental Post Modernism moved like infantry and artillery across the landscape of the South’s Largest urban sprawl. Yes, I hear you talking about Dallas Fort Worth. So what? The Twenty Five county Metro Atlanta area (That is the God knows how many little towns and cities that everyone refers to collectively as Atlanta) is one hundred and fifty miles across.

North of the I-285 Parameter, nestled between the Cities of Roswell and Alpharetta lies the White Huron Dojo of Hopkedo. It’s a Tokugawa Style compound complete to the stone and bamboo fence, Zen garden and the Furo or Japanese style bathhouse. It was the residence of my Hopkedo Sensei Yagimura-san. I’m not sure why I wound up here, but as I alighted on the shoe stone, the stepping stone where you remove your shoes, I realized there was no better place to answer the questions flying through my mind just then.

Tadaima!” I called as I worked off my boots. It meant, literally, ‘I’m home’ and Yagimura-san had insisted it was how I should announce myself. As if he’d been waiting for me, the paper screen door slid aside to reveal his diminutive form, given only a bit of bulk from the kimono he wore.

“Good evening, Anderson-san,” he said in his soft, mildly accented voice, as wind through the reeds on a lake.

“Ah’m sorry to just drop in like this, Sensei,” I told him with a bow. “Ah, Ah guess you would say Ah’ve lost mah center.” His thin eyebrows accented his bald head.

“Indeed. I have not known you to be centered at all, Anderson-san, but that you will admit to your problem is a great step forward. Please, come in side.” My boots off, I stepped up to the wooden porch that ran the length of the building, collected my footwear and followed him into the open space at the front of the house I called the parlor.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he already had a tea service set out there for two. Sensei’s abilities to predict me bordered on precognition. “Please, have some tea,” he bade me as he swept gracefully into the room.

“Ah don’t know who Ah am, Sensei,” I blurted out. I would have launched into quite a tirade, but his endless black eyes had that ‘shut up and listen’ look in them, so I did so.

“There is a time and a place for everything, Anderson-san,” he drawled as he busied himself with making the tea; green for him, Earl Gray for me. “This is one of the lessons you have had the most difficulty learning. You Americans have no patience. Everything must be now. I have come to expect this from the others of this city. But you purport yourself to be a symbol of a more graceful age by your uniform, do you not? Were not manners a matter of a great concern in the Old South?”

His words stung, but he was right. I nodded, contrite. “Please forgive mah rudeness. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me.”

“You are welcome,” he said, gently sliding the cup and saucer across the small table to be within my reach. A hesitant sip proved that somehow he had divined how I take my tea (strong and sweet) and had managed to prepare it expertly to my taste. I smiled at him in appreciation of his work, to which he responded with the briefest of nods and the smallest of smiles. “How was your ceremony at Capital this afternoon?”

“About what Ah expected, Sensei. The press loves to read sentiments into my uniform that aren’t there. Ah would have thought that mah actions told them what Ah stood for, but it’s easier to attack someone than admit a snap judgment might be wrong, Ah guess.”

“Oh?” he asked a touch of surprise in his tone. “That is remarkably wise, Anderson-san. Men without a conscience can still use the conscience of others against them. But this is not why you have come to me, is it?” I shook my head. “So, what happened after the ceremony that has opened your eyes so greatly?”

“Ah went on a date with a friend,” I whispered, more than a bit of shame clouding my voice.

Ah, so desu ne?” he chuckled, slipping back into his native language. “And the Yang still in you causes you great distress over the enjoyment your Yin has had at this? I see. Very distressing.”

“Ah don’t want to hurt him, but Ah don’t know how to answer when he asked me who Ah was. Ah don’t know who Ah am, Sensei.”

“You ask a deeply fundamental question, Anderson-san. I think the root of your problem is you are still filled with Fire. This Fire gives you your drive and the strength to use the power you have been granted. Yet, this power also filled you with Water. Water is the nurturer in all of us, but women are mostly blessed with its strength. My dear wife was a shining example of Water. You must understand, Anderson-san, Water is the great strength of the Universe. All of the elements must bow to it, for in time, Water defeats them all.”

“How do Ah do that Sensei? How do Ah balance mah Fire and Water?”

“You cannot, Anderson-san. They are Yin and Yang; opposites. They will war within you until the Water is triumphant, or you are driven mad by the struggle.”

I gasped. “That’s it? That’s your great advice? Just give up and become a woman?”

“Anderson-san, you are a woman. Do not let your Fire keep you from hearing what I say. I have no medicine or technique that may undo your form. Has the Science that created that which has changed you offered you any remedy?” I hung my head in horror at what I was being told.

“No,” I whispered.

“Then, what cannot be changed must be embraced. You have the power to put your Fire and Water at peace. Use that power, Anderson-san. You have been a dutiful student. I must admit to a certain fondness of you. You must let go of the thoughts of yourself as you were, and accept the thoughts of who you are.”

I took another sip of my cooling tea, aware of the emotional firestorm raging inside of me, but distanced from it by the calm setting around me. “How do Ah do that, Sensei?”

He chuckled as he took a sip of his own tea. “I shall tell you, if you can control the Fire and not yell in my house. Do I have your solemn word, Anderson-san?” The china in my hand rattled as it was shaken in the tremors of fear that suddenly ran through me. I set it down on the table to make it stop and worked on my breathing to master myself as he had shown me.

“Yes, Sensei. You have mah word. Ah am ready to hear what you will tell me.”

“You must stop testing the water with your toe. It will not ever be completely to your liking on the beach. You must fly out to the deep water and submerge yourself with out a second thought. For a time, that may extinguish the Fire in you. Or they may strike their own balance in you. That is for greater wisdom than mine to say. Do you understand, Anderson-san?”

Hai!”

He gave me one of his deep, measure stares and seemed satisfied. “Good. For now, the bath is hot. Come, and relax. You may take your dive here. I would be honored to be of assistance to you.”

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A good bit later that night, I took my leave of Yagimura-Sensei. In my uniform, my civilian clothes in a fanny pack that clipped onto the back of my utility belt, my flight took me towards home as the somewhat muted, but still profound thoughts lapped wave-like in my mind. Not the least of which was, I have got to buy a car.

While my fear was abated somewhat by my time with Sensei, I realized I had no idea how to go about ‘embracing’ my woman hood. I had a number of general ideas, but I think my great problem was not actions so much as a state of mind. As I flew, being mindful not to stray too high into the air traffic lanes, (the things you never find Superman worrying about!) the silence of the night was disturbed by the beeping of my Irregulars communicator.

I came to a stop as I removed it, certain I would be greeted by the concerned voice of Ed, trying to apologize for some error he would have convinced himself he had committed in our time together today. “Southern Belle here,” I said into the speaker.

“Belle, this is Spirit Wolf,” was the reply that shocked me. So much for my powers of precognition. “We’ve got an emergency. Where are you?”

I looked down. “At the Cobb Cloverleaf.”

“Start heading towards Dobbins at once. There’s been an Outbreak. We have a berserker. Gravity and I will meet you on the way.”

The coldness of the air seeped into my bones. I began flying at my top speed. “Where? How?” I demanded. “Who else can you get?”

“I don’t know. I can’t raise anyone else but Cavalry, and he’s downtown.”

Shit. Way to go Jennifer. “Ah can go get him…” I started.

“NO!” shouted Spirit Wolf and I could hear the fear in her willowy voice. “The berserker is fantastically strong. We have to have a brick and you’re closest! Gravity and I can’t stop it without you!”

“Ah’m on my way.”

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The berserker wasn’t hard to find. Heading towards Dobbins Air Force Base his (?) path of destruction was visible for a long ways. This was the dirty underside to Mckimpson Strain. You might recall I told you it was unpredictable. That’s true in so much as no one knew which of the three paths it would take. You could get a horrific ‘cold’ that actually killed a number of people before they found a way to treat it. Or you could get some crazy set of super powers that, again, there was no way of knowing before hand what or how they would manifest. Then there was the third option.

Berserkers.

There are those that do have paranormal abilities manifest in themselves, but the act of it drives their bodies out of control in wild mutation. Not to mention either destroying the mind of the person infected or taking what ever emotion ran strongest (usually rage) and magnifying it to obscene levels. A berserker becomes a wrecking machine, destroying whoever and whatever is in front of it.

They were, nominally, the reason Congress could get away with the draconian laws and regulations aimed at paranormals. At least that’s what the Supreme Court said in The United States V. David Mackleby AKA the Crimson Commando. As I followed the trail of destruction I was able to link up with Gravity who had Spirit Wolf on one of his flying disks

“What happened?” I yelled once I was close enough.

Spirit Wolf shrugged her shoulders and looked on the boarder of real terror. Of all us, MS had changed her the least. Sure, Joe Average was in the for the beating of his life, and I didn’t know of any dedicated martial artists who were in her league, but the fear that a berserker with only Gravity and the Fucking New Girl was way out of our collective league was plain on her face. “We received an emergency call from Dobbins security about ten minutes ago,” said Gravity more calmly than I would have. “The berserker evidently teleported onto the base and began destroying.”

“Out of nowhere?” I demanded. I had a twinge that something was Rotten in Denmark. They both nodded as I got out my communicator. “Cavalry?” I shouted into it to be heard over the wind of our flight.

“Yo?” was his response. “I’m on 75/85 now, code three. Be there in about ten minutes.”

“Don’t come here,” I ordered him.

What?” was the collected shout, over both the radio and beside me.

I waved at both my comrades in arms to be quiet. “Do not come here,” I ordered him again. “Go to HQ and sit on that alert monitor. Keep trying to contact the others, but keep an eye out. This whole thing smells like a diversion to me.”

“Roger,” came his voice after a moment. Maybe I was new on this whole woman hood thing, but it certainly seemed like there were about a thousand layers of emotions I could pick up on crammed into that single word.

I’m not sure why, but something made it worse that the Berserker was a young woman. If her face wasn’t bunched into a mask of fury she would have been breathtakingly beautiful. The phrase blonde bombshell (ok, bad pun, sorry) would never do her justice. She was somewhere around six two if my guess was right, with honey blonde hair in a braid that fell to the top of her perfect butt. Hell, there wasn’t anything about her that wasn’t perfect. High, firm breasts, a figure that would have made Marilyn Monroe jealous about her gig being cut in on. Topped off by a heart shaped face dominated by huge doe like eyes of sky blue over a Cupid’s bow mouth.

In any other circumstance, this would have been funny. Here I was the New Girl in every sense of the word and I was jealous. She caught sight of our approach, picked up a Humvee and, one handed, almost casually tossed it at us. I caught it with a grunt. There was a lot of kinetic force behind it. A quick look over the Hummer told me it was destined to be the Motor Pool’s new parts vehicle so I threw it back.

She tried to out do me with a catch, but I was flying. Ground doesn’t give. The Hummer went to pieces on us, well on her anyway, while knocking our Dorothy Lamoure want to be backwards a good twenty feet. Gravity and I shared a glance. “Bet she can’t use that strength off the ground,” I told him.

“On it,” was his response as I flew down to get Blondie’s attention.

She was in the process of climbing out of the mortal remains of a Duce and a Half that was probably older than both of us. “Hey, Blondie!” I shouted, getting the focus of her rage. “Bad hair day?”

“Get back!” she snarled, tossing the axel assembly at me.

This was a much easier catch. “Ah thought we had this lesson in Newtonian Physics?” I chuckled as I wound up my throw. Then, I must admit, she took me by surprise.

“You want re-actions, Red? Try a new look,” she jabbed. Now that was hitting below the belt. Then she jumped the fifty yards or so between us, and slammed into me, bearing us both back to the ground. She laid a one two on me that rang my bell and sent the axel flying.

I hooked my foot between us, got a good hold just above her diaphragm and kicked. As she flew backwards I realized that she had said something right before the Woof! of escaping air from her lungs. “Don’t make me hurt you,” my brain told me she had whispered.

What the fuck is going on?

As we had (mostly) planned it, Gravity had caught Blondie in one of his beams and had her suspended about fifty feet in the air. I flew up, taking care to be out of reach to get a better look at my sparring partner. “What gives, Blondie?” I demanded as she put on a huge show of spittle and mindless rage.

I danced into her flaying and slapped her sharply across the face. “You’re not a Berserker,” I challenged her. “Now fess, or do I let my Arab friend here work on his fast ball?”

“Put me down, bitch or so help me…!”

“You’ll what? Act even less like a lady? Hell, Ah’m not sure how you’ll pull that one off, sugah, but fire away.”

She set off a string of obscenity that wouldn’t look at all nice in print. (And I should know!) But as our eyes were locked, I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. This was one huge act. Maybe it’s something about blondes with blue eyes, maybe I was just enough of a man still to fall for this, but I was certain her eyes were really saying ‘Help me.”

This job is so much fun!

“Where the hell is...” I started, but was interrupted by a ‘pop’ below me. “…Mortagain! Nice of you to join us.”

A quick glance told me that either Ginnevia was going for an even more disheveled look, or she had set the land speed record for getting ready for battle from a shower. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” she said testily. “I’m here already.”

“Can here be somewhere else nice and quiet?” I asked in my sweetest voice. It’s a Red Head thing. You wouldn’t understand. There was the very disorienting sensation of movement without moving and suddenly we were in the UCS, same marks as the previous scene. “Alright, Blondie, spill it. What’s with your sudden urge to redecorate in Beirut Modern?”

The fight went out of Blondie in less than a second. It was very disturbing to watch. “I had too,” she stammered, on the edge of tears. “They’ve got Jason.”

“Who are they, sugah?”

She looked cross. “Do you really talk that way? I thought it was just a secret ID thing?” I’m very proud of the fact that I didn’t slap the mess out of her. But that probably would have cost me two months pay considering the crazy way this out fit was run.

“Tell you what, Blondie, ya’ll tell me your name and Ah’ll let the crack slide about mah accent.”

“Can Gravity let me down?” she asked somewhat plaintively. “I promise I’ll behave.” The four of us exchanged looks. An agreement was silently come to, and then Gravity lowered her to the floor of the Simulator with me dropping down as well. She looked around, seeming to shrink in meek fear, like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar. “My name is Holly. Holly Macbein. Not that it really applies anymore I guess.”

“Honey, your name is going to be a number if you don’t start spinning a really good tale in about five seconds,” I growled at her.

“I didn’t hurt anyone,” she said defensively. I counted to ten to keep my anger in check.

“Hold the phone,” interjected Spirit Wolf. “Holly Macbein? As in Senator William Macbein’s daughter?” That had been emergency call number four last month. Holly Macbein and another student went missing from the dorms of Kennesaw State University which had set off a state wide manhunt. And, when dear old dad is a US Senator, well, Super Heroes get turned out too. It had been almost a week, but I recalled Holly being about my age, shorter than me by a good bit, and a fellow red head with freckles.

Before Blondie here could try to cash in our little math lesson of two and two, I demanded, “Prove it”

“Ok,” she said softly. Then she started to shrink! The blonde hair went crimson, undid itself from the braid and shortened to one of those spiky page boy’s hair cuts. Then Hugh Heffner’s wet dream became an almost cute co-ed whose most flattering feature was a bust that could feed Ethiopia. It was the girl from the photo we’d been given. “Before you accuse me of being a shape shifting imposter, my emergency code phrase is ‘Soylent Green.’”

“What is the fake code you are supposed to give out under duress?” asked Mortagain, who evidently had a memory for these crazy government cloak and dagger escapades.

Citizen Kane,” was her answer.

“What’s with the crappy Hollywood movies?” I demanded.

“Important figures are given phrases to identify them in events such as this,” said Abin casually, evidently convinced.

Citizen Kane is not crappy,” Holly protested. “It was the original Independent film, made for the pure art of cinema.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Citizen Kane was a rent piece from a guy whose only true genius was in convincing everybody else he was a genius,” I fired back.

Ahem, came the deep voice from the door way. “As fascinating as this little debate is,” interjected Marshal Graham as he crossed the room, still trying to get his suit on straight. Evidently it had been put on in something of a rush. “It is not so important as how has Ms. Macbein been exposed to Mckimpson Strain and why she was destroying Dobbins Air Force Base,” he finished with a stern look that was only slightly compromised by his five o’clock shadow.

“Jason Carnegie and I were kidnapped by Sovereign,” she said in a rush.

Carnegie was the other student that was missing from KSU. But his dad wasn’t a senator so we hadn’t gotten a picture of him. If you’re ticked about the inequity of that, write your Congressman. The tree is already dead, might as well use it for all the good it will do. It hadn’t been spelled out for us per se, but the prevailing theory among the cops I searched with was that Mr. Carnegie was playing hide the trouser snake with our Miss Macbein.

“He injected me with something that turns me into her,” continued Holly. “He kept ranting on about how the ‘Princes would see their own defiled’ or something like that.” Cavalry had joined us with the good Marshal Graham. I turned to him on this bit of exposition to ask,

“Does he really talk like that?”

Ed hung his head in shame. “Yes.”

“Go on,” pressed Geoffrey with a look promising mayhem at the next interruption.

“He told me if I didn’t do my best to get all of you into a fight at the Air Force base he’d kill Jason! Then a man in a black costume touched me and I was there. I didn’t know what else to do!”

“Trapdoor?” I asked once I was pretty sure she was finished.

“Trapdoor,” said Spirit Wolf with a nod.

“How did you know you could stop being her?” asked Ginnevia slowly as she stepped forward. Holly blushed.

“They…they taught me how to use the…power for the last week,” she confessed. Then she turned to me. “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”

“Nah,” I told her with a dismissive gesture. “Don’t worry about it. So, has what ever he did worn off?” She shook her head and started to grow. In a second the bombshell was back and the men folk where having to make discrete adjustments to their clothing while my jaw about hit the floor. “You…you can turn it on and off?” In a twinkling the old Holly stood before us once more.

“It makes me very hungry, but yeah. Do you have something I could eat…?” she started to ask before she fainted. Gravity caught her and we got her to the infirmary to start a glucose drip. For me, though, this was the final slap in the face.

Even as we got the nurse roused to look out for her and over see the carefully extracted blood cells for the lab boys, I was already certain of their outcomes. Through out the all night meeting that followed as we tried to figure out how we were going to deal with this little wrinkle, on top of the good news/bad news talk Senator Macbein was going to get (you can bet I volunteered for that one. Denied of course), on top of the fact we still had another missing student who was most likely a hostage.

There was still the uncertainly of my relationship with Ed, if in fact I had one at all from the way I treated him today. And through all of this, one thought pranced over and over in my mind. Maybe there was a cure. Maybe I didn’t have to be Southern Belle any more. Now there was hope, if anything so selfish could be called hope.

Sovereign had somehow perfected Mckimpson.

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Chapter Eight

They say life is full of little ironies.

