In Service to a Goddess,
Book One

Copyrightę2003 by Ed Howdershelt
ISBN 1-932693-10-6

    A Very Quick Introduction:

    You are about to meet a few very special women.
    They're women of strength, brains, and beauty who are charged with the protection of entire worlds and are subjects far more interesting (to me) than unicorns, dragons, or other "safe" fantasy creatures.

    A number of people (all women, so far) have emailed that they thought I must be a lesbian writing under a man's penname. This is not so, but...
    Since most lesbians seem to know about pleasing women, I consider such comments to be compliments. Thanks!

    I was a feminist before the first bra was burned in the sixties. (Yeah, that old...)
    I don't like Cinderellas and Snow Whites, so the women in my stories are dynamic and powerful, intelligent and resourceful.
    They certainly aren't passive frog-kissers.
    Personal Opinion: If you've kissed too many frogs and found no prince, you may come to one (or more) of the following conclusions:
    1: You aren't really a princess, or...
    2: You're shopping in the wrong ponds, or...
    3: Real princes avoid silly women who kiss frogs.

Last note: This story occurred because, after all the editing I'd done within a certain on-line writer's group, they challenged me to write something in their genre. Now they're ragging me because I haven't written more. Oh, well...
    End of Intro (told you it was quick)

Dedication:

    I dedicate this book to E-book writers everywhere. We're on the bleeding edge of a new era in information dispensation and a brand-new century.

* * *
Chapter One

    What's left of most of the money I ever had is invested in an old Texas farm. I went out there for some peace and quiet after a 27-year career as a mercenary.
    Don't get me wrong about that. I was a Medic, even when I worked with SOG-types. I never shot anyone who wasn't trying to kill me or the wounded in my care.
    One day I knew I needed some R & R time when too many ripped-apart kids came through my doors in the last African-tribal internecine squabble. I spent about a week trying to climb into just about any kind of booze bottle and I was never much of a drinker, so when I could think again, I guess I took my binge as some kind of a sign from within to get my then-45-year-old butt out of Africa.
    When I went back to Texas a few years ago, I realized I was tired of being a merc, too, but I couldn't seem to figure out how to settle down, so I rented an apartment in Dallas and sort of hunkered down to give things some thought.
    It wasn't too long before I realized that I didn't fit worth a damn in the so-called "civilized" world. I was bored and unable to find a single legal thing to do or be that didn't seem superficial at best. I was always either "over-qualified" or "in need of further training" when I applied for jobs or training programs. There was always some excuse.
    One woman told me her real feelings in an interview:
"You're scary, like the wolf in the barnyard was when I was a kid. It just appeared one night, stayed about two weeks somewhere nearby, and it even drove away a bear one night that was trying to get into the hen house. It never so much as growled at any of us and never did anything to our livestock, but it was a wolf, don't you see?"

    Yeah, I guess so, lady...
    That wolf was probably getting older, like me.
    Looking for a safe, comfortable home, like me.
    Looking for a suitable companion, like me.
    But, as she said, "He was a wolf, don't you see?"
    Kind of like me...

