The Island of Dr DNA
Exploring the World of the Whateley Academy
The Island of Dr. DNA
by E. E. Nalley
Beth Abraham Memorial Park
9 Mile Pike, Englewood, NJ May 18th, 1961:
The pastoral beauty of Englewood was already giving way to the press of civilization. Strip malls and gas stations were spreading like a cancer out from Newark and Hoboken. On the drive up there had been no shortage of anything, food, clothing, even guns, and the press of commerce that sickened Abraham Ashner's heart even more than the unpleasant task that had precipitated the journey.
The newspapers were all still gleefully touting the achievements of the American Space program and the sub-orbital flight of Alan Sheppard from the fifth, when they weren't moaning the death of Gary Cooper five days ago. In a way, Abraham had thought that fitting, May seemed to be a fine month for death.
May had taken his wife by a disease he could hardly pronounce, let alone comprehend.
The air was fragrant with pollen on the winds of a glorious spring in full flower. Abraham breathed deeply to clear his mind from the press of friends and family who were still mourning his wife inside the chapel. Soon the Rabbi would be reciting the Kaddish, and Abraham was looking for his son. It hadn't surprised the young widower that Martin had fled the service. Martin was a 'delicate' child as his mother had dubbed him, coddled was more the thought to Abraham's mind. But now, just now he couldn't hold onto anger with the perceived failings of his only son. Grief was far too dominating an emotion.
Awash in this sea of commercialism, the park shared the greenwood with an unlikely neighbor. Not far from the chapel's main parking lot a split rail fence delineated what might be the last horse farm in this area of the state. Abraham recognized the small figure in the ill fitting dark suit that was standing on the rails of the fence, awestruck.
Aside from television, Martin had never seen an animal bigger than a dog, never mind a farm animal the size of a horse. As he'd stood on the rail, the Stallion of the herd and wondered over, judging this interloper in his domain. The horse, a dappled grey that wasn't truly white towered over Martin, holding his head so that he could look at the little boy with both eyes. He'd sniffed, dislodging the yamaka from his head and, deciding the interloper was a mere foal, neither dangerous, nor possessing anything more interesting to eat than grass had wondered off, the threat dealt with.
"Martin?" asked father as he walked over to his son, for some reason, thoughts of scolding as nebulous as mist in the morning, burning away. "Martin, it's time to remember your mother."
"I don't want Mother to be still forever," the child answered quietly. It was not petulance, nor defiance, just a heartfelt wish.
"I didn't want that for her either, son," his father told him. "But everything passes on, my son. Death comes for us all. It...it was just your mother's time." Abraham closed his eyes and sighed. "Come, Martin, we mustn't keep the Rabbi waiting."
"I'll bet those horses could run forever," the boy told his father. "So fast that Death could never..."
"Everything dies, my son," Abraham corrected his son, perhaps more harshly than he meant to. "It is the way of the world. Ha-Shem has decreed that all shall be for a time and then no more. To think otherwise is the height of foolishness. Your mother has left us, but it was not a choice she made, my son. Now, come, let us remember her."
Martin climbed down off the fence and cast a final look at the creatures that had struck him mute. "Someone will beat Death," he muttered to himself. "Someone."
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
Turn, Turn, Turn - The Byrds
The Residence of Abraham Ashner, Attorney At Law
100 Park Ave, Hoboken, NJ July 3rd, 1968
"Shalome, Mr. Ashner, I'd like to have a word with you about your son."
Abraham warily eyed the man who stood heavily on a cane on his doorstep. He seemed harmless enough. Elderly, somewhere above sixty but not sliding into senility yet; still a powerful man just entering the autumn of his life. His suit was dark, somewhat ostentatious to be current fashion, the lapels too wide, the cut harkening back to an older era, and the western style bow tie was too out of place. But the materials were obviously extremely expensive and the limousine that was parked on the street in front of Abraham's town home told him his visitor wasn't someone to take the whims of fashion into account.
Neither did the two large men who stood at the car, their eyes everywhere but on their master's conversation, while hidden behind dark glasses. "Oh, don't mind my associates," the older man told Abraham with an airy gesture of dismissal. "They're obsessive, but usually quite harmless. Usually."
"Has my son damaged something of yours, Mister...?"
The man's smile never wavered. "No, not at all, Mr. Ashner. Actually, I'm here to assist with your son's future. My name is West, Tyrone West. I bear good news and educational opportunities, if you'd like to discuss the matter?"
Abraham considered for a long moment. At first, he had been worried that his strange visitor might be connected with some of the unsavory businessmen that hid their activities across the river here in New Jersey, but now he was certain that was not the case. It was obvious Mr. West did not care who observed his actions, nor did he fear repercussions of them. Government, then, thought Abraham to himself as he stepped aside and held up his hand in invitation.
West climbed the last steps with none of the labor you might expect a man with a cane to have, pausing to touch the mezuzah on the lintel and kiss his fingers after. "You're Jewish, Mr. West?" he asked quietly.
"No, merely a respectful guest," the older man replied. "I suppose you might consider me a gentile, and that's an accurate description. The Lord does move in mysterious ways."
"Indeed," Abraham said after a long moment. "Won't you sit down? May I get you anything?"
"Thank you, a glass of water would be most welcome; iced, if you have it."
"My pleasure," the lawyer replied as he retreated into his kitchen to return with the drinks and a decanter of water in one of his better crystal sets. The old man was sitting exactly where he had been when Abraham had left the room, but something about the way he sat made the lawyer feel his living room had been thoroughly inspected just the same. "Here you are, Mr. West."
The two touched glasses and drank in silence for a moment until Abraham felt a sufficient nod had been given to polite society. "Forgive me, Mr. West, I must admit to being intrigued by your somewhat cryptic offers. I had arranged for my son to attend the school at United Synagogue across the street."
"And it's a fine school," West conceded quickly. "But considering your son's special needs, I think perhaps the Academy I'm affiliated with might be a better choice."
Abraham Ashner's blood ran cold. That his son had taken to reading medical technical texts lately had bothered him, but his son had always been well read. Now he devoured them, thousands of pages in a day, and as far as Abraham could think, was understanding what he read, far more so than his father. Then there were the cuts and bruises that healed practically miraculously. Abraham knew that the neighborhood bullies held his son as a favorite target, but once the bruises started healing, suddenly they stopped appearing at all.
"Yes, you've already begun to suspect, haven't you, Mr. Ashner?" West asked quietly. "Your son is...different from his fellows. Fortunately for you, there is a place for young people like your son. A place where they can learn to control their...special gifts."
"A government black hole to be conveniently dropped into? Or perhaps a train ride to a camp..." the lawyer demanded, horror stories from his European cousins and uncles ringing in his mind.
"No, Mr. Ashner, not a government black hole," West replied quickly. "Not a government anything, but a private school, of which I am honored to be a trustee, and run by others, like your son. The best people possible in fact." West produced a briefcase that Abraham hadn't noticed before and opened it, revealing a slick brochure that he presented to the worried father. "I think you'll find we've spared no expense."
Abraham looked at the cover to see an ivy covered brick building gracing the cover in a manner that suggested an old school, backed by older money and traditions. The pamphlet was entitled Whateley Academy. The catalog flipped open to reveal what a first glance might be an advert for any school for the privileged. Severe uniform clad, perfect children engaged in various academic pursuits with rapt attention that Abraham was certain had taken the photographer hours to coax the illusion out of them.
Then, suddenly, the suits and catholic school girl children began to wear unitards and body suits. They began to fly and lift cars and energy beams began to leap from various body parts. Then, most suddenly toward the back of the brochure, the perfect children gave way to children far from perfect; children that looked like animals, or rocks, or monsters. Children who were mutants. Abraham forced his dry tongue over dry lips. "What is it that you want with me, Mr. West?"
"If you're worried that I'm here to black mail you, or otherwise bring evil into your life, I'm afraid I have to tell you that you're just not that important in the grand scheme of things, Mr. Ashner," West replied with a dry chuckle. "If you choose not to take my offer I will leave and, perhaps for the odd over excited reporter on the evening news, you will never hear of me again. But that will not help your son reach his full potential."
"And...you are...one of..."
"I am a messenger. My message is what is important, not who or what I am, Mr. Ashner." Abraham's guest stared at him for a long moment. He had a piercing, powerful gaze that the lawyer found more than a little intimidating. A part of him wondered if the body sitting on his couch was up to the challenge of maintaining such an iron will. Finally, he blinked and looked away. "Perhaps, if it would help, I can arrange a tour of the campus for you."
Abraham cleared his throat. "It...it is wise to examine a problem from all angles before making a decision."
The Cheshire grin returned to the old man's face. "Indeed. What are you doing this weekend?"
Many Years Later:
THE DREAMS of Nick Brennan were troubled. They were filled with smoke, and the blare of alarms, concern, but not panic. There were faces, pale, but determined looking at him, for direction, there was no focus however, merely the disconnected series of imagines of a mind trying to cling to memory after a trauma. There was pain, a blow to the head, followed by falling and then submersion in warm, emerald green water, weight, pulling him down. He felt the burning need to breath as the surface seemed to drift further and further away.
Nick awoke with a start from the nightmare and bolted up right in the bed. The tangle of blankets that was likely the reason for the gasping need for air pulled from around his neck to the soft complaint of his bed mate. Nick panted after his breath in the darkness, his mind in a fog that was nearly a physical pain. Looking around the room in darkness, he could make out only vague shapes of what could be furniture, a window that perhaps had the first hints of dawn. A digital clock by the bed announced 05:02 in ghostly green light that was the only source of illumination in the room to his right. To his left a vague shape under a comforter suddenly caused him to remember he had no steady girl friend and so should be alone. He searched frantically for memories of where he might have met someone that only caused the fog to pinch worse on his mind.
Where am I?
Brennan brought up a hand to rub his eyes only to painfully strike himself in the nose. He bit back curses, but the pain cleared some of the fog his mind was floundering in and quickly made him aware of two important feelings. First, the teeth holding his tongue were wrong. They were wider, flatter and thicker than he remembered, with a pronounced gap between the front and back teeth on both sides. This explained the second sensation that his nose was nearly a foot further from his face that it should have been. Gently, Nick brought up both hands to find his face had elongated away from his head, further, his fingers ended in a thick, rubbery substance halfway between skin and nail that gave only minimal tactile response and was cold against his skin.
Suddenly his senses flooded his brain with information, smells, from his bed mate that identified female to him a new, bitter smell he'd never tasted before, but some part of his hind brain whispered to him as fear. As his eyes grew accustomed to the low light, details began to come out in the room. First he noted that his field of vision was markedly wider, nearly disorientating so, but he could still perceive depth. It was as if he had a 'wrap around' vision that allowed him to see both the shape of the woman on his left and the clock on his right at once. Nick cautiously got out of the bed, which kept him from falling as he found his entire balance had changed. The sensations in his feet told him he was trying to stand on his big toe, but found it was taking his weight. Using the bed's foot board to steady himself, Nick realized he was standing on a pair of hooves, not feet, complimented by a tail of hair.
Panic threatened to overwhelm him for a moment before the iron will he had forged to get through Ranger School helped him recover. It was entirely possible this was some strange dream within a dream. In any case, panic would make noise and he wasn't prepared to have to deal with the screams of whomever it was he had gone to bed with last night over the inhuman monster he had become somehow this morning. His eyes were adjusted sufficiently now that he could make out three doors on her side of the bed; two on one wall, and a third on the now 'right' wall. Brennan found he was wearing a pair of boxers and an 'A' Style undershirt, not the best of garments and so decided that the lone door was likely the hallway door to the room. The other two should be a bathroom and a closet.
He crept over and tried the door closest to the hall door and found a bathroom. The carpet gave way to tile that he had to be careful on lest his new hooves make more noise. He carefully shut the door and flicked on the light. The difference in light level was painful and direct into his right eye thanks to this new two hundred degree vision, he pinched his eyes shut for a moment, then cautiously opened them.
The bathroom was sizable, easily the largest he'd ever been in that wasn't a barracks, or some public facility, with a pair of sinks, a toilet and something that looked like a urinal on the back wall. Through an opening to the right he could see a shower stall that could accommodate four people, with nozzles for each and small pool that was calling itself a tub. But the large vanity over the sinks showed Captain Nick Brennan, US Army why everything was so large.
Staring out of the mirror at him was a creature out of some Saturday morning cartoon for kids. It was very horse like in its head, except that the eyes were larger, and closer together than they should have been on a horse's head. A pair of triangular, mobile ears were atop the head that moved without Nick really thinking about it, hunting for sound. Using that head as a size reference he found those eyes were also twice the size they should have been, but startlingly, they were Nick's own green color. The horse head and neck was attached to a man's torso that was thick and powerfully muscled, a six pack peeked through the white cotton of the 'wife beater' under pectorals that Arnold himself would have been proud of. Arms with biceps that were the envy of any gun show ended an a pair of massive hands with short, thick fingers that ended in black, glossy something that was neither nail nor skin, thicker and less sensitive than skin, but more supple and dexterous than nail.