You know, Irony? Rain on your wedding day, that kind of thing? Yes, irony is the spice of life according to some. That humorous little happenstance that makes getting out of bed in the morning interesting. Me, I tend to think the Chinese curse has the right of it. ‘May you live in interesting times,’ it goes. If my life was anything, it was interesting.

So, having just pulled an all night meeting that was a collective ‘What, the hell, do we do now?’ session, I get a dash of irony just in case things weren’t ironic enough.

Yep, I got voted to be the one to give Holly the ‘You’re in the Army now’ speech.

I hear you asking why out there. Well, evidently, the one thing Marshall Graham got from our collected time with Miss Macbein was we were both up on obscure Hollywood History. That meant we had something in common. Ed, who had seniority on the team flat refused to tell somebody else their nice little normal life was over. Abin, Regina and Ginnevia all plead ignorance on the subject, and as far as Marshall Graham? Well, Rank Hath It’s Privileges.

So, here I was, at seven in the morning when normal people ought to be asleep, sitting in the infirmary, yawning my head off waiting for sleeping beauty to wake up. Before he’d left, Ed and I had had something of an awkward ‘I’m sorry’ session, but he had a midterm the next day so he had to get some sleep. I wasn’t entirely sure how our mutual apology session had gone and there was a small, but growing part of me that was worried about it.

Which meant I did what any other newly transformed female but used to be a guy super heroine would have done. I fretted my self sick for five hours. I don’t know why, but Ed’s approval of and like of me had become desperately important of late. I became afraid I was finding out what love felt like. I didn’t really have a basis for comparison. I’d fallen in lust plenty of times, but love was an emotion I hadn’t felt outside of the plutonic and familial variety.

This I chewed on as the hours dragged out and my eyelids got traded in for these wifty new lead models. “Are you ok?” a voice asked. I started awake, not sure how long I’d been out.

Holly was sitting up in the gurney looking pale, but better than when she’d passed out last night. She was looking at me with more than a bit of concern. “Yeah,” I drawled as I stood and stretched. “Ah’m fine. You?”

“Starving, but ok. I’m really sorry about last night.” She looked at me sidelong as she worked up the nerve to ask me her next question. “How much trouble am I in?”

Were I a mean person that would have been an open invitation to royally put the screws to her. But, I just couldn’t. There was something young and innocent about her that made me feel like she was the kid sister I’d never had. “Don’t sweat it,” I assured her. “Crimes committed under duress don’t stand. It’s the Mind Master decision.”

“I wasn’t mind controlled,” she piped up immediately. I had to hand it to her, she took responsibility. That, I could respect. I smiled at her for the first time. Something told me this wouldn’t be my last smile her way either.

“Threat of grievous bodily harm to another falls into the same league, so don’t worry, ok?” She nodded thoughtfully. “Ya’ll know what Ah’m about to tell you?”

“This would be the part where you inform me of my draft status, right?” It was then my turn to nod. “I guess I had hoped that what ever it was Sovereign did to me would wear off or something. My dad’s gonna have a cow.”

I put my hand on her shoulder. “That’s his problem, honey. Yours is getting ready for running around in spandex ‘defending the public trust’ for what ever the hell that means.”

She met my gaze in a surprisingly mature measuring glance. “You don’t sound all that thrilled about the super hero life style.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” I chuckled. “Ya’ll remember a month or so ago when Power Ball and the Irregulars mixed it up down town?”

She frowned. “When Spirit Wolf got hurt? Yeah. Why?”

“Remember the guy who bandaged her up?”

“I saw a clip on the news, but there wasn’t anything else about him.”

“Honey that was me.

Her eyes went as wide as dinner plates. “No shit?” I nodded. “Wow, I guess I really got off easy. I’m sorry, that’s not how I meant that!” I shrugged. Yagimura-Sensei’s voice echoed in the back of my mind. Maybe it wasn’t something to get that bent over.

Yeah, and maybe the Beatles will get back together. “Ah wish Ah could say Ah was over it, but Ah can’t. Ah’ll cope Ah guess. That’s what Ah gotta tell you, girl. You’re in the Army now. There’s gonna be a lot of,” and I did my best to imitate Marshall Graham’s baritone, “‘You’ll do this mah way or else,’ from a certain eagle clad leader type who shall remain nameless, but for what it’s worth, Ah’ll know how you feel.” I reached up and peeled the domino mask off my face, then offered my hand. “Mah name is Jennifer. Pleased to meet you Holly.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” she told me as she shook my hand. “Would I be pressing my luck if I begged, one Red Head to another for something to eat?”

“Ah need coffee or Civilization as we know it will end,” I told her as I got the bundle of my spare clothes that I kept in the HQ. Her own clothes were a hopeless ruin. “Look out Denny’s here we come!”

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I’ll say this for the girl, she can put it away. Before my third cup of java I barely had a slice of toast down. By that time, Holly had polished off the biggest T-bone they had, three eggs and a plate of hash browns that could have fed the State of Nebraska. Ok, I know no one actually lives in Nebraska, but don’t spoil a good metaphor with facts.

“You know,” she mumbled around a mouthful of toast, “I’ve been thinking about a hero identity. I have to have one, right?”

I nodded tiredly and poked at my cold eggs. “Ah wouldn’t stress too hard, girl,” I told her around a yawn. “It’s not like anyone’s going to remember your name.” I chuckled. “How about Blondie? They’ll remember it at least.” She stuck her tongue out at me.

“How about the Valkyrie?” she asked in a contemplative tone. I think my eyes might have gone cross eyed. “Well, it fits the blonde look right? All I need is some kind of mostly metal costume and a sword and shield.”

A chuckle escaped my lips. “And what about the flying horse and that whole chooser of the slain image? Do you have any idea how much paperwork is involved in a Fatality Use of Force Report?”

“I’m guessing I’m going to find out,” she muttered as she slathered an entire little tub of jam on a toast wedge. This girl was hungry.

“Hey, at least you get to pick your name and outfit,” I said by way of reconciliation. “And Ah don’t think Ah know of anyone using that particular gimmick, so have at.” I saw the questions in her eyes and waved her off. “Don’t ask.”

As I waved at the waitress to return yet again with the blessed elixir of life, my communicator went off. I made silencing gestures to Holly as I flipped it on. “Hello, this is Jennifer,” I told the machine. How we answered the gizmo was something of a code with in the group. If I were to use my hero ID, whoever was on the other end would know they could speak freely without compromising me. By using my real name, they now knew I was in public and not able to be as direct as they might like me to be.

I’ll give you three guesses who was on the line, and you’re only going to need one. “Where the hell are you?”

“Good morning, Geoffrey!” I said with far more enthusiasm than I actually felt. “How are you today?”

The Marshal was spitting bullets. “I have a United States Senator whose daughter has been kidnapped for a week here! What do I find when I bring him in for the joyous reunion?”

“That your shameless ploy to have our budget increased just blew up in your face?” I asked sweetly. Holly desperately suppressed a giggle. Before the waitress could fill my cup I slipped her my expense card and made do this fast motions. She scurried off.

“Is this your idea of a joke?” he demanded. “This is not the time for this, Belle!”

I signed the voucher, giving the girl a sizable tip. Speed like that is valuable, besides, it’s not my money after all. “Time?” I asked checking my watch. “Goodness it’s almost nine! The day is just getting away from me!”

Belle!” he shouted into the phone.

“Yes, boss, don’t worry I’ll be in to the office in a bit. Just having breakfast with a new client.” Before he could answer I hung up on him and turned to the giggling Holly. “Do you want to face your dad just now?”

“Good God no!”

“Didn’t think so.” I handed the receipt and my communicator to the waitress. “I need a favor,” I told her. “In about ten minutes, a really angry man in a bad suit is going to come looking for this. Could you give to him please?”

She looked at me, down at the phone and my slip. Her eyes saw her tip was of the three digit variety and beamed. “Sure thing, hun.”

“Thanks, see ya.”

“Where are we going then?” asked Holly as I led her quickly from the restaurant.

“Well, I figure Geoffrey needs some cooling off time, you need some get ready for the yelling from dad time, and I need some I’m being lied to time. Let’s buy a car.”

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Now the Denny’s we fled was nestled less than half a mile from HQ on US 41. 41 runs north south, from Canada to Florida roughly paralleling I75. I’d like to say that our little piece of it was this beautiful and quant representation of Old South Georgia.

But it’s not.

US 41 is one huge strip pretty much it’s entire run through Cobb County, lined on both sides with stores and, as was lucky for us, car dealerships. Within five miles was every make of automobile dealership that was currently in mass production. The entire spectrum from Audi to Volkswagen and I mean everything in between. Being a well brought up Southern Girl, my first stop was Team Ford about three miles north of the Denny’s, one of three Ford dealers on 41 in Cobb County.

As you might imagine, two young, well endowed red heads walking on to a car lot got a salesman faster than you can say schwing! “Hi there!” oozed an ex-jock about ten years past his glory days in a polo with the dealers logo plastered on it.

“Hi yourself,” I responded.

“Sisters, right?” he laughed flashing a mouthful of pearly whites that must have set him back eight grand. “That’s sweet. Who’s buying today?”

“Ah am,” I told him, forcing a smile. “Can Ah speak with the sales manager please?” That took the wind right out of his sails.

“I’m not sure he’ll be available,” he started. “I can…”

“Lose a fifty thousand dollar sale for this dealership if Ah don’t have the sales manager talking to me in the next two minutes,” I finished for him. He scurried off. While we waited I got out my traveling cigar case. While I offered to Holly, she refused making faces. I barely had the thing in my mouth before three different lighters appeared before me. “Easy boys,” I told them getting the cigar lit. “We’ve already been helped and nobody is getting lucky, thanks.”

I guess there’s something intimidating about a tall red headed cigar smoker who isn’t scared out of her wits on a car lot. They were professional about it, but went away sulking. “If you hadn’t told me,” said Holly as she shook her head in amazement, “I never would have guessed. You act like you’ve been beating them off your whole life.”

“Sugah,” I told her after a welcome rush of the cigar, “experience is the best teacher. And Ah got experienced real quick looking like this.”

“Hi, I’m John, the Sales Manager here,” interrupted a pleasant tenor. John was about fifty five, in shape for his age and had something of an honest face about him. Actually, the vibe I got from him was nothing like I’d gotten from anyone else on the lot. The fact he was removing a cigar of his own from a hard leather keeper immediately endeared him to me. “How can I help you?”

“John, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said, offering my free hand, which he took. “I’m Jennifer; this is Holly, who is neither mah sister nor mah lover.” Making sure we were as alone as could be reasonably expected given our current situation, I removed my badge wallet from my purse and showed it to him. “It’s mah intention to buy a car today and Ah’d be right grateful not to have to put up with the usual BS about it, if that’s alright with you.”

His only reaction was a chuckle and a nod. “Well, Jennifer, before we get started, I can tell you that Team offers a ten percent discount to Law Enforcement Officers, so we can keep that in mind for later. Did you have something specific in mind?”

“Something small, ridiculously fast, drop dead sexy and gets really shitty gas mileage.”

“Thunderbirds, right this way.”

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About an hour later, Holly and I were waiting in the dreaded little back room for the paper work for the 2004 Thunderbird Hard Top Convertible in evening black on torch red I’d settled on. Much as I’d like to brag on my new set of wheels, beyond what I’ve told you it would doubtlessly be boring. Those of you who are interested certainly have the where with all to do your own research. Just don’t drool on the keyboard, it’s bad for them.

I guess I owed the ex-jock an apology. Between the discounts and my (insert humble nail polishing on the breast here) expert haggling, the Belle Mobile was going to mine for just a hair over thirty grand. Not even a full year’s pay! Holly was on her third freebie coke while I was still nursing the first while trying to stay awake. “Are we having fun?” drawled Mortagain from the door. I couldn’t suppress the yawn.

“Ah was wondering when you’d catch up to me,” I told her with a grin. “Holly, you remember Ginnevia?” Macbein nodded with a weak smile. “He pissed?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “Nope. Actually, you kind of played into his game. Gave him some one on one time with Daddy Macbein, played up the nowhere safer side of things, while down playing the It’s the Law for a change. I think you might be a positive influence on him, Jennifer.” I beamed.

“There’s nothing better than recognition from mah betters,” I chuckled. Another yawn over took me. “What took you so long, girl? Ah’ve been expecting you to ‘pop’ in for half an hour.”

“Once you settled here I had a feeling you’d be here for a while. Nice car, by the way. So I gave Geoffrey a little mental nudge to calm down and start the good old boy routine with the Senator. Worked well, I believe.”

“Ah see. Ah played into his game is the official version. Gotcha. You here to collect us both?” It surprised me that she shook her head.

“Nope, just Holly. Sorry kid, but it’s time to face Dad with the news. Don’t worry though; he’s had enough time to adjust. At least, enough that I’m certain he’s not going to yell. Besides, it’s not like this was in any way your fault.”

“What about me?” I asked.

Ginnevia shrugged. “I can pop you home, if you want, but I don’t have any specific instructions for you other than get some sleep. Oh, here, you’ll want this,” she said, producing my communicator. I took it with a sheepish grin. Her stare became somewhat unfocused and I felt her presence in my mind. I relived my night with Sensei in a blur, and then heard her voice. You want to talk about this? I swallowed, coming to understand some of the paranoia the public had about mentalists. I don’t mean to pry. I don’t know if it’s because you’re tired or what, but you’re all but broadcasting this.

“Holly, can you wait here for a few minutes?” I asked her. “Ginnevia and Ah have to discuss something.” Macbein nodded, not really understanding, but the coke was flowing free so she was happy. I followed Ginnevia back out front to the side of the dealership. On the way, I gave John the high sign as we passed the sales tower. Once outside, I tried to control the Irish in me that was trying to get up. “What’s to talk about?”

“A lot, actually,” she drawled, fishing a pack of cigarettes from her purse and getting one out and lit. I’ll say this for the Goth thing; it cut down on the male attention. Before they’d gotten afraid of ticking off John, Holly and I had practically tripped over the salesmen. “I’m surprised you don’t trust Mr. Yagimura more. He saw what was wrong with you from Jump Street.”

“Maybe you ought to schedule a little one on one with him,” I fired back, crossing my arms over my ample bosom.

“I’m not the one with the hang ups holding me back. Besides, being gay isn’t a mental disorder any more. Look, I am sorry I came on to you so strong that time. I do my best to not ‘read’ my friends, so I was blinding myself to what you were going through. If I had known you were so messed up, I never would have made a play.” She stuck out her free hand. “Friends?”

I smirked. “Do Ah get another free shower?” The snort of her laughter cost her a drag. I took the hand she offered. Finally, I believe Ginnevia and I had an understanding. “So, what is this awe inspiring advice of yours?”

“Do it,” she drawled. “Stop testing the water and just be a woman. It has its downsides, I’ll be the first to admit, but I wouldn’t want the hassle of being a man and hauling around all that machismo.”

“So, exactly how do Ah go about doing that?” I demanded. “Ah had just about decided this wasn’t about actions, but state of mind. So if you’ve got the mojo to spell this out, feel free to clue me in.”

“It is about state of mind too, but there is an action that can clear all of this up, I do believe. And you know exactly what I’m talking about, Jennifer.” From her clutch purse she took out a silver key that had an ID tag on it which meant it had come from the Emergency Safe in HQ. With a greatly trembling hand I took it as though it would bite me.

“Ah don’t think Ah can,” I whispered, staring at the key in my palm.

“You can,” she told me with a trace of regret. “I was up most of the night trying to figure some other way for you, Jennifer. Hell, you have no idea how much I wish it could be me. But that won’t do it. Thinking about it won’t do it. Talking about it at all hours of the night with wrinkled old widowed Japanese men won’t do it. Dive girl. It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s not as bad as all that.”

“Miss Anderson?” came Johns voice from the door way. I turned to stare at him. “We’re all set. I’ll just need your final signatures on the purchase order and it’s all yours. I’ve already gotten it through delivery prep, so at your convenience.” I nodded as he respected our privacy and withdrew.

“Tell me you didn’t buy that car on your expense account!” said Ginnevia.

I dissolved into a fit of giggles. I was definitely past punch drunk that was for sure. “Nope, financed it. Set up an auto debit from the paycheck.” She sighed. I locked eyes with her. “Ah’ll think about it,” I told her. She shook her head.

“Don’t think. Do. I can force you, but I won’t. But if you hurt him…” she trailed off menacingly. The look on my face told her that would never happen.

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Despite the constant ‘mute’ that my senses were on, I had never been so conscious of every one of my five senses. Between the sweetness of the vanilla candles I’d lit all over the room, and the soft glow they gave everything I felt warm and as comfortable as I probably could with such an elevated heart rate.

The room my eyes were showing me was a good bit more neat and tidy than I would have thought for some strange reason. The walls were adorned with expertly framed marquee posters, two of which, We Were Soldiers and The Adventures of Robin Hood were back lit in clever homebuilt light boxes. All of the mementos tied back in some way to the motion picture business. There were bundles of 35mm motion picture film, a slate clapper board that still had the chalk from its last take spelled out on it; E. Filby proudly written on the Director’s line.

Over the quiet harmonies of Enya and the thunder of my own heart, I heard the door to the apartment open and the heavy footfalls draw closer. I sat up and steeled my resolve for what was coming. I’d never worn silk before. The whispers of it across my skin sent sparks of electric fire to my brain. I’d thought my uniform had been revealing, but I was sadly mistaken. I didn’t think you could feel so naked wearing clothes.

A part of me wanted a mirror to make sure for the twentieth time I’d done my hair and the subtle make up correctly from the lessons I’d received on each. When I’d sat through them a part of me had been certain once I’d received my ‘pass’ grade I’d never use the knowledge again. Well, the make up anyway. Basic hair care was a part of everyday hygiene.

Except there was nothing basic about the delicate frozen waterfall effect I’d created in crimson cascading down my shoulders to my back. That had taken two hours. Conversely, the makeup had been much quicker and I suppressed a very inappropriate giggle about trading one mask for another. I had to remember to not bite my lip for fear of damaging my lipstick.

The door knob was turning. God, I wish I could teleport.

My mind warred with the irrational desire to flee and the rational questions of where and how? There wouldn’t be an eye in Atlanta that wouldn’t be drawn to a curvy red head flying in a panic wearing a silk camisole and panty set not even Larry Flynt would consider decent.

The door started to open and time slowed down to a life time each second. What if he laughed at me? What if he told me I was a whore? What if he said nothing? What if he just left?

What if? What if?

He was looking at me. His mouth hung open and both ears were fixed on me as his eyes bugged out of his head. Is that the reaction I wanted? My own eyes looked down him.

My God it’s huge!

I guess that was the reaction I wanted.

“Jennifer?” he gasped as his book bag hit the floor.

I may be new to a lot of this womanhood thing, and I may not have his incredible senses, but I did know the look on his face. I smiled a smile that I hope didn’t show how terrified I was. “Hey Ed. Like what you see?”