    Driving back from Fort Worth one night, I saw a bright light in the sky just before something landed in the road ahead of me hard enough to make me think I'd just seen a meteorite slam into the ground.
    When the curtains of dirt it kicked up had cleared, I could see that it had made a crater in the concrete of Eastbound I-30 big enough to eat my car whole, and it was all I could do to avoid driving straight into it.
    The grass on the side was wet and the old Ford I'd picked up as a get-around was sliding as if it were on ice. I treadled the brakes to avoid locking them and tried to steer with the fishtailing to keep from breaking into a spin.
    The car finally slid to stop so close to a pole that I could read the phone company's tiny warning sign about calling before digging in the area.
    It took me a minute to gather myself, there in the ditch and the dark. The final impetus to get out and move came from my bladder, which was crying to get rid of those last two beers from Ft. Worth. I was rinsing my left rear wheel when I noticed more lights converging overhead.
    One set of lights was a light plane, from the sound of it, and the other was a helicopter. They buzzed around overhead for a few minutes before the chopper began to descend near the crater. I reached in and flicked off the car lights to save the battery.
    My car wasn't going anywhere for a while, mired as it was to its bumpers in the muck at the bottom of the ditch. I began trudging up the side of the embankment to get a look at whatever had almost hit me when something did hit me.
    The chopper I was watching exploded in mid-air, sending a shockwave and debris in all directions. I got flat fast as all kinds of crap splattered around me and the burning remnants of the helicopter tumbled from the sky.
    I could hear the light plane coming back around, probably to see what happened and look for survivors. The plane was almost directly over the hole in the road when it, too, exploded in a fireball and plummeted to earth some distance north of the highway.
    My experience finally kicked in and I scanned the area for someone with hardware capable of knocking aircraft out of the sky, not that I expected to see much so soon after two big doses of bright light. I saw nothing. Nobody.
    As the fire from the copter died down, the dark closed back in around me. I heard a sizzling noise behind me and had just turned to look when my car exploded. The blast lifted it from the mud and flipped the burning hulk end over end through the air.
    That's when I saw headlights coming from the west. Three sets, staggered by distances. Each, in turn, became a mass of light for a few seconds. Somebody was shooting at anything that moved.
    I hoped that whatever was at the bottom of that crater wasn't still too hot as I dove over the edge and slid down the crater wall...
    ... and slammed to a halt against a tall, beautiful blonde woman who instantly grabbed me by the throat and held me well off the ground at arm's length, glaring at me. Her glare suddenly softened and she spoke.
    "Sorry," she said, "I thought you were one of them."
    She appeared to be nude and was easily as tall as me, and I'm 6'2".
    I couldn't see a mark on her other than a few smudges of dirt, but I had to ask, "Are you all right?"
    "I'm fine," she said tersely, "They missed. I won't miss."
    She looked at the sky above the crater rather intently, oblivious to her nakedness or me.
    As my eyes adjusted to the dim light I saw she wore a silvery costume that covered only the barest of essentials by placements of a series of artfully-arranged strips. I logged that as just one more of the evening's surprises.
    "What the hell do you mean 'they missed', lady? They blew up my car, whothehellever 'they' are, and some other cars, and a plane and a chopper. You got any idea how to get out of this hole alive?"
    At that moment someone appeared at the edge of the crater holding a weird-looking rifle. As he aimed it in our direction, I grabbed a handful of the crater crud, pushed the blonde out of the way, and threw the mix of fine dirt and gravel as hard as I could at the figure above us.
    The gun wavered as the man reflexively covered his face, and I was nearly to him before the rifle's muzzle swung back around to me. The end of the wide barrel looked more like a tunnel at that moment.
    Looking up, I could see the 'fuck you' grin on his face as his trigger finger tightened. I knew without a doubt I was about to die, so I had to try.
    I grabbed for the barrel and pulled as hard as I could... and just wound up hanging there under the rifle barrel. The big bastard hadn't moved an inch, but he was laughing his guts out as he began to shake the weapon to loosen my grip. I hung on grimly, not wanting to again be in front of it.
    As he swung his arm up for another downward shake, I managed to wrap my legs around his arm almost to the shoulder and wrapped the rest of me around both the gun and his arm.
    Kicking and punching at points that should have put him on the ground in agony or stopped his breathing had no effect.
    I know I hit the marks, and some more than once, but he was beyond tough as I'd ever seen it defined in the flesh. Only my attempted strike at his eyes had seemed to really get his attention, so I struck again when I could reach them.
    That seemed to change his mood. It wasn't funny anymore. He raised his gun arm and I realized he was about to slam me against the concrete edge of the crater, so I did the only thing I could. I let go and slid down his back, groping at my belt for my folding knife and flicking it open as I landed in a crouch.
