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Aberrant: 200X - Playing With Fire


Odysseus

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04 September 2007, 1420 EST – Manhattan, NY

Spectacles, testicles, watch and wallet. I consult my pockets as I slam the door of my studio walk-up behind me, checking for my wallet, a pack of smokes, and a lighter. My keys jangle as I hook them back on to my belt loop, the hob nails of my boots sounding like an elephant tap troupe as I descend the six stories between my crash space and the city streets below. I catch a glimpse of myself in the building's glass facade at just the right angle and light that I look rather handsome, my half-transparent reflection smiling knowingly back at me. Making a beeline for the subway station entrance at the end of my block, I pass a parking garage and I’m briefly reminded that I pay for a parking spot in this city and that I do own a car, though I don’t know why. I never travel out of town except on business, and only tourists and cab drivers bother with the kind of time-wasting, masochistic suicide that is driving in the city. Besides, New Yorkers have one of the greatest transportation systems in the world at their disposal: the kind of fucking mutants you see underground here are worth the price of admission alone.

My stop comes up just as I hit the platform, so I swipe through and elbow my way in, taking a seat near the door, one of the ones they don't reserve for cripples. I check my watch unnecessarily, knowing what time it is already. Nobody wants to make eye contact on a NYC subway. None of these jokers would have scared me even before I popped, of course, but there’s no sense in courting trouble by drawing attention to yourself. It’s just after two: less than six days until I’m off on business again. These forced sabbaticals between assignments are becoming more and more of a nuisance, to be honest. I think about the thick, manila envelope sitting on my desk back at the apartment, the contents of which detail my next assignment and I’ve had time enough to memorize a dozen times over. Everything past the first day after debriefing has been one long, extended cocktease. Two weeks between debriefing and reassignment, the company insists, and no less. Good policy for my fellow agents. Good policy for me, up until not too long ago. But since the incident, all it means to me is two weeks of forced R&R between getting back out into the bush and doing what I love so well. I can’t help but think back to last week in Mumbai and smile: we couldn’t undo all the damage Choudry’d done to that village, but he would do no more. And the look on his face when I got up after his little light show and put two in his chest was better than taking some thick-legged R. Crumb prototype of a girl home on a frozen, Manhattan night.

The car pulling up to my station knocks me out of my recollection. I hop out of my seat and light a Lucky Strike as I leave the terminal and pop up somewhere on 5th ave. Finding a Starbucks downtown takes me all of five seconds: seven to find one with an outdoor patio so I can get away with having a smoke. I drop the smoking butt in the ashtray at the door and head inside, order up a tall boy’s worth of bitter black, and head back outside, emptying my jacket pocket of the novel I brought along for today’s excursion. I’m not one of those attention-craving ‘tards who feels the need to be seen reading in public, you know, but one of the few silver linings about these forced vacations is that I have time to read and spend a little time outside without having to be “on” or looking out for some sniper or raghead with incendiary outerwear. I take a long drag from my Lucky, gulp down a steaming mouthful of black, and exhale into the crisp, moist autumn air. It’s going to be a good day, I think to myself. I can’t even smell cordite.

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I find it fucking ironic how much I love coffee. The caffeine doesn't do a thing for me, neither does the sugar for that matter, but I still find my days begin better with a latte or a cappuccino. Force of habit, most likely, and one that I never bothered to break. We develop routines, even novas have them, and we tend to stick to them.

My day usually begins with a morning workout. Today, I crawled out of bed early enough that I was running as the sun came up. I don't always run outside; I have the equipment at home to work out. Sometimes, you just need to be breathing air that didn't come through the climate control. The sensation of that air upon your skin is vital as well, especially during those mornings where the heavy dew is still in the air or a light rain threatens to storm on you but never does.

I managed to not to have one bystander say hello to me on my run this morning. I don't know how I feel about that.

After that, shower, breakfast, get dressed, snack, and then the only appointment I allowed myself today. Christa Cochran, Burnin' Nation's accountant, filled me in on last quarter's results and this quarter's projections. I've found that I've stopped listening to her unless certain words that signify impending doom are used. She spoke with me for about twenty-seven minutes and used none of them.

While I wasn't listening to her, I found myself dwelling on the fact that no one said hello to me today. I can't remember the last time that happened. That's, of course, a lie. I remember almost everything, it just takes me some time to sift through my memory. During the meeting with Christa, I hadn't wanted to bother.

Walking down 5th Avenue three hours later, my thoughts return to it again. I remember now; December 18th 2005. It was very cold and few people had bothered to get out and about early. I decided to run outside despite the cold. Because, for the most part, I can get away with that.

I hadn't thought much of it that day. It's just as well, what does the average New Yorker have in common with me except their address. Still...

The aroma of coffee breaks my thought and I realize I haven't had coffee today. I skipped it at breakfast, and while I know this means obviously I didn’t need or want it, the scent is enough to make me want it now.

Damn it.