I didn’t think it could get any bigger!

“I…when…how…Yes…” he stuttered. My smile broadened and became genuine. I patted the side of the bed beside me. I definitely need to go shopping with Ginnevia some more.

“Edward, my dear friend,” I told him. “Let’s you and Ah talk.”

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Chapter Nine

I have come to the conclusion that scarlet silk camisoles are not the attire to have heart felt conversations in. For a month or more I had been a woman. Ok, a really curvy drop dead sexy woman and I was used to not being able to look who I was talking to in the eye. At least I had been used to it from everyone but Ed. The gallant Mr. Filby had made a point to looking me in the face since this had happened. I imagined his senses gave him other avenues to appreciate the new body I inhabited, but his eyes were always on mine.

Until now.

Now they were about half a foot south of mine, locked on the heaving breasts that were so delicately displayed in crimson silk. As I’ve said, I’d never worn silk before and the effect of it against my skin meant that my nipples were so erect they ached and were clearly outlined in the gossamer fabric.

A bit of drool threatened to escape his mouth that was hanging open as he sat beside me. Suppressing a chuckle, I casually reached out, hooked my finger under his jaw and closed his mouth for him while gently returning his eyes to mine. I knew in the back of my mind that he was stronger than I was, but whether it was the out fit, or the ambiance I’d created or some other factor I was unaware of he was like putty without the strength of a new born kitten.

“Ah take it Ah meet with your approval, sir?” I asked in what I hoped was a coquettish manner.

“Ah…approval?” he gasped out; shaking his head to try to clear it from the spell I had him under. “Belle, if you think you need my approval, then you’ve got it. In spades. There is nothing I can add or say that will make you any more beautiful than you are.”

A warm feeling that wasn’t a blush spread through out me. “You have a flatterers tongue, Mr. Filby,” I told him as I let my free hand gently caress his sculpted chest. It was soft, the fabric of his oxford shirt rubbing over his velvet skin, but underneath was muscle that was harder and denser than steel. “If Ah didn’t know better, Ah might think you were trying to take advantage of me,” I told him as the top most button came undone by my roving fingers. The oversize of all of his clothing’s fixtures both helped him dress himself with his less than nimble hands as well as helping me undress him one handed.

“I’m taking advantage of you?” he managed, his throat bobbing up and down.

“Why yes,” was my answer as another button was conquered. “Your gallantry, sir, and your constant consideration of mah feelings will not let mah thoughts think of anything other than you.” The last two buttons surrendered as I locked my eyes with his. A massive shiver over took him as my hand at last had free access to his chiseled physique.

“I…” he stammered. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

I let myself chuckle as the shirt was removed and tossed aside. “Hurt me? How could you ever do that? Ah know you, Edward. You have gone out of your way to keep from hurting me. You’ve done all you could to help me. Now there’s one last thing that can help me and let me repay you for all you’ve done and meant to me.”

There was always a smell I’d been conscious of around him. Being raised in the country, I’d associated it with fond memories of my early life. Now I realized it was his scent, the smell of haystacks and comfortable old barns wrapped up in timeless security. As both my hands played over his torso, which was in fact the same charcoal gray as the rest of his skin that I had thus far seen, it became stronger, cloyingly teasing my nostrils. It had the effect of making certain parts of me extremely damp.

“Belle,” he croaked, his eyes cloudy with the battle between his rational mind and the emotional state I was working so hard to put him in. “Belle, I could kill you. I can’t…”

“Sugah,” I whispered as I caught his long face in both hands. “Ah’m just as strong and just as tough as you are. You can only hurt me by saying no. Ah want this. Ah want you as bad, Ah think, as you want me. If there is anyone on this Earth you can relax and have your way with without worrying about hurting, it’s me.”

Then I leaned forward and kissed his wide mouth.

Until this point in my admittedly short life, I had never kissed a man on the mouth. The short whisker like hairs around the velvet skin of his lips tickled my nose as my senses focused with laser like intensity on the kiss we shared. I could feel his heart thundering in time with mine, as his arms wrapped around me and crushed me to him as he returned the kiss with God knew how many years of frustration pouring out into me. His breath and the long tongue that I welcomed into my mouth tasted of apples and ranch dressing.

A single perfect moment played out between us and we gave and took the loneliness we both suffered from into each other. We were together. As his tongue and then his mouth withdrew, I realized two things. He was standing, having effortlessly picked me up in his passion.

And that he was mine.

That caused a feeling of power that I relished and reveled in. I was a temptress, a seductress, the conqueror of his heart. I was a woman. My flight kept me aloft as my hands gently pried his arms from around me. I understood his fear then. I had felt his strength as he’d held me. A normal woman would have had most of the bones in her body broken from him. My poor Edward, how long have you suffered?

I lowered myself slightly, still floating in the air so I could get at his belt. It opened easily and then his jeans fell to the floor as I came face to face with his manhood. I swallowed in fear and nervous excitement. It was incased in a sheath of skin that held it constantly pointing upwards towards the sky. It was free of that, a color somewhere between deep red and black, waving slightly in the coolness of the room.

It was the length of my forearm from my elbow to the tip of my middle finger.

In his cloudy voice, he rumbled, “I’ll try to be gentle.” I reached out and took a hold of him causing another shiver to run the length of his body. His cock vibrated in my hand.

“If Ah wanted gentle, Ed,” I told him with a smile, “Ah wouldn’t be here.”

“Why are you here, Jennifer?” he gasped around a sigh as my left hand joined my right. I smiled as I rubbed up against him, the silk I wore sending an electric shock through both of us.

“Ah am here to become a woman, Edward,” I told him. “Ah’m here to be taken across that threshold. Ah hope this is the beginning of something very special between us, but if not, Ah’ll be happy. Ah can’t do this alone, Ed. Ah want to stop being half a person and be a whole woman.” I paused as I worked up my nerve and planted a delicate kiss on the tip of him. “Can you help me with that?”

“Ma’am,” he stuttered his voice thick with need, desire and something else I was too far gone in my own needs to put my finger on. “I would be deeply honored to be of assistance to you.”

I licked my lips, tasting the essence of him that lingered there. It was a unique flavor that I wasn’t sure if I liked or disliked so much as it was different. Then I surrendered myself to the emotional tidal wave I was riding and did my best to please him.

Ironically enough, this is where it got frustrating. His size made it very difficult to take much of him in my mouth, resolve or no. In short order my jaw began to ache as well. Who would have ever thought that something as basic as sex would require practice?

Still, the salty fluid that was almost constantly leaking from him told me I was doing something right. I fell into a timeless space where he became the center of my universe and I lost myself in trying to give every inch of him attention all at once. A small portion of my mind was still detached though, cataloging the sensations and emotions as I ministered to his need.

I am giving my first blow job.

Part of me knew I had neither technique, nor the endurance to really take control of him this way, but in a very surprising way, it was fun trying. His breathing told me he was enjoying it, along with the spasms through his monstrous thighs as he fought to maintain control of his subconscious desire to thrust upwards, into me.

His tail had taken on a life of its own.

Still, I was more than a bit put out when he reached down and picked me up, pulling us apart. The hunger to finish what I’d started brought a kindly smile to his face as he gently laid his thick finger on my lips to silence any protest. Then he laid me out on his massive bed, leaned over and kissed me again. I wished that my arms were long enough to wrap around his long head, but I contented myself with playing with the lengthy, ebony hair that ran from the top of his head down the back of his thick neck.

I felt his free hand take my breast and begin to gently kneed it. Suddenly I intensely needed to be naked, to display myself for his approval and use. My hands flew to the draw sting of the camisole and jerked it loose as his mouth and tongue started a frustratingly slow journey down my neck.

The camisole came loose without ripping, for which I would be grateful later. Right now, it was in the way and had to go. The panties, I didn’t need to be gentle with. They were secured to my hips by two Velcro tabs that were meant to be ripped off. Which is exactly how they left my body.

He leaned back, one hand idly continually playing with my breast to see all of me, naked below him. His smile of approval had neither lust, nor humor in it, but there was a flood of emotion that washed from him to me over it. I wasn’t self conscious of my nakedness. Indeed I felt powerful as I reached up to him, to draw us back together.

He responded to my need, taking up where he left off, teasing first one breast, then the other. I had no idea his lips were so soft. That, along with the pebble like texture to his tongue assured me the sheets under us would be ruined in short order. Then he knelt down on the floor and started his journey south once more. I jerked at each touch of his lips or tongue.

But when he finally nestled between my legs, that’s when I discovered an ecstasy beyond anything else I’d ever felt. I lost the ability to track time as I rode wave after wave of pleasure that danced to the rhythm of his tongue playing in my nether regions. I wasn’t entirely sure how long this went on, but I almost cried when he withdrew. I propped myself up on my elbows as I struggled to catch my breath and beg him to continue, then I realized what was coming next.

Sorry, bad pun.

It was a bit awkward, trying to figure out the best way to position ourselves to make this work. I think we had both been fighting the urge to laugh, but it became too much. We both started about the same time and laughed ourselves silly. It didn’t affect the wetness that was all but pouring out of me, nor did he get the slightest bit softer.

Somehow, it brought us even closer. “Maybe missionary isn’t going to work,” gasped Ed as he wiped a tear from his eyes. “Do you want to try being on top?”

“Yes, but Ah’m a little afraid of it hurting and that might drag it out. Ah have a hymen you’ll have to break,” I told him as I floated up and out of the way. He clamored onto the bed, taking a bit to get his tail comfortable.

“I can pull you down if that will help?” he asked. I nodded, biting my lip. It was ridiculous being afraid of this, I’d probably had worse from any of the fights I’d been in, but somehow this was different. I hovered over him as he steadied himself upwards. I worked his head back and forth in the folds of me to get him nice and slick, gasping every time he bumped my clitoris. Finally, I was satisfied and positioned him at the opening.

He took hold of my hips and slowly pulled me down, onto him. His nostrils flared as we became one and there was a wild look in his eyes that I should have been afraid of, but the only emotion I could muster up for it was pride.

I stretched as he entered, my mouth falling open at the incredible feeling of being full. Then he found my hymen and he stopped, panting. “Ready?” he gasped out.

“Oh, yes…” I murmured. His grip on my thighs flirted with pain as he forcefully pulled me down. I felt myself rip and the burning sensation brought tears to my eyes as he bottomed out deep with in me. His hands left my thighs, caressed up my back to pull me down against his chest. “It hurts,” I gasped, stretched beyond belief, but comforted by his gentle touch on my back. I realized that he was completely in me. I wouldn’t have thought it possible.

“Just get used to me, love,” he whispered thickly. I could tell how much he wanted to just take me; I could feel the trembling in his muscles. I kissed his chest as I settled my hands on his shoulders for balance as I used my flight to move off of him, and then rock back down.

The burning became a dull ache, then just a pleasant edge to the ecstasy I quickly lost myself in. It didn’t stop until I felt myself flooded that triggered a new wave, but it was shorter and more intense than the others and brought me back down. Ed was panting over me; every muscle trembling as his own orgasm teasingly left him.

When did he get on top? I wondered, and then decided I really didn’t care. I wrapped my legs as far as they would go around his waist and pulled him down on top of me so I could feel his full weight. Ginnevia, you really need to change your tea brand.

I had no idea.

None.

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When I awoke much later, night had fallen. The room was dark, lit by the flickering of the candle light and the soft glow from the lit movie posters. I was on my side, facing Edward as he lay on his own side facing me. His eyes were closed and between his slow regular breathing and the smile on his face assured me he was dreaming pleasant dreams.

Somehow, I had a feeling I featured rather prominently in them.

I was sore, there was a sticky dampness that ran down both my inner thighs and a massive wet spot on the sheets between us, but I couldn’t have been happier. As I snuggled my head against his barrel chest, I thought to myself, Thank you, Ginnevia.

I was completely surprised when her voice responded to me in my head. You’re welcome, Jennifer. I’m guessing you enjoyed yourself? There was just a hint of regret to that mental tone and I sent as much consolation as I could figure out how towards the feeling of her in my mind.

Ginny, Ah am sorry Ah can’t be what you want. But, how can you pass up something as wonderful as this? Ah have never felt so complete and happy and alive in mah whole life!

Her mental tone chuckled. First off, don’t you ever call me Ginny to my face. Second, girl, if you think what you just had was the best; try it sometime with another woman. A woman knows exactlywhere and how to touch you to send you through the roof. I had a feeling Ed would be perfect for you, and I’m glad I was right. You two done?

I sighed as I relished the closeness and heat of my lover. For round one, sure. I felt his sheath against my stomach and started thinking of ways I could arouse him once more without waking him until I was ready. Ah won’t be done with him till tomorrow sometime. Maybe not till next week.

Ginnevia’s voice in my head became clouded with regret. I’m afraid that’s not going to be the way of it, girl. The boss has called a meeting of the Full Group. He knows both your communicators are at Ed’s place, but I told him everything was ok and I’d contact you when you… well, as soon as you were available. I didn’t tell him, but I’m pretty sure he’ll figure it out. You both need to come in.

I pouted. Ah don’t want to go to school today!

You might be a woman now, but you’ve still got to grow up. I’ll be there to fetch you in thirty minutes, so you better be ready. Then her presence was gone from my mind. A thousand angry retorts flashed around in my head, but the grown up in me realized she was right.

That thought gave me a moment of pause. Maybe I had been playing this all wrong. If the Marshal knew about me and Ed, there were going to be consequences. Consequences I would not be happy with, but there was a grown up way to deal with this.

A plan began to hatch in the back of my mind which I set in the incubator of thought while I turned my conscience self to rousing my lover without arousing him. Much as I would love another round, the grown up in me knew we didn’t have time. “Ed?” I called softly. His right ear rotated to face me as his right eye opened.

“Morning,” he mumbled. “You ok?”

A grin plastered itself across my face. “Honey, Ah am wonderful. But, I just got the mental call from Ginny. We have to get ready. Boss man called a meeting and she’ll be here in thirty minutes.”

“You’re in luck then,” he said with a smile as he stood, then picked me up as my face did my questioning for me. “You’ll see,” was his answer as he carried me into the master bath of the apartment.

I had not set foot in there yet, not wanting to violate too much of his privacy. I’d done my touch ups and final preparations in the half bath out front. “I had to sign a three year lease to get the ok to alter the apartment this much,” he told me as we entered the room. “But it’s been worth it.”

His bathroom was actually at one point seemed to have been the second bedroom of the apartment. All of the fixtures were designed with him in mind. The bathtub was the size of a queen bed, halfway between a hot tub and a Japanese Furo tub. The shower stall was enormous. Large enough for five or six normal sized people, or the two of us with all sorts of this and that room. The walls were covered in nozzles so water would hit you from every direction all at once.

There was a complicated looking device, built like a set of rings, stacked on top of each other in one corner, furthest from the water. “What’s that?” I asked.

“Something Geoffrey cooked up for me. It’s a fur dryer. Hot air runs through the ducts and up the rings. Dries me off in about a minute. You’ll love it.”

A smile lit my face. “Lead on sir.”

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Well, weren’t entirely ready when Ginnevia arrived. But, close enough that she didn’t have to wait long. I must have one of those showers. And the dryer? Not only was my body and my hair completely dry in a third of the time it would have taken normally, but by running a brush through it as the dryer ran, I got this wonderful, relaxed, windblown look to my hair that would have taken half an hour to achieve with a conventional dryer.

Then, uniforms in place, Mortagain popped us back to HQ, directly into the Round Room. The others were already there. Holly was in her Valkyrie mode, decked out in a metal and chain mail bustier that left her midriff bare. This was completed with leather pants that ended in high fur lined boots and a helmet that left her face open with a pair of feather wings that came up like antlers from her temples. She had added a cape for that classic super hero look and somewhere they’d gotten her a sword and round shield.

Mom, who was evidently an auxiliary member back from her days as a founding member of the group, despite her lack of being MS positive was in her Night Shade personae, an all black body stocking that had a vaguely ninja look to it complete with a mask that completely covered her face, making it a featureless black, but left her hair flowing freely. And I recognized a number the gizmos that hung off the utility belt she wore.

Around the room were seated the other Auxiliary members, people who had semi-retired or their manifestations of MS had not been particularly powerful, but the law was the law. In all, there were about a hundred people here. Geoffrey took the podium, helmet off for a change, but the rest of the Eagle get up somewhat encumbering him as he banged the gavel. “The meeting will come to order,” he announced. Ed, Ginnevia and I quickly took our seats at the table.

“This meeting of the Stone Mountain Irregulars is declared open at 9 pm Eastern Standard Time on Saturday, the 7th of February 2004. The secretary shall so note in the minutes.”

Oh, great, Roberts fucking Rules of Order.

“Item One: Old Business.”

One of the staffers who I’d seen running around the hallways was evidently playing secretary, she piped up, “Mr. Chairman, there are no items of Old Business.”

Bang went the gavel. “Item Two: New Business.”

“Mr. Chairman!” interrupted a voice from the group of Auxiliaries.

“The Chair recognizes the Surge.” I turned to look. Surge had been one of my idols as a kid growing up. He was a speedster and it seemed time had been kind to him. There was a bit of gray in his hair and beard, but it only made him seem more distinguished and College Professor like.

“A motion to suspend Roberts Rules of Order for the remainder of the meeting.”

Surprisingly, Geoffrey seemed happy about that. “A motion to suspend Roberts Rules of Order for the remainder of the meeting is on the floor. Do I have a second?”

“Second!” someone shouted.

“Is there discussion of the motion on the floor?” asked Geoffrey.

Another voice from my left called out, “Call to question!”

Geoffrey smiled. “All those in favor of suspending Roberts Rules of Order for the remainder of this meeting, signify by saying Aye!” The shout of affirmative echoed through the room. “Opposed?” Silence. “Motion carried.”

A wave of relaxation swept over the room. “My friends, I have a couple of things we need to address and I must make you aware of. First, please join me in welcoming our newest member, the Valkyrie.” I sniffed at being excluded while a polite round of applause filled the room. After it died, Geoffrey continued. “The method of her infection is the reason for this meeting. Sovereign has evidently completed his experiments on Mckimpson Strain and may have stabilized it to the point where MS 1 will always bestow paranormal ability to those infected. The Agency has categorized this new strain as MS 1S. We must act quickly to apprehend Sovereign before he can alter it from injection biased to some kind of airborne variety and brings down Civilization as we know it.”

“How do we know that’s what he’s going to do?” I demanded. Geoffrey’s gaze bore on me with the intensity of a laser.

“Because if everyone has some form of paranormal ability that makes the Regulatory Agency defunct. More to the point, society cannot handle an outbreak of that magnitude. Chaos will quickly break out and within a few months we’ll be back to the Stone Age.”

“Ah’m not arguing that if that occurs it wouldn’t go along those lines, but Ah don’t think Sovereign wouldn’t have thought about that too. Ah’m just saying that an airborne variety probably isn’t what he’s doing, that’s all.”