The creature was reddish brown in color, the same reddish brown, Brennan noted, that his hair used to be and horse lovers called bay, but his mane and tail were coal black. His hands and hooves were white socks and mittens, not the peach 'Caucasian' of his old self, but the stark, thick white of milk or glue. Below the knees the man torso gave way to the bottoms of a horse's back legs ending in wide, massive hooves.
"This isn't happening," Brennan told his reflection quietly and the horse creature parroted him. Even his voice was different, much deeper than the middling too high for bass but too low for baritone it had been. This was a voice James Earl Jones or Michael Clark Duncan would be proud of.
The fixtures of the bathroom were otherwise quite ordinary, except for their sizes; towels, soaps, a pair of toothbrushes there where nearly a foot long, pink and blue caught his eye, which he reached out and picked up. The bristles were stiff and dry, but there was no residue of toothpaste he could smell with his new, sensitive nose. Everything in this bathroom was brand new and had never been used. He looked at the pink toothbrush and, seeing it as a match for the one intended for his use starting him thinking about his bed mate, and perhaps she would not be so different from him. Which meant perhaps she had the answers to the questions bubbling in his brain?
Nick turned back to the door just in time for it to open and reveal his bed mate. She was as large as he was, and the female version what he had turned into. Where as his overall form could be described as 'bulk', hers was 'Athletic'; lean, defined muscles that didn't detract from the sleek, generous female form. She sported a full, hour glass figure that would have had the old Nick thinking this was perhaps a woman out of his league. Like him, she was a ruddy 'bay' with a white 'flash' that came down her nose and capped her mouth, but her mane and tail were a sweet corn blonde that brought out the red of her coat in a very sensuous manner. She was dressed in a red silk teddy and had pulled on its matching robe. She leaned on the door frame and smirked. "Good morning," she greeted in a deep, sensuous voice reminiscent of Eartha Kitt, or Susan Egan, but deeper than any human female's vocal cords could comfortably make. She was probably a baritone or a very high bass. "Thanks for not freaking out."
July 6th, 1968
The Front Quad, by the Statue of Noah Whateley, Whateley Academy
"And this is the school's founder, Noah Whateley," the young man declared. Abraham was impressed, not with the statue, but with the young man who had given the tour to him and his son. Despite the ongoing pressures of the Civil Rights movement and the unrest following the assassination of noted Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr, just a few months ago in April, the young man was pleasant, cheerful and respectful. "He founded the original school and built these grounds and buildings in 1878."
"So long ago? A school for...er..."
"Mutants?" the young man asked with a smile. "No sir, it was just a normal prep school. And, not a very good one to be honest. The most accomplished graduate was a Vermont congressman, though if memory serves, he was a one term congressman. The original school went bankrupt and was foreclosed on in the fifties."
"And the school is in session the year round?" Abraham asked.
The smile on the young man's face faded some what. "No sir, I...well, I'm alone in the world. There are some us that have no place to go, or no homes to go back to, so Dr. Alexander lets us 'summer over'."
"Do you like learning here? Uh, should I call you Golden or Scarab or...?" The young man smiled again, stark white teeth in his dark face.
"My name is Booker, sir. Booker Thomas, and compared to the orphanage I was in down in Atlanta, this is paradise as far as I'm concerned." The young man turned to his son. "They said you were going to be on the Engineering Track, right? I can show you the labs if you'd like?"
Marty looked up at his father, excitement written all over his face. "Can I, Dad?" Abraham saw Mr. West and the Headmaster coming down the steps of Schuster Hall.
"I..I don't see any harm in it," he said finally. Turning to the Golden Scarab he asked, "Where is the Cafeteria?"
Booker pointed to new, modern building of poured concrete that was under construction which clashed with the older buildings. "It's in Dunn Hall, sir. They finished it first as we needed the upgrade! I'll met you there when we've finished."
"Alright," Mr. Ashner conceded. He watched the two boys walk off towards the building with the observatory before he turned and joined the Headmaster. Clifford Alexander was not the man Abraham Ashner was expecting. He had seen the tuxedo clad wizard remove his mask on television during the House Committee on Paranormal Affairs hearings in the fifties, proudly proclaiming he didn't care who knew who he was and that anyone coming to him looking for trouble would regret it.
This man didn't seem powerful at all. He was dressed in tweeds and chinos and a rumpled sport coat with leather patches on the elbows only the dated pencil thin mustache in common with the Headmaster and the man who had stared down an entire congressional committee and sharply criticized poor Miss Champion as a sniveling lap dog currying favor. What kind of a man would say such a thing to a young girl?
"How was the tour?" Mr. West asked, his unnerving eyes direct and intense.
"Young Mr. Thomas was a wonderful guide, very through and surprisingly respectful given the current political climate," Abraham complimented. "It's obvious you have a fine school here, Dr. Alexander."
The wizard smiled thinly. "We try," he said, and then added, "forgive me, Mr. Ashner, but I couldn't help over hearing what you were thinking just now. And to set the record straight, 'young Miss Champion' was calling herself 'Lady Champion' during those hearings, and she was twenty eight."
Abraham blanched in astonishment, but the Headmaster just smiled and shook his head. "Don't worry, Mr. Ashner, I don't mean to pry, and I never hold someone's thoughts against them, only what they say."
"I know that you intend that to be comforting, Dr. Alexander," the lawyer replied. "Forgive me if I remain disquieted at the thought of having my mind read."
"I understand," the Headmaster replied. "Do you have any questions you'd like to ask?"
"My son seems quite taken with the facility, and I must admit it would be impossible for United Synagogue to compete in terms of quality. Price, on the other hand...?"
"We are certainly not competitive with any school on that front," the Headmaster agreed. "But we offer a unique situation for unique students." He shared a glance with Mr. West who nodded. "We do have grants and scholarships for those in need of assistance, and our fees are waived completely for special cases like young Booker. Don't let cost dissuade you from doing what is best for your son."
"In fact," West interrupted smoothly. "I understand your specialty is corporate and business law, is that right Mr. Ashner?" The other man nodded guardedly and the smile that spread over West's face was terrifying. Like a shark sniffing blood in the water. "Well, the school has no permanent counsel just now, perhaps we can work out some manner of mutually beneficial barter arrangement?"
Many Years Later:
"You know what's going on?" demanded Nick. Anger flared for a moment. "Are you a part of it?"
She shrugged. "Only as much as you are, Stud. If you're asking if I wanted this to happen to you or me, the answer is no." She held out her hand to be shook "Heather Royce, formerly of Las Vegas."
"Captain Nick Brennan, US Army," he replied taking her hand. She snorted a laugh and her ears flicked back and forth that some part of his brain told him was 'wry amusement'. "What's funny?" he demanded.
"I was just thinking, well, the Cavalry is here to save us!" she purred. "I wish I could say it's a pleasure to meet you, Nick, but I'm sure you understand why it's not."
"Where are we?" he demanded.
"What do you remember?"
"I..." Nick trailed off; fighting a mild wave of vertigo as his mind frantically tried to piece together what his youngest memory was. "My last memory was getting ready to go on an assault, it's classified..."
She rolled her eyes and walked around him to the 'urinal'. "Don't bother with secrets, sweetie, any you had are out of date by now. So, I'm guessing you were going to assault a stronghold held by Dr. DNA, right? Maybe you even had word that there were civilian hostages?" Nick crossed his arms and stared at her without responding. "Right, classified," she continued. "Well, Stud, I am one of those hostages."
Heather pulled the teddy over her hips and settled into a half crouch over and in front of the device. She lifted her tail and suddenly sprayed a stream of urine into it. The smell filled the room and had a strange reaction on Nick. There was a warmth that filled him, a feeling of camaraderie the strange woman hadn't truly earned, and there was a distinct stirring from down below his waist. "Look on the bright side, now I can pee standing up," she said with a laugh as she wiped herself clean and caused the 'urinal' to flush.
Nick became aware of his member as a glance down confirmed it had slid out of the foreskin sheath and was filling out his boxers even without being hard. Remembering some trips to his great uncle's horse ranch as a child he bit down on his tongue to keep his rising emotions in check. "You are part of this, aren't you?" he demanded. "You're trying to seduce me!"
She sighed. "Part of? No," she contested. "Accepting? Ok, sure. I've been this way longer than you have and I'm tired of fighting him." She pulled the robe closed almost primly. "If it will earn your trust, your guns are in the closet."
Nick no longer had a heel to turn on, but still was out of the bathroom and it's pheromones in a flash. The room was brighter now; dawn was breaking through what was in fact a set of French doors off a balcony. He flicked the light in the bedroom on and snatched open the closet door. His M4 was on the top shelf over a hanging rack of clothing. Evidently his side as they were all male. Down the left side of the closet was obviously female clothing.
Brennan pulled the rifle off the shelf and got his first nasty surprise. The rifle, already made small for ease of use in battle was like a small child's plaything in his massive hands. Two of his three fingers completely covered the pistol grip and there was no way even without the guard any of his fingers would be able to work the trigger. Worse, with this as a guide, Nick realized he must be over eight feet tall based on the toy-like rifle. "Is this a joke?!" he shouted.
"No baby," she assured him. "You've just out grown it. And before you think it's some elaborate prop, look at the Serial number. You GI Joe types memorize them, don't you?"
"You'd know that," he replied.
"Don't take my word for it," she shot back. "The pistol was obviously not issue. It's in there too."
Nick turned back to the shelf and felt, finally finding the 1911 pistol his grandfather had carried in World War II and his father in Vietnam. It too was like a child's toy fitting in the palm of his massive hand. Even an accomplished gunsmith could have faked all the wear marks on it, they couldn't disguise two faint smells that his new nose picked up, instantly bringing the mental picture of the two men to his mind. This was his pistol, and he would never use it again. "Pretty brave giving me guns I can't use!" he spat.
"Nick," she said softly, "I'm prepared to answer any questions you have. But please don't lump me in with the monster that did this to us. I may have accepted what's happened to me, but I didn't ask for it!"
"Ok, how about we get some coffee and I'll tell you what I know?" He opened his mouth to protest and she just shook her head. "There's no drugs, that's behind you now. You'll understand once I tell you." She reached to the foot of the bed and pulled on a pair of jeans that were there, leaving the robe and teddy as top. "Get dressed, I'll be down stairs," she told him on her way out the 'hall' door.
Nick looked after her for a long moment before he carefully rendered the useless weapons safe and placed back on their shelf. He looked at the .45 round at the top of the magazine for a moment, dwarfed by his massive fingers and chuckled. "So much for stopping power," he told himself. As he put the magazine with it's pistol, his eye caught what looked like a set of uniforms in the far wall. Nick moved the other hangers with their clothes out of the way. At the far wall of the closet was his old BDUs, he took them out and held the shirt against his chest and chuckled at the ludicrous difference in size. But, directly in front of that was another set of utilities that would fit. He thought about that for a long moment before pulled a folded pair of jeans from the shelf unit in the center of the back wall and a subdued flannel shirt.
There were no shoes at all in the closet, but hanging in the front were what he thought was a bra or jockstrap at first glance. Pulling one closer he realized it was a pair of thick soled pads that could be pulled over his hoof and would lace up his leg like a boot. There were several different types from what were supposed to be 'sneakers' to what he was pretty sure were meant to be 'combat boots'.
The jeans on, Nick pulled on the shirt as he opened the French doors and stepped out on the balcony. The shirt had oblong wooden toggles instead of buttons which made fastening it easier with his thick fingers. The house was a fairly large sized 'post modern' type, done in heavy slanting roof lines and swooping curves of the building as far from 'traditional' as possible. This deck connected with a larger one on the main level of the house that was equipped with what looked like a spa. It over looked a small back yard that was on a cliff that over looked either a very large lake or an ocean that the sun was just peeping over the top of.
The house was in a small subdivision that lined the bluff that would doubtlessly be very expensive real estate if this were anywhere sane or normal. It was obvious very quickly they were all on the same scale. A cool breeze blew in off the bay, but the air was still quite warm. "Cayos Miskitos," muttered Nick to himself. He returned back inside and followed her down stairs.
The hallway was quite long, with a number of doors on it before it arrived at a stairwell from which the smell of coffee was rising. The stairs had been ensconced in the 'tower' the came up one corner of the building, giving a dramatic, circular stairway that led down into a massive family room. There were several leather sectionals formed into a conversation arrangement in a sunken area that looked out over the deck on either side of a stone fireplace. Beyond was another arrangement that faced a flat screen Captain Kirk would have been envious of.
Nick followed his nose to an equally large kitchen where she was just finishing pulling two massive mugs from what looked like a five gallon coffee pot. "Cream, sugar?" she asked as she passed him his flagon.
"Sure," he replied. "So, you gonna answer my questions now?"
"What do you want to know?" she asked over her own first sip as she slid the condiments to his reach.
"We're on Cayos Miskitos, aren't we?"
"What used to be Cayos Miskitos, yes," she replied. "Now I think he's calling it 'Paradise Island'. Welcome to the Caribbean! Miskitos was once a series of small islands or 'cays' but was really one large, partially submerged landmass. Now it's no longer submerged and all the cays are now two big islands. Probably one of the reason's your Ranger team was sent, and of course to put hands on Dr. DNA."