    When he swung around to face me, I straightened inside his arms and drove my knife into his throat and upward, trying to reach his brain from below. He failed to stop me, but the gun barrel hit me hard in the back of the head.
    I saw lots of stars and my vision dimmed as I shoved the knife in. It stopped against gristle, apparently wedged tightly between his neck vertebrae. In the spirit of 'If I go down, so do you', I threw myself at the crater with a solid grip on his shirt. We fell in together.
    He had both hands at his throat and I managed to keep him beneath me as we slid down the crater wall. I didn't know where the gun went and didn't care; my only concern was killing that son of a bitch before I died.
    When we stopped sliding I could barely focus enough to realize I was sort of sitting on his chest. He was making gurgling noises and feebly pulling at my knife.
    I waveringly aimed a kick as carefully as I could and used the arch of my sneaker to drive the knife in as far as it would go. A shudder passed through him and he went limp. Then I went limp. I fell back and mostly off him, my world condensing to a blackening haze and the ringing in my head so loud I almost couldn't hear the woman yelling at me.
    "Are you all right?" she asked.
    She wasn't yelling, it was just the way my whacked-on brain was processing her voice over the ringing in my head. I managed to sit up. She was standing over me, and even in my banged-up, semi-conscious condition, the sight of her took my breath away for a moment. When I tried to get up, my first effort failed and my head rang worse than ever.
    "No," I said, "No, ma'am, I'm not even a little bit all right. I can barely hear you over all the noise in my head. I've met the woman of my dreams in the middle of a damned nightmare. If there's one of those guys, there are probably more around here, and I really don't think I can do that again tonight. We have to get the hell out of here."
    She reached over to get a delicate grip on my knife with two fingers and pulled it out of the guy's throat. It dimly occurred to me that doing that should have required much more than two fingers and maybe both her hands.
    After carefully wiping the knife on his shirt, she silently handed it to me. She looked thoughtful as she watched me fold it and put it away, then she smiled.
    "Woman of your dreams, huh? I'll bet you say that to all the girls. Would you like to leave now?"
    She seemed not the least bit perturbed at our situation as she helped me up. Slinging the rifle on her shoulder, she pushed her hair back from her face, a motion that raised her breasts and framed her lovely face with her arms in the dim light from burning aircraft debris above the crater.
    I started to ask how the hell she expected to get out of this free-fire zone, but she put a finger on my lips and said, "Just a yes or no will do."
    "Yes," I said, staring raptly at her.
    She then picked me up like a child, crouched for a second, and jumped. We had to be a few hundred feet up when she said, "I'm going to need directions."
    After a look into her beautiful, confident eyes, I just pointed toward North Dallas. She leaned that direction and the lights of my area seemed to grow larger very quickly as we neared them. Only a few minutes passed before I was able to point out my building below and to the left of us. She corrected course and we landed on the roof.
    When she put me down and started to turn away, and suddenly I just couldn't let that happen. I practically leaped across the distance between us.
    "WAIT!" I fairly shouted, grabbing her arm.
    It was like grasping velvet-covered steel, and I knew that she could simply shake my hand off her arm, but she stopped and turned to me with an amused look on her gorgeous face.
    I lifted her hand to my lips and gently kissed it. I didn't let go of her hand as I gazed into her eyes. Her amused look disappeared, but she didn't pull her hand back.
    "Before you leave," I said, "Words would take too long and say too little, and I know what my real chances were out there. You saved my life. Thank you."
    The amused look came back to her face as if I had said something mildly funny.
    "Well," she said, "Maybe we're almost even, then. I'm just going to go get some other clothes and check in. I'll be back in a while, so put some coffee on. We have to talk."
    She stepped back, blew me a kiss, then launched herself into the sky. As I watched her go, I realized she couldn't know which apartment was mine. SUCH a FOOL! I let her leave without telling her where I lived! I'd never see her again unless I bumped into her on the street.
    At my apartment door the neighbor's cat slipped in past me as was his habit and made a bee-line for the kitchen.
    "Hi, Fred. Bye, Fred," I said as he scooted past.
    I opened a beer that didn't taste good, recapped it and put it back, then opened a Coke instead, and poured a little milk for Fred. I remembered how confident she'd sounded about her return.
    I thought, 'She said it as if she believed it. Why shouldn't I?'
    So I put that pot of coffee on, using the excuse that it was 4:am and I'd drink it later anyway. Four aspirins, a few bites of yesterday's cold pizza, and some Coke later, I was relaxed enough to stretch out on the couch.
    Not long after I got flat on the couch, Fred stretched himself out on my chest and began to purr. I patted him a few times and let myself nod out, hoping my ringing bastard of a headache would be gone by morning.