“Belle,” he said softly. “You are here as a courtesy. Please let us continue with the meeting…”

“Courtesy?” I demanded. “Ah happen to be a member of this little social club!”

Geoffrey shook his head. “Actually, you are pending a transfer to one of the other groups around the state. I’ll give you the full list after the meeting for you to choose from…”

Here’s hoping all that time in drama class was well spent. “What?” I shouted.

He sighed. “You are a cop, Belle. You cannot have a relationship with someone on the force you serve on. Regulations require your transfer. Or do you deny that you and Cavalry are seeing each other?”

I stumbled to my feet, shaking with rage. Mustn’t let him realize I’m on to him. “How dare you bring mah personal life into this meeting? You’re so fond putting me in mah place with your damned rules? How’s this for you? We are not cops. We might help them and others to the best of our abilities, but the rules cops have to work under do not necessarily apply to us. A motion, Mr. Chairman, to remove Article Seven Paragraph Four from the Irregulars charter. Further, Ah move for a vote of No Confidence in your leadership of this Organization.”

Before Geoffrey could respond, I felt my heart glow as Cavalry stood beside me. “I formally second both motions, Mr. Chairman.”

The American Eagle’s mouth hung open as the realization of what had just happened sunk in. As the room descended into shouts of argument, he sank slowly into his chair. The Red Neck new girl had just out maneuvered him.

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Chapter Ten

From the Charter of the Stone Mountain Irregulars…

Article VII Paragraph Four

In keeping with the time honored traditions of Standard Law Enforcement, and in the hopes that such a standard of Professionalism shall reflect kindly on this Organization, it shall be deemed Inappropriate for members of this Organization to see the other members of this Organization on any other level than professional in nature. Romantic involvements shall be actively discouraged among the various members, nor shall any two potential members be admitted to this Organization should they be married, either through official or Common Law status, openly Co-Habiting or if the persons should describe themselves as being in a relationship of a romantic or sexual nature. Breech of this Article shall result in a non-punitive transfer of the member less senior in standing to any other organization of that members choosing, either in or out of State with no loss of standing or seniority. Until such a transfer take place, the offending members shall be separated in both Patrol and other activities as the situations warrant with no loss of standing or placement on Probationary Status.

It was that last sentence that was the clincher to what I’d pulled off. It’s good having friends who were Pre-Law. Before I’d made up my mind to take things to the next level I’d emailed the copy of the charter I’d received with all the other paperwork to a pool buddy who I’d hooked up with a small part in one of Ed’s student films. I had, in very general terms let him know what I was planning and that I had someone on the squad was hassling me. It was the reason we weren’t exactly ready when Ginnevia had arrived to pick us up.

Much as I’d like to take the credit for working all this out, I’d only added bits on top of his responses as to what I could expect to be getting myself in for. The only reason I’d added the insult to injury with the vote of no confidence was he’d hit me with it in front of my family. If he wanted to play dirty, then so could I.

While everybody basically agreed what a great guy and all that Geoffrey was, mine weren’t the only feathers he’d ruffled in his time as El Presidente. There was also the little matter of the conflict of interest in having our government liaison also serve as our CEO which had ticked off more than one Founder. The whole point, after all, of having these teams was to make us Super Types believe we were still doing things our way with our rights intact. Geoffrey, being the absolutely honest man that he was, (actually the greatest fault anyone can say about him) had stripped that veneer of independence away.

And nobody likes to have their noses rubbed in their own self delusions.

End result was, article seven paragraph four was removed from the charter. Geoffrey was given thirty days to resign as the US Marshall and government liaison or to resign from the Chair of the Irregulars. It wasn’t spelled out, but everybody pretty much understood that failing both, he’d be removed.

Beyond all that, there was a new look in Geoffrey’s eyes when he looked at me. Oh there was a fair amount of pissed off there. But what I’m talking about was something new as far as I was concerned. Respect.

The hill billy was one up on the Po-Lice. He wouldn’t forget it, but I think I finally made my point. There was a brain under all this red hair, but above the stellar rack. Unfortunately, he’d never underestimate me again. But, to have my cake and eat it too, that was a small price to pay.

Beyond that, the meeting was basically to let the Auxiliaries know they’d have to put their personal lives on hold while we tried to figure out what Sovereign was up to. It was nice to have a bit of vindication that a far number of the other member agreed with me that an airborne variant was not on Sovereign’s agenda.

That’s where the good news ended.

The hot wire fired up and one of the tech guys interrupted the meeting with news of a crime that the main frame had flagged as not quite adding up. Last night, while Gravity, Sprit Wolf and I had been making Valkyrie’s acquaintance, Equifax had been hacked.

Normally, that kind of computer crime goes beneath our radar. But the headquarters of the company here in Atlanta held a database mainframe that was kept offline so as to be immune to this sort of thing. Someone had breeched the facility, gotten access to the main frame, and downloaded the entire credit file data base.

So what, you say?

Well, quite a bit actually. We live in a society where the Credit Rating is the new Scarlet Letter. People like to bitch about how much Uncle Sam knows about us, either through the FBI or the CIA, but Equifax knows everything. Did you know you got a Credit Rating from birth? Just like your social security number. Equifax knows both.

Along with your complete name, cross references to your parents’ files, your current address your current job or school, etc. The CFDB was the ultimate kidnappers’ tool. Not only could they steal your body, they could steal your identity.

Naturally, this was all being kept very quiet. We almost hadn’t gotten the word. But the crime had occurred exactly as Val and I were playing Humvee catch. She had been a diversion. And now, unless I very much miss my guess, Sovereign had his hands on a master list of everyone in the United States.

‘The Princes shall see their own Defiled,’ he said. Two guesses what that meant.

But the drama didn’t stop there. As we were struggling to come to grips with that little nugget of information, the perimeter alarm went off. It turns out anyone who is MS positive has a biochemical signature given off in their body odor excreted through their sweat glands. The protein coat of the virus was too fragile to last for a even a second outside of a host, which was why it wasn’t already airborne, but it could be picked up on the whiz gadgets that Geoffrey had come up with.

So we all spilled outside ready for war. What we got was a truce.

A young white man wearing a Shinto priest’s shrine Gi was holding the reigns of a Pegasus. It was saddled and bridled along a very Norse line while the horse portions to my eye seemed to be a mix of Arabian in color and lines with the size and strength of a Clydesdale. He was a dappled gray spot over a white coat with white mane and tail. The feathers of the massive wings that jutted from his powerful shoulders at the look and color of a dove’s wings.

Another man in a black body stocking stood next to him, his face obscured by a balaclava and some type of high-tech night vision thingy over his eyes. And, for the first time since I’d been a Super Heroine, somebody was wearing a gun. It was some type of Beretta in a tactical holster mid-right thigh. He also held a white flag on a pole in his left hand.

Any further observation on my part was interrupted by Holly’s shout of, “Jason!” as she rushed forward to embrace the man in the Gi.

“Mr. Carnegie I presume,” rumbled Cavalry beside me. Their kiss was unselfconsciously passionate. Geez, kids, get a room.

The Eagle had landed and was walking up to the man in black. “What’s this, Trapdoor? Come to turn your self in?” Trapdoor had the grace not to laugh.

“No, I bring a gift from Sovereign to the Valkyrie. As well as her boyfriend who has a message for all of you. I’d advise you to listen carefully.” Then he turned to order Jason. “Tell them, Precog.”

“I am now MS positive. This has manifested in me an ability to see into the future and follow the lines of probability. One hour from now, Senator Macbein will draft what will be called the Paranormal Internment Act. It states that every MS positive individual shall be interred in what the Act calls a treatment facility while work is done to find a cure for MS. The act will be passed three months from now and within two years the facility will be built in the Montana wilderness. What started as kindness will end in blood. The facility will become a concentration camp and, when in five years scientists finally admit there is no cure for Mckimpson Strain, every paranormal in the camp will be executed by the over zealous commander of the camp.”

A stunned silence struck us that only the noises of the animals around us and the cars passing every so often on Herodian Road broke. Finally, the Eagle said, “Why would a man have his own daughter tossed into a concentration camp?”

“The Act specifically excludes paranormals either currently serving in the Government, or which are immediate family of elected government officials.”

“That son of a bitch!” Holly exploded.

“Quiet!” shouted Geoffrey. “What proof do we have that your power is what you say and this isn’t one of Sovereigns tricks?”

“Well, I have this Pegasus here for the identity Holly just today settled on.”

“How about something that hasn’t happened yet?” The Precog’s eyes became unfocused.

“Five minutes from now a woman staying at the Double Tree hotel is going to be assaulted in her room. Her name is Melody Hopkins and her assailant is her estranged husband Mike who she flew here to meet in hopes of reconciliation. She is staying in room 227. Her husband will rape, and then beat her with in an inch of her life.”

“Surge,” ordered Geoffrey.

“Gone!” was the hero’s answer and he streaked off just below the speed of sound.

While we stood there waiting for a crime to be committed, Trapdoor turned from the Eagle and walked over to Ed and me. “Your father instructed me to give you this,” he said producing a small jewelry box from a pouch on his belt. Ed took it hesitantly. “He says he’s happy for you both and wishes you a long, happy life together. Also, between his research and a conversation he’s had with your mother,” he said turning to me, “that there is no blood relation between the two of you.”

My eyes instantly sought mom who was pointedly not looking at me. I was devastated. I knew on some level that my parents were people too, but to have the proof of mom having had something to do with Sovereign was almost more than I could stand. Worse, there was now the distinct possibility that she had strayed from dad to do it.

My eyes stung as I turned back to Ed who was looking at the box with a mixture of terror and anger. My eyes had been opened and no longer were my parents the shining perfect example of marriage. Growing up sucks.

Ed opened the box to reveal a lovely diamond solitaire sent in gold at about one caret. He saw me watching him and said softly, “It was my mothers. She died in childbirth because of what that monster did to me.” His tone changed to a manner I had never heard him use before. It scared me as he growled to Trapdoor, “You can tell your master I don’t give a God Damn what he hopes about me. I’ll see him in a cell at Fort Leavenworth if it’s the last thing I do.”

Trapdoor nodded. “He said you’d say that. His answer is, your irrational anger won’t bring your mother back, nor ease the agony he has suffered from since her passing. If you do not master it, it will be your undoing. There is a war coming. No one is going to jail any more, only Perdition. He’ll be there when you’re ready to talk to him.”

Geoffrey’s communicator beeped. “Go.” He told it.

“The front desk confirms the registration. I’m out side the door and there’s a woman’s voice calling for help.”

“Enter,” said Geoffrey. He then turned to Trapdoor. “If you’ve staged this…”

The teleporter laughed. “Between the reports and the background checks you’re going to do over this, there’s no way we could get away with staging anything. You’ll know if this woman ever crossed paths with Sovereign. That would only undermine what little time we have left. You’re on the wrong side, Geoffrey. It’s time you learned that. Come on, Precog.”

“You’re not leaving,” growled the Eagle.

“No! Jason!” yelled Holly.

“Try and stop me,” was Trapdoors answer. Then he and Precog were gone.

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I collected the cards as they were dealt to me by Ginnevia and began to arrange them by suit. Across the table from me, Ed was doing the same, hemming and hawing as he did so. I was worried about Ginnevia table thinking with Spirit Wolf, her partner for our little spades game, but she’d sworn on the proverbial stack of Bibles that she’d play fair. We shared the Rec. Room with Geoffrey who was hip deep in a chess game with Abin.

From the looks of things, he was losing.

“I bid four,” Ed finally said. Regina made the note as she placed her own bid of three without hesitation.

Sure, there’s better things to be doing on a Saturday night, but with all the craziness, Saturday was still one our busiest nights. I’d convinced the others going out on a Patrol probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do. So we were waiting for something to happen. Mrs. Hopkins case, being (unfortunately) fairly mundane in nature had been turned over to Cobb County PD. But you can bet the reports would be gone over with a fine tooth comb.

“Nil,” I bid, for the third time, taking my two highest cards, the ten and nine of spades respectively, from my hand to slide across the table to Ed.

“Three,” bid Ginnevia. “That leaves three tricks outstanding. Let’s see if we can set her this time,” she said to Regina.

“You can try,” I affirmed, taking the two of clubs and the three of hearts from Ed. Holly was taking Suzerain, which was the name of the Pegasus she’d been given by Sovereign upstate to her parents place in Cartersville. No, it’s not named for the ex-President. Besides, he’s from Plains. It hadn’t been discussed, but we were all sure she was going to try and talk her dad out of his little civic scheme. I wished her luck, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

While I hadn’t always been such a pessimist, Mckimpson Strain had gone a long a ways to clearing up my rose colored glasses. Ed started the hand by playing the king of diamonds, to which Regina played the four and asked, “So, judging from the big blow up in the meeting, I’m guessing you two are an item?”

I played the ten I held as Ed gruffly said, “A gentleman never kisses and tells.”

“There was kissing?” demanded Regina in a mock tone of shock and disbelief. Ginnevia played the nine and collected the trick for Ed as he deposited the ace of diamonds on the table.

“What business is it of ours?” demanded playfully as I caught sight of Ed’s skin going dark in his blush. Regina grinned as she played the seven, followed by my eight.

“Actually, quite a bit. I do some freelance stuff for the AJC in the Peach Buzz section.” I sighed raggedly.

“Wow, a super hero who works at a newspaper. That’s original,” I told her dryly. Ginnevia played the three and once more raked the trick for Ed. He switched suits to clubs, leading with the queen. Regina proudly laid the king to which I laid my ten. “I suppose you wear glasses to work?” I teased her.

“You know that LASIK thing actually works,” she told me as she collected the trick with Ginnevia’s four. “Besides, having somebody on the staff of a paper like the Journal Constitution let’s us plant stories as well as refocus things when some rookie messes up or somebody’s secret ID needs a nudge to stay secret.”

She played the ace of clubs. “Don’t you think having some tawdry, innuendo filled story on Ed and Ah would be just a bit unprofessional?” I demanded as I played the six. “Besides, Ah get enough flack from that paper over mah costume. Ah’m not about to feed them some kiss and tell exclusive.”

Ginnevia snorted a laugh as she played the five. “Honey, you choose to be the new Cover Girl of Red Neck Monthly. Don’t bitch at us over the flack you catch.”

Ed tenderly laid the two of spades to take the trick as he chuckled, “Don’t let them get to you, dear, I think you look hot in your costume.”

“You’d think she’d look hot in two inch layer of engine grease,” fired back Regina. As she placed the queen of hearts over the jack he’d led.

“One should never under appreciate the many values of proper lubrication,” retorted Ed. “Besides, Belle has a point. When are you guys going to lighten up on her costume? I think she’s proven by now she’s not a bigot. There is something to be said for history, both of the mantle and the more noble aspects of the Old South. Cut her some slack.”

“Not my call,” said Regina as I got rid of my third and final ten. “Although, if I had something else to print, something positive and perhaps a tad juicy, well, that whole uniform thing might die down a bit.”

“The girl is new, not stupid, ‘Gina,” said Ginnevia with some disdain. “You don’t seriously expect us to believe that your editor wouldn’t have a field day with the more prurient aspects of an as yet unconfirmed relationship with the Rookie and Super Horse?”

Ed sighed noisily. “Would you please stop calling me that?” he asked as Ginnevia tossed the nine and raked for him. He led the eight of clubs.

“Well, there is the Publisher’s Code, so nothing too scandalous could be published, but if she wants the attention off of her costume…” Regina trailed off as she looked at Ed’s card and selected a new one to play with a great grin to Ginnevia. It was the three of clubs. I shared her grin as I played the two.

“Ah’ll take the costume jabs in place of that, thank ya’ll.”

“Drown!” swore Regina as Ginnevia took the trick. “Do you think Holly will persuade her old man about the bill?”

“No,” we answered in chorus.

“There are a lot of people who call The Vent line who would love to see that passed into law.” We shared a fearful moment of silence.

“Check mate,” came Geoffrey’s voice. We turned to look and I made a mental note. Half of the Eagle’s pieces were taken, but he’d still managed to get the better of Abin. The Egyptian chuckled as he tilted his king and offered his hand.

That was definitely something to remember. I knew Geoffrey would never underestimate me again. I’d best make damn sure I didn’t underestimate him.

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The spades game broke up at midnight. Five straight nils for the Southern Belle, one of them blind thank you very much. Whether he was just in a perverse mood, or he was feeling his oats, the Eagle decided Ed and I got morning watch. So, while everyone else went home, we got to look forward to staying up all night, waiting for something bad to happen.

After two bad movies out of the Rec. Room and an hour of uncomfortable silence broken by a fairly desperate search of the three hundred channels we get on the TV (Nothing on of course) I was pretty much sick of ignoring what had happened between us. “Are you mad at me?” I asked finally. He looked at me curiously as he yawned. I felt a blush at just how wide he could open his mouth.

Finally, he could speak again. “No, what makes you think that?”

“We’ve been alone here for five hours and you haven’t said a word about…you know.” His eyebrows ascended his face.

“What’s to say? Other than when can we again?”

I slugged him in the arm. “That’s not funny, Ed. Ah’m being serious. You have no idea how afraid Ah was. And we’re just carrying on like nothing happened.” His face showed concern as he rubbed his arm where I’d punched him.

“That’s not what I meant to seem like at all, Jennifer. God, I’m so amazed and in awe of you I don’t really know what to say. You can’t begin to image what you mean to me.” He looked away for a moment before he said quietly, “A man never forgets his first time.”

My jaw fell open. “You’re serious? Me?”

He nodded and chuckled. “You sound like you don’t believe me.”

“But, Ah mean, damn it, Ed, you’re a natural. Ah thought, well, Ah mean the way you touched me, ah thought…”

He chuckled as he looked back at me. “You thought I was some Casanova adding to my bedpost notch collection? Well, I might be inexperienced, but I do have the advantage of being very well read.” I shared his good natured laugh at his own expense as I marveled over this turn of events. I figured it had been a while between women who could stand up to the physicalness of my Edward, but I never figured to be the intrepid explorer in that regard.

I snuggled up against him on the couch we were sharing as he clicked off the TV to hold me. “Where do we go from here?” I asked softly.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Ah must confess Ah’m not exactly old hat at this either. You might not have been the first of mah body per se you were the first of this gender. Ah don’t really know where to go from here. Ah have this vague set of desires but it’s all very foggy and out of reach.”

He rubbed my shoulder as he held me. “I know what you mean. I have a pretty good idea of where I’d like to see it go, but…”

“What?” I asked.

“I don’t want to scare you,” he said cryptically. I twisted around so my head was in his lap and I could see his long face.

“Scare me?” I demanded. “What do you mean?”