I walk in and nod to the pierced boy behind the counter. He knows me as well as any counter-monkey can, considering how often I am in here.

“Afternoon, fire-starter,” he greets me. I have come to really despise that name. While it doesn’t automatically peg me as a member of Club Novus it does normally draw the attention of anyone who overhears it. Today that bystander is a pair of pierced punk-wannabes, barely old enough to be out of high school. They probably recognize me, but are too intimidated to say hello.

It appears my hellos for the day will be limited to just the one from Branden the espresso-machine jockey.

“Afternoon, register-monkey,” I reply.

He chuckles, apparently getting the hint. “The usual?”

“No, today make it a Venti Café Mocha, hot, and a piece of crumbleberry coffee cake.”

As I take my order, I hear the girl punker ask Branden, “Is that who I think it is?” I hear no reply, which means he probably just nodded. Probably let down by what I look like day-to-day; not a single item of clothing from Burnin’ Nation, much less anything that has the No-QA symbol on it. Contrary to popular-belief, I’m not so full of myself that I wear only the clothes that I designed.

I leave them behind and wander out to the patio and find a seat.

Many of Club Novus will say that members who possess quantum-enhanced agility can be spotted if you know what to look for. This is especially true the longer you’ve been erupted. The movements become part of you on a subconscious level and you don’t even realize that you’re doing it. Second nature, and all that.

I have it. I’ve watched myself in the mirror tossing hotel tumblers from finger to finger when I’m bored in some far away city, then watched those same hands grab a pen and begin reproducing machine-caliber kanji one after another. It’s subtle, on occasion, an often not anything the untrained eye will pick up on. Other times it’s quite noticeable.

The man at the table across from me reading the paperback has it. It’s in way he holds his cigarette in his mouth, the book in one hand, and how he reaches for his coffee without looking or fumbling about. Subtle, but obvious to the trained eye.

Still, can’t deny that there is always the possibility that I’m wrong. I’ve seen some street jugglers do some amazing things having no quantum to speak of. I spend a moment clearing my thoughts and let my node listen to the world for me.

Sure enough, the world whispers back.

I ponder introducing myself, but quickly remember the slight problem that a good many quantum accidents don’t particularly like me when they realize who I am. That’s lessened throughout the years as those who know me pass along the word that while I do think the self-erupted are slightly different, I don’t look down upon someone for the way the erupted.

It’s hard to be a member of Club Novus and look down upon the accidents when they outnumber you about one hundred to one, if not more.

Still, he’s a got a rugged handsomeness to him.

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She makes me almost the minute she sits down. I try not to betray myself, keeping her on the edge of my periphery above the book I’m now more holding for decoration than utility, trying to pin her down. She’s got the lean, rough beauty of a woman who works at looking good, and look good she does. A lot of adjectives for it flitter across my mind, but the one that seems most fitting is ‘hot’. Which makes me wonder what she’s doing looking at me: I’ve had to seduce a dame here or there in the pursuit of my duties, and sure, I’ve had a fair amount of trim in my day, but lantern jaw and chiseled cheekbones aside, I’m really a bit of an ugly mug when you get right down to it, and today I’ve got three days worth of stubble and clothes I pulled from the hamper. I’ve got at least ten years and twenty scars on this girl: her eyes, her face, the way she moves her body, they all tell me that she’s no amateur, herself, though. She looks like she uses the pelvic bones of the cocky kind of shit I was at her age as toothpicks, and moves like a gymnast, all low wind and sinews. She’s like some heartless zenith of what happened when all those American GIs from the Pacific theater left Okinawa with more than just memories and duty-free sake, the kind of girl who shows up on American soil to wreak revenge on pale gaijin sons of bitches by out drinking and out partying them by the tender, pink busload.

Then I feel a twinge. There are lots of reasons a stranger might be checking me out, most of them not good. No motion to anyone else nearby, no casual going for a watch or a compact. If she’s here for me, she hasn’t told anybody yet. Part of me thinks I should get up and leave, avoid potential confrontation. Part of me wants to stay and see what’s in store. A small voice at the back of my head asks the other two parts if we’ve always been this fucking paranoid. Fuck it, I tell myself. It’s my day off. I bring her into view and look directly at her, put my book on the table, light a smoke, and smile, gesturing with a slight nod of my head. Your move, firecracker.

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I am so tempted to simply snuff the flame right out of that cigarette for no other reason than it would give me the opportunity to light it back up. That's a cheap party trick, and he definitely has the look of someone who'd feign amusement at it but would not be entertained or amused. Nor do I smoke, which would have been another convenient reason to approach him. His book isn't an author I've read, and honestly, it isn't one I'm interested in...

Hmm. A conundrum...that's one of the problems with lust. Sometimes you look at someone and you're overcome with the mad desire to know what it would be like to have those hands gripping your hips tightly and pulling hard while your own hands are bound firmly behind you...and you don't know if you want to know anything more about him just yet.