"Whose mansion is this?"
"For our new species, let's be honest Stud, we're not human anymore, but for our species, this is a 'single herd home' and to answer you, it's ours; yours and mine."
"Herd?" he demanded.
She chuckled darkly. "City boy, huh? Alright, I'll spell it out, you, me, and three or four other girls that will round out your harem."
"Excuse me?" He demanded, choking on his coffee. "No, wait. First, what's your story? How did you get here? And whose side are you on?" Her cornflower blue eyes stared at him for a long moment. Finally, she reached up and opened a cabinet. From it, she produced a hand gun that had been sized for them and presented it to him, grip first. "It's loaded," she cautioned as he accepted it.
The pistol was designed around the famous M1911 of John Browning design, but Nick quickly realized massively up scaled and certain 'liberties' had been taken to deal with their new anatomy. The grip was more molded while still giving the familiar heft of the slab sided Colt. He thumbed the magazine release and pulled it, blinking in astonishment to realize the 'pistol' was loaded with 12 gauge slugs. He racked the slide to remove the shell in the chamber and set it down while looking at her curiously. "I could tell you I'm on your side till I'm blue in the face," she told him. "I think this way is more effective, don't you?"
"You have my attention," he admitted. "Alright, so, Heather, right?" She nodded. "So, Heather, what's your story?"
Royce shrugged her indifference, but it did very pleasant things to her anatomy under the silk top he couldn't help but notice. "I was a Vegas Show Girl, and a Junkie; more Junkie than Show Girl these last few years. My regular hook up got pinched, so I got desperate and went looking for a new hook up. The new guy was a kidnapper for Dr. DNA. So I wake up here and the sadistic son of bitch gives me a choice, turn into this," she said with a wave at her form, "or enough smack to not care about the last days of my life."
Nick nodded in guarded respect. "That's quite testament to you for getting off..."
She snorted in derision. "Are you stupid? You think a Junkie who's jonesing for a fix is going to take any kind of moral high road? I picked what I thought was the smack and was ready to go out in a blaze of glory! Only it wasn't heroin, and there wasn't any choice."
"I'm sorry," he told her quietly.
"For what?" she asked with a laugh. "Thinking I'm a better person than I was? Thank you, Captain! And, I may be an inhuman freak, but I'm clean, I've beaten the addiction and I'm in better shape physically than I've ever been in my life. Now, if you can just kill the son of bitch that did it to me and let me watch, you will have my eternal and undying gratitude." Her humor was infectious and he joined her in a dry chuckle.
The coffee was excellent and the homey setting was putting him off his guard. He shook his head to clear the growing affection for her that kept grabbing at his attention and purposefully drank too much of the coffee to have the pain from the heat keep his mind clear. "Can you tell me why I keep finding you irresistible?" he asked. "No offense, you're a beautiful...whatever we are...but..."
"Pheromones," she replied instantly. "We're both putting them out and believe me Captain, it is only the constant thought of imagining my poor, overbearing mother walking in on us that keeps my hands off you."
"You know what they are?" she asked.
"A kind of under scent that animals use to communicate things like going into heat, looking for a mate, things like that, aren't they?" She nodded.
"Look, Nick, I'll give it to you straight, we are intended to be together. Me as your Alpha, well, 'wife' I guess would be the best word." A cloud crossed over his face and she guessed his next question before he asked it. "Meant to be together by Dr. DNA, the asshole who did this to us, remember? Our human genes have been spliced or something with, hell, I don't understand it, I'm an ex hoofer who's a real 'hoofer' now. I remember that our 'breed' is called Shire."
"Shires are large draft horses," he said. "They're bigger than Clydesdales, but there's a little back and forth about who's bigger between them and Belgians."
"Score one for the City Boy!" she said with a smile.
Nick shrugged. "My great uncle raised horses, Appaloosas, and I spent some summers as a young kid with him. What does that have to do with us?"
"Your team, and the crew of the chopper that was bringing you here survived the chopper being forced down," she told him. "This has happened to all of them. Dr. DNA picked eight horse 'breeds' he wanted to experiment with and transformed you, me, them and a number of other girls kidnapped from all over. He expects us to breed."
"It'll be a cold day in hell!" snapped Nick, out raged. "No offense...!" he added quickly.
She waved off his concern. "None taken. But, I'll be honest with you Nick, I don't know how much longer I can be civil."
"Bite down on your tongue," he instructed. "I find pain helps cut through it."
"Yeah, but I'm not into pain," she shot back. "Unless you are...?"
"Stay with me," he cautioned.
She suited actions to words and with a quick stride headed to the doors leading out onto the deck. "Let's go out side. The wind will help disperse the hormones!" He followed mesmerized by the sway of her generous hips and toned buttocks, accented by the back and forth counter motion of her tail. Brennan stuck his nose into his coffee and breathed deeply, trying to clear his head. Once outside, they sat on a comfortable set of benches facing each other, the wind blowing across both of them so neither was down wind of the other. The fire cooled somewhat.
October 9th, 1969
The Quad, Whateley Academy
Marty Ashner was miserable.
The gilt was firmly off the rose of Whateley Academy. At first it had seemed it was the answer to every prayer he'd prayed in New Jersey. It was a school with the very best of technical experts and state of the art equipment. There was not one but two computers on campus with three dedicated technicians and engineers from IBM to work them. More importantly, they were also there to explain them! No, the facilities weren't the problem.
And there were peers and kindred spirits among the faculty and the other engineering track students. Mr. Duncan could be a little short tempered, but he wasn't like a number of the other teachers, who were constantly harping on being a good citizen, always being respectful of authority, a good hero. Jack Duncan taught how things really were, how to get what you wanted, and the price you'd have to pay for it. It wasn't the teachers, even if some them were a trifle old fashioned.
Marty cringed, he knew that voice. He'd hoped he could avoid the issue by not taking the tunnels between Schuster and Dunn Hall. It would appear that he'd been out flanked. He looked over his shoulder to see Andy coming after him, but neither Tom or Harry his normal minions with him. Marty turned to make a run for it, and stumbled face first into the missing boys who seized him. Andy snarled in a rage and punched the helpless boy in the stomach. Marty collapsed, gasping for breath and blinking back tears as Tom and Harry laughed. "You little bitch!" snarled Andy. "You think you can do this to me?"
Andy's hair was bright green, which was exactly what the 'super soldier serum' he'd demanded Marty make for him (for free no less!) was supposed to do. Of course, what Andy had demanded was a serum that would make him stronger and faster, and mentioned nothing about his hair, as if Marty was stupid enough to make his tormentor stronger. Obviously, the other boy didn't think having lime green hair was very funny. Andy kicked Marty, causing the other boy to curl into a ball, trying to protect himself. "I'll stomp you like the little bug you are!"
"Leave him alone!" shouted a new voice, somewhat high and nasal.
Marty risked looking up to see another boy, a freshman from the workshop he was sure, walking up, bold and eyes blazing. There was a pistol of some kind in his hand. "What are you going to do about, pussy boy?" Demanded Andy with a sneer. The pistol came up.
"Move along or I'll disintegrate you!"
"Who do you think you're talking to?" Tom demanded.
"I mean it! Move off!" The thin boy threatened. Tom activated his power, his uniform splitting as the boy's skin grew with massive muscles and solid rock grew out of his skin. He took a menacing step forward and the pistol tracked to him and the young engineer pulled the trigger. "You asked for it!" he shouted.
Then the pistol shorted out in shower of sparks and smoke. Not that it mattered to Tom. He was well and truly enraged now that a lowly nerd of a freshman had stood up to him. Neither boy could really remember the beating that followed and for that they were both grateful.
October 12th, 1969
St. Louis Hospital, Berlin, NH
When Marty awoke he was in an unfamiliar room that was obviously in a hospital. That was bad enough, considering the amount of pain he was in, what made matters worse was the Headmaster was standing at the side of his bed, and just when he thought things couldn't get any worse he realized his father was in the room as well.
This was going to be a bad day.
"Martin," Dr. Alexander asked softly, his hands glowing. "How do you feel?"
"Sore, sir," Martin finally was able to say. "I...I hurt a lot..."
"You're going to be here for quite a while, I'm afraid," the Headmaster said. "The doctors are concerned that if I use much more magic to heal you there may be consequences."
"Andy beat me up," Marty cried with a painful, wracking wet cough. He didn't give a damn if he was thought a tattle tail now, the only way this could get worse is for him to be killed. Based on what he saw, that was nearly what happened. "The other boy, Tom Jasper..."
"Tom was expelled the day of the attack," Dr. Alexander told him. He's currently in the custody of the DPA awaiting trial for attempted Murder. He won't bother you again."
"But, the boy...?"
"Joe," a voice said on the other side of the curtain hanging between the two beds. Dr. Alexander moved it and revealed a young man in a full body cast, one eye covered in it, the other swollen and purple but looking at Marty. He managed to smile. "My name is Joe Wilkins, what's yours?"
"Marty," the grateful young man said with a smile. "Marty Ashner. Dr. Alexander, can I have my books, my midterm...?"
"You boys concentrate on getting better," the Headmaster ordered softly. "Learning can wait." He turned and made a 'you first' gesture to Marty's dad. From the look on his face, it seemed obvious the two adults were going to go have an argument somewhere.
March 10th, 2000
The Brennan Residence, Paradise Island
"Better," she said with a smile and a wink.
He nodded guardedly. "Yes, thanks; it was a great idea, Heather. Not that being with you would be a bad thing...!"
She shook her head. "Save it, Nick. You have the hots for me, I have 'em for you. It doesn't hurt my feelings you don't want to be puppet on his strings. I, uh, well, excuse me for being forward, but I wish I'd run into a guy like you sooner. Maybe I wouldn't have taken so many wrong turns in life."
He nodded again and looked out at the vista behind her. "Jesus, this is beautiful. But it's cooler than I would have thought this close to the equator, this time of year." She had trouble meeting his gaze and he noticed it. "Heather, how long have we been here?"
"I was kidnapped about three years ago," she said softly, her eyes over his shoulder. "Whatever it is he does to us takes a year. Mostly in a vat."
"You're telling me...?"
"It's actually Y2K, uh, Friday, March 10th to be exact," she whispered. "I'm very sorry."
Bile rose in Nick's throat and the world spun slowly for a moment. Yesterday it had been late July and 1998. And he had been human. "We were alerted by the Nicaraguan government that they suspected Dr. DNA had set up shop in the archipelago. We were to come in, scout and discover the situation and if we could free hostages or lay hands on him to do so, otherwise report back and spear head a larger force."
She nodded, still not meeting his gaze. "You got sold up the river from jump street, Nick. I don't know why he wanted soldiers, but I'm pretty sure he was the one who leaked he was here."
"And now he's raised this shelf," he growled softly. "What's his game? Is Gizmatic licensing out what ever gizmo let him make Karedonia? If so, why is Dr. DNA using it? They hate each other! And why hasn't the US done something more?"
"I thought if you guys got caught 'the secretary disavows all knowledge?' she asked with a weak smile. "You got caught, so...?"
Nick thought for a long moment then shook his head. "No, it doesn't work like that. My chalk was in uniform, there's no 'disavowing knowledge,' we're US Army Soldiers. Besides, the raid was sanctioned by the Nicaraguan government who legally has dominion over these islands. I barely remember the crash and no interrogation at all. We should have been repatriated by now, even if he did want to trot out the cameras for the lame stream media about 'American Adventurism'. Why do this to us?"
She finally worked up the strength to look him in the eyes again. "Nick, I told you, he means for us to breed, we're his pet race."
"I'll be damned to hell before I make a child to fall into that mad man's hands!" Brennan shouted as he shot to his hooves and walked over to the over hang of the deck closest to the bay it over looked. "You said my chalk is here?" he demanded.
"My team," he interrupted, impatiently, "the rest of my team. Where are they?"
She shrugged. "They're our neighbors. This subdivision is ours."
"Are there more guns? What about ammo?"
"Nick, you should know, you don't have privacy here! He's watching!"
"I'll give him something to watch," growled the Ranger as he walked back to the girl and coaxed her to her feet. "So, are there more guns? Pick a side, Heather!"
"I'm on your side, Goddamn it!" she shouted, "but what you're talking about is suicide! I'm trying to tell you..." Before she could continue the flat screen popped on, revealing a short, pudgy looking rat faced man with slicked back hair from a widow's peak who vaguely resembled Roy Brocksmith, the actor. He was dressed in a rumpled white lab coat over a set of surgical scrubs and didn't bother with a mask.
"Easy with the goods, Captain! I went to a lot of trouble to make a junkie into your genetically perfect mate!"
Nick strode back into the house scowling. "Dr. DNA, I presume?" he growled. The pudgy man in the screen bowed mockingly from the neck.
"None other," the nasal voice affirmed. "And, I'd like to thank you for that fantastic opening performance! We're in commercial now, but the initial ratings are through the roof! So, I thought I'd pop in quickly and fill in some of Heather's blanks."