I watched the wheels turn in his brain before he answered. “We just got started in probably the most awkward relationship of our lives,” he said softly. “There’s my physical appearance, your newness to your gender and a host of other issues. We’re both children of supers, mine being fairly close to public enemy number one. I don’t think this is the best time to get into my crazy romantic notions.”

“Romantic notions?” I asked with a raised eyebrow of my own. “Now Ah am intrigued, mah lad. Ya’ll have got to fess up now.”

“Belle, I’m serious. You’re important to me. I don’t want to rush things. It’s my hang up, there’s no need to burden you with it. If it happens, great, if not, I’m a big boy and I’ll get over it.”

I reached up to gently caress his cheek. “You’re not a burden to me, love. Tell me. After all, Ah might be wanting the same thing and why should we wait to make something we both want happen because we’re too afraid to say it?”

“Because you might not want it, and, honestly, I’m too selfish to risk what time I might have with you over it.”

“Ed,” I said softly. “You’re confusing me and, honestly, worrying me. Tell me. Ah don’t honestly think there’s anything you can say that will make me not want to be with you and give us both the fairest shot we can.”

“You want something between us to have a shot?”

“Naw, sugah, Ah’m one of those loose women your daddy told you about. Of course Ah do!” He sighed trying to calm his heart beat.

“Alright. What do I want from this? I want the house in the suburbs with the two car garage and a nine to five job. I want vacations on a shoe string while everything gets crammed in. I want a half dozen kids and a life time of waking up next to you.”

I gasped softly as the fullness of what he was saying sunk in. There are times I can be so completely blind. His lips were an inch from mine as he whispered. “I want you to be my wife.”

Then he was kissing me with the most intense mix of tenderness and explosive passion I’d ever known. As I lost myself in his kiss, I realized that my priorities in learning how do deal with my situation were completely reversed. Any sucker could put on a mask and fight crime. Being a super hero was easy. I had just had my eyes opened to what life was like being a woman.

I had no idea.

None.

And it terrified me.

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Chapter Eleven

The one good thing that can be said about Morning Watch is you get the next day off. After nothing further untoward happened Saturday night (big surprise there) Ed and I had retired to his place, courtesy of the Ginnevia express. Much as I might have wanted a passion filled replay of yesterday evening, the only thing sexual that happened was we got undressed and got into bed together.

Then we both promptly passed out.

Early the next afternoon, I awoke alone to the noises of the shower running and Ed’s baritone carrying from the bathroom. I floated out of his massive bed (the easiest way in or out of it I discovered) and flew towards the sound of his voice. I don’t think Frank Sinatra had this in mind when he’d first recorded Fly Me to the Moon. “Come on in,” he called, pausing from his gusty rendition. “Water’s perfect.”

Sneaking up on him was proving to be something of a challenge. One I would rise to the occasion for. Still, there was a hot shower with water from almost every direction with my lover waiting for me. Plots for surprising him could wait.

At the risk of making you all intensely jealous, the only word that can describe that shower is perfection. In short order I was completely wet, my muscles relaxed and sighing with contentment. “This is nice,” I whispered. He chuckled as he worked a tremendous glob of Mane and Tail into his hand.

“It gets better. Turn around.” I did so and tilted my head back as his strong fingers worked the shampoo into my scalp. I cannot describe how wonderful it is to have your hair washed. As a man, I’d just gotten the hair cut in the shortest and most expedient manner possible. Man had I missed out. Before I’d cursed it and contemplated asking Ginnevia who did her spiky bob number every other day when I’d washed it. Now there were thoughts of growing it out longer.

I’m not sure how long he massaged my hair, it took me almost ten minutes, but this shower seemed to have an endless supply of hot water. For the volume it put out, the water heater must be size of a tanker truck. “Not that I’m complaining,” I murmured, “but how much hot water is left? I’ve never been fond of the cold shower.”

“Never needed your libido cooled?” he asked casually.

“Don’t like having my nipples ache,” I replied. He chuckled again.

“Fear not, fair lady, we could stay in here till we were both prunes, the water will be the same temperature. Your nipples are safe with me.”

I snorted a laugh. “By what magic is this accomplished?” I asked. He pointed to a box on the wall beside the shower I could just barely make out through the steam and frosted glass of the shower stall.

“The magic of filament flash heaters. The only water coming here is cold. It’s separated just before that box, then what will be hot goes through it and is heated on demand. As long as we have electricity, we have hot water.”

“Neat,” I complimented from my pleasure filled haze.

“How are you?” he asked softly, turning me about to rinse off the shampoo. Damn it. As I worked the water through my hair to free it of the suds I thought how best to answer him.

“Still a bit sore, but otherwise fine. Don’t you worry a moment about it, Ed. You’re just a big boy and Ah’ll have to adjust.”

He grinned. “I’ll be happy to help you there,” he said with as much sincerity as he could muster up. Which is to say, not much. His smile faded as he asked softly, “I didn’t scare you last night, did I? I was a little punchy when you started digging. Otherwise I wouldn’t have said anything…” I reached up and put a finger across his lips.

“If you want to push me away, the easiest way is keeping secrets. Ah wanted to know what you were thinking. Truth is Ah was kind of dreaming about that mah self. Ah don’t know when movie making became a nine to five job, but Ah’m sure you’ll figure some way for that. Ah am not upset. Surprised. Pleased, Ah think, but not upset.”

He grinned as he kissed the finger I still had across his lips. “You can’t know what a relief that is to hear. Turn back around and I’ll condition it too.” I did so and was once more lost in pleasure. But, as there always was with me, a part was thinking about where this would go and if I was ready to be someone’s wife. What would I do if he asked that question instead of saying it was what he wanted? What if he gave me his mother’s ring?

I didn’t know what my answers would be and I wished I didn’t have to think about the future and let it spoil the pleasure I was getting now. My subconscious seemed to have an afterburner as a woman and was constantly thinking and plotting things out. It was maddening. I couldn’t lose myself in a moment any more. Well, not just any old moment.

Even as I became aware of the fact his washing of my skin was becoming more sexual and less hygienic I was still thinking about the whys and where fore’s of being Mrs. Filby. Is this what it meant to be a woman? To be constantly worried about the future to the near exclusion of enjoying the present?

I didn’t know. I had no basis for comparison. I didn’t really have anyone I could ask, either. Ginnevia, while well on the way to becoming my best female friend, I was a sexual object to. That would always cloud my judgment of her advice. There was a part of me that had lost some respect for my own mother over these new revelations, more to the point, I would never be comfortable discussing my sex life with her. Holly was something of kid sister so I had to maintain the appearance of the know it all, or at least know it mostly big sister.

Trust wasn’t a word I’d ever use in the same sentence as Regina again. There was no way I would risk having my personal crises be head line fodder. I needed a confidant. Some one who…

Edward slid ever so slowly into me and we were one once more. The center of my universe had returned and left no room for other thoughts.

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Important lessons for every new girl:

1) Water is not a lubricant!

2) Intercourse with a lover of ample endowment requires ample lubricant!

3) Sex in a shower, while arousing in a fantasy setting, has its own set of rules and cautions that should not be attempted by newly ex-virgins.

Oh well, at least we could laugh at ourselves. Ok, laughing could wait, where were we?

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Around three I took my leave of Mr. Filby and turned the Belle Mobile towards GSU. Ed was driving himself down to complete the editing work of the film Power Ball had so rudely interrupted. As I had an errand or two to run myself, we’d regretfully taken separate cars, but there had been more than one triple check of our dinner plans at nine. I was glad the leather seats of the Thunderbird had been so carefully and ergonomically engineered.

I was past sore and into ache.

My invulnerability protected me from inadvertent harm from the virile Mr. Filby, but he was huge. Stretching without tearing has its own problems I discovered. Once we’d relocated back to his bed, before we’d joined again I’d satisfied my curiosity about something. With him on top of me, I’d placed his manhood on my belly, just to see how far I was stretching. With his sizable scrotum at my crotch as though he was completely inside me, the tip of him was even with my navel.

I shuddered as I took my exit off of I75-85 and slowed through the maze of one way streets down town. As a man, while not worthy of a nickname like Tiny in the shower room, I knew I could never hold a candle to Ed. Now I was holding more than a candle and all of it at that. It was a sobering thought.

I needed help coming to grips with this. Help I couldn’t get from the Team, or my family, or even the shrink they’d sent me to for a week who kept prattling on about some Standards named after somebody named Ben. None of it had applied to me. I hadn’t asked for this. The shrink never seemed to pick up on that. I needed someone who could. That’s who I hoped I was going to meet.

I wasn’t sure why I’d done it, but I’d stopped off at home and changed to a wool knee length skirt, matching turtle neck sweater along with hose and ankle boots. Thus far, I wasn’t a big fan of women’s shoes. Few of them seemed to be made with any kind of strength to them. There was a comfortable ruggedness with boots. Even if moderately sexy ankle boots with a three inch heel.

I parked the car and made my way across the campus to the Student Center where I’d arraigned to meet Cindy.

Ed was right about that. A man never forgets his first. Cindy was mine.

We’d dated for about four months before it took place. While I knew I wasn’t, at the time, anywhere near Ed’s caliber of a lover in losing my own cherry, Cindy had been kind and a good teacher. I guess you could say I’d learned everything I knew from her. We’d stayed friends when we’d split, mostly due to class schedule pressures that pushed us apart. I was hoping she could be that confidant I needed.

I hadn’t been this nervous about seeing her since before I’d picked her up on the date where she’d told me in a sultry voice to bring ‘protection’. As you might expect, I saw her first. I was a bit ashamed with myself for instantly comparing the two of us. That wasn’t really fair. Super Heroine’s were really in their own Class in the looks department. Still, Cindy was cute in an Earthy and frank way. She wore her ebony hair the longest of my few girlfriends, and it was she who had first turned me on to that particular feature. Hers was currently in a braid down her back as she looked about for what was probably the old me.

Or a woman who looked like the old me.

“Hi Cindy,” I said as I stopped at conversational distance. She looked up in frank amazement.

Jennifer?” she demanded, her mouth hanging open. I smiled.

“The one and only. How are you?”

“I’m…well…damn! I’m jealous! Can I get a shot of whatever you got?” She stood, shorter than me for the first time in our relationship and hugged me.

“Ah don’t think you really want a shot of what Ah got. It has a lot of baggage with it.” She smiled. Cindy had the most beautiful smile. It lit up her eyes and took a girl next door face to radiant.

“Ok, I’ll buy into that. Is your accent stronger or is it just me?”

I nodded. “It’s stronger. Have you had lunch yet?” She shook her head and I gestured back the way I’d come. “Allow me then. Ah need a friend and Ah hope you don’t mind if Ah impose.”

She collected her book bag and followed my lead back to the parking deck. “You’re not imposing, Ji..Jen. I told you I’d be here for you. I love that out fit by the way and I must know where you got those boots.” Yep, Cindy was good people.

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We settled on the Varsity for lunch. It was close, fairly inexpensive and something of an Atlanta tradition. It had been built back in the fifties when drive in restaurants were very much in and fast food was something new. It hadn’t changed really since and while the food was rather heavy on the grease, it was comfort food. Besides, I didn’t need to watch my figure and Cindy decided she could splurge for a bit.

We sought out the quietest part of the place we could as I struggled for some lady like way to eat a hot dog covered in chili, cheese and coleslaw. There isn’t one, I discovered, so I concentrated on not getting it on my outfit. That, at least, was doable. “So,” asked Cindy after a gulp of Frosted Orange. “What’s on your mind?”

“Well, Ah’m not sure how to put this. Ah need a confidant. Ah don’t have anyone Ah can share mah problems with. Who can tell me how a woman deals with things. Ah don’t have the life experiences to draw on and since Ah am a woman now, Ah’m feeling… incomplete is the best way Ah can think of. Ah know that’s a tall order, but Ah honestly couldn’t think of anyone else to turn to.”

She blinked and took another sip. “Jennifer, I’m honored. I don’t know what to say. Nobodies ever really asked something that important of me.”

“Ah don’t mean to impose,” I started before she angrily gestured for me to stop.

“It’s not an imposition. We’re friends. We were lovers, for the love of Pete. You’ll always be important to me. But,” she said taking a bite of French fry. “I get the feeling there’s something specific you have in mind, right?”

“Well, yes. But Ah’m not sure how to tell you to get your advice without betraying any confidences from him.”

“Your secrets are safe with me, girl. I guess nobody has given you the lesson on the Girls Code yet. It’s Us against Them. You might have changed sides, but you’re Us now. Anything you tell me stays between Us.” I laughed around another bite of hot dog.

“Ok. Ah’ve been seeing someone…” I trailed off as her eyes went wide.

“Already?” she demanded. I blushed and nodded. “Go girl! Who is he? What’s he like?”

“You know him. Ed. Ed Filby.” I didn’t think her eyes could go any wider.

Cavalry? You don’t fool around, do you? Ok, what’s he like?” I grinned trying to think of how to describe what I was rapidly coming to believe was the perfect man. Before I could say anything she chuckled and asked drolly, “Oh, as good as all that, then?”

“Better!” I affirmed. “He’s a perfect gentleman; he makes a point to look me in the eyes when he talks to me…”

“Bonus points there,” she interjected.

“Ah’ve been friends with him for a while, from before so Ah know him pretty well.” I would have continued but she held up a cautioning finger.

“Nothing of what you know about him from before matters,” she said firmly. “Other than strict facts that can’t be argued, where he was born, things like that. When you hung out with him, he was hanging out with another guy, one of Them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disrespecting Ed. From what I’ve heard, both from you and others, it sounds like he’s one of the good ones who needs to be bred. But, we’ll get to that. What’s bugging you about him?”

“Well, he’s kind of fallen for me pretty hard.”

“How hard?” she pressed.

“Married with kids hard,” I told her. Her mouth fell open.

“He’s proposed? In a month?”

I shook my head as I drank, trying to order my thoughts better. “No, he hasn’t proposed. Well, it’s like this. Ah was having trouble with coming to grips with being a woman. Ah was asking damn near everybody who would listen how to deal with it. Then, my sensei and a girl friend on the team both told me the same thing from a different angle.”

“Which was?”

“Stop thinking about being a woman and just be one.” She nodded, her eyes asking her question. “Well, the girl friend is a lesbian who finally admitted she had a thing for me, but realized she wasn’t mah type. So she told me to seduce Ed.”

“Did you?” Cindy whispered. I nodded. “And…?” My grin could have lit up Atlanta. “As good as all that? Wow, good for him. Good for you! So, in the midst of post done it bliss he spills out his heart about all these plans he has for the woman who seduced him?” I shook my head with a chuckle.

“No. There was something that came up at work, and then we got Morning Watch. About five this morning, I decided we should talk about it, and in mah digging over what he felt he finally admitted to it.”

“So, he really hadn’t wanted to tell you, but you made him?” Again I nodded. “Good!” she beamed, evidently very pleased. She answered the look on my face. “If he had just started gushing, sweetie, and then he’s a clinger and you probably ought to get yourself away from him. But, he’s playing his cards close, but is a gentleman enough to give in when you press him on it. That’s a good sign! That he’s already thinking about the future with you means you’ve got your hooks in him pretty good. Well done!”

“So, you’re saying Ah shouldn’t be worried about it? What if he asks me and Ah’m not ready to answer?”

“Oh, sweetie, from the sounds of this he won’t work up the nerve to ask you before Christmas at the earliest. Although, around summer he might ask you to move in with him, maybe as soon as spring. Is he what you want? He sounds like he’s at the top of the keeper pile.”

I became a bit frustrated. “That’s mah problem, Cindy, Ah don’t know what Ah want!”

“Oh…” she breathed. “Well, how does he make you feel?”

“Huh?”

“How does he make you feel? It’s obvious he has manners and knows how to treat a girl. He’s a super hero so he’s got a steady job that will pay well, so he’s a good provider. He’s studying film so he has career aspirations above his day job as a fall back so he can plan. Materially, he sounds ideal. All that’s left is how does he make you feel when you’re around him?”

God, I felt like I’d been given the keys to the kingdom. Everything I’d ever wondered about the opposite sex was now laid out for me. I finally understood women, but the price tag for it was I was one now. Maybe I should write a book for all my ex-brothers out there.

I chewed thoughtfully on my hotdog as I tried to place my feelings into words. “Happy,” I said finally. “Safe, but scared. Like Ah’m comfortable, but Ah shouldn’t be. It’s like Ah’ve walked into class naked, but nobody has noticed and Ah’m terrified that they will, but everyone is so friendly and supportive Ah keep getting lulled into feeling comfortable. Does that make sense?”

She nodded after a moment. “He’s what you want, girl. I’m so happy for you!”

“Hold on now, Ah’ve barely been a woman for a month yet! How can Ah be sure about something as important as this?”

“You’re a woman, Jennifer. There’s never anything we can be sure about. You could go play the field, but it sounds like you hit the home run at your first at bat. I wouldn’t loose him if I were you.”

I would have asked her more about this matter but my beeper started going off. With a ragged sigh I took it from my purse and flipped it on. “This is Jennifer,” I told it.

It was Abin’s voice on the line. “Jennifer, we have a situation. How soon can you be here?”

“It’s mah day off!” I protested.

“I understand and I am very sorry. This is important.”

“Ah can be up there in about thirty minutes Ah guess. Ah have to drop someone off at GSU. Call Ed and have him meet me by the drop off at the student center. Ah’ll pick him up there.”

“Alright. We will see you shortly.”

“Abin, this better be end of the world stuff, or Ah’ll have your head on a pike.”

“I do not think your criteria will have difficulty in being met.”

That figures. Oh well, back to the salt mine.

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Ed and I made the trip back up to HQ in relative silence. He was complimentary about the Belle Mobile, but like me, annoyed we’d been called in. His film was due by Friday and it was only about two thirds edited and was yet to be scored. And speaking of scoring, it was a third of his grade for this semester. Along with every body else on the project. While responding to emergencies gave him some leniency in his attendance, missing a project deadline would be a bad thing.

As you might expect, the offices of the building were disserted on a Sunday. Although there were a fair number of cars in the parking lot, but as most of them had the stickers of our organization on them (no, I won’t tell you what they look like) I figured something fairly major was up.

This was confirmed by the presence of all of the auxiliaries in the Round Room when Ed and I arrived there and took our seats at the Active Member table. Geoffrey entered the room, still in his American Eagle get up, but without the helmet. He took the podium and banged the gavel. “This Emergency Meeting of the Stone Mountain Irregulars is called to order, if there is no objection, Roberts Rules of Order shall be disregarded for it.”

I probably shouldn’t have to say this, but no one objected. Geoffrey continued.

“My friends, my wife and I have thought long and hard over the objections that have been raised over the duality of my position here. We spent most of today talking about it. I hope you’ll forgive me for calling an emergency meeting, but I felt this couldn’t wait until our scheduled meeting next month. As a reminder, that meeting is on the twenty seventh of March.