,,

The truth of the matter is that when a man has a real intelligence behind his eyes, you can't just throw yourself at him. Men like that often make you work for their attention, and I don't chase anyone.

No matter how much I want them.

Sometimes, you just have to throw a bit of honest attitude into the air and see if it will fly.

I take his nod as an invitation, and switch tables.

"Two of these things are not like the others."

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Hot stuff slides over my way with a smirk and puts me on the floor. Oh, Gerad. You fucking idiot. It’s so much simpler than you imagine. Bats don’t feel the sonar waves put out by other bats unless they’re putting out their own, right? The girl just pinged on to the chunk of cancer-meat in my skull, and now she’s got it in her head that we’ve got something in common. I almost laugh out loud. If only she fucking knew. I flip through my mental card file once more, searching for her face, her features, and come up with nothing. At least I know I’ve never bugged her line, killed one of her friends, or had her in my scope. For novas, that’s a good start. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve got to say that the way she’s eyeballing me is earning her brownie points; she’d look right at home with a fork and knife in her hand. To be true, looking at her has got me feeling a little Big, Bad Wolf, myself.

“Goodness”, I smile a bit, putting out my cigarette with a slightly exaggerated snort. “Aren’t you clever.” There’s something interesting to her that’s hard to pin down. She’s smarter than she appears at first glance, and something tells me she’s made me, too. Lot of people around, though, and I don’t want to speak in doubletalk all day. This may be Manhattan, but Nihongo will still be less understood than English. I take a chance and hope that the next words don’t come out and have her looking at me like a dog shown a card trick: “Alone in a city a millions, eh? I should think you'd never be at a loss for would-be saviors from that grief.”

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Oh, surprise, surprise. He even managed to peg me as Japanese. Which either means he was anime fan many moons ago, or he's intelligent enough to know how to tell the difference between the natives of the various Asian nations.

I'm betting on the later. Too much confidence, too much testosterone in the presence of the double X chromosome. I can feel the quiet reservation kicking in; the slow patience on his part to see exactly what I will do to get his attention.

It's rare to find that much self-assuredness. Perhaps it's an act.

Doesn't appear that way.

"You might say that." I feel my lips slinking into a low, wry grin. "Completely untrue, but you might say that. I find myself alone more often than most people would ever expect."

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Swing and a hit. Pinning the girl down as Japanese wasn’t hard: her cheekbone structure and the curve of her Epicanthal folds are unmistakably unique to the Yamato descendents. But not every half-Japanese girl knows Japanese. That was just a lucky extrapolation based on the way her English came out: something subtle about her inflection on words like “of”, with the Japanese tendency to pronounce their ‘f’s softly and the somewhat unfamiliar and cumbersome way that native speakers use their ‘l’s marked her as an ESL student. You’d never notice it if you didn’t speak both languages fluently.

Okay, so I just scored a few points. But why? To what end? I still can’t figure out what Miss twenty-two Lucy Liu wants with my crooked ass. Then again, who gives a fuck? Lucy Liu got nothing on this girl. I smile back like we’re sharing some private joke and start poking around for the chase, so I can cut to it. “That's perversely fucking odd”, I continue in Japanese, “seeing as how I'm not fucking blind. So what exactly can I do in the way of helping you out with that?”

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I look at my crumbleberry coffee cake and Café Mocha, both untouched since I sat down. What a strange turn of events this has been. Been a long time since I propositioned a stranger. It's likely the long time involved in that last sentence that drives me to proposition this one.

I take my fork and cut a small piece from the golden-brown block. It's about the same as it was last time. Sufficient, but that's all.

"Nothing perverse about it," I say carefully. Probably not the best time to let him know that I'm not attracted to baselines. That's a conversation for post-coital eggs and hashbrowns.

He probably doesn't know who I am. That's shocking, and absolutely arousing. Which means he has no fear of getting burned like the majority of New York novas.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

"And if you're interested, then all you have to do is be there."

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I’m tempted to check my superfluous fucking watch, just to make sure I didn’t fall into some Way, Way Back Machine destined for nineteen eighty-five. The last time a woman approached me in public for a similar reason I think I was still calling them “girls”. For a half a second, I’m thrown, even though I maintain the outward composure and cool of a Zen master who knows he’s about to fuck this incredibly hot half-Japanese chick he just met. I know enough about nova culture to know this kind of shit is par for course when accompanied by drug-crazed, hedonistic dancing, and even though you don’t read about it, most everyone’s fucking each other in those little nova groups, too, but it sure as hell isn’t what I’m used to.