"What are you babbling about?" demanded the soldier.
"Captain, you and your men are the stars of the greatest reality event in human or, I should say, E. Sapiens, history! Everywhere on this island I've created for you are thousands of cameras and microphones. It's all uploaded and edited in real time in both a 24/7 continuous feed and an edited, hour long weekly 'series'. Science isn't cheap you know, and this opening has out done my wildest expectations! Why at this rate the merchandizing rights alone will make me rich beyond the dreams of that fool Bruce Goodkind!"
Disbelieving, Nick turned to Heather who shrugged listlessly. "Sorry, I was trying to tell you," she said.
"You put a POW on a 24/7 feed?" demanded Nick incredulously.
"Oh, of course not!" snapped DNA. "I've put a genetic experiment that has delusions of being a POW on a 24/7 feed. And that's all the networks care about."
"I have authorization codes, operational knowledge...?"
"Oh I wouldn't" warned DNA. "First, Nick Brennan, is dead. He died in a helicopter crash and you are an artificial life form that I created and gave his memories to! That last thing you want to do is make the US Government think my little reality show actually has 16 soldiers they wrote off for dead! You see, that makes you a threat as you have knowledge they'd rather not let out! And this island is home to a rather large and innocent population! You wouldn't want the government to have a 'nuclear accident' and kill thousands of innocent people, would you?"
"Volunteers!" gushed DNA. "Did you know there is an entire subculture in the US of people who will pay tremendous amounts of money, sign over everything they have in fact, to have happen to them what I've done to you for free? Who needs venture capitalists?"
"You just said that I'm not Nick Brennan so you plan to kill this subculture in a series of helicopter accidents?" demanded the Captain with a sardonically raised eyebrow. The little man on the screen smiled and was dismissive.
"Caveat Emptor, Captain. You remember being Nick Brennan, don't you? So do they remember being someone else. It's all in the fine print. And now, Captain, you and your team are going to be the core of my defense force. You'll train the likely volunteers to be my new guards and police for this new country we're going to found."
"You're high," snorted Brennan. "Or delusional, if you think..."
"I don't think, Captain, I know. I know your government has written you off. And I know if you prove them in error their 'correction' will likely cost you your life, the lives of your team, and all these innocent men and women I've kidnapped, co-opted or simply immigrated to my island paradise. And all that innocent blood rests on you to defend. Now, Captain, will Uncle Sam give you a home like this? Or women like Heather? Play your part, and you'll find that you and your children will have long, happy, fulfilling lives. Think about it."
The screen went dark while Nick hurled obscenities at it for a full minute before he mastered his temper again. After the long quiet, Nick sank down on the sofa and held his head in his hands. Heather eventually worked up the courage to come over and rub his shoulders. "Jesus," he whispered. "What am I? Is he telling the truth? Am I just some thing he made and somehow put a dead man's memories into?"
"He told me he changed me into this," she told him. "I don't remember what happened. I shot up and then I woke up this way and a year had passed."
"God," he whispered, "I..." he trailed off and was filled with anger. "God as my witness, I'll get the answer out of him if it's the last thing I do...!" He stood again and turned to face her. "Can I count on you, Heather?" She came around the couch and slid her hands up his chest to hang over his shoulders. She was only a few inches shorter than he was and they could look eye to eye and he found that very appealing. She leaned forward and kissed him, her wide lips soft against his own.
His body reacted and before he could stop himself he'd gathered her into a smoldering embrace and held her tightly against him. She pulled her lips away and proclaimed, "I am the 'alpha' of your herd, Nick. You can always count on me." Her scent was in his nose and his emotions were getting raw and powerful. He tried to pull away, but she was strong and resisted him. She laid a trail of kisses up his long face so that she could whisper, wide lipped into his ear, "If you want to gut that little toad I'll hand you the knife and hold him down, but let's do it smart, and quietly. They're watching."
Nick swallowed and, laying hands on her full hips gently pushed so they could step apart. He was panting and his blood was boiling with repressed lust. "I want you to know," he gasped. "If it wasn't what that monster wanted, I...we...you and I..."
"I'm not going to live my life doing or not doing something based on what I think 'that monster' does or doesn't want," she said as she untied the robe and slid it off her shoulders to lay on the couch. She stepped forward, and he gave ground. "I want you, who ever, what ever you are." He kept backing up and she kept advancing until he was suddenly stopped by the cold glass of the picture wall looking out over the bay. "If you say you're Nick Brennan, that's good enough for me," she said as she stepped into his personal space and rubbed his chest through the shirt with her hands. "I want you. I don't care what he wants. I don't care if he watches. I don't care about anything except you."
"That's the pheromones talking," he rasped, forcing a dry tongue to pronounce dry words he wasn't sure he meant. She leaned forward and gently, sweetly kissed him again.
"You think so?" she asked softly. "Ok, I'm going to go upstairs and take a shower. The air will clear pretty quickly when I'm gone. If you feel the same way now in five minutes; come see me. If I feel the same way, the door will be unlocked. I'll be waiting;" she stepped back and turned, giving him a grand view of her posterior. "Wet," she added over her shoulder with a wink, "and naked." She sauntered off to his undivided attention until she was out of sight.
Nick panted for a long time staring at the stairwell she'd disappeared up until the sound of water running through the pipes was caught by his sharp ears, snapping him out of the memory. Now, his vivid imagination painted her in that fit for a king shower, warm water running down every curve and glistening in the fine fur that covered both of them. His nose sent him the comment that when wet, her scent would probably magnify, like when he'd washed his uncle's farm dogs and oddly, that combined with the image in his mind and made his jeans very uncomfortable. He cast a final glance at the dark flat screen, then turned back to the stair well and made a decision.
"I'm going to kill you, DNA," he announced to the room. "But because of her, you get to die quickly." His long legs had him across the room and up the stairs in seconds.
April 27th, 1974
Day Room, Emerson Cottage, Whateley Academy
Marty seethed with anger. After he had done for that little no body, after being his friend when no one else would, that he could have the balls to...to... Ashner snarled in frustration, unable to vent his anger by any way other than yelling at the books that lined the walls. His hurt, his anger, his betrayal, it was all so cosmically unfair. "Is this a bad time?" drawled a voice behind him in the door way.
Marty wheeled to find one of the 'flashy' mutants standing there, eying him calmly. His lantern jaw was set, eyes steely and hair close cropped. The boy held himself erect, hands behind his back, face coolly neutral. "What do you want, Fred?" snarled Marty. It wasn't the wisest thing to do to yell at an exemplar and brick of Fredrick Coveanu's level, but his rage didn't have Marty thinking very clearly. Fortunately, Fredrick didn't take offense.
"To rule, of course," the other replied softly as he pulled the door shut and regally walked over to a more conversational distance. "And while ruling from strength and fear are quick paths to power, they are also unstable ones, rife with rebellion and constantly being on guard. I intend to rule from intelligence."
"Very noble," snapped Martin. "Now, if you'll excuse me..." he started to push past but the other boy caught his arm. It wasn't a painful grip, it wasn't intended to cause harm, but it was just as steely and unbreakable as if it had been.
"I can see you're upset, Martin, but I'm afraid I must insist, this really cannot wait."
Martin got his anger in check. While many a brick or exemplar had picked on him over the years, he did have to admit that Fredrick's aloof aristocratic style was nicer than being thrown around. And Paramount could throw people around with the best of them. "What is it you want, Paramount? Don't you have enough super powers without...?"
"I have not come to you for something so crass as a business transaction, Martin," the other boy said in his odd, lilting accent that was impossible to place. He turned, his dark eyes boring into Martin with intense focus. "What I want from you is loyalty, and for it I'm willing to give you respect, recognition and, forgive me for bowing to mere practicality, patronage. What is it Mr. Duncan is always spouting? 'Science isn't cheap and knowledge is never free?'"
Martin turned to face the taller boy face on and found his arm free of the others grip. "Alright, I'm intrigued. What did you have in mind?"
"Villainy is a fool's game," Coveanu declared. "A raised nail looking for an attentive hammer. And while logistics is the bane of every army, it is my intention to keep such costumed theatrics to a minimum. I provide you with security and capital from certain free lance work I will take for various governments that need assistance keeping their populations in line. You will provide products to sell and enhance my followers. I will carve out a place for us and you will never again be under the heel of a bully."
"So, you want me to be your Court Jew?" he asked guardedly.
"What god, if any, you choose to worship is your own affair," Paramount replied evenly. He extended a hand. "Do we have a deal, Doctor DNA?"
Marty looked up from the offered hand. It had rankled that the school's insistence on code names had so many stupid rules. Ashner knew he had more than enough knowledge for three separate doctorates, but 'Doctor' Alexander wouldn't allow it. "When you have been awarded a PhD., Martin," he'd said repeatedly. "Then you can call yourself Doctor whatever you like."
To Marty's knowledge the hypocrite didn't even have a master's degree. Ashner took the hand and gave as firm a handshake as he could. "Deal, Lord Paramount."
Fredrick smiled thinly. "Catchy. I may use that."
You can say the human heart
Is only make-believe
And I am only fighting fire with fire
But you are still a victim
Of the accidents you leave
As sure as I'm a victim of desire
Don't Ask Me Why - Billy Joel
April 24th, 1980
'Desert One' The Great Salt Desert Near Tabas, Iran
The hot desert crawled with men, machines and aircraft. There were helicopters coming and going, turbo prop cargo planes dropping flats laden with fuel barrels without landing or stopping that technicians were frantically using to refuel the various machines and every where around the parameter of the flat, open and exposed desert was a ring of killers with weapons, scanning the horizon. All it would take was one goat herder, one nomad to see this massive collection of soldiers, sailors and airmen of the 'Great Satan' and for him to be missed and get to a phone.
They were more than a match for any kind of local militia or armed band, but a dedicated attack from an army would be the death of all of them and they knew it. Martin watched the men scurry about, keeping an eye on the case of his latest iteration of performance enhancers and their 'after action' cool down sets for the Paramount Guards. Most had gone with Fredrick to Tehran, but some were manning the perimeter with a Navy Seal Team and a Ranger company flown in from West Germany. He was concerned the mercenaries wouldn't get along with the SEALs and Rangers, but the reputation of the Guards was evidently gaining a quiet acceptance in the 'operator' community and the men were quite congenial.
"Here they come!" someone shouted and Martin came out of the shelter of a tarp up on poles into the merciless heat and sun. Shielding his hands he saw only two of the three Hughes 'Vindicator' hover craft Fredrick had taken with him for the final assault on the compound.
That didn't bode well.
Martin grabbed his case and trotted over to the field where Lord Paramount was landing, his once splendid red and gold uniform a ruin, its cape a shredded mess. Martin ran up with the air injector but Fredrick raised a hand. "See to the men, first, Doctor," he ordered, obviously in pain, but his head was high and alert. Martin didn't press the issue.
Four Guards were put immediately into body bags, and though he would do his best, Martin was sure six more would follow them. The rescued hostages were repatriated to the United States Armed Forces, each of them chanting gratitude and weeping for joy. The Colonel that was in charge of the operation saluted Lord Paramount as he handed him the brief case of his payment. The two men shook hands before Fredrick went back to supervising getting his people into the Conquest.
Conquest was a Zeppelin, Lord Paramount's Mobil assault platform and while it wasn't as fast as the helicopters or jets that US forces were busy loading, it was much stronger, far better armed, and of course, had the added benefit that anyone attacking it had to deal with Lord Paramount himself. Martin's orderlies got the wounded on board while he set about trying to save who he could.
Ten hours of surgery later, Martin was feeling proud of himself, despite being exhausted and was glad he had only one patient left to deal with. He went to see to Fredrick himself. The roar of the turbofans that were pushing the Zeppelin out of Iran were muted by the well sound proofed accommodations. As he expected, Martin found Fredrick in his cabin, shirtless and brooding. "How did we do, Martin?" he asked around a sip of wine from the goblet he was drinking from.
"Seven," he admitted. Paramount winced and took another drink. "It was bad?"
"I hate fighting fanatics," Paramount muttered. "They never admit they're beaten." Martin looked at the discarded gauntlets from the uniform Fredrick had been wearing. They were red, but now, this close he could see they were soaked in blood. "Martin, there must be something we can do with the Guards, something more...?"
"I cannot make men into mutants, Fredrick," the young scientist and physician replied. "No one can, and we're pushing the limits of performance enhancement as it is. Unless..."
"No lethal side effects," Paramount commanded, weary of the old argument. "And if you can't make them mutants there must be something more we can do!"
"Fredrick, what would you have me...?
"You're the scientist!" Coveanu declared quietly. Most men would have needed to shout, but Lord Paramount was not most men. "Gene splicing perhaps, or some kind of hybridization, something. I need followers who can keep up with me and live to fight again."
Martin rubbed his narrow chin. "That's...that's a very long term project, Fredrick. And not a cheap one! We'll need funds and a secure location..."
Paramount rose and walked over the map of the world on one wall. "Africa is too unstable," he muttered to himself. "Conquering would be child’s play, but holding would be a blood bath." He rubbed his nose and looked. "Advanced infrastructure I'm guessing?"