“So, without further ado I must regretfully announce my resignation as President of this Organization.” There was a murmur of surprise that whispered through the assembled heroes. This was unexpected to say the least. Everyone, myself included had thought that Geoffrey would resign as the Liaison Officer.

A bang of the gavel returned order to the room. “Please, my friends, this is not a decision I have made lightly. I have been deeply honored to serve in this capacity, but I think there are many,” and he looked pointedly at me, “who would say I have done a better job as US Marshal and Liaison Officer, than I have as President. Looking back, I’m afraid I must agree.”

He collected his thoughts for a moment before going on. “Perhaps, it is time for some new blood and fresh ideas to be at the head of this Organization. Someone who can pull us out of the stagnation we have fallen into. There are desperate and dangerous times ahead of us. I would be the first to admit I’m probably too old fashioned to make the wisest choices for these new times.” A chorus of negative thoughts answered that statement. It was the Surge who spoke loudest.

“There isn’t a soul in this room who thinks you aren’t capable of leading this group, Geoffrey! Our issue is the conflict of interest!” The Marshall nodded thoughtfully.

“I know, Hank. Believe me; I am not taking anything about this personally. I do have a family to think about, and, honestly I’ll be glad to have a bit more time to spend with them. So, in keeping with our Charter when a standing President resigns between regular sessions, I must appoint a President Pro-Tem until the regularly scheduled meeting next month. The secretary shall please make note of the vote for permanent replacement in the Old Business Items for that meeting.”

He paused as the secretary made that note before locking eyes with me again. “That said, Ladies and Gentlemen; please join me in a round of applause for our President Pro-Tem, the Southern Belle.

I sat and stared as he walked from the podium and presented me with the gavel. There was silence as he did so. I took it woodenly then he started clapping loudly. After a moment, the others joined him, but our looks had said it all.

Think you’re so hot, bitch? Let’s see how you do. His had told me.

Ok asshole, you want it dirty? You’re on, mine had answered back. Well, there went my week. Looks like I’ll be having a cram session of Robert’s Rules of Order.

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Chapter Twelve

With quite a bit of comical ineptitude, I got the meeting closed. I can say with some pride that the remainder of the meeting didn’t turn into a gigantic fist fight between me and Marshal Graham. Still, it had been pretty close.

So, everyone goes home, wondering ‘What the hell was that all about?’

Except me.

Sunday is the Presidents’ day to man the monitors and respond to alerts. So not only do I get the shaft as far as a job I really didn’t want (of course there’s no provision in the Charter about refusing to serve as President Pro-Tem) but I also loose my day off. Odd, I just can’t seem to catch a break this month.

For his part, Ed volunteered to stay with me until it was turned over to the night crew at nine. We were sitting in the Situation Room, which looked basically like you’d expect it too, the master radio scanner going in the background as I read a paperback while he tried to think of his editing decisions based on the Production Notes and the Master Shooting Script he’d carried with him.

I felt bad about costing him yet more edit time from his film, but he wouldn’t leave. After all, as he’d said, the rest of the film crew had called it a day when he’d been called in. As the walls closed in I couldn’t loose myself in the paperback any more, so I marked my place, checked my watch, still four hours to go, and cleared my throat.

“Can Ah bother you for a minute?” I asked him. He immediately set aside his work and gave me his full attention.

“What’s up?” he asked. I couldn’t keep a smile from my face at the enraptured look on his face. Maybe Cindy was right. Maybe Ed was what I was looking for.

“Well, you’ve been doing this,” and I waved to take in the room and our situation in general, “longer than Ah have. Ah must confess Ah’m getting tired of the paper racking me over the coals over mah uniform. Ah was thinking about reworking it.”

“Oh?” he asked a somewhat surprised look on his face. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, Ah could use the Bonny Blue Flag,” I thought out loud. He looked confused.

“The what?”

“The Bonny Blue Flag, it was the unofficial flag of the Confederacy. Just a blue field with a white star in the center. It’s actually in use now by Somalia, but the Confederate Congress never ratified it. It was kind of a filler between when the States Succeeded and when the Confederate States were formed.”

“That might not be the message you want to send,” he said with a smile. “More to the point, short of a costume and mantle change, the paper’s aren’t going to come off your back. And if you did all that, they’d probably still roast you for being a turncoat or something. Have you thought about refining the costume you’re wearing now?”

I frowned. “Refining? What’s to refine?”

“Well, there are your boots for starters.”

“What’s wrong with mah boots?” I demanded.

“Well, I certainly wouldn’t know, but however comfortable combat boots might be, they’re not exactly flattering. Not to mention they kind of send a, well, mixed message. What about something a little more feminine?”

“Ah should worry about fashion while fighting crime?” I asked with a chuckle he joined me in.

“Well, here, let me show you.” He took me over to the mainframe and called up the mantle database. In it were photos, or at least computer rendered drawings of every costume and name either in use currently or had been in use. Due to the nature of the disease we all suffered from, new looks were kind of important if we wanted to have any kind of private life. That and it was generally a good thing to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. He narrowed the search to females and pulled up three at random. “See? Women heroes try for a look that is functional as well as broadcasting ‘hey, I’m a girl’ in a way. Combat Boots are more the providence of the male hero. Besides, it’s not like you need traction when you can fly.”

There was certain logic to his position. I filled through the database randomly where I discovered that, while in real life it was relegated to Sexual Fetishism, the thigh high leather boot was the foot wear of choice for the up and coming Super Heroine. On average, a heel of four inches seemed to be the rough median of what to be seen in.

Now, earlier in my life, I’d had posters of any number of some of these women on my walls, and while some where new, they certainly would have found a place on my wall if they had a poster contract, or I was in a position to look upon them with an emotion other than envy. “Ah guess Ah never thought about it,” I said. “You really think changing mah boots will get the paper off mah back?”

“Look at it this way,” he told me. “Newspapers are in the business of selling ads. What is a newspaper except an advertisement delivery device with some current events tossed in? While the skin tight jumper works for you, you cover your top with that jacket and the combat boots do nothing for your legs. And honey, you’ve got great legs. If you femme it up a bit, the primary purchaser of Newspapers (men aged 22 to 66) get a little eye candy as they find out how their team did, or how their stocks are doing. Down side. Upside, they get to like and identify with their eye candy so when the paper keeps raking you over the coal over the outfit that they love to see you in, they get angry. They write angry letters. Advertisers, worried about their ad dollars being wasted, write angry letters and tell the paper to knock it off.”

“End result, every body likes you; you’re selling newspapers and the AJC stops giving you grief over your outfit.”

“That has to be the most Machiavellian scheme Ah’ve ever heard,” I told him. He grinned.

“Yeah, but trust me, it will work.”

“Of that, Ah have no doubt. Ah’m glad you’re on our side. So, what do you suggest?”

He did a detailed search of the mainframe pulling up four heroines I was only marginally aware of, two from New York, one from LA and one from Seattle. “I know you have trouble with statistics, so stop me if I’m going too fast. You know these four?”

“Marginally, why do you bring them up?”

“Well, they’ve all started within the last three months. I picked these four as they have the most suggestive costumes the regulations will let them get away with. Notice anything else?”

“Ah’m prettier than all of them,” I quipped.

He nodded. “Yes, but they also follow a couple of basic patterns. The boots for one, nothing to obscure the fact they’re all in the super model league and in spandex as well as a way of carrying themselves.”

“You’re talking about the ‘take me Ah’m yours’ stance?” I asked him.

“In a way. The reason I bring these four up is she has five clothing endorsements, she is getting her own line of boots that are variations on this basic theme, she’s on the short list for Miss America this year and she has four ad agencies competing over her. They’re all making six figures in endorsements above the rookie pay. See where I’m going?”

“You really think just losing mah jacket and changing mah boots will solve mah problems?”

“It won’t make them worse,” he said. “Besides, I will certainly get to appreciate more of your remarkable beauty.” I punched him in the arm.

“Ah had you figured for being into this kinky stuff,” I told him with a smile.

“Guilty as charged. Speaking of kinky, you coming over to my place tonight?” With a sad frown I shook my head.

“Actually, Ah was thinking about calling mah mom and inviting her out tomorrow. Maybe Ah’ll take your advice and look into some changes in the foot wear department. Maybe more, Ah don’t know yet. Can we get together tomorrow night?” He nodded.

“Just promise me you’ll wear your new boots for me. I want to be the first to see them on you.” A sly grin lit up my face.

“You’re a naughty boy, Mr. Filby. And Ah love you for it.” His grin was genuine in its lustful appreciation of my charms. “You want to get out of here?” I asked suddenly. “Ah have the worst kind of cabin fever. Let’s do a patrol.”

“Somebody has to mind the radio,” he said after a moment of thought.

“We can forward it to the communicators, can’t we? Surely with all of this technology, our communicators have text messaging.” He chuckled as he bent to tap a command into the console. My beeper vibrated against my hip in its protective carrier. I took it out to read a note telling me the alerts had been forwarded. “Well, what are we waiting for?”

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What ever else it has in faults, Atlanta is a beautiful city at dusk. As I carried Ed at somewhere around five hundred feet, I was struck by the beauty of the sun sinking into the Alabama horizon, back lighting the skyscrapers. We flew in a lazy spiral, roughly following the belt that circled the city that was I285. It was a lovely evening that made me very happy in a vague way.

Along the way we helped move an accident out of the travel lanes of the interstate and got one of the H.E.R.O trucks there a bit faster to sort things out. Not exactly end of the world stuff, but in a way, it was the kind of thing the South used to be about. One neighbor helping out another. I signed my first autograph along the way, which was kind of special.

It was the kind of evening this job ought to be about.

It gave me quite a bit to think about later. I did wish for a Walkman to give me some kind of music to go along with it other than the wind. A sun set as spectacular as that deserved a musical score.

Otherwise, it was shaping up to be a pretty quiet evening. This of course meant something had to happen. My first clue was a news chopper that zipped by us as fast as it could go, without stopping to get a shot of us.

Hmm, something was up.

I changed course and caught up with the chopper while tapping on the door with my free hand.

Mental note, tapping on helicopter doors while they’re in flight is a good thing not to repeat.

Boy did I give the pilot a start. He did open his window to answer my yell of, “What’s going on?”

“The Doraville Fuel Depot caught fire!” He yelled back. Oh shit! I gave him a wave of thanks, and picked up the pace to begin to outdistance the chopper. The Doraville Depot was one of about ten such facilities around town that supplied gasoline to the innumerable gas stations around the city. It wasn’t hard to spot the fire; the cloud of black smoke was on its way to the stratosphere.

I angled us in to the largest clutch of fire department vehicles at the edge of the Depot. “Who’s in charge here?” I asked as we alighted. I got to give these guys credit, this was a big dangerous fire, and there was still order as they worked to get it under control.

“Chief’s up that way,” someone shouted, pointing to a pavilion that had been set up hastily to protect electronics from the ridiculous amount of water being sprayed. Ed and I quickly made our way there.

“How can we help?” I asked the man at the center of the ordered chaos in the pavilion. The chief almost kept the look of derision off his face.

“This isn’t a Law Enforcement matter,” he snapped.

“Look,” I said with as much calm as I could. “Ah’m not here to step on anybodies toes. Cavalry and Ah were in the area and we’re both invulnerable. So, if we can help, let us. This isn’t about ego!”

The chief was about to get his argue on, but one of his lieutenants tapped the map of the Depot rather loudly. “What?” I asked. The lieutenant fearfully looked to the chief who sighed and turned back to me.

“The manual dump override. It’s right there,” he said pointing. It’s frozen up from the heat, and we can’t get to it. It will pull the gas from the tanks nearest to the fire to the secure tank on the other side here. We’re worried about them blowing just from the heat of the tank that’s already on fire, but we can’t get to it, and the computer stuff has already melted.”

“Ok, what do Ah have to do?” I asked.

“Hang on,” interjected Ed. “It’s got to be, what four or five thousand degrees there?”

“Not that bad, yet,” said the lieutenant, “But, yeah, it’s getting hot.” Fire fighters evidently have a talent for understatement.

“Ah can handle it,” I told Ed, not really sure, but, having those other two tanks blow would be like dropping a really big bomb here. I turned back to the lieutenant. “What’s it look like and what do Ah have to do?”

He drew a quick sketch. “It’s labeled Emergency Dump Master. Just turn the handle counter clockwise till it stops turning.” I nodded.

“Can somebody give me a SCBA? Ah still have to breathe.”

Ed pulled me off to one side as a runner was sent for an oxygen tank. “Whoa, Belle, this is dangerous. You don’t know if you can get close enough to that pump to do anything! And if you pass out, it’s too hot for me to come get you.”

“Ah can barely feel anything, Sugah,” I told him. “If it’s too much, Ah’ll pull back, k?” The look on his face made it plain he wasn’t ok with it, but didn’t really have a choice. The runner came back with tank, giving me the SCBA for Total Idiots in a rush. Then I got the tank on and took off.

The updraft over the plant was enormous. It cared up to almost a thousand feet before I could get past the hot spot and work towards where the valve I was trying to get to. Once I was sure I was as on target as I could be, I got head down and dived.

My God it’s hot!

I felt it at five hundred feet and it was only getting worse the closer I got to the ground. I was still a hundred feet up when I had to stop. It hurt. This pipe maze didn’t make it any easier to figure out something else to do. I got some more altitude to cool off a bit and got out the radio. “It’s too hot!” I shouted into it. “Is there something else we can do?”

“We’ll just have to get some more water on the fire,” came the Chief’s voice. I looked over to the line of gas tankers some distance from the fire. I quickly flew over there.

My arrival evidently was the height of the driver’s collective day. “Are any of these tankers empty?” I demanded quickly.

“Mine is,” said one of the drivers, leading me over to his tanker at a trot. He unhitched his trailer as quickly as he could. I got under it and lifted carefully. It was heavy, and also extremely awkward, but I could keep my grip on it.

“Ah’ll bring it right back, Sugah,” I told him to his grin as I took off once more. It’s a good thing the Chattahoochee River was so close by. As I flew down, I had a bit of a pang, unsure if the residue of gas in the tanker might damage the water system.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really have much of a choice. Filling this thing normally would take a long time. I landed on the 285 bridge over the river to more than one stare of the Sunday drivers. My radio was screaming at me as I flew up to open the top hatch. I had to ignore it. Picking the tanker up again, I flew over the water and took my proverbial dive; just slowly.

I heard the water suck into the tanker above me as I held it canted up stream, hoping I wouldn’t do too much damage. The tanker started getting heavy. As it got close to being too heavy for me to lift, I flew back up out river.

Wow, this is heavy.

I got over the fire, fighting the updraft and carefully tipped the tanker over. I wasn’t sure how much the tanker could hold, but a lot of water came out. I felt the heat come down noticeably. I flew back to the river for another load.

It took me four trips before the heat was down enough for me to quickly set the tanker down and get close enough to the handle to turn it. Still it was very hot. I heard the pump crank up with a whine and hoped that tank would drain quickly.

I was more than a bit woozy when I picked up my borrowed tanker to return to the driver. As I set it down to the applause of the drivers I leaned up against it to stabilize myself. “Ah even washed it for you…” I started before the world went sidewise.

The darkness that came as I distantly felt one of the drivers catch me was warm and comfy.

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It was night when I came to. I was on a stretcher over by the command tent, a paramedic taking my pulse. “Just rest easy,” he told me as I struggled up to a sitting position. The Chief came over, huge grin on his face.

“You alright, little lady?” he asked.

“Chief, I need to get her to a hospital,” the paramedic told him.

“They can’t help me,” I said weakly. “Did it work?”

“Yes. We’ve got it under control now. Belle, I, uh, well; you can work with us anytime. That was a hell of an improvise.”

“Yes, it was,” said another voice. I looked over my shoulder to see the American Eagle watching me through that macabre mask of his. The Chief and the paramedic withdrew to give us a bit of privacy. “Well done,” he complimented.

“Thank you. Ah suppose it would have come off better if Ah hadn’t passed out.”

“Well, seeing as how that tanker you were hauling around was about five tons heavier than what you’re supposed to be able to lift, I think you can be forgiven a fainting spell.”

“Whoa,” I whispered.

“This is the part where you tell the jackals we don’t give interviews, Madam President,” he said with a glance at the clutch of reporters chomping at the bit to get over to us and fire questions.

“Lucky me.” I thought for a moment, before asking him. “Why don’t we give interviews?”

He looked back down at me. “The Irregulars did before I joined. Coming from the Marshall’s Office, I was used to not talking to them, so I felt that was more professional. You’re in charge for the time being, so feel free to change whatever you like.”

“You don’t deal well with criticism, do you?” I asked him.

“I don’t deal well with lawlessness. This disease is capable of destroying everything you and I hold dear. It has to be contained. The laws do that, whether we like them or not. Nothing I ever said or did to you was personal.”

Hmm, that didn’t sound right, but there was no way I was going to get into argument with him in front of every network’s cameras, many of which were probably feeding live. “Well, help a girl up, would ya?” He gently helped me to my feet and followed as I approached the waiting media circus. For a change, they were quiet as we got there, only thrusting microphones at us. “Ah have a brief announcement,” I told them.

“At his request, the American Eagle has resigned as President of the Stone Mountain Irregulars to have more time with his family. Ah have accepted the duties of President, temporarily until our regularly scheduled meeting next month.” The scribbling into pads was actually loud. “Ah would, at this time, like to call your attention to the heroic efforts of the Atlanta Fire Department for containing this blaze. While it is still a terrible tragedy, their efforts kept it from becoming a disaster. Thank you.”

As I turned to walk away, one of the reporters called out, “Southern Belle, do you not have anything to say about your own efforts in fighting the fire or your injury in doing so?”

“Ah was not really injured, just over exerted mah self. As far as mah small contributions to this effort, Ah did what Ah think anyone in mah situation would have done. Good night, all.”

For once they didn’t throw questions at us as we left. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that something this big would have rounded out the squad. The others looked at me with something like a quiet respect as I stepped onto the disk Gravity provided. I was far too tired to fly on my own.

Ed offered his brawny shoulder to lean on which I accepted silently. As we flew homeward, he rumbled, “You had me scared shitless.”

“Ed,” said the Eagle softly from his perch on the disk. “Let her be. She’s tired and she’s earned a break.”

His hug was welcome and I wished I had the strength to return it. “Can somebody work up a Press Release on this?” I asked weakly.

“Sure,” was Regina’s instant response. “Got you covered. Anything besides the fire?”

“Play down me and play up the Fire Department,” I muttered. “Probably ought to go ahead and summarize Geoffrey stepping down to have more time with his kids.” I locked eyes with Spirit Wolf, focusing what strength I had into that gaze. “And Regina, that was the way of it, right?”

“Yes, Madam President,” she replied without rancor.