Chapter Two

    The ringing wasn't only in my head as I woke. The phone. Fred was no longer on my chest and my right arm was asleep, so when I tried to lever myself up off the couch, it folded under me and I wound up between the coffee table and the couch.
    I used my other arm to shove myself onto hands and knees and then answered the phone. I could smell breakfast cooking somewhere in the building and it made my stomach growl.
    "Hello, and what time is it?"
    I sat down in the chair next to the phone table and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.
    "Eight-thirty, sir," said a woman, who then officiously asked for me by name.
    "You got me. Who's this?"
    "This is Officer Parks, DPD. Do you happen to know if your car is missing, sir?"
    Warnings went off in my head as I remembered the night before. I decided to be cautious with information, just in case. Who'd believe me?
    "Sure do. It's somewhere along I-30, probably just as dead as I left it. Are you going to tow it someplace? Will I have to pay to get it out of the pound?"
    "Ah... No sir, you won't receive a ticket. May I ask how you got home?"
    To simplify my explanation I said, "A woman picked me up on I-30."
    I thought I heard a noise from the kitchen and figured Fred was nosing around for something edible.
    "I see," said the lady cop, "It really wasn't too smart of her to pick up a stranger."
    "Oh, I dunno, she seemed pretty capable to me."
    I heard another small noise from the kitchen.
    "Sir, when would be a good time for you to come down to the station this morning?"
    "This morning isn't so good, ma'am. I don't have a car at the moment, you know."
    "I quite understand, sir," she said smoothly, "We have an officer who will pick you up if you'd prefer."
    I noted her use of 'will' instead of 'can' or 'could' and continued to play dumb.
    "Will I be arrested? It's off the road, isn't it? It was the middle of the night. There wasn't much else I could do."
    Officer Parks hastened to clarify for me that I was not going to be arrested and that the location of the car wasn't a problem. She asked if I'd read the paper this morning.
    I said as how since she had just wakened me, that was unlikely, so she went on to explain that there had been an incident on the highway and the police were investigating it, and they just wanted to ask me a few questions.
    We compromised with plans for a cop picking me up a little after noon to take me to the station. I made sure that she knew I wanted a ride home, too.
    Replacing the phone, I headed for the bathroom with the smell of someone's eggs cooking making me think about breakfast.
    Pausing at the front door to let Fred out, I grabbed the paper off the mat and tossed it at the couch. Whatever had been written about the previous night's events could wait until I'd taken a leak and organized a cup of coffee.
    I had aches and twinges of pain everywhere as I walked to the bathroom. I noticed my clothes were filthy and that there was blood on my shirt as I stood over the pot. That meant that last night wasn't altogether a bad dream.
    I took off my clothes and put on my swimsuit that I'd left hanging on a faucet handle to dry, then made a pile of the stuff from my pockets and dumped the clothes in the bathtub to be dealt with later. There was dried blood on my belt knife. I took a moment to scrub it in the sink.
    I was lost in trying to recall exactly what had happened out there on the road as I headed to the kitchen, so I was completely unprepared for what I found.
    There was the woman of last night, sliding eggs out of a pan and onto a plate. She was wearing snug jeans and one of those 'University of Someplace' sweatshirts and she was standing in my kitchen, softly laughing at my expression.
    I almost asked how she got in, then noticed the open window. Six floors up wouldn't mean much to her, would it?
    "A woman picked you up on the road, huh? Well, that's true enough. I'm April."
    She brushed past me with the plates on her way to the dining table.
    "I already know who you are, Ed. I looked at your electric bill after I let myself in."
    She called over her shoulder for me to bring the coffee and cups and whatever else I thought we'd need.
    I tried not to stare during breakfast, but she was SO beautiful. I was lost in her eyes as memories of the night before kept cycling through my head. April seemed rather amused by the attention. Her foot bumped my shin.
    "Hey," she said, "Eat. I'm not going anywhere for a while. Stare later."
    I snapped out of my reveries and forked up some egg. I found that I could eat if I didn't look at her too often or too long at one time. When we'd finished breakfast, I began to gather up the dishes, waving her off as she offered to help.
    "You cooked, I'll clean," I said.
    She smiled and I froze about halfway to the kitchen, my hands full of dishes. God, she was beautiful.