Martin nodded. "And first world access would be preferred."
"Can you put your past with Joseph aside?"
Marty crossed his arms angrily. "If I have to," he finally acquiesced.
Paramount smiled and looked back at the map, his eyes fixed on eastern Europe. "I'll see what I can do. I'm as tired as you are of playing the mercenary. We've just bought some good will from America. We'll cash it in later, I think, but for now... Now it's becoming time to settle."
March 10th, 2000
The Brennan Residence, Paradise Island
The door was unlocked when he arrived, which was just as well, given his emotional state. This new body's strength would have made quick work of it in any event. The bedroom was how he'd left it; save that her jeans and the teddy lay on the corner of the bed and the bathroom door was open in suggestion, spilling light into the room and across the garments. Her scent was heavy on the jeans and the warm, earthy smell of her was making him dizzy with desire.
Below took notice of her scent and the fantasies that were spinning in his mind and began making the front of his jeans uncomfortable. Nick bit down on his tongue hard as he crossed to the still open French doors and breathed deeply of the fresh, sea breeze coming off the bay. "I am not an animal!" he swore to himself as he deeply inhaled and tried to clear his head. It was like being a teenager again, his blood boiling with hormones and somehow having been propositioned by some teen fantasy.
He closed his eyes as he panted in the fresh air like a steam engine, but was betrayed by his minds eye as he imagined her in the shower. In his imagination she looked over her shoulder at him, the red fur matted to her magnificent form as it cascaded down her curves, blonde and roan running together to her tail that swayed like a belly dancer, tempting him...
The pain of his erection and it's confinement over rode the teenage adolescent fantasy, causing him to grunt in pain and pull the jeans off. Nick had never been one of those guys who worried about his endowment. He hadn't drawn stares in the locker room, nor been worthy of nicknames like 'peanut' and so had accounted himself comfortably average. The ladies who had shared his bed had never complained, more to the point, most had found his confidence and technique his chief draws.
Free of the confinement of the heavy denim, Nick stared at the member that waved in the cool, morning breeze from between his legs. Its size made him think at first that it simply wasn't real, but a tentative grip from his hand disabused him of that notion. Nick had seen aroused stallions before, but to have something as large as this attached to him was a completely new experience, and not a pleasant one. He closed his eyes and tried to get control of himself. The sound of the water running through the walls was a constant bite at his subconscious that she was near and waiting for him. It was an itch he couldn't scratch and was somewhat ashamed of himself for the difficulty he was having with mastering himself.
"I am not an animal!" he growled to himself again, doing his best to ignore the sensory over load his brain was swimming through. Clinching and unclenching his fists, Nick began to chant the manual of arms, the General Orders and his chain of command, anything he could think of to keep control of himself. So deep was he in this effort, he completely failed to notice the sound of the water stop, or her soft approach behind him.
"Nick?" she asked softly. Her hands slid up his shoulders and began to knead the tense muscles before he shot to his hooves and turned to face her.
"No!" he shouted. "I'm not an animal, but I can't control myself!"
She smirked and cocked her hip to plant a hand on it. "Who's asking you to?" She saw the fear in his eyes as he panted and fought with himself. "Baby?"
"My hand of God," he swore. "I will not rape you...!"
"Oh my gallant knight," she purred, understanding his predicament at last. "You can't rape the willing. Didn't I make it clear to you what I wanted?" She pulled off the towel she had wrapped around herself and turned back to climb onto the bed on her knees. Looking over her shoulder she smiled and lifted her tail to bare herself to him. "Come on baby, your lady is waiting."
"I..." he stammered.
"Shhh," she scolded him softly. "Don't think, just come be with me. I want you just as much as you want me." Hesitantly, she felt his fingers gently caress her cheeks, the tender explorations of a boy becoming a man all over again. His breath gave her a shiver of warning before he gave in and tongue began to explore her womanhood. "Oh, Captain," she moaned as her folds gave way to his explorations and surrendered her center to his tongue.
His hands gently roamed over her legs and buttocks while he inhaled deeply at his ministrations. Yet his tongue kept a lazy, languid pace as it roamed through her folds and valleys. His tongue was wide and strong as it covered the core of her being while his hands were a light counter point in his explorations. Any fear that she had that their first coupling would be rough and urgent was dispelled by his measured, needful discovery. As her first orgasm began to roll from her center out through her stomach, the small part of her brain that still cared about such things realized that he must have mastered his emotions by giving in to them.
Heather grunted in pleasure and shook through the orgasm, but he didn't stop or even pick up his pace. "Oh, Nick," she purred as a second orgasm, more powerful than the first raced up her nervous system hard on the heels of the first. The spasms became intense and without her willing it, her hips tried to pull away from his urgent tongue. This caused him to grab her around the waist so that he could redouble his efforts. She panted, trying to catch her breath as her muscles worked against themselves, despite the ecstasy she was lost in, her hips held captive by his firm grip and his face buried in her nether regions. "Nick...!" she panted, jerking from the stimulation and finally pulling her hips away to look at him, gasping for breath.
His face was covered in a contrite expression and her leavings. "Too much...?" he asked softly, causing her to grin at his sheepishness.
"Mr. Brennan," she panted, catching her breath. "I do believe you are a keeper."
He stood, chuckling at her sense of humor, but still more than a little embarrassed. "Well, speaking of big fish, I ah, seem to have grown..." It was obvious he was self conscious about what had happened to him, and were Heather in her old body, the size of the organ he presented would likely have filled her with terror. However looking at it now, its length and thickness only filled her with a feeling of excitement and expectation.
As the desire bubbled up in Heather, she reached out to gently take him in hand. He shivered at her touch, but allowed himself to be led as she used her hold to coax him into the bed. "Well, come here, big boy," she told him softly. "I think I know just where you can put this to use."
She lifted her leg as she laid on her side to give him access and purchase. She rubbed the flat oval of his head through her folds, still slick and dripping from his previous ministrations, the positioned him at her entrance. "Take me," she whispered to him, softly stroking his thigh with her free hand. "Take your lady, my gentle knight."
A shudder ran up and down him as his nervous system processed the sensations and his hips spasm-ed in frustrated desire to spear her. His nostrils flared as he hugged her leg against his chest while he slowly scooted forward on his knees. She gasped softly as his manhood pierced her folds and snaked its way inside her. A second maiden head she didn't know she had resisted him for a moment, and then gave way to warm, nearly burning sensation that brought a gasp from both of them. "Oh...my...God," he whispered, quivering as his muscles fired in random patterns from over stimulation.
Heather laid her head back on the cushioned pillow top of the mattress and exalted in the feeling of being filled. It was more intense, more of everything than she'd ever experienced in her life, full to the brim and stretching, giving way to the unyielding need of her man. There was no pain or discomfort, even the mild burning sensation of the second loss of her virginity was now only a pleasant ache as he withdrew for a short eternity and began to fill her again. She closed her eyes and moaned as the feeling of his balls against her thigh announced he had claimed her to the hit and brought on her third orgasm. "You stud," she moaned, rolling her head back and forth in the waves of pleasure radiating out from her womanhood.
He sawed in and out of her in a long, languid rhythm, somewhat exaggerated by the length of his member, grunting in pleasure as the spasms of her vagina gripped and squeezed him. "Oh, God, Heather," he grunted, "I..."
"Just let it go, baby," she gasped. "Shit that feels so good!"
"Oh, fuck," he moaned as he buried himself deep within her. Heather felt the warm spray of him inside her grunting another moan as this new sensation joined the cacophony on her brain. She felt him gently move her leg around him as he bent over lying on top of her, sweating, and trembling in his own orgasm.
She rubbed and kneaded his shoulders, relishing the feeling of a man of this caliber on top of and yet inside her as she came down from her own high, to realize he was panting, "I'm sorry," over and over in her ear. Finally she pulled away enough to be able to look him in the eyes and silenced his apology with a thick finger over his lips.
"For what, baby?" she asked with a warm smile. "What could you possibly be sorry for after that?"
The contrite look on his face lifted a bit, but he was still more than little hang dog as he panted, "I...I haven't come that fast since I was in high school, I'm sorry..."
She laughed, a glorious, free laugh speared to the bed by him as she used her own strength to roll him onto his back and straddle him. "Oh, City Boy, the first time a stallion covers a new mare it's always a pretty quick affair. The first time anyway." His eyes went wide as she pulled herself up his pole and slid sensuously back down it. What little amount of softness his manhood had achieved clenched in her warm, wet embrace vanished she tasseled out her blonde tresses over him. "You didn't think I was going to be satisfied with one cover, did you?"
"I really have died and gone to heaven," he whispered as she rode him.
She smiled down him as she clinched her muscles and twisted her hips. "You ain't seen nothing yet, cowboy!"
February 12th, 1982
High Roost, the secret base of Lord Paramount
Paramount observed the first group of volunteers impassively as they were being run through an obstacle course. Their agility was remarkable, he had to admit, and the speed and reflexes were nearly a quarter better than the accepted 'baseline' metric, well into exemplar territory. The 'catamounts' as Dr. DNA had taken to calling them were a test group of ten volunteers, five males, five females, all promised hefty bonuses for volunteering and of course Paramount's own word that would they would undergo would not kill them.
Their nails had altered into retractable claws, their eyes over a week of intense pain and a short stint of temporary blindness had altered into vertical slitted cat's eyes giving them remarkable night vision. But it was not all success. The agility and reflexes had come at a price of strength and mass. None of them had been body builders to start with, but the females were all under one hundred pounds now and the men were at one fifty and dropping. They worked brilliantly in short bursts, but their stamina was all but gone. "You're unhappy with them?" asked Martin as he watched Fredrick watch the test. "Have they been complaining?"
"No," Fredrick answered. "To both. I had hoped for something sturdier with staying power, but I can already see uses for these Catamounts of yours. As scouts they should be without equal. I'd prefer more stamina, but it's frankly amazing what you've accomplished, Martin. Other than the weight loss and decrease in muscle mass are there other side effects?"
"They sleep more," Ashner replied. "But with the increase in their metabolism that's to be expected. Otherwise they seem perfectly healthy."
Paramount rubbed his chin. "What about something larger and stronger? What are the practical limits?"
"Time and money," Martin replied bluntly. "Although the stress on the system from just this much tinkering was quite severe. I'll be honest, I hadn't expected the temporary blindness, or the eye changes."
"The body is just a hallow," purred the Emerald Enchantress, Fredrick's latest conquest, from his elbow. "Grow a new body and move the soul."
Paramount looked at her, then back Martin. "Can you do that?"
Ashner scratched the back of his head. "Well, I don't know about 'souls' but it should be a fairly simple matter to copy the complete brain engrams and transpose them onto a blank slate. The problem is the clone. They're hideously unstable. It might be traumatic to the donor to watch a 'copy' of himself die as the clone gave out. I won't be able to get that stable without killing clones. People, technically if you believe in 'souls'."
Paramount thought long and hard as he watched the Catamounts preform feats of gymnastics even he would have trouble with. "Start small," he said at last. "Get the body where you want it and stable. I won't risk volunteers, but traitors or deserters I suppose I owe no allegiance to. And, once Operation Homeland is finalized, I'll have access to a jail full of condemned criminals for you. I want it perfect before I risk a loyal trooper."
"It will take quite some time, Fredrick."
"Why does he get to call you Fredrick?" demanded the Enchantress.
Coveanu looked at her impassively, his voice distant and cool. "Because he has saved my life twice and the lives of hundreds of my men," he answered her. "He has earned my trust and my respect and I reward his loyalty with that and other privileges he has earned. And when you have proven yourself as Martin has, you will find yourself equally compensated."
The sorceress snatched her arm from his elbow and stomped off in a huff, slamming the door in her wake. Martin pursed his lips. "I don't think she'll last that long."
Fredrick chuckled. "I appreciate you not saying 'I told you so'."
"Magic users," sniffed Martin in disdain. "Can you ever really trust them?"
"She has her uses," Paramount replied. "Mostly in bed, but there are others. Take the time you need, Martin. And the money. This is your highest priority."
He nodded. "Understood."
March 10th, 2000
The Brennan Residence, Paradise Island
Nick lay on the bed with a silly grin on his face feeling completely sated and for the first time since he'd woken up thinking clearly. He interlaced his hands and made a pillow for his head as he watched her pick up their discarded towels and underwear and dump them into a dirty clothes hamper in a corner he hadn't noticed. The attraction to her trim, toned body was still there and a fond affection that was rapidly coalescing into something stronger and deeper, but the urgent, almost teenage grip of lust had finally released him. He could appreciate her now without loosing all other trains of thought.
Finally she satisfied whatever nesting instinct had driven her to get up and straighten while he basked in the afterglow and watched her. She turned to him and cocked a hand on her hip and demand, "What are you grinning about?"
"I was just thinking I should send a letter to TRADOC."
"TRADOC," he repeated, "Training and Doctrine Command, it's the division of the Army that handles training." She slid into the bed next to him inside his arm. It was an easy intimacy and she felt very good there.
"Got that," she said with a smile. "What would this letter say?"