I’m still wary, but I have to admit that my thinking has gone a bit south since creamy jade sat down at my table. The thought that this could be some clumsy trap rigged by fuck-knows-who in order to somehow do me harm crosses my mind and is quickly disregarded: if she was a Terat or a terrorist or in some way dangerous, chances are good that I’d know who she is. And if she was sent by someone else to fuck with me, they picked an awfully ham-fisted way to shoehorn her into my pants. Still. I sit in silence for a moment, clearly pensive, and draw an outline of her body with my eyes, slowly and deliberately enough that she knows it. If it’s a trap, it’s a damn good one. And if she isn’t, it’s a virtual guarantee she doesn’t know who I am, where I’m from, what I do, and if this come-on is any indication, she isn’t looking for a boyfriend, either. In other words, perfect.

I knock back the last of my coffee and meet her gaze as I draw the cup from my mouth and leave it unceremoniously back on the tabletop, and crack my neck as I draw another cigarette out of its foil package and light it. “If you’re looking for company”, I say out of the side of my mouth, draw, and exhale, “I think I can tag along for a bit. Just so long as you can promise to lead me into temptation and deliver me to evil. I've got no time or tolerance for the soft stuff.”

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Pensive. That's curious. I wonder if he's trying to place where he's seen me before, or if not, weighing how much of a threat I might be. Probably just me misreading him. I'd hate to think of why on earth he'd be suspicious of me if he didn't recognize me.

Clearly, that crap about women being able to find sex whenever they wanted by going up to any random man and saying, 'Ready!' didn't take Mr. Calm and Collected into consideration.

I sip my coffee as he pulls out another cigarette.

"No soft stuff," I say softly. "Temptation and evil. Hope you're just as up to it."

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It’s all a lie, of course, what you’ve heard about women being able to easily own any mug they like simply by putting the offer on the table. That may be true of your stereotypical beer-guzzling, knuckle-dragging frat boy caricature or the sort of wannabe alpha male thug moron I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire, but some fellas, well, some are honorable and faithful men with girlfriends or wives they don’t want to hurt or jeopardize their relationships with. Some are thoughtful or temperate, and just don’t do shit like jump into bed with strangers, as weird as that might sound.

Now, I ain’t saying I’m either of those guys. I may be faithful and temperate, but it’s a bad habit to get into, telling yourself that you’re all that instead of you just is. No, what I am is a man who has dates more than enough truly batshit fucking crazy dames in his time, and consequently, I have become the sort of guy who now weighs the potential for a good roll in the hay against how many points on my Crazy Bitch Bingo card I can tick off in the first conversation. A nice duty-free sport fuck is all magic while you’re buried to the hilt in snatch, but that shit’s half an hour, an hour, two, tops. Listening to her talk about her art projects or her cats or the Black Eyed Peas for three hours afterwards? That, my friend, is a fucking lifetime.

My father gave me some of the best advice on women I’ve ever heard when I was sixteen and brought home this girl, Becky Delfino. She had her sights set on Prom Queen from the age of twelve, you know, that kind of chick. If memory serves, she won it, too, though I was in Manhattan, doing bong hits out of an apple and getting a blowjob from a girl with pink hair on my prom night. Anyway, this girl, Becky, right? She’d just dumped her boyfriend, and here I am, bringing home the prize catch of the school. She was annoying as a terminally ill cat – sounded like one, too – and about as dumb as a sack of wet hair, but I was a stupid kid, you know, and when you’re a stupid kid, sometimes those things don’t matter as much as how good a girl looks. And for all her flaws, Becky looked damn good. My old man, though, was unimpressed. He was cordial and polite to her, because that’s the kind of guy he was, and after she left, he sat me down, looked me in the eye and said to me, “Son, I want you to remember something. No matter how good a woman looks to you, someone, somewhere, is tired of putting up with her shit.”

And people wonder why I frequent prostitutes.

So as great as this deal sounds, I hesitate, and I can see it in her face that she’s perplexed by this, maybe even a little impatient. I guess it’s time to shit or get off the pot, since another five minutes of humming and hawing disguised as coy banter might get the girl fed up enough to walk away. I pass a half a thought to wonder if women like it when men play hard to get. Fuck it, I say. Strike while the iron’s hot.

The temptation arises to say something cheesy, something typical, but it passes. Hookers rarely care about your attitude and on-the-job seduction is an exercise in chicanery by its very nature. I figure the least I can do for this rare occasion is not wear a mask. Eyeing her like a worthy opponent, I nod a little bit. “Name the place, Miss Firecracker.”

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One of the problems with dating, or in this case, fucking, within Club Novus is that unless you're quite familiar with your partner you've no clue what trick they are going to pull out of the little quantum pocket. Mr. Ordinary might turn out to be one of the freaky empaths that get into your head and make you experience things you hadn't planned on or desired. Ms. Cute and Innocent might spontaneously erupt into a plasma cloud in the middle of something hawt and burn the hell out of your bedroom before she regains control. Those are just the most common examples to conjure up.

So Mr. Rugged across the table from me, all smoke and black coffee and hard-boiled fiction doesn't appear to be too much on the freaky QE level. That is the problem, obviously. The subtle ones are the dangerous ones. They don't let you know they are dangerous until they have to. By then, it's too late. You're either too trusting or too wrapped around them to see it coming.