    A fork fell off a plate and broke the spell by just missing my foot and sliding under the refrigerator. With my hands full, I couldn't pick it up, so I put the dishes on the counter by the sink and started back for it just as April rose from her chair.
    April leaned to wrap her arms around the fridge, then lifted it upward with apparently very little effort. She casually reached a toe under the fridge and slid the fork clear, then set the fridge down as gently as she had lifted it.
    I said nothing. Perhaps my eyes were open a bit wider than usual as April approached me with the fork. It seemed that every time I looked at her I became mesmerized by her. I wondered if I could ever look at her enough.
    We soaked up the first pot of coffee before the dishes were done, so I put together another pot. When it was ready, I carried it to the table and poured us each a fresh cup, then sat. April had been studying me for some time as I worked in the kitchen.
    I wondered what she was thinking, and I worried a little, the same way I worried back in Junior High when Connie looked at me, hoping I could measure up to some unknown standards in her mind.
    On the other hand, being there seemed to suit her purposes. 'Wait and watch', I told myself.
    April began the conversation. "Do you know anything about me?"
    "Not much," I said, "What you've told me this morning is about it, I guess. Your name is April, you fly, you're, um... unique, and you're very beautiful."
    She made a face that said, 'yeah, we've kind of covered that' and seemed fairly surprised at my ignorance.
    I shrugged. "Sorry. I've sort of been out of touch for most of the last decade. Stories about superwomen in America didn't seem too important in the middle of Africa."
    "You didn't see anything in the papers or on TV?"
    "No TV in the bush and not much news that didn't have to do with African issues."
    "Africa. The bush? What were you doing there for so long?"
    It has been my experience that people who don't know much about Africa don't usually like the answers they receive to such questions.
    "You really want to know? You probably won't enjoy hearing about it, ma'am."
    She gazed across the table at me for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I'd like to know."
    For some reason, I felt a slight sense of embarrassment as I told her of my years as a medic in the mercenary forces in and around several countries.
    "So why'd you stop?" she asked bluntly, "You couldn't have run out of sick and wounded in a place like that."
    "No," I said, smiling, "Never happen. I think wars will go on over there until there's only one live African left or until the continent sinks, which is more likely."
    Then I told her about the school bus convoy that had been the target of mayhem one morning. I told her about the five busloads of M'Buto kids who'd been shot and hacked all to hell because of a tribal dispute, how quickly I'd run out of medical supplies, and the screams of the living and the silence of the dead.
    I also told her how I'd tried to drown in several flavors of booze for a week or so afterward, of my self-prescribed "retirement", the loneliness when you're no longer of your own kind and belong to no other kind, and what it had been like to try to find a meaningful place in things in the civilian world.
    I laughed. "The 'previous employment history' on a job application... There's no point in lying to them 'cause they'll check you out, and I didn't officially exist from 1970 until I returned to the U.S."
    Then I told her about the farm I'd bought in Mesquite, Texas. I don't love the land there, or think it's particularly beautiful, but I'd helped one of my teachers install herself there when I was 16.
    She remarried and moved to San Antonio and the farm had been rented out for years. It was for sale when I went to look her up. I don't really know why I bought it.
    I tried living there for a while, but it was full of memories of a summer spent helping that 'older woman' (26 at the time) fix the place up and making sweet, lingering love with her almost every evening or weekend afternoon.
    Sound good? About a week there was more than enough. I rented it out and got an apartment in North Dallas.
    There'd been a few women who tried me more out of curiosity, I think, than anything else. Cute, soft, fluffy, and generally senseless women who spent their off time by the pool, preening or tanning to keep their bait fresh.
    They were 'been nowhere, done nothing' sort of people who become somewhat uncomfortable around people who haven't lived fairly ordinary lives. It makes them wonder what they've missed, I guess, or makes them resent the fact that they never got out and around more in life.
    April listened to all of it, then said, "History. All that can be no more than history if you want it to be. I saw a man attack an Aktion Beta armed with a particle rifle last night. What's more, he won. Above all that, he did it to save me."