"Oh, just that they never covered this in POW School."
She reared her head back and looked down on him. "You have a school on how to be a POW?" she demanded.
"What to expect and how to cope," he countered.
"And of course you went to it," she said rolling her eyes. "So, was it a Ranger thing, or did you go just for general bad ass points?"
His face clouded and the playfulness that had brightened his mood went away. "The real question is did I go at all, isn't it?" She rubbed his cheek in encouragement, but he sat up quickly.
"We'll find out," she promised.
"Right now," he countered. Over his shoulder he winked at her. "Much as I hate to say it, but get dressed, I need you to play native guide."
"Anything for you, kemosabe," she returned as she slid out of bed. "What's the agenda?"
"Regroup and recon," he told her as he pulled on the jeans and flannel she had folded for him on the top of the dresser. "Do you know where the cameras and microphones are?" She shook her head.
"Assume they're everywhere, and probably in here too," she said crossly. "If this is his new reality show, you can bet we don't have a lick of privacy. The real ratings magic is supposed to be happening here anyway."
"You people are sick," he announced to the room and her chuckle. "First, I want to check my people, then I want to know the lay of the land. How many people are on these two islands? Are they equines like us or human, or some other twisted fantasy of his? Where is DNA's workshop?"
"Slow down, Nick!" she protested, pulling on her own jeans and coaxing her impressive bosom into a bra. "Give me a chance to answer...!" He crossed the room and ducked into the closet to rummage.
"Not looking for words, honey, but visuals. Ah, thought so," he proclaimed, coming back out while buckling a black nylon gun belt with a drop thigh holster that would fit the pistol onto his frame. "First, we figure out what we have to work with, then we get to work."
She caught his arm to slow him down. "Doing what, baby? What's your goal? Going home? Do we even have a home to go to? We don't even known if we've ever technically been off these islands!"
"That is question number one," he told her softly. "I don't know where or how we'll end up, Heather, but as long as you're with me, I know we'll make something of it. Here, the States, Madagascar for all I care, but I will know what our status is, then we'll decide what to do together. How about it?"
She sighed and nodded before she pulled on a blouse and followed him down the stairs and out the front door, after he paused to collect and reload the pistol before he placed it into the holster. The sun was up now, and there were, to his surprise, a number of other horse men and women out and about. Nick's house sat at the end of the cul-de-sac, number one according to the number on the mail box that even had been labeled Brennan. Standing next to it in a tee shirt and jeans was another Shire, this one a massive black stallion with a white blaze down his nose and socks. Catching sight of the pair leaving the house he drew himself erect and saluted. "Rangers lead the way, sir!"
"All the way!" Nick responded, returning the salute. The other stallion dipped his head slightly and stepped back at his approach, the action of a dominate male submitting to a more dominant male the self same new portion of his brain told him. "Sergeant Hicks?" he asked, something about the black stallion's smell bringing forth the mental image of the large, burly New Orleans native.
"Yeah you right, sir," Hicks replied with a toothy grin. He gestured to a dappled gray mare that had walked up who saluted. "Captain Brennan, this is Specialist Rebecca Martin, who, I uh, met..."
Nick chuckled and gestured to Heather. "Heather Royce, Sergeant First Class Pierre Hicks," he introduced. Catching Hicks' eye, Nick winked. "Who I met."
"Ma'am," Pierre greeted while kissing the back of her hand with great pomp.
"Specialist," Nick started, turning to the mare who quickly drew herself to attention. "At ease," he ordered. "You're not a member of my chalk, how did you get here?"
"Kidnapped from Ft. Hood, two years ago, sir," she replied.
"What's your MOS, solider?"
"92Y, Unit Supply Specialist, sir."
"Yes!" shouted Nick. "Yes! There is a God and He loves me!" Heather cocked her head to one side, obviously confused.
"What? I thought you gun-ho types hated supply guys...?" Pierre only chuckled darkly.
"Kinda hard to fight a war without bullets, ma'am," he told her with a smile. "Skipper, I've got Re...Specialist Martin preparing a complete asset report for you by noon today, unless you have other ideas?"
Nick shook his head and clapped Hicks on the shoulder. "No, carry on Specialist, I'll be looking forward to that report. What's our status, Pete?"
"Roger that, sir!" she enthused, snapping off a salute and trotting back towards the house next door. Pierre watched her leave with great interest and Nick indulged his sergeant in the delay.
"I have a roadblock set up at the end of the cul-de-sac manned by Jenkins and Holbert," he said tossing his head in the direction the street meandered away, following the fold of the bluff. "Smith has disappeared to set up an over watch of the road block and react if needed."
"He has a rifle?" inquired Nick, thinking of the lanky, taciturn designated marksman of the group. Hicks nodded.
"Some kind of scaled up custom M82, sir. Jenkins and Holbert have what are technically scaled up AR30s chambered in .300 WinMAG."
"Big round," muttered Nick which caused his Sergeant to chuckle again.
"We've all put a few pounds on, sir," he assured him. "You and I have pistols, and Martin assures me there are plenty more of those ARs if they're needed." He pointed off in the direction of the road block and across the bay between the houses. "There's an airfield there, sir, that seems to have a mix of aircraft, some of it in our scale."
"Any casualties, Pete?"
"No sir, all present and accounted for, to include Mr. Dalton and the chopper crew."
Nick sighed in relief. "What civilians are among us?"
"Every man woke with a bed mate, sir, but Specialist Martin is the only prior service. They're a collection of girls from all over the country. Two college girls, a secretary, a cop, three teachers, a 'landscape artist' and various businesswomen and, uh, 'working girls' if you follow me."
"All single I'm guessing?"
"Well, Specialist Martin is divorced sir, no kids, but otherwise, yes sir, same as us. Awfully convenient, don't you think sir?"
Nick ground his molars against each other and desperately wished for some chewing gum. "Pete, I'd give my left nut to find out why we were picked for this mission and what the real purpose behind all this is. Alright, assemble the chalk and I'll brief everyone at once."
"Hooha," the Sergeant grunted and ambled off towards the wood line to fetch their team.
"You are a take charge guy," purred Heather as she hugged him from behind. "That is so incredibly sexy...!" Nick chuckled darkly.
"Comes with the uniform," he told her. "So, where is DNA's lair?"
"You think I know?" she asked with a laugh that quickly faded as he continued to stare at her. "I thought...after...?" She crossed her arms over her ample breasts and frowned, ears rotated back and tail twitching. "You son of a bitch, you fucked me and you still don't trust me?!"
"I..." he started before noting a single tear well up in her eye and roll down her cheek. "You're right," he admitted softly. "I'm sorry, Heather. I guess I hoped if you got mad some repressed memory might pop up," he winced how lame the excuse sounded to his ears and finally forced himself to meet her hurt gaze. He signed and held his cheek out. "Go, on," he told her. "I deserve it."
"Yes, you do," she growled. "But I'm just enough of a bitch to refuse to give you the easy way out." She leaned forward and kissed his cheek and used the closeness to whisper, "If you ever hurt me like that again, you'll wake up a gelding!"
He sighed and nodded. "I might be stupid, but I can be taught," he promised her.
"To answer your question, I don't know," she said after a long moment of staring at him. "I woke up there every time I went, and woke up again somewhere else when he was done. The rooms had no windows or other cues. I could have been on the moon for all I know." He rubbed her shoulders in encouragement.
"I am truly sorry, Heather."
"Just don't forget it," she snapped as Sergeant Hicks returned with the rest of their group.
December 27th, 1989
Government House, Baia Mare, Romania
Ileana Reyes had never been so afraid in her life.
When the Berlin Wall started coming down every reporter in CNN had been clamoring for some kind of over seas assignment, career making history, live via satellite. Ileana had cashed in every favor she'd had and found her self in Romania, in some back water county seat. At first she'd been furious, thinking she'd been hoodwinked, then terrified as she became aware that the locals brandishing those AK-47s weren't actors, they were real machine guns and she'd had been sent off to a war zone. They were calling it the Romanian Revolution in the newsroom, but that was studio, half way around the world.
Ileana Reyes wasn't in a news room, made up and blow dried, she was there in the blood and the mud and the horror wasn't a graphic behind a talking head there were heads without bodies. Nicolae Ceaușescu, the strong man who'd ruled this country wasn't just out, he was dead and every gut feeling Ileana Reyes had was screaming at her that she would be next if she wasn’t very, very careful. Then they had been surrounded by a mob and Ileana's all too short life was flashing behind her eyes. Before they'd been killed, or worse, the mob had fled, fled in fear. A look behind her told her why, moving towards her, in the black and gold uniforms that made them both famous and infamous were Paramount Guards.
There had been rumors that the wily mercenary cum super villain Lord Paramount was in the region, though for who's side no one knew. Reyes and her camera crew were taken prisoner by one of Paramount’s terrifying Catamounts, three quarters man, one quarter hunting cat who hissed and snarled at them to stay silent and laughed at their press credentials. Suddenly the mob seemed preferable.
They had been swept into the Government House for Baia Mare and put in a lavish room with expensive, historic paintings and works of art, untouched by the war outside and told to set up. Then Ileana realized she was about to give the single most important interview of her career. The door had opened and he had strolled in. Strolled, as if he were in a park, with out a worry or care in the world, dressed in a costume of red with gold braid with a cape like something out of a Disney movie that Prince Charming would wear. And he was wearing a crown that was worth more than Ileana would make in her lifetime. "Ms. Reyes," he greeted in accented English, walking forward and extending a gloved hand to be shook. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance. I trust I have not kept you waiting?"
Ileana shook the hand and, at his invitation they settled back in the chairs facing each other. "I'm grateful to be alive," she admitted.
"And you will stay that way as my guest, you have my word," he replied smoothly. "Please be at ease. I have an announcement I must make to the world and then I will be happy to take your questions. Whenever your gentlemen are prepared...?"
Reyes glared over her shoulder at the painfully thin cameraman and his over weight brother that worked the sound equipment and the sat-uplink. Finally the cameraman gave her a thumbs up and the light on the camera went live. Paramount, obviously a consummate showman, looked unflinchingly into the lens and smiled. "Greetings. My name is Prince Vlad Brâncoveanu, some of you may recognize me as Lord Paramount, which is the name I adopted in my early life as sell sword and cavalier. I have returned to my Native Baia Mare to lay claim to the title and throne, long stolen from my forebears. As of today, I declare independence from Romania on behalf of the provinces of Cluj, Mamares, and Crisana to be returned to and reinstated as the Kingdom of Wallachia with myself, Prince Vlad Brâncoveanu as sovereign ruler of Wallachia. Early in the next year a parliament will be organized, a constitution written and preparations for free and fair elections to that parliament held.
"I invite my brother and sisters of power, paranormals, mutants, hero or villain, what ever you call yourself, you are welcome in Wallachia.
I assure the United Nations of the World that the excesses and brutality of the Ceaușescu regime will have no place in Wallachia and we will pride ourselves as a beacon of hope, rights and liberty here in the Balkans. I will be honored to host any properly credentialed team of observers from the United Nations to oversee the return of the historic government of my country, my own Patence of Nobility and to ensure the sanctity of the elections that will occur next year."
His visage became stern. "To the Soviet Union, to the collapsing Warsaw Pact, and to any who think themselves strong enough to challenge me, my resolve, or my people, I offer a friendly warning. If a man raises his voice, let him be heard; if that man raises arms against the State, I will personally tear them off at the shoulder." The smile returned to his face and his eyes moved from the camera to the dumb struck reporter as he crossed his legs and placed his chin in one hand. "Now, Ms. Reyes of CNN, I would be delighted to answer any questions you have."
March 10th, 2000
Editing Control Center, Paradise Island
"What are they doing?"
"Just standing in the middle of the cul-de-sac. I think the Captain is talking, but he's too far away from any of the mic pickups."
"We don't have anything closer?"
"They're in the middle of the street."
"He should never had told him they were being recorded."
"Yeah, you tell him that."
"Is this the best angle we have?"
"The Establishing cam in the forest is too wide and all of the mailbox cams are too low."
"Ah, I wish we could put pickups in their clothes."
"Never mind that they'd never stand washing I think they might find those."
"Yeah, well, it would be better than this silence we're broadcasting now. Soundtrack up?"
"We're running with 'building tension' 4."
"Alright, keep treating as a interlude until we can get a better audio angle. See if we can't get some drones with shotgun mics out there"
"On the way."
March 10th, 2000
The Brennan Residence, Paradise Island
Their scents identified them in turn as Nick approached, Dade the Iowa farm boy was now a chestnut Clydesdale who towered over the, by comparison, slight American Quarter paint that was Manetti. They were a strange assortment of breeds, Arabian, Appaloosa, and more esoteric types than Nick had the knowledge to identify. Warrant Officer Dalton, the helicopter pilot stood a bit aloof from the Rangers with his crew chief and gunner, their ears flicking nervously back and forth as they danced from hoof to hoof. "At ease men," Brennan started, licking his dry lips to buy some time to order his thoughts. "We're in tough straights, I'm not going to sugar coat this, this is probably the most dangerous situation we've been in. First every man here should guard what you say or do. We're being recorded, video and audio."