Which is why, on the first fuck, taking them back to your home is rarely a good idea.

Then again, neither is hooking up with a nova you meet at Starbucks...

"Are you going to accompany me, or meet me?"

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There’s a no-brainer. Taking the tart home sure as shit isn’t an option, and frankly, I’m glad she doesn’t seem to think it is, either. It’s a safety issue for both of us, I’m sure, for vastly different reasons. I don’t know what would be a greater source of awkwardness and embarrassment, between the M1911 and can of Eu-Freeze on my desk, and that porno wing I’ve been adding on to all these years. She’s probably just afraid I’ll use the home turf advantage to do something unwanted. Funny how those kinds of instinctual, lizard-brain fears we all have don’t fade out when you pop. ”Ecco homo”. Und uberhomo. Heh. “Uberhomo”.

“Let’s meet”, I affirm, reverting back to English. A thought occurs to me, such a stupid in-joke shared only between me, myself, and I, that I almost laugh out loud, but instead, I just smile with an expression that could easily be mistaken for smugness. “The Chelsea in two hours, room 313.” I say it like a directive; not to order, simply to set the terms. I give my neck a sharp crack as I stand and pocket my pack of smokes, taking one more for the walk back to the station, which I keep clutched between thumb and forefinger. I pause to give her one last long, hungry look, all predators and jungles, a look that I hope tells her I’m going to wreck her like a construction crew and she’s going to love every goddamned second, and then stuff the coffin nail in my mouth. I can’t shake the thought that I’m about to make a huge mistake, but looking at her looking back at me, I can’t be bothered to care all that much. Besides, I reckon I’m about due.

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05 September 2007, 00:25 EST – Manhattan, NY

The Hotel Chelsea isn't known for being available at the drop of the hat. Especially since it isn't much of a hotel, rather an extravagant, temporary residence for the affluent staying in NYC for more than just a weekend. Certainly not the Waldof Astoria, but the celebrity of the building itself brings enough curiosity seekers that getting a room within two hours right before the weekend is chancy at best.

Not only that, but to know exactly what room would be available...Mr. Rugged is obviously connected in someway. That's not really surprising; most novas have people that owe them favors. One must always wonder, however, if chips were cashed in for something like this, or if they were being withdrawn.

It's funny how you really start to think about these types of things after you've just been so thoroughly plowed that walking normally again takes time even with quantum-constitution. If you're lucky, at some point in your life you will experience passion and lust to such a degree that any sense of time is lost and you enter a head-space not entirely your own; a place where the usual rules of intimacy frankly don't apply anymore and limitations and reservations you might normally possess in more lucid moments evaporate as assuredly as the sweat on your lower back against the climate-controlled air.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that every fucking orifice is rather fucking sore, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

The things you can come up with when both of you are unnaturally nimble and limber, the positions you invent on the fucking spot because you fucking can and that's all the reason you need make you feel sorry for all the quantum-less saps that go through life praying to one day try one position out of chapter two of the Kama Sutra. And, thankfully, he wasn't one of those absolute limp wastes who has to hear you say the most ludicrous things to keep it up. Nor did he say anything of the like himself.

Which meant from the moment buttons were ricocheting from the walls and scraps of now-useless fabric hit the floor, I haven't had to hear or utter one single awkward word or turn of phrase that would ordinarily make me want to barbecue someone's ball-sack.

I love it when a lover knows when and how to shut up and drive.

I don't even bother wrapping a towel around me or grabbing a robe as I leave the shower. It's not as though there's anything left to hide at this point.

The smell of hot food greets me when I leave the bathroom, signs that the room service I ordered before cleanup up arrived. I have not been this hungry since, well, the first week of my eruption.

I spare a glance over towards Mr. Rugged's still naked and unwashed, and cut stomach.

Damn.

"What did you say your name was again?"

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There was this girl named Dani I used to fuck, back in the service. Not a Ranger, mind you, but a tough goddamn chick. The kind of girl who could’ve put me on my ass even if I did hit broads. Should have been a Ranger, really. Wanted it bad enough, but sexism is what it is in the service, and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ doesn’t extend over a pair of beautiful tits. Mind you, I would have called what Dani and I were doing dating, since I certainly cared about her, I liked her, you know, but eventually I found out she was taking it from four other guys in my unit, and, so, yeah, like I said, we used to fuck.

Anyway. The first time I took this girl to bed was probably as good as it got for me, in terms of how skilled my partner was and how into it I was. Dani was the kind of chick who, if she were a guy, would have fucked every girl in his graduating class. She knew what she was doing in the sack, both mechanically and responsively. Never met a woman who it was such a turn-on to fuck. I remember, the first time after we’d done it, we were in her barrack, cigarettes in hand, both of us gasping the cordite-stinking air, and she turned to me and said “Jesus, Gerry. Anyone ever tell you that you fuck like a battleship that took ballet lessons?” The look on her face when she said it was unmistakable. Now, I look for it every time, but I don’t see it all that often. I have to think I’m something of a sexual mirror: you get back what you put in. If that’s the case, Miss Firecracker probably needs to have some form of Olympic event for sexuality invented so that they can award her the Gold. In perpetuity.