“Abin, Ah know it’s not the schedule, but Ah’d like you and Ginnevia to house sit tomorrow, alright? Give Ed a chance to finish his movie and pass that class. Unless either one of you has something major going on too?”

“I can handle it,” said Ginnevia quickly. “Don’t worry, Boss, we’ll get it done.”

“Ah’m not anybodies boss,” I muttered. I was so tired, and I still had to call mom. “Ginnevia, can you pop me home please. Don’t worry about the damn reports tonight guys. Just go home and get some rest, Ah’ll set up tomorrow.”

Ginnevia touched me and suddenly I was in my apartment. “You get some sleep,” she ordered me. I nodded and she was gone. I sat for a moment, too tired to do much of anything, except stare at the phone. Well, it wasn’t going to call on its own.

I reached over, picked it up and dialed.

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(Continued in Mother and Daughter Reunion, Belle of the Ball Annual Number One! E.)

Annual Number One

The phone rang in my ear as I worked on keeping my courage up. On the third ring it was answered and I heard dad’s voice. I’m not sure why, but I was disappointed. I wondered how much he knew of the revelations I’d just had about Mom. It had to be bad enough both his wife and his only son, now his only daughter were in the superhero business. Best not to burden him with what were thus far hearsay allegations of infidelity. “Hello?” his voice asked in my ear, snapping me back from my musings.

“Hi dad, it’s Jennifer.” His tone brightened almost at once in a way that made my heart glow.

“How are you Jenny?” I frowned and tried to keep it from my voice. Dad had never been into pet names before. Even when I’d first gotten into High School and went on a kick for a year of being ‘James’ instead of ‘Jim’. He’d respected that. When I’d given up, his only comment when I went back to just ‘Jim’ was a raised eyebrow from his paper.

“Ah’m alright dad. How are you?” I asked. To cut right to what I really wanted, speaking with mom, would have been rude. I found that my change in gender had elevated my consideration of manners and polite society in general.

“As well as I can expect, I suppose,” he drawled. “I got a call from the Union today, they want me to consider taking up a job as the Rep down at the Plant.” The Plant was Lockheed-Martin’s Air Craft Assembly Facility at Dobbins Air Force Base. Dad had retired early, but was still active in the goings on.

“Are you thinking about going back to work?” I asked, genuinely curious. Dad had worked hard to retire early. And he’d only been retired for a year now. It seemed odd that he would consider something like this.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” he answered. “Actually I’m flattered they still remember me.”

“Dad, that’s a load of BS, you know they’ll be having trouble finding their collective ass with both hands since you’ve gone,” I teased him and for the first time since I’d had my life take it’s little three sixty, he chuckled at something I’d said. That was a good sign.

“I think my family over estimates my worth, but I’ll be gracious enough not to argue. How are things with you, honey?” This was an odd conversation.

“Ah got a promotion at work, of a sort,” I drawled. Truth be told I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of being made President Pro Tem of the Irregulars since Geoffrey’s resignation. My first take had been anger at a spiteful jab. But, in my conversations I’d had afterward I had learned that while Geoffrey was a good many things, Spiteful generally wasn’t considered one of them.

Which made his decision to stick me with the Presidency all the more confusing.

“Oh?” Dad asked. “Your mother seemed to think it was a rather prestigious post, but I gather you don’t. Interesting. Anything you’d like to talk about Sweetheart?”

“Dad? What’s with the pet names?” I demanded finally. There was a moment of silence that drug out awkwardly.

“Do they bother you?” he asked softly.

Bother? Ah don’t know if that’s the word Ah would use. They’re just out of character for you. Jenny Ah guess Ah can’t argue with much, but the other two? What’s up?” He actually chuckled.

“Well, to tell you the truth, Jenny, they probably don’t sound as strange as they are for me to say. Your mother and I had this long talk about how we should try to help you adjust to your situation. So I got to thinking about what life would have been like if you’d just been born this way. Made for some interesting imaginings, let me tell you! In a way, I honestly regret some of the things we won’t ever have a chance to do. But, being honest with myself, I realized that I probably would have a stable of pet names I would have called my daughter. I’m sorry if they bother you, I was just trying to help.”

I felt a tear roll down my face as I imagined my father, devastated at the loss of his only son, bravely trying to imagine she had always been a girl for the sole purpose of making his new daughter feel more comfortable. I’d never felt more touched in my entire life. “Ah love you, daddy,” I whispered.

“I love you, Jennifer,” he returned his normally steady voice just a touch wavering with emotion. “But, I’m sure you didn’t call to listen to your old man babble on about his day dreams. Hold on while I get your mother.” Before I could argue the point with him I heard him put the phone down and walk through the house calling for Mom.

I felt my anger wash up anew that this kind, thoughtful man might not have been enough for my mother. I tried to console myself that this was in fact only rumor at this point, but my newly formed pessimistic nature was loudly extolling the virtues of the so-called facts on hand. I had to work to keep my tone civil when I heard her breathlessly pick up the phone. “Hello, sweetheart! I’ve got it, dear, thank you,” she called to dad.

“Hi Mom,” I said, hoping I’d achieved the light, casual tone I’d attempted. “How are you?”

“I’m alright,” she smiled into the phone. Mom has a smile that flows into her voice. I can always hear it. “I’m glad to hear from you. Nothing’s wrong, is it?”

“No, this isn’t an official call or anything. Ah was just wondering if you were doing anything tomorrow?”

“No, why?”

“Well, Ah need to do some shopping and Ah thought you and Ah…”

“What a wonderful idea!” she exclaimed. “What are you looking for? Anything specific? Ah wish they would have called me on your first trip. I hope that Ginnevia didn’t load you down with some of her so-called fashions. She’s a sweetheart, but the girl has no eye for clothes. Anything of hers’ would look awful on you…”

“Actually, mom, Ginnevia’s got a pretty good eye.” Lingerie especially… “But, Ah do need a few things, especially for the meeting coming up and a few more casual things and Ah’ve been thinking about re-working mah costume…”

“What for?” she demanded.

“Mom, do you not read the papers? Ah get raked over the coals….”

“No,” she interrupted, “I don’t read that rag. They gave me the same grief back then and I’m not a bit surprised they’ve only gotten more rabid about it. You have to stand tall, Jennifer. You’re a Super Heroine now. You have the potential to change how our history is perceived. You’re doing a wonderful job, sweetheart. Keep it up!”

“Well, Ah was thinking it could use some accessories, and a few other things,” I said, trying to regain control of the conversation. “If you’re not busy Ah was thinking Town Center Mall around ten tomorrow.”

“Ten would be lovely, dear. Where would you like to meet?”

“Ah guess the food court would be easiest. Maybe this time Ah won’t do a million dollars of damage.”

“You didn’t,” she said firmly. “And I’ll be there.”

We said our good byes and I returned the phone to its cradle as I sat on my bed in my quiet apartment. For the first time in two days I was going to be sleeping alone. As I sat on the edge of the bed and warred with myself for a few minutes. I couldn’t keep my thoughts from straying to Ed.

God, Ah miss him.

The room seemed so alone and empty. It wasn’t just that there were almost none of my own things in it. There was a feeling almost like being in a motel room. This was my bedroom, supposedly my inner sanctum. Yet it was cold and bland, with only a few nick nicks from the dorm scattered about.

None of my posters seemed right on the walls I’d picked for them. They sat in a neat pile in one corner. The girly one’s I’d left for Louis. My gender wasn’t the only thing confused just now.

I desperately wanted to get in my car and drive to Ed’s and spend the night warm against him.

I am an adult, damn it!

Here I am acting like a teenager with a terminal case of puppy love. Yes, it was a great way to get used to being a woman. Yes, it was the best sex I’d ever had. Yes, he was kind and thoughtful and gentle and smart and…

I gave up and put on the red silk camisole and panty set I’d worn to seduce him. It still smelled of him. Inhaling the scent as deeply as I could, I crawled under the covers of my bed and fell asleep.

Yes, I dreamed about him all night. They were wonderful dreams.

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I arrived at the mall the next morning at nine forty. I was glad I’d set my alarm so early as I’d fretted for over an hour on what to wear on my first day of shopping with my mother. It also gave me time to drink the double shot cappuccino I’d bought on the way and have a cigar to try to calm my nerves. For those who care I’d settled on jeans and a fairly plain white and blue rugby shirt under my leather bomber and sneakers. Yes, plain, I know, but I figured I’d be in and out of clothes all day and these seemed fairly easy to get in and out of.

I gathered a strange look or two as I sat on the smoker’s bench savoring my morning coffee and indulgence, but I couldn’t have cared less. My nerves were in too much of a state to care about what other people thought of me.

As I lost myself in the simple pleasures of nicotine and caffeine I was rudely brought out of my reverie by a coarse voice whose commanding sentence I’d missed. As I brought myself back to the here and now, I noticed some of the women who worked at the mall hurrying inside, casting fearful looks my way.

I was surrounded by three average to large sized men who were all evidently going for the ‘ghetto fabulous’ look; sweat shirts with the hoods up, sweat pants and three hundred dollar sneakers. All of them wore ridiculously large gold chains, though they affected tough poses, they were all just boys, really. I was probably older than one or two.

I swear, I’m going to stop coming to this mall. Twice is getting to be too much.

I felt a buzz in the back of my mind that the women scurrying into the mall were terrified for me. That was certainly something to think about later as I looked up at the baby faced one front of me with his pale blue eyes and shockingly blonde hair. “What was that, sweetie?” I asked. The Eminem wannabe seemed cross.

“I said gimme your purse, sister!” he growled.

I shook my head with a chuckle. “Sugah, mah purse just won’t go with that outfit. You need something more casual than black leather for that.”

“You think this is funny?” he demanded, producing a snub nosed thirty eight revolver from the pocket of the sweat shirt. The smile left my face. Purse snatching just became armed robbery.

“No, sweetie, I think this is hysterical. I think you three are about to royally screw up your lives and you’re just this side of real trouble.”

“This bitch talks too much, D, just do her!” said the one to my right. ‘D’ seemed hesitant so I kept my focus on him.

“You really want to spend the next ten years in a cell with a big, bald biker when you’re the closest thing to a woman to come his way in twenty years?” I asked. “Put the toy away, Sugah. Ya’ll picked the wrong girl to rob this morning.”

“Why is that?” demanded the one on my left.

“For one thing, Ah’m a cop,” I said as I felt their faces get even paler. “For another…” And I floated to my feet off the bench, rooting them to the spot in amazement. “…Ah’m a super cop. Just hand me the pistol, D, you can’t hurt me with it, so don’t make this any tougher than it has to be.” I put the cigar in my mouth to free my hand I held out to him.

“Fuck this! Do her D!” Right hand shouted again. With out taking my eyes of ‘D’ I snapped out two fingers braced together at Right’s collar bone. I was careful not to break it, but he still gurgled and wilted like a flower. Left made to run, but as I was still floating ever so slightly off the ground, I hooked my leg around his feet and tripped him up. He hit the pavement face first and knocked himself out.

‘D’ handed me the thirty eight, grip first. “Sit,” I ordered. He crumpled. “Good boy. Let’s have some ID. Any other weapons?” He shook his head fearfully. The thirty eight was in bad shape, probably something they found in a field or paid far too much for. They probably would have hurt themselves if they’d actually used it. As I had thought, as I looked over the ID’s David (AKA the Brainless D) produced they were all younger than me, and, from their addresses, came from well off parents.

Kids today.

Once they were all handcuffed to the concrete bench I got out my beeper and tuned it to Cobb County PD’s frequency. “Sierra Seven, County,” I told it.

“Go ahead,” said a female voice on the other end.

I struggled to remember the ten code we’d been given. “Roll one unit code three Town Center Mall Food Court Entrance and copy 10-27’s on three white males License numbers XXX-XXX-XXXX, XXX-XXX-XXXX, and XXX-XXX-XXXX.”

“Stand by Sierra Seven.”

“Clear,” I told the unit. Right hand, who was known as William to his parents started to cry.

“Alpha 14, County, be advised I’m in route to 59 with Sierra Seven,” said a male voice from the radio.

“10-4. County, Sierra Seven.”

“Go Ahead.”

“10-27’s come back David ------, William -----, Mathew ----, valid, negative twenty nines addresses correct.” Well, at least they weren’t already wanted for something.

“10-4 county; show me as three in custody, code four.”

“Oh, not you too,” came my mothers voice. I turned to see her approaching, a frown on her face directed at the cigar in my hand. She noticed the three boys handcuffed. “What’s this?”

I got my badge from my purse and showed it to her. “Nothing to worry about ma’am, have a nice day.” She caught on quick, nodding and retreated a ways away, playing up the curious on looker. At least I got to enjoy the remainder of my cigar as a Cobb County Unit rolled up to me, only turning on his lights as he stopped. “Morning sergeant,” I called as he got out, something of a grin on his face.

“Sierra Seven I presume?” he asked, walking up. I extended my free hand.

“Call me Jennifer,” I told him around the cigar.

“Ok, Jennifer, what ‘cha got this morning?”

“Three gangsta wannabes who listened to one album too many. Right now we’re looking at attempted Armed Robbery.” I lowered my voice conspiratorially so they couldn’t hear. “Though I’d like to get that dropped to Attempted Robbery if possible.” I handed him the thirty eight after I’d emptied it into an evidence bag he provided.

“Glad they didn’t actually try to use this. I haven’t seen a piece this beat up in a while.” He turned to the boys. “Where did this come from?” he demanded, all joviality gone from his voice. David immediately told us a pawn shop that was probably about to loose it’s license where he’d paid five hundred dollars for a revolver that wasn’t worth fifty.

I became a bit angry. “If you could afford a five hundred dollar gun, why on God’s Green Earth are you holding me up?”

He mumbled something about ‘street rep’ and I nearly lost my temper. “You have damn near everything handed to you, but it’s not enough? Ah ought to press you for everything Ah can think of. Do you know what you get for Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer?”

“I didn’t touch you…!” protested David, who evidently had enough schooling to know what Assault meant.

“Producing a weapon against a police officer is Aggravated Assault,” snapped the Sergeant. “Not to mention possession of a fire arm in the commission of a forcible felony, Possession by a Minor and Fraudulent Purchase. Hell, I ought to charge you with criminal stupidity and pissing off the police!” he glared at them, and then turned towards me so his back was to them so he could grin. “As the arresting officer, how would you like this handled, Jennifer?” he asked casually. I crossed my arms to think about it, mostly for their benefit.

“If this were the fifty’s Ah’d say we just needed to have a talk with their parent’s. But, as it’s not, let’s let them bail them out. Maybe that will give them a warning they won’t ignore.” The sergeant nodded before he turned back to my would be robbers.

“On your feet,” he ordered. In short order, my ‘cuffs were returned, his had replaced them and they were in the back of his car. Now all three of them were balling. “Kids,” he muttered. “I’m glad nobody was hurt,” he told me.

“Ah’m glad it was me and not one of these girls coming to work. You give them the scare of their lives, sergeant. Maybe we can scare these idiots straight.”

“No worries there, Jennifer. Can I reach you at the HQ?” I nodded. “Alright, I’ll see their booked on something serious enough to get their parents attention. If we need anything else I’ll be in touch.”

“I’ll fax over the arrest report before five,” I told him. Well, today was off to a stellar start as I took my leave of the sergeant to my waiting mother. Hopefully that unpleasant incident would be the low water mark of the day.

At least I hoped so.

As I walked up to she was just barely containing a chuckle at my predicament. “Was that what I thought it was?” she demanded. I took a final drag on my cigar before disposing of it in the canister the mall provided.

“Yes. Three idiots throwing their lives away. How are you this morning?”

“Having a better morning than you are, evidently,” she said with a smile. She took my arm and led the way into the Mecca of Capitalism and Feminism. “So, where first? You said you had some things you needed…?”

I nodded and led the way to a shoe repair shop that also did custom work. “Ah need something new to wear with it on mah feet.” She nodded as we waited in the line. The change of foot wear was actually Ed’s suggestion. While the combat boots were comfortable and serviceable, they lacked a sense of style that a Super Heroine should have. Having checked over the costume database at work, I realized he did have something of a point. Still, the concept of what I was contemplating was making me a bit uneasy.

Of course, if they had the desired result on our Dear Mr. Filby, they were worth their weight in whatever substance you’d care to name.

“How can I help you?” asked the clerk once it was our turn. I showed him my badge.

“Ah need some new foot wear for mah uniform, ya’ll familiar with it?” The clerk, about thirty and cute enough in a kind of frumpy cobbler way nodded with a smile.

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well,” I hesitated, feeling mother’s eyes on me. “Ah was thinking of black leather boots, three inch heel, but I need the heel to be one solid piece.” He nodded.

“How much traction will you need?” he asked as he made notes on his computer.

“Comfort is more important than traction,” I told him. I could fly after all.

“How high did you want these?” I swallowed, in for a penny, in for a pound.

“Mid thigh with retention straps at the knee and ankle.” That brought a grin to the clerks face only a true foot fetishist would wear.

“I, I’ll need to take your measurements…” he started, but was decidedly crestfallen when I handed the slip of paper from my purse which had the complete stats of both feet separately as well as the length of my legs to where I wanted the boots to fall. “How soon do you want these?” he pouted. Get your jollies some where else, sport. At least you get to make them.

“Ah expect to be leaving the mall around two,” I told him, handing him my expense card.

That kind of rush job is expensive…” he started. I smiled a sweet smile for him.

“Sugah, if Ah had to ask how much, Ah couldn’t afford it in the first place.” There are parts of this super hero gig that are much nicer than others.

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From the shoe place, mom and I headed to a new store in the mall that I’m honestly surprised no one had thought of before. It was called Mothers and Daughters, kind of mix of professional, semi-formal clothes, for the Moms out there, as well as some fairly cutting edge casual looks for the Daughter in all of us as the sign said. They were built around this kind of Dynamic Duo shopping. The music was a slightly off beat variety; somewhere between my generation and moms’ so neither of us particularly liked it.

The help fell into both age ranges, both of whom were taking a fairly hands off view of things as we started with some light browsing. I was looking with some trepidation at a collection of leather mini-skirts which I had on fairly reliable sources no young woman should be without. As I contemplated wearing something that left that much out on display, I began to wonder if I should be without it. “That would set off your legs nicely,” said mom as she caught sight of what I was looking at.

“Ah would have thought you’d never want to see me in something this short,” I mused as I eyed the nine inches of constructed cow hide with some disdain.

“Oh, don’t be a prude,” said Mom with a grin. “I wore a skirt or two a good bit shorter in my day. We cave women invented the miniskirt, you know. Besides, your Dad will be saying longer! Longer! So one of your parents should take your side.”

“Ah don’t know which side is mine,” I chuckled, putting the skirt back for the time being. Maybe I should look at tops for a bit.