He saw his men digest this before moving on to the worst of his news.
"I have...rumors...that we may not actually be who we think we are." Dade stirred, but a soft gesture silenced him. "We may only be genetic constructs, some kind of clone experiment with the memories of dead men somehow implanted in our brains. There may be no home for us to go back to, men. However, as far as I'm concerned, I am Nick Brennan, and you are my team."
"Hooha!" the assembled Rangers replied.
"My first priority is the completion of our mission, as much as we are able," he told them. "Second, to know if it can be known for sure who and what we are. For that we'll need information. Sergeant Hicks will take charge of our base of operations here and set up a perimeter to keep the civilians safe. Manetti, Dade, you'll head into the east side of the village down there. We'll need medical supplies and a radio. See if there's any electronics down there you can press into service. Mr. Dalton, I'd like your crew to scout out the air field along with Jenkins and Holbert as security."
"Yes sir," replied the gray dappled Arabian who the pilot had become.
"Sergeant Hicks, I'll be heading into the center of town for general exploration. Your rules of engagement are defend yourselves if fired upon, otherwise, let's be discreet. I want this to be a recon, not a skirmish. Read me?"
Nick turned back from his men to find Heather shaking her head. She pointed a remote at the garage door that was attached to the house and began to rise, exposing a vehicle that was more than a golf cart but less than a sedan, without doors and open to the warm breezes of the Caribbean. "Do we have to walk?" she asked drolly.
March 10th, 2000
New Eden, Paradise Island, off the coast of Nicaragua
Heather's car was a Tesla Islander, a lightweight electric car that was popular for use through out the Caribbean at both upscale resorts for its zero emissions and in less developed inner hinterlands for it's rugged, go anywhere chassis and gadgeteer improved batteries. There was also an optional package that made the little car amphibious. She zipped through the subdivision with confidence and finally they were on a winding road down off the bluff into the city. He stole a glance at her, saw the wind in her hair and felt the need to apologize again. "I'm sorry," he said. "I..."
"Forget it," she told him, then smiled to take the sting from the command. "I've had a lot more time to get used to this than you have. To be honest, I'm glad you took it as well as you did, Nick. I'm grateful."
"I've never been one to panic," he started but stopped because she laughed.
"Stud, I went bat shit crazy when I woke up this way," she said with a hallow, gallows laugh. "If you had been there I probably would have hit you. Or, something. I don't know. It was days before he got me calm." She looked over, her eyes hard and cold. "When we find him, I want a piece. You can kill him, I just want to cut on him for a while."
Nick could think of nothing to say to that and so watched the scenery for a bit. Finally, he asked, "You've been here three years?"
"Here? No," she answered. "I've been here about six months. A year or whatever ago they raised the shelf the island sits on and started building. I guess you got dispatched in that time, right?"
He nodded. "Between it coming up and the request of the Nicaraguan government, we were sent to reconnoiter. Where were you before?"
"I don't know, someplace cold," she replied. "There was a winter and mountains, and the road signs were in a bunch of different languages. One looked like Russian, you know with the weird backwards letters?"
"Europe?" he asked as a cold chill went down his spine. "Wallachia?"
She shrugged and it did wonderful things to her top. "I don't know. They kept all of us in this compound. Then I did the go to sleep wake up somewhere else thing and I was here. That's when we found out about volunteers and being paired with you all."
"I can't imagine what that was like," he chuckled.
"There was this guy with him, dressed up like some kind of Disney Prince Charming, short hair, good looking, but those eyes were so hard and cold," she shivered. "Rebecca was going to attack DNA, she was so pissed, but the guy just says 'Don't, you'll regret it.' Hell, I wasn't staring him down and I about pissed myself."
"Lord Paramount," hissed Nick. "So they are still working together. What did they say?"
"They showed us pictures, I guess from when you were human. Paramount said I could pick first, since Rebecca had pissed him off, and, well, I kinda liked the look of you, so." Nick couldn't help but smile, deeply flattered for some strange reason. "Anyway, they gave us the tour of the subdivision, told us about the show and that you boys would be along. We kinda settled in, fell into a routine, and to be honest, I pretty much forgot the cameras. Then I went to bed last night, woke up with you."
The road turned away from the beach and entered the kind of bigger than village, smaller than city towns people imagine are on islands, but usually aren't. The buildings were all new, quite nice, and there was nothing improvised, make do or the semi-slum kind of salvage town that are actually around islands. It was rather like a movie set, was Nick's first reaction. There were people walking around, several different flavors of hunting cat and canine, mostly wolves, but also foxes and even a couple of humans. There were shops and cafes, everything neat and tidy and with the cartoon animal people, it was it's own flavor of surreal. "These people volunteered for this?" he demanded, incredulous.
"They're called 'furries'," she replied. "Or, rather, they call themselves that. Or did. The talk around the coffee shop is they, or rather we I suppose, are going to call ourselves Animen now."
"What the hell is this?" he demanded, incredulous. "Stop the car!" About twenty yards from the parking place Heather pulled into was one of the nicer buildings in town. It had a high stone wall around it, a pair of cat men in black and gold uniforms holding machine guns flanking the gate and from the pole, hanging into the street was a flag. It was a white field with a black raven rampant, standing on a low green bush. The bird looked to its right, and clutched a red Patriarchal cross in its beak that also had a six pointed star next to it. It was the national flag of Wallachia. Nick scrambled out of the car with a command of "Wait here," to Heather.
As he approached, the bigger of the two Catamounts, who still only came to the bottom of Nick's ribcage, turned towards him and held out his hand. "He's expecting you," the creature growled. "But you're not going in there with that pistol."
"Are you going to stop me?" Growled Nick and instantly the tension mounted.
"No," a voice proclaimed behind him. "I am."
February 12th, 1990
Advanced Technology Directorate, Baia Mare, Wallachia
"Anton Ivanish, having been found guilty of Murder in the first degree by a jury of your peers, in a court commissioned by His Royal Highness, Lord Paramount, and sentenced to Death, your plea of mercy has been granted. Lord Paramount is pleased to commute your sentence to Scientific Experimentation that, should you live, shall your punishment be considered paid in full. Have you anything to say before sentence is carried out?"
Anton gritted his teeth and shook his head. "May God have mercy on your soul!" the warden announced and with drew from the chamber. The murderer was strapped into a device that looked very similar to the old electric chairs. A dome helmet was strapped to his head and he was secured arms, wrists, legs and ankles. The machine activated with high pitched electrical hum and to the casual observer it doubtlessly looked like Anton Ivanish was being electrocuted. His body jerked in one full muscle contraction and a wail of agony was ripped from the condemned's throat. And when the hum stopped his body relaxed before it slumped over.
But there had been no smoke or other tell tale of death by electricity. A doctor came in and held a stethoscope to his chest. "Condemned pronounced dead at twelve fourteen," he announced.
In another room, a creature stirred under a tarp, sitting up to hold its wolfen head as if in agony. It started, seeing its new limb and let out a mournful howl. "Every time, damn it!" swore Martin.
"The wolf is not Anton?" asked Lord Paramount.
"The wolf thinks he's Anton," Joseph replied from the screen. Gizmatic was still settling the island he had conquered in the Caribbean, but always a man of his word, had made himself available via teleconference.
"I thought for sure we had it this time," Martin complained bitterly. "It shouldn't have killed him! It's just a copy of the brain's engrams!"
Paramount rubbed his chin. "What about what Sasha was talking about? Is it possible that Anton's soul was moved from his body to the construct?"
"I'll ask the tooth fairy," sneered Joseph from the screen. "Come now, Fredrick, surely you don't...?"
"I discount nothing until I have proof," Paramount replied evenly. "The mages are all certain souls exist. The clone doesn't move until you run this device and then the 'donor' as you call him dies and the clone animates. Logic suggests something was moved."
"Short of any empirical test, we'll never know," Martin replied from making his notes on a clip board. "Prove a soul exists in the first place! For all we know the shock of the copy is killing them."
"How long does he have?" asked Paramount absently. Martin looked up from the notes he was taking to watch the constructed being's amazed inspection of his body for a moment.
"Five years," he declared. "Six at the most. The DNA isn't the problem, I'm certain I have it stable and replicating properly. The issue is the protein chains in the cell walls themselves. The cells for some reason are being made with weaker protein chains than they should. In time..." he made a vague gesture at the horrific liquification the test subjects had endured.
"And coping these 'engrams' to a new host...?"
"Madness," he replied. "Every time. We're not sure why."
Gizmatic chuckled from the screen. "Perhaps the universe doesn't want us living forever."
"Well, Anton will have five or six years more than he would have," the Prince observed with a chuckle. "It's a pity. This new canid program of yours was quite promising."
"There..." Martin started then stopped. Paramount turned back from gathering his coat.
Ashner had a war with himself and finally shrugged and gave in. "There is a possibility of an answer, but you won't like it."
Paramount returned his coat to the chair and gave the smaller scientist his full attention. "Perhaps, but that usually doesn't stop me from considering all the options. What did you have in mind?"
"There are...factions...within the United States Government and certain other agencies that have access to the Metahuman research project data."
Paramount frowned. "From Whateley? I just endowed a chair in the civics department."
"Not Whateley exactly. The Department of Paranormal Affairs has custody of the research done at Whateley, it was how the school came to be in the first place. If we could get access to the full research file, I may find a way to stabilize the protein sequence."
"DARPA has done quite a bit of research into super soldier projects," Gizmatic added from the screen. "Of course, this kind of information you can't buy."
Martin's shoulder's slumped. "We would have to share the results with the US Government. Or at least whatever agency we get the information from."
Fredrick rubbed his chin. "You're right, I don't like it."
"They won't have access to the gene splicing I've already done," Martin added.
"Or our engram transfer helmet," added Joseph.
Paramount turned back to the window and watched the wolf's delighted testing of his new body. His eyes followed the creature's movements as behind them his brain leapt and ran on it's own obstacle course. "How long would it take them to reverse engineer what you've accomplished, Martin?"
"It would be faster for them to recruit from a pool of transferees," Martin replied. "At the risk of being self indulgent, my work is brilliant."
"Pool of volunteers," Fredrick muttered to himself. "Do you remember Nightwolf?"
Martin blinked. "The GSD case our junior year?"
Fredrick nodded. "I over heard him say once that he had been attending some kind of gathering or, convention for people who obsess about this kind of transformation. He even complained the testing labs thought his BIT was altered because of some secret desire to be that wolfman he turned into."
The proverbial light turned on over Martin's head. "You want to offer them a recruitment pool, not share the results...?"
"You said with the results it would take them years," Paramount replied. "My way, they can have super soldiers now. Or, whenever you solve the problem. What do you need?"
"The whole file would be best," Martin said. "But anything is better than nothing."
"Concentrate on regenerators if you can," Gizmatic added.
Fredrick gathered his coat. "Get some rest, gentlemen. I sense long nights in your future."
March 4th, 1990
Secure Conference Room Canard Four, The Pentagon, Washington, DC
"You want what?" General Maxwell shook his heavy bald head in amazement. "Son, I've got to hand it to you, you have solid brass balls coming here and..."
"General Maxwell," interrupted Fredrick quietly. "I don't normally consider myself a religious man, but I must admit I am grateful to whatever God may be listening that you and I share absolutely no genetic legacy, that being the case, if you address me as 'son' again I will kill you within five seconds of the word leaving your mouth and nothing these young boys with their pistols by the door may attempt will stop me. You may address me as 'Lord Paramount, Your Highness, or, if you cannot bring yourself to be correct I will settle for a polite 'sir'. Is there an understanding between us?"
The General's ruddy face paled as he gazed into the para-normal's hard, cold eyes. Marvin Maxwell was not a coward. He had been a young Lieutenant, right out of the Point in the last, and worst years of Vietnam and he knew a killer when he saw one. "I apologize if I have given offense, Your Highness."
Lord Paramount nodded, all gracious smiles again. "None, taken," he assured the general and a sigh of collective relief went around the table. The men were in a room deep underground, in one of the many sub levels of the complex that were only accessible to people who needed to know about them, in elevators only they knew about, turning keys next to unlabeled floors. In addition to the General, a young, fresh faced Vice President sat at the head of the table, having arrived from a secret tram way tunnel between the Pentagon and various other important buildings, the White House being one of them, that the military would never publicly admit to. It allowed for discreet comings and goings for meetings just like this one. There was also a bureaucrat from the Department of Paranormal affairs who had been someone's star quarterback a few years back, but had let himself go, a couple of scientists from DARPA and even more secretive think tanks that didn't have names and the heads of the House and Senate Armed Forces Committees.
And standing behind Lord Paramount were a pair of his Catamount Guards, a panther and a lion who were staring at the assorted VIPs in drowsy eyed disinterest. "I believe I'm offering a fair and equitable trade, gentlemen. I assume the costs and risks of a major genetic enhancement program and you have only to open a recruiting station to reap the benefit."
"If any," corrected the DPA bureaucrat.