I clutch a smoke between my fingers and remember my reservations about doing this. Well, fuck it. If this is the part where she kills me, all I can say is take me, you beautiful bitch, because I’m ready. God knows I couldn’t put up a fight right now if I tried; my dick feels like it went ten rounds with Muhammad Ali’s vagina, and between all the contorting and bending and changing positions over hours of time, I do believe I’m good and fucking tapped.

For the next fifteen minutes, anyhow. She steps out of the bathroom, having completed her post-coital shower, body slick and wet like an alabaster statue after a coating of morning dew. The woman doesn’t even bother with a towel, god bless her, and I’m suddenly finding myself ready for a rematch. She digs in to the service cart I told the kid to leave next to the door and bill to the room: I check under the sheet for a moment and consult my backup brain as to whether it’s sure about its plan of attack. It’s sure, it assures me.

I figure I should get up and refuel for the return trip to orbit, myself, so I swing my legs over the side of the bed and light a fresh one, cracking my neck and rolling my shoulders a good one before standing up. No need to bother with the sheet, I figure. She’s shown me such a world class time (seriously, why is it most chicks seem to need a fucking map and written fucking instructions just to suck your dick like a fourth grader?) that I figure it’s only sporting to let her know I’m still saluting.

She turns her head to me as I make my way over, and suddenly I’m feeling like a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti who just got made by a lioness. I half expect to be pounced upon, but instead, a look of momentary consternation overcomes her, and she asks me ‘What did you say your name was again?’

I almost choke as I laugh. “I didn't. But you can call me Gerry”, I tell her. “Short for Gerad. How ‘bout you, Firecracker?”

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I feel my face twist and contort into the expression I know that I make when someone tells me something that isn't supposed to be amusing and is nonetheless. I think it's something between disbelief and a smirk.

I'm unable to withhold a quick laugh. Shaking my head, I manage to get out "Juri," and then quickly toss a strawberry towards his man bits.

His hand snatches it out of the air before it hits, I expected nothing less after seeing him in action the past few hours, but it does give an opening to back him into a chair and sit him down. Carefully settling above him and sliding down, I pick up another strawberry and place it in his mouth.

Plopping another in my mouth, I say between bites, "How the hell is Gerry short for Gerad, Hotshot? Is that like Charlie and Charles?"

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Ye gods, it’s like a fucking vice grip made of warm cheesecake. Is it possible to wince with pleasure? The fruit slides down my throat like a blood clot and drops in the tin bucket of my empty gut. I almost wish I’d gotten up and picked over the meal before I got locked in to giving another ride on the baloney pony. Almost.

“Something like that”, I tell her, arching my back a bit so can feel the stick shift jump a bit. “Accuracy in brevity was never the military’s strong suit, y’know?” I rest my forearms on the tops of her thighs and sort of physically toy with the idea of gripping her by the hips, but decide she’s welcome to drive for the time being. She squeezes, and I grunt a little. “I’m guessing ‘Juri’ ain’t short for anything, huh?”

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I'm not really up for another full go at this, and I'm glad he just sits back and relaxes. It's nice to take it slowly and gently, especially in moments like these where you actually want to have words pass between you. I'm content just rocking softly back and forth, letting the fullness shift here and there.

I arch back and reach behind me to grab the fruit plate and the kabob skewers. Without having to ask, his hands immediately sense the change in the weight distribution and compensate. Then we're back in the rhythm immediately without missing a step.

Yes, Club Novus has its benefits.

I alternate giving him pieces of the seared steak and vegetables on the skewer, taking every other piece for myself. We go through them quickly, and just as fast, all the strawberries and grapes on the plate.

"Salamander," I finally reply, ready to take my comeuppance for the Gerry comment. "My little venture into the world of nova handles. And before you ask, I was seventeen when I thought it up."

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Fuck. I am so going to the Special Hell.

Did she just say “seven”fucking”teen”?! Oh, holy fuck, I know my fucking mutton dagger just did something, and from the look I know damn well came across my face long enough for her to see it, I’m not sure if it would be better if I wilted or plumped up like a ballpark frank. My mind’s finished the math before the tilt-a-whirl stops and I come to the damned conclusion: either she popped early – very early – and I’m only fucking one generation down the ladder, or she’s talking shit about being seventeen the way eighteen year-olds talk shit about being seventeen, in which case I figure it’s time to reconsider my conversion away from Catholicism, because if you’re a good person you don’t really have to worry about the details, but if you go around fucking girls in high school, well, you should probably hedge your fucking bet.

The look on her face tells me I’m already made, so I figure whatever’s about to come next, I may as well just get on with it. I cough a little, unnecessarily, and grunt out “Uh…thirty-four.”