    A what? I knew what a particle beam was, more or less, but what the hell was an Aktion Beta?
    "What the hell is an Aktion Beta?" I asked her, "And don't forget I was doing it to save me, too."
    "Did you shove me aside when the Beta aimed at me? Did you charge up the slope with nothing but a handful of dirt as a weapon? Did you hang on and think of a way to succeed when there really didn't seem to be one?"
    "Well," I said, fidgeting a bit, "I didn't have time to come up with a better plan. So what's a Beta? Other than big, strong, and all that?"
    "Oh, yeah," she said, "All that. And then some, where you're concerned."
    April told me about Aktions being genetically human -- but vastly enhanced and bred for war -- and of her own race, also genetically enhanced, but trained to protect homeworlds.
    It was a lot to absorb or even believe, but she seemed to be the living proof.
    She concluded with a smile, "And, by the way, you're stuck with me now because you risked your life for me."
    I blinked at that. She explained the custom of her people. At first, it seemed a bit hokey to me. How many times had I saved someone or been saved in 27 years of war? We'd just considered that sort of thing proper conduct in the field.
    Yet here was a fabulous woman who probably hadn't been in serious danger anyway telling me that I had a claim on her because I did what I felt was needed to try to save us both. I told her how I felt about all this.
    "I could be passing up a wonderful opportunity here," I said with a wry grin, "But I don't think I can work with that. I'm very happy to have met you and glad to have been of service, ma'am. You want to pay me back? Drop by now and then for a visit. From what you've told me, I'd just be a liability to you the first time one of the bad guys grabbed me."
    April's face changed and I was sure I'd pissed her off by treating the matter too lightly, even though I hadn't meant to. The coffee cup in her hand exploded and her other hand was squeezed the metal arm of the chair so that it squealed.
    Her eyes flashed brilliantly and I felt a warming sensation across my chest. I could smell singed hair and knew that I had, indeed, pissed her off.
    "You're right but you're wrong," she said, enunciating every word distinctly, "You fully believed I was in danger and placed yourself between me and that danger at the obvious risk of your own life. That makes it a point of personal honor for me. Not many have refused such a gift as I offer you."
    April forced her fingers open and let the cup parts dribble on the table, then forced her other hand to release the chair. She laced her fingers together under her chin, elbows on the table, and gazed at me.
    I did NOT say, "...and maybe not many lived to tell of refusing..."
    Instead, I placed my hand on her arm. I looked right into her eyes as I apologized, then said, "I refused an obligation. Yours. You don't need personal liabilities, April. You have the whole world's butt to cover. What I'm saying is only that I'll just be in the way like a child in a combat zone, needing protection all the time. I'm too squashable."
    Her impassive stare made me wonder if I was getting through to her.
    "April," I continued, "I'd just become a target because if they could get to me, they'd have gotten past you to do it. Or they'd be using me as bait. How would you feel about that? Remember who carried who home last night? I may be a real bad-ass in my world, but in yours I'd be almost helpless without your constant protection."
    April sat very still for a moment, as if considering her next words carefully.
    "I realize that would be the case as you are now." The last four words were separately and distinctly pronounced. She continued, "But I can change you, enhance you, so that you wouldn't be quite so...squashable."
    "Uh, huh," I said, sitting down. "Strong enough and tough enough to take on an Aktion Beta with reason to believe I'd win?"
    She nodded slightly. I thought about things as I got April another mug and refilled our coffees.
    "Tell you what, milady... You're as close to a real goddess as I'm ever likely to meet, so if you can make me even reasonably useful to you and show me that I won't become a burden or a risk to you, I'll go for it. If that's what you really want, and aren't just following some old social custom, I'm all yours."
    I waited for her response, which wasn't long in coming. One eyebrow rose as she sipped from my coffee cup.
    "Do you always question everything you're offered?" she asked.
    "Yeah, usually," I said, "But just tell me what to expect. Nothing like this comes without a big price. Do I have to spend a month in some kind of gene-machine or get a bunch of shots or what? Doesn't matter. Whatever it is, I'll do it."
    I couldn't figure out what I'd said that was so damned funny that a goddess would choke on her coffee and roll on the floor laughing.