Paramount's smile didn't waiver. "And that of course illustrates the other 'win' if I use the idiom correctly, if all of this comes to naught, you are out nothing but information that, by charter, you give to the UN anyway."
"We decide what if anything the UN gets," protested Senator Thomas in his Midwest twang of an accent.
"That was part of the agreement of the United States hosting this school in the first place," added Congressmen Cantor, his own voice a pinched and nasal New Englander from somewhere around Boston.
"And why would I spread around information that would damage our agreement?" Paramount asked softly. "I have the ability," he said, indicating the Catamounts behind him. "My people can make soldiers you've only dreamed of, walking killers, not in ones or twos or fives from Whateley but bred for it by the hundreds or thousands.
"Do we really want to start breeding Janissaries?" asked the DPA man.
"You're here for technical consultation, Roland," the General snapped. "Not policy decisions."
The Vice President drummed his fingers on the tabletop. He had a reputation for being an imbecile, but there was a canny intelligence that was hidden behind the round face. "What exactly do you want, Lord Paramount?"
Fredrick smiled. "I can work out the details with General Maxwell, but we'll need the complete Mutant Research Project files, and perhaps a volunteer or two."
March 10th, 2000
New Eden, Paradise Island, outside the Wallachian Embassy
"General Maxwell," Brennan greeted, drawing himself fully erect subconsciously, but managing to refrain from saluting. "You're not in uniform, sir."
"Jesus Christ you're big," the General replied, cocking his head to look up at the Ranger. Maxwell was six foot four and built like a linebacker, but he was utterly dwarfed by the half horse man before him. As Nick towered over his former Commanding Officer, he realized he had to be approaching eight feet tall himself, maybe more, the General seemed childlike to his eyes and the garish shorts and Hawaiian shirt didn't fool anybody into thinking he was a tourist. "Nick, why don't you and I have a cup of coffee and I'll give you the SITREP?"
"The monster that did this to me says I'm dead," Brennan replied. "That I'm not really Nick Brennan and now I see my commanding officer, conspicuously not in uniform, not leading an invasion of this freak show of an island, it's enough to make a simple minded GI like me think I was set up." He growled. Adding a completely disrespectful, "Sir," at the end to punctuate his displeasure.
"You're out of line, Captain," Maxwell snapped.
"I'm about to be a lot worse if you don't start talking very quickly, General!"
The General made a placating gesture and indicated a cafe down the street. "I understand you're upset, Nick. Let me explain and give you your options."
Heather saw Nick's ears rotate backwards and how his hand kept clinching near the pistol on his hip. "Baby," she called, drawing his attention. "I could use a cup of coffee. Why don't you indulge the Human," she drawled, locking eyes with the General she continued. "We can always kill him later."
"Park the car," he said finally, gathering up a handful of the shirt the general was wearing. "I'll wait for you," he added, frog marching the human down the street and none too gently forcing him through the little gate that separated the patio area of the cafe from the walk around it.
"See here, Nick..." Maxwell started, but Nick just shoved him towards a table that looked like its chairs would accommodate both of them.
"Really not in the mood to hear it, Marvin," Nick told him. "Because one of two things is true. Either I'm not Nick Brennan, in which case I don't owe you the time of day, or I am Nick Brennan and I owe you a bullet between the eyes for selling out my chalk. Which is it, General?"
"Is...is there a problem?" It was soft, hesitant voice at Nick's elbow. He turned to see a small girl, judging by her breasts, with slick fur and a lithe tail wearing jeans and a T shirt with the logo of the cafe on it and a name badge that said 'Joyce'.
"Seal?" asked Nick.
"Otter," she replied with a smile. "Clydesdale?"
"Shire," he returned.
"Is the human bothering you? I can call the police...?"
"It's fine," he assured her as Heather arrived and sat down. "I'll have a cup of whatever the medium roast is. Heather?"
"Cafe Cubano with heavy cream," she ordered. "And we'll take care of the human, Joyce, nothing to worry about."
"Skim vanilla latte," the General added. Joyce withdrew as a thought occurred to Nick and he turned to Heather.
"How are we paying for this?" She chuckled.
"I've got it, don't worry," she assured him, then turned to the General who looked like a small child sitting at the grown ups table for the first time. "I believe you were offering an explanation?"
For a brief moment, Maxwell considered claiming the information was classified, but the female seemed to have a calming influence on Brennan and so decided it wasn't worth the difficulty to send her away. "Did you or did you not volunteer for this mission, Nick? With full disclosure that it could be life threatening and that..."
"That's what you're going to lead with?" he asked softly. "The old, 'you knew the job was dangerous when you took it'? I swore to defend my country, General, with the understanding that I could die in combat, or be taken as a POW, but no where in that or any other oath that I swore was there some cleaver language that I might be turned into a freak of nature!"
"I was operating under the orders of the President..."
"Slick Willy? The Army hater? You want me to believe...?"
Maxwell made a dismissive gesture. "President's come and go, son. But war will always be with us and with these Mutants, war is getting pretty hard to fight. We need an enhancement program..."
Joyce returned with the drinks and distributed them, again casting a glance at Heather. The blonde made a calming gesture then a thumbs up to reassure her and the waitress withdrew. "Jesus, I thought this kind of shit only happened in Spy novels," she swore as she poured the heavy cream in to the thick, oily coffee while waiting for Nick to be done with the sugar. "So what you're really saying is you sold out Nick and his team to be experimented on by a super villain so you could have, what? Grow your own mutants? And maybe he swore an oath, but where do you get off kidnapping me and the other girls to whore us out to Nick and his boys?"
The General was dismissive of her objections. "Heather Royce died of a heroin over dose three years ago. How do you kidnap a corpse that no one claimed?" He took a sip of his latte and smiled a sharks grin. "So, Nick, here are your options. You and your chalk are to be transferred, without penalty and with promotion to the Paradise Island Defense Force. You'll receive full retirement from the US Army with the thanks of a grateful nation, and pay and benefits from PIDF. I'm informed you'll be promoted to Colonel and be in over all command of that force. This is your compensation for the 'hazard pay' of the volunteer mission."
"Or?" the other drawled.
Maxwell blinked. "Or what? I've just offered you full pay and benefits, with promotion to an island paradise in the Caribbean! What else would you want? You want to report back to Ft. Benning as an O3 promotable? Alright, I can make that happen if you'd rather."
"Or I can kill you, right here in front of God and whoever is watching on TV seeing as you've just admitted to a conspiracy that will make Watergate look like a school yard shoving match!" Maxwell frowned and shook his head.
"That's always been your problem, Nick, you're an idealist. You have no sense of the practical ways of things. Are we being recorded? Of course, I'm sure that Paramount and DNA both want black mail material on me, but it's not ever going to see the light of day! Paramount is going to recruit from the islanders, we are going to recruit from the islanders, and nothing is going to change that." He chuckled darkly. "So blast away, Nick, for all the good it will do you."
Brennan snorted through his nose as he stood. "You know, I expect evil from super villains. It's their nature. They're evil and they're up front about it. What's your excuse?"
February 22nd, 1999
Advanced Technology Directorate, Baia Mare, Wallachia
"You wanted bigger and stronger, Fredrick," Martin proclaimed excitedly. "Feast your eyes!"
The screen rose and Lord Paramount looked down into the testing area. There were a pair of females there, a blonde was the taller of the two, with a ruddy coat in a skin tight test jumper that showed off a figure that would not be out of place on a female brick. Next to her, in a similar jumper was a dappled gray that was slightly smaller. There was a technician with them, talking them through the obstacle course and Fredrick started when realized he knew the man. That gave him an immediate sense of scale and the two 'mares' for lack of a better word towered over him. "Gute Gott!" Paramount swore. He turned back to Martin. "Are they as strong as they look?"
"The blond moved a half a ton block," he replied with a grin. "They can run at nearly sixty five kilos per hour and they're stable and sure footed. The dappled gray is a parkour natural! She set a new course record her third time out. They're not bullet proof, but they're rugged and sturdy and their bones are hard and strong. Excellent hearing, but the eyesight is a bit poor, but correctable through either surgery or contact lens. Sense of smell is markedly higher than human as well."
Fredrick crossed his arms over his chest, an almost childish grin of glee on his face. "They'll breed true?"
"I've captured eggs from both of them," Ashner replied. "They become fertile once a month, as a human woman would, and the eggs I've studied seemed perfectly viable. We won't know for certain until we get a stud involved, but so long as he isn't shooting blanks, or gelded, I have your Army, Fredrick."
"Excellent!" Paramount grinned. "Now, we just need a place to breed them and your other creations." He looked over and raised an eyebrow. "Any preferences?"
"These winters are hard on me," Marty admitted. "How about the Caribbean?"
March 10th, 2000
Legendary Bean Cafe, New Eden, Paradise Island
"Nick!" protested Maxwell as he and Heather started to leave. Brennan stopped, towering over the smaller human.
"Don't speak to me again," he warned. "And I'll do you one better than Lynyrd Skynyrd and give you more than three steps to get out of my sight, but I ever see you again, Marvin, I'll kill you. Do you understand? I'm not joking, I'm not blowing off steam, I'll break your fucking neck with my bare hands!" he hissed, ears back, eyes narrow and teeth bared. "Now get out of my sight!"
Heather took hold of him by the chest and scowled at the dumbstruck General. "Run you fool!" she snarled. "Or I'll let go."
General Maxwell ran. Brennan watched him go as he scurried to the Embassy and was admitted. "Son of bitch," muttered the Captain, spitting the words as if they tasted foul. "God save me, I used to respect him!" Her hand was soothing on his chest.
"Lot's of people aren't who we think they are, lover." She slipped her other hand around him and laid her head on his shoulder. "But I'll always be on your side, I swear."
He hugged her back and sighed, mastering his temper. He looked like he was about to say something, but a pair of males had hesitantly approached, a black bear and an African Lion, both in what seemed to be 'formal wear' of the island, khaki knee shorts with pockets and a muted color polo shirt. "Excuse us, Colonel," the bear said in a deep voice. "Could we have a word?"
Nick angled himself so he was between Heather and the two strangers. "And you are?" he demanded. They both extended paw like hands to be shook.
"George Haley," the bear introduced himself. "I'm Mayor of New Eden, and this is Henry Astor, our Governor." The hand shakes were firm, the eye contact solid and unblinking, unlike any other politician Nick had ever met.
"Governor?" he asked sardonically.
"Well, King seemed a bit predictable," Astor replied with a carnivore's grin. "And while a good number of us are from all over the world, the majority are American and Canadian, so we're fond of republicanism and the electoral process."
"What can I do for you, gentlemen?"
Their voices dropped to conspiratorial levels. "We.." the bear started and swallowed. "We couldn't help over hearing your conversation with General Maxwell."
"You have our deepest condolences, Colonel," the lion agreed. "We, George and Joyce and everyone else here, this is our dream come true! I imagine you don't think much of us for that..."
Brennan shrugged. "Lots of people get bent out of shape over the dumbest things, Mr. Astor. Me? I'm simple. I defend what I believe in and what I hold dear. I always thought the United States was the place anybody could be anything they wanted. You guys wanted this, so no, I don't hate you. I might not understand you, but I don't have to. To each their own is my motto."
"If we'd had any idea...!" George protested.
Astor nodded. "Everyone here was supposed to be here by choice, Colonel. I can see now we have been duped, all of us. Between Lord Paramount and our old government, we're meant to just be breeders for a new race of Janissaries! I won't stand for it!" growled the Lion.
"What is a Janissary?" demanded Heather.
"Janissaries were an elite infantry unit of the Ottoman Empire," Nick told her.
"They were slaves," the Lion added, "taken by the Islamic government from Christian families in the Empire."
Heather looked like she was going to be sick. "Are...are you serious?"
"Deadly serious," Henry replied. "Colonel I know you owe us nothing..."
"I'm not a Colonel," Nick replied softly. "I'm not anything. God save me, I'm probably not Nick Brennan!"
"You are Nick Brennan," George told him earnestly. "We became worried about whether we really were who we remembered or if we are just some kind of programmed biological machine. I have a nephew who is a mutant. There's a school for them, did you know?" Nick shook his head and shrugged.
"What was this school? The mark one version of their Janissary project?"
"Not the way my nephew tells it," George replied. "In any event, we were able to contract with a pretty powerful witch, an Elyzia Grimes..."
"I'm sure she put on a great magic show," Brennan spat. "As good as Penn and Teller? Look, gentlemen, I don't have time..."
"You need to listen, Nick," Henry told him softly. There was no overt threat, but evidently between the animal he had picked to become or some other personal charisma, the lion commanded respect and attention.
"Elyzia Grimes is a real witch with real magical ability. As real as Champion was a superhero. She worked a spell that allowed her to see our...our actual souls and commune with them," George said in a hushed voice, obviously awed. Either it had happened to him directly or he had witnessed it. Which way didn't really matter, it was obvious he was sold. "I am George Haley, I don't 'remember' being him, my soul that was born in Peoria, Illinois resides in this body. You are Captain Nick Brennan. I swear it."
Nick had always felt that trust was something you earned, but the earnestness with which the Mayor had delivered his speech was not