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I try hard to hold in the laugh that inevitably comes out. I fail miserably, of course, but only because it hadn't occurred to me that I look as young as I do. That's what happens, my paraphysician tells me, when you erupt in your teen years; often, you will retain a teenage aura for quite some time even though you're significantly older than that.

I lift my legs around his torso and squeeze a bit more than firmly, holding myself locked in in place. I know my face is frozen in its mischievous mask, and I toy with the idea of holding this uncomfortable pause a while longer.

My conscience gets the better of me, and I relent.

"Seventeen was back in '01. You don't have to worry about robbing the cradle. Calm down, 'kay, Hotshot?"

The subject needs a changing.

"Military, right? Still in?"

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Twenty-four-ish is better than teenager, but not by enough that I don’t mentally pencil in an appointment to talk to Father Callaghan. I should have guessed that her looks might have been indicative of her actual age, but the way she approached me, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn she’d carried an AARP card, once upon a time. That sort of confidence is a rare commodity in girls her age: you’d think she made herself erupt, or something.

She changes the subject, and I thank her with a renewed vigor down south. “Nah”, I tell her. “I haven’t been in the service for about a decade, now.” As I speak, a turn over what to tell her it is I actually do these days in my head, but I have a feeling ‘hunt and occasionally kill novas who are a threat to normal folks’ isn’t something you should drop on the first fuck, especially if you happen to be pelvis-deep in one at the time, so I tell her honestly, “These days, I work for the government, mostly doing boring shit I can’t really talk about. Yourself?”

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"Oh," I say right before having to stifle a grunt. He twitched just enough to let me know that I'm not young enough for him to pack it up and go home, but not old enough that he didn't consider it. Boy has a conscience, that's good to know. Especially for ex-military now works for the government.

"Flying a desk, then?" I ask rhetorically after my teeth let go of my bottom lip. "That happened to my father. He intended to be a lifer in the Corps, but decided he wanted to remain with the family after I was born. He now works for the IRS investigating tax fraud."

I arch back again and grab the two remaining kebabs and continue feeding us both. We are definitely going to need more food.

"As for myself, and don't laugh, I design clothing." No need to tell him that the entire Burnin' Nation clothing line is mine. Especially if he'd recognize me and flip out again. That's a conversation for another fuck.

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I know shit about fashion design, except that half the pros I meet claim to be “professional artists” of some kind. I guess it’s pretty common, with young women in the city. Manhattan is a place people come to “make it”, after all, though it always seemed to me that an inordinate number of young ladies practiced for their big debuts by dancing naked on a stage and/or sucking business-class cock and dressing it up with words like ‘dancing’ or ‘acting’. So I’m not sure how seriously to take Miss Firecracker, but on the other hand, it’s no business of mine. She’s a nova, anyhow, and you figure that puts you a leg up on the competition. I wonder if maybe I’d recognize anything she’s designed, if she actually puts anything out, but the likelihood that she makes tailored suits and military casual dress is pretty low, and with my abysmal knowledge of that entire aspect of creation, I decide to let the matter drop, and steer back towards something I can relate to.

Besides, I may be a decent guy, but there’s something undeniably equal parts wrong and hot having a conversation about a girl’s father while you’re buried to the hilt inside her. “Your old man was in the service, too, huh?” I arch my back a little to stretch, and use my big toe to pull the cart a bit closer to I can snag some bottled tea drink off the bottom rack. “I probably would have stayed in, too, but you can only press your luck with getting shot at for so long.” For a tenth of a second, I think about telling her about Wazir and Gaziantep, just on the off chance she heard about my one moment of public fame, but quickly realize it’s not worth digging up. She’s probably never heard of me, and that’s probably the way it should stay. I didn’t get in my line of work to impress the girls, after all. “I was a Ranger”, I offer up instead, hopefully in the way of clarity. “And once you’re in, you know, it’s either Ranger until retirement or they saddle you with a desk at some point. Neither sounded all that fun at the time, so I quit for a while, and eventually, Uncle Sam ended up making an offer.”

She looks at me, and I sort of smile back, as if I were apologizing for the little non-sequitor. I suddenly find myself very at ease, and for a moment, maybe because I’m away from work or because I’m back in the Chelsea or because I’m thinking on the past or just ‘cause I haven’t really made any sort of meaningful connection with another person in a long time, for a moment I forget about the intervening years and the complications of my life, and I’m just some guy, shacking up with some girl he met, getting to know her. Maybe it ain’t the tenderest of moments, but that’s appropriate. For a moment, I just feel really human, and it’s enough.

“It’s not glamorous, but it’s rewarding, and I get to travel”, I tell her, trying to erase the wistfulness from my features, and brace my hands on her thighs to let her know that I’m ready when she is.