Chapter Three

    Once she was able to stop laughing, April told me how my very genetic makeup would be changed and what I could reasonably expect as results.
    She went into great detail about all those things, but she left one major detail out of her description.
    What she didn't tell me was the method by which these changes would be set in motion or when the "treatments" would begin.
    April just told me she would be setting things up as time permitted and would keep me informed. She also less than gently hinted that I needed a shower and a shave before I went out to greet the world.
    I bagged my clothes of the previous night and put them in the trash, then brushed my teeth while the shower water warmed up. Shoving the pile of stuff that had been in my pockets to the side, I stepped into the shower.
    A few moments later, I heard a click and peeked out. April had opened my Gerber folding knife and was intently examining the blade as if she'd never seen one.
    I was wondering why it was so fascinating to her when I saw wisps of smoke rising. It took me a moment to realize she was burning the blade and mechanism clean with radiation from her eyes, the same radiation that had singed my chest.
    "Thank you," I said, startling her.
    She turned quickly and I almost ducked, but her gaze seemed normal enough by the time it got to me.
    "Just trying to be helpful," she said, closing the knife.
    She placed it on the little pile of pocket-stuff and came over to the shower doors. Her gaze rested on my face for some moments. I wondered what she was thinking.
    April suddenly grinned at me, then pulled her sweatshirt off over her head, "Don't hurry your shower, my friend."

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    We sat on the bed for some time talking about each others' worlds. I didn't mind learning she also appreciated women and had a few intimate female friends, but hearing that she had a male friend did bother me a bit.
    On the other hand, when I hadn't known it hadn't mattered, so I resolved it as a non-issue, at least for the moment.
    I suddenly felt that however wonderful an experience I had just had, I had seen only the tip of that particular iceberg. If "enhancement" could make me sturdy enough to avoid being mashed to death between April's magnificent thighs, that would be reason enough to endure the procedure, however difficult it might be.
    When I talked to the cops that afternoon, I told them only that my car had died and that I'd found a ride home. When they asked if I'd seen anything else, I mentioned the lights in the sky and said I'd thought they'd been aircraft above I-30.
    In their usual eagerness to tell people as little as possible, the cops only confirmed the overflights before they then moved on to try to discuss my personal history.
    I asked how that might have anything to do with last night, and the cop said that they wouldn't ask if it weren't important. I asked him how it was important. He asked me why I was withholding the information. I said he could call a number in DC and get all the info that anyone was allowed to have.
    He left to call the number and then came back to the room to hand me back my ID, the battered car tag, and have me sign the statement. I was then driven home.
    April wasn't there when I returned. I sat back with Fred to digest what I'd learned and try to get a handle on the direction my life was taking. I could find no fault with it whatsoever.
    All my life I'd been seeking some vague something that involved adventure and pleasure, but I'd never felt really fulfilled. I now faced not only both the common risks and pleasures, but also a new, expanded realm of passion that I'd never before experienced.
    The popular causes of my youth hadn't impressed me much. I hadn't, for instance, given a rat's ass about trying to bring democracy to Vietnam. Most of my African experiences had simply been part of a job.
    While people around me had lived and died by someone else's leadership, I'd been there for training and a paycheck and had eventually simply walked away from it all.
    I lived on a much more personal level and I'd been looking for something that hadn't ever been there to be discovered, but now it seemed that I'd found that something in the arms of a woman who'd come from the stars to protect Earth.
    For the first time in my life I felt as if I was dedicating myself to something, except that it was a someone. I knew that wherever she led I would follow, and my fate was now inextricably intertwined with hers.
    I believed that my feelings about April would very likely become love if they hadn't already, and for the first time I was with a woman who could make me feel comfortable with and enjoy the concept of such a commitment.
    I realized that for a long time I'd just been going through the motions of living without having any particular reason for doing so.
    Now that April had entered in my life, I seemed to have reasons unending and I couldn't wait to get started living again. It was with some impatience that I waited for her return. I wanted to find out when we were going to begin those damned treatments that would enhance me.
    I didn't care if they turned out to be torturous; I was ready for anything!
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