“What?” she chided me. “How do you think I caught your father? You know, we didn’t really find you under a cabbage patch…” I froze as she brought up her pursuit of dad. As I looked back at her, struggling as fast as I could to figure out some way to put her off this scent, I saw that keen intellect of hers click behind her eyes. “Is that what this is all about?” she demanded flatly.

“Mah uneasiness of mah mother discussing her sex life? Absolutely not!” I quipped, hoping she’d buy it. She wasn’t quite convinced yet, I could see, so I became enraptured with a white linen peasant blouse with a neck line I’d never consider wearing in public. “What do you think?” I asked as I held it up to my neck.

“I think you’d never wear it, which is a shame,” she said, the activity we were bantering in recovering some of her good mood. “Honestly, Jenny what possessed you to wear that…mannish outfit today?”

“Well,” I said sheepishly, “Ah knew Ah’d be trying on a lot of things, and this seemed easiest to get in and out of.” I put the blouse back on the rack. “Besides, Ah prefer to think of mah self as a tom boy.”

“That’s not a good thing,” was her firm retort. She selected a pink, pink halter and lace thing and held it up to my chin. “What’s your size again?” she asked thoughtfully.

“Ah’m a twelve won’t ever wear that in mah life.”

“Why?” she demanded. “Pink plays well with your complexion and really livens up your hair. I like what you’re doing with it these days. How did you manage that windblown look?”

“It’s complicated,” I assured her. Retreating from the pink thing I picked up a cashmere turtleneck sweater that spoke volumes of comfort to me. It was a desert tan that was lovely. And, my subconscious was quick to point out, a perfect color match for the miniskirt.

“How do you feel about silk?” asked mother nonchalantly as she held up a delicate looking dress that looked like a stiff breeze would destroy. I was over come with a coughing fit from the embarrassment her question triggered. She looked at me sidelong, a sardonic look of amusement on her face. I had the terrified notion she knew exactly how I felt about silk.

“It’s ok,” I temporized, trying to regain my composure. “What about this?” I asked, holding up the turtleneck. She sighed with frustration.

“Jennifer, you’re a beautiful young woman. Why are you constantly trying to hide that?”

Maybe I was going about this all wrong, I thought to myself. “Ah have always agreed with Hugh Heffner, mom. It’s not about what’s shown, but what’s hidden. Take this sweater for instance. Yes, it’s long sleeved and turtleneck. It’s also cashmere, which, if Ah work the size right, no one will have the slightest doubts about how good Ah look under it, right? But Ah’m not on display like a piece of meat, either.”

I saw a new respect for me alight in my mothers’ eyes. “Well said, my girl! Take that, and…” she grabbed the skirt and thrust it at me. “…this and go try them on.” Her tone left no room for argument.

Hoisted on my own petard, how ironic.

So, it was off to the changing room. “Two,” I told the girl about my age as she gave me the key and left me alone in the cubical. There are times when a super heroine really wishes for x-ray vision. As I slowly disrobed, I couldn’t help glancing furtively about, trying to find the hidden cameras I was sure were planted all around the cubical.

I felt like I was so completely naked as I was reduced to the silk camisole and panty set I’d worn to bed and again under my clothes to come here. In a way, they were my red badge of womanhood, worn to remind me of my new gender and everything that came with it. Still, it wasn’t something I’d want to be photographed in. I pulled on the sweater, having selected a ten in size, knowing my bust would make the sweater fairly tight, which, as I’d pointed out was the idea.

The skirt was in fact a twelve and while it fit, the length of my legs made it seem even shorter than I’d guess-timated outside. As I looked at myself in the mirror I had trouble reconciling the heart breakingly beautiful woman staring back as me. Was I really that hot?

I felt an emotional tingle I’d associated with arousal once upon a time. While I was still nice and dry down below I realized that wasn’t exactly it. It wasn’t exactly pride, either I thought as I floated up slightly, my tip toes still on the ground to simulate what I’d look like in heels.

I’ve got more legs than a bucket of chicken.

Were my dear Mr. Filby to mysteriously be teleported into this booth, I wouldn’t be in this outfit very long, that was for sure. What was this feeling this outfit gave me? I wondered as I changed back, realizing the outfit was sold as I did so. I would eventually figure it out, but whatever it was, I liked it.

There were advantages to these powers I hadn’t really touched on, but I suddenly realized I’d been using subconsciously. While Grace had not been my middle name, either before or after the changes in my life, I realized I’d had no trouble walking in the heels I owned. Indeed, my deportment teacher (whose day job was helping transsexuals and transvestites develop more feminine mannerisms) had told me I was a natural. He’d even had me strut my stuff in five inch platforms that a number of women had trouble with. And they’d been practicing with heels most of their lives.

But, I realized, when I wore heels, I wasn’t truly walking. I was flying with my toes on the ground. Having no fear of falling helped quite a bit too. I chuckled as I put the outfit in the purchase bin and took the number over it with me.

Mom had been busy in my absence, selecting five new sets she thrust at me as well as telling me to come back out wearing them all, including the first outfit for her approval. It was like buying for school all over again.

Back in the booth I decided I’d wear the sweater and skirt first, even though I was already aware I was going to buy it, might as well start with the one I liked for the fashion show. I was in the process of zipping up the skirt when a familiar voice planted itself in my mind. Busy? Said the mental voice of Ginnevia.

Just clothes shopping with mom, I thought back at her.

And you didn’t invite me? She demanded a note of pout in her voice. I couldn’t stop a chuckle from escaping my lips.

It’s a mother daughter thing, Ginny. What’s up?

What did I tell you about that?

Unless I’m very much mistaken we aren’t face to face, I thought at her. There was a pop and the small cubical was very much smaller. My favorite Goth was in an antique gown and waist cincher combo that was adorned with far too much lace. In her hands were a pair of Overnight envelops.

“That solves that,” she said with a smirk, and then her eyes threatened to bulge out of her head. “Damn, Jenny, that is so hot,” she hissed. I turned in a playful manner, deliberately teasing her.

“What? This old thing? I was thinking about putting it back.” She caught on quick and wiped the drool away as she thrust the envelopes at me.

“I signed for these for you. By the way, Madam President, I don’t get paid enough to be your secretary. Though, I’d consider it if you’d take liberties now and then…”

“Really?” I asked, taking the envelopes as I grinned at her. “Like having you fetch drinks after Ed and I…”

“Don’t.” she said sharply then vanished.

I’m sorry Ginnevia! I was just teasing! There was no answer to my mental thoughts and I felt a first class heel. Nobody told me being a woman was so damn hard.

I sat down on the carpet covered bench feeling ashamed of myself for a moment before I realized this wasn’t a problem I could solve for a few hours. Hopefully she’d be in the HQ when I went in to do the report I had to write. Maybe I could take her out to dinner to make it up to her.

The first was a UPS letter from the National Headquarters of the Southern Party in South Carolina. My hands were a bit sweaty as I read a request for a meeting to formally discuss my application for the position of spokeswoman for the group. I nearly whooped with joy. Things were definitely looking up. While a lot of the anger that had fueled my flight to Jasper to seek this job had died down, it was still smoldering in the back burner of my mind.

Even if the South didn’t Rise Again as it were, this might be just what the doctor ordered to solve the shameful condition of MS positive people world wide. Or at least in the States, Territories and Protectorates of the good old U S of A.

The second was from Victoria’s Secret of all people. In it was a letter, a contract and model release form, and an add slick that had company confidential stamped on it. The ad was an old photo of Mom as the Southern Belle in the midst of a fight. She had one hoodlum in a headlock, bent double, she’d just back handed a second who was in the process of reeling back out of the picture and was kicking the snot out of a third.

All at once.

I didn’t think people bent the way she was caught in the picture. Standing on one foot, kicking somebody in the face while maintaining a head lock and a punch? Who’d have thought that my mom was such an ass kicker?

Next to it was an enhanced photo which still looked like it had been captured by the mall security system. It was me in the midst of my follow through, both hands clasped high over my head from the punch that had knocked Power Ball through the stairs and out into the parking lot from my last trip here.

I didn’t know I’d been smiling when I punched him.

The third shot was a model wearing an approximation of my domino mask and a just barely decent bra and panty set in a pose that was only just this side of lewd. The only thing the model and I had in common was that we were both red heads. The banner across the bottom read:

Sexy never goes out of style.

I will be dipped in shit. They wanted me to be a lingerie model!

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Mothers and Daughters weighted us down with two fairly good sized bags by the time we’d left. But, to make up for it they’d lightened our wallets by nearly five hundred bucks just to make it easier to carry. Big helpers, those guys.

From there mom had insisted on shoes where she did her best to put Imelda Marcos to shame. I hadn’t argued too much when she’d foisted some shoes on me which she only described as ‘strappy.’ Which was true, they were nothing but straps. Were I here alone, I’d have stayed with my comfy, if sexy, boots thank you very much.

Around noon we headed to a TGIF that was here in the mall. While doing my best to ignore mom’s envious stares of my steak over her salad, I thought of ways to pry into her life with deeply personal questions without starting the mother of all arguments. I didn’t exactly have a good idea of how to go about it so I was relieved when she sighed from the peppering of her salad and asked me, “So, I’m guessing now I have to pay for this wonderful morning we’ve been having.”

“Why, what ever do you mean, Mom?” I asked in my sweetest voice.

“Jennifer, I’m proud of how you’ve handled yourself, and I am also deeply flattered you’d have this moment of Mother Daughter togetherness with me, but I know you sweet heart. Guile has never been your strong suite. That’s a good thing, dear. But I know you must be troubled about what Albert has implied has happened between us.”

Albert? Did she really just refer to that pompous ass by his first name? “Mom, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious, but it is none of my business.”

She smiled as she chewed her lettuce for a bit. “I know how awkward this must be for you to hear, Jennifer. So much has happened to you in the last month I wish my own indiscretions weren’t being thrown into your face as well.”

Oh God. “Mom…” I started, but stopped when she raised her hand.

“No, you should know what happened between us. If for no other reason than so you can hopefully avoid the mistakes I’ve made. I’m human, Jennifer and I make mistakes; some of them bigger than others. Albert is the one I regret the most.”

I felt a tear run down my cheek. God damn it, can’t I have just one day without crying over something? “Mom, what are you telling me? Are you saying what he’s told me is true?”

“I don’t know what he’s told you,” she said softly. “I know I almost lost the man I love most in the world over a stupid, rash decision I made.”

“But,” I stammered, “If you and he… then you’d be MS positive too…”

“No, I didn’t let it get that far,” she whispered. “But I almost did. Albert doesn’t need his powers to manipulate you, Jennifer. Don’t ever forget that. I’m sorry you have to deal with the mess I made, sweet heart. If I had had the courage to do what I should have done, and turn him in, he’d be rotting in Ft. Leavenworth now, not poisoning you with his lies.”

“Does dad know?” I asked softly. She nodded, unable to look me in the eye.

“You were just barely a year old when it happened. I was finally back in fighting trim and trying to fit back in with the group. I thought if I could turn Albert, then I would be respected by the others. They wouldn’t think of me as a house wife poseur who just played in their reality. I never should have let it go as far as it did.” She looked anywhere but directly at me, her eyes watery as she relived what she was saying. “When I came clean to your father; I’d never seen him so angry. He had every right to be. I’d made a mockery of my wedding vows. I’d humiliated him.”

“I almost lost the best friend I’d ever had, Jennifer. I had to choose between him and you or playing at being a superhero. I didn’t wait a second before I told him what my choice was.” She forced a smile and patted my hand. “I haven’t regretted a moment of it, either. You and JJ are what are important to me. That’s what I want you to figure out for yourself. I know you’re fond of Edward, and he’s a fine boy. Think carefully about what you want and stick with it.”

“Mom,” I sulked, embarrassed I was so transparent to her. “Ed and Ah are just friends.” Really close friends…

“Don’t you tell me lies, Jennifer Marie,” she said ominously.

I’m going to kill you Ginnevia! Mom noticed the look on my face and deduced my previous thought. “Don’t be melodramatic, Jennifer. You haven’t been a woman long enough to know how to read your sisters. I know that boy is more than your friend, and no, no one told me. I can see it in you. Now, tell me truthfully, how far have you let him get?”

I felt a blush start at my toes and quickly conquer my hair line. “Mooommm!” I wailed and it was my turn to look anywhere but at her.

“Don’t you,” and she perfectly mimicked my whine of “Moooommm, me, girl. Now answer my question.”

I made a great show of interest in my steak, but I could feel her eyes on me. “He asked me out on a date twice and Ah let him take me to dinner and a movie the second time.”

“Where and what?” she demanded.

“Planet Hollywood and The Return of the King.

“And?” she drawled. I tried to put on a show of being cross.

“And what? And nothing! Ah left him at the theater ‘cause Ah couldn’t deal with how Ah felt around him!”

“Jennifer Marie Anderson…” she threatened me again. Getting my full name from mom was like going to Def Con One. Bad things were mere minutes away.

“Why do you have such a desperate need to know how far Ah let Ed get? Truth be told, Ed is a perfect gentleman. As far as he was concerned, just holding me in the theater was the height of the evening. He wasn’t really trying to get anywhere!”

There was a moment of silence as mom puzzled out that, and then her sly grin sent a shiver down my spine. “Oh, so that was the way of it? Interesting. So, how far did he let you get?”

If my skin were to get any redder, nobody would notice what color my hair was. My skin burned so hot I think I could have held the paper napkin to my fore head and catch it on fire. “Ah don’t think Ah want to talk about this anymore…” I whispered, utterly humiliated.

Mother instantly became consoling and angry at the same time. “He told you no? Oh, honey, I’m sorry. Was he rude about it…?” she demanded, her tone promising mayhem at my next choice of words. I swallowed the New York sized lump in my throat before I whispered,

“He didn’t say no.”

“Oh,” Mom said softly. “Good for you! Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Mother!” I couldn’t believe I was having this discussion with my own mom over lunch!

“What is it about children that makes each generation think they invented sex? I grew up in the sixties and the seventies, girl! Free Love, Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll! It’s okay to like it Jennifer! Ed might not be that experienced, I imagine it’s rather hard for him to find a partner who can stand up to someone as strong as he is, still there’s an ocean of fish out there, Jennifer. Don’t judge the most important part of being human on one experience.”

“Ed was wonderful, mom. Ah probably wasn’t the greatest ‘cause it was all so new, but Ah’m just so embarrassed talking about this! You act like it’s nothing. Ah feel like Rod Serling is going to start up a monolog behind the bar or something.”

She chuckled at that and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “So,” she drawled finally, “should I start getting your father ready for meeting your boyfriend?”

“Ah don’t know if Ah’m ready to introduce someone as mah boyfriend,” I muttered. “Right now, Ah just want to try to adjust to all this craziness in mah life and not make waves.”

“Oh, I see,” she said with great meaning. “Well, you know where you can reach me if you need to talk. I’ve really enjoyed today, Jennifer. I hope this is something we can make a habit of.”

The change in topic brought a smile to my face. “It has been nice, mom. Ah think that would be a great idea. Ah just hope we can let me build up mah savings before we have another shopping trip like this one.”

“I think you’ll come up with some creative ways to do that,” she said with a smile.

Of course now I had an entirely new set of issues to deal with. Not to mention some ammunition to use against Sovereign the next time he pulled this ex-lover crap on me. But, thinking of work, I had some reports to write, not to mention a friend to apologize to and the day wasn’t getting any younger.

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The boots were a masterpiece. Sexy and sturdy and functional all at once. Well worth the four hundred dollar price tag. You are doomed, Mr. Filby, you just don’t know it yet!

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On Monday, the Ninth of February on or about nine forty five in the morning I was approached by the defendants while seated on a bench outside of the Town Center Mall Food Court Entrance. David ----- did demand my purse and when I refused him produced a thirty eight caliber pistol, evidence bag number 049Feb950015 and again demanded my purse. I identified myself to Mr. ------ as a police officer where upon I demanded his surrender. At this time William ------ encouraged David ----- to fire the weapon intending to result in my death. I struck William ----- with the index and middle fingers of my right hand above his right collar bone, where upon he fell to the ground for the remainder of this engagement. Matthew ----- sought to flee the scene on foot where upon I tripped Matthew with my left foot entangling his right foot. Matthew fell upon the concrete sidewalk receiving a contusion of approximately two inches square in an oval shape to his forehead and was rendered unconscious. David surrendered to my custody at this point. I placed a call for a unit to be dispatched to my location to take custody of the perpetrators (SEE Dispatch Log this date). I made contact with Sergeant Mike Loughton who was the first on the scene to whom I delivered the perpetrators in my custody.//NOTHING FOLLOWS. Anderson, Jennifer M Arresting Officer Badge Number 107 SMI.

I stared at the State of Georgia Uniform Incident and Arrest Report on the computer screen, reading back over it to check for spelling mistakes. It’s amazing what a lawyer can twist into something as simple as a purse snatching. At least this would be the simplest Use of Force Report I’d ever write.

Save for the usual staffers that ran the HQ, I was the only Member there.

I’d tried the communicator, both phone numbers we had for Ginnevia, and thinking to her, all with no avail. I clicked the File button and stared at the blank screen for a moment indulging in a bit of self recrimination.

I’m so sorry, Ginnevia. I wasn’t thinking.

“I suppose you think that makes it all better?” her acidic voice demanded behind me. I turned to see her a few feet away from me by the report center door. While her extensive make up was in place, I’d shed enough tears lately to know what those red eyes of hers meant.

“No,” I said softly, feeling anew the guilt at my faux pas. “Ah just know Ah said a really shitty thing to you and Ah’m sorry for it. Can Ah do anything to make it up to you?”

She sniffed, trying to put on her usual disinterested airs. “Why should you care about the dyke? You got your man, don’t you?”

“Ah thought we were friends, Ginnevia. Ah’m sorry. Ah know how you feel about me and if Ah had thought about it, Ah would never have said what Ah said. Yes, Ah suppose Ah do have mah man, but Ah wouldn’t be a Southern Girl if Ah didn’t want it all. Ah want mah friend back.” I stood and walked over to her. “Forgive me?”

I felt her presence ever so briefly in my mind then was startled by her fierce hug. “God, Jenny, I didn’t mean to make you feel so bad! I was just hurt!” I returned her hug as firmly as I dared.

As I searched my brain for something to say to her, to try to help her avoid feeling guilty about how I was feeling I realized there was really only one thing that would show her I didn’t hold the incident against her. That, however, was something I really wasn’t comfortable with for a variety of complex reasons.

I wasn’t sure how I could save our friendship without betraying Ed.

There are times I really wish I could turn my brain off and just live without worrying about the future, or anything else. This was certainly one of them.

Then she pulled back slightly and kissed me. Hard.

There are certain, distinct differences between the way a woman kisses another woman and the way a woman kisses a man. This was very much in between the two.

Huston, we have a problem.

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Continued in Chapter Thirteen
Read 4482 times Last modified on Monday, 08 November 2021 23:12

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