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One of the things that's almost guaranteed about men when you bring up your profession as a fashion designer. If they are the kind of guy who wants a boyfriend, they will have endless amounts of advice, commentary, or curiosity about what you've made, who produces it, and is it possible for them to get a job. If they are the kind of guy who wants a girlfriend, I mights as well be talking about time-of-the-month, the intimate details of a gynecological visit with feet in stirrups as you wait for the imposing doctor with the cold fingers to come do things that are entirely not sexual, or a dissertation on the differences between the sixteen perfumes you have on your vanity table.

The topic is in one of those ugly and uninteresting field of unyielding feminine terror to the almighty Y-chromosome, and is normally dropped instantly unless I chose to press on with it.

In other words, it's not man's talk, and there's no surer way to take the gas out of his orgasm right now.

I speak in generalities, obviously, but sure enough, Mr. Rugged Hotshot's eyes widen into that shape that indicates he's afraid I'm about to bore him to death with the details of pink silk upon black satin, and the topic immediately reverts back to the military.

I glance at the clock that's laying neglected and forgotten on the floor, flashing 00:58 at me upside down. We're going to be at this awhile, I know, and that's perfectly alright with me. Despite my hi no rei reputation, I actually haven't been able to relax with anyone and simply enjoy the moment with another nova without having to hear them go on and on and on about Club Novus.

It's nice to have these things known between us and not have to day a damn word about them; as though this was the way we always had been, and no need existed to dwell upon life before Club Novus.

I let him take both of my wrists behind my back in his hands, pull my arms taut, and let him throttle back up.

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  • 2 weeks later...

09 September 2007, 1503 EST – Manhattan, NY

I’ve got five days worth of civilian clothes, a carton of Luckys, my laptop, my shaving kit, my brief, and an evac of no less than five days after I drop in Barbados. Recipe for one hell of a week.

Consulting the contents of my duffel once more, I light a fresh smoke and check the time. ETD is still a good fifty-seven minutes off, time enough that I won’t have to hurry. Still, you never know with public transportation, right? The NYC subway may be efficient, but orchestrated by Mussolini it ain’t. No harm in leaving early. Chances are solid the rest of Bully is already on site, waiting for my ass. Arsenal will be clucking his tongue over those four hundred dollar shades like I was the bad kid, last up for the first day of school. But I won’t miss the bus, ma. I finger open the manila file folder and eye the smiling mug of Diego Moralez staring back at me. No, I wouldn’t miss this for the world.

My phone starts singing the Clash’s ‘I Fought the Law’, and after a quick check, I answer it. “It’s me”, I tell her.

She wants to wish me well on my “business trip”. That’s sweet, but it’s also code for “Hurry up and get back so I can break off another length of dick.” That ain’t meant to be derisive, mind. Since Miss Firecracker – that’s Juri, now, mind you, though she seems to have taken to these little pet names we made up during that awkward ‘before you find out each other’s names, but after the sex’ period that all relationships go through. Okay, maybe not all, but you know what I mean – she knows I’m as much a slave to whatever chain (or in this case, vice) she’s put me in as much as she enjoys the putting me there. I’ve known her for four days, and we’ve gotten together on all of them. After the first night, I asked if her we were going to do this again, and her reaction seemed to indicate that not doing so wasn’t much of an option. We exchanged numbers. Since then, it’s been Port Authority Station, Central Park, and the Statue of Liberty. A little touristy, I guess, but you know what people say about never bothering to check out the local landmarks until you’ve got some reason to go, and I don’t think I know a man who lives in this city and never thought about getting busy in the skirt of the tallest dame on earth.

And goddamned, if it isn’t good. Being flexible and having the endurance of a bull isn’t enough, regardless of what you might think. Most people think all novas that aren’t made up of solid electrons or squirt acid from their pores must have fantastic sex lives, but let me tell you, as a man who’s spent so many hours of surveillance footage watching novas get down that he’s actually become bored or porn, novas got plenty of sexual dysfunctions of their own. Being a good lay means the same thing to novas that it does to baselines, and one of the best spices you can add to that mix is having enough balls to be a little daring; Miss Firecracker is that and then some.

The plan was always to meet up somewhere first for coffee or food, maybe a little bit of chat, but we rarely get that far. We don’t even talk much, unless you can count the grunts and moans as words. It ain’t all screwing, mind, and I enjoy her company – how could I not? – but if this arrangement is anything more than mind-blowing sex, it has yet to make itself known, and that’s just fine with me.

So when she calls to say goodbye, I know enough to read between the lines, and I tell her in kind that I’ll be back as soon as is reasonably practical so that we can get together again, with all that implies. She wishes me well, and I hang up, a bit of a smile on my face and a bit of mast in my trousers. I shoulder my duffel and pick up the photo from the still-open file, Diego’s grinning face beaming out at me in black and white. I’m off to a tropical island, and sometime in the next six days I’m going to blow this asshole’s head clean off his shoulders with his own powers, after which I’m going to come back to the greatest city on earth and fuck a goddess about a mile out of my league.

Ain’t life grand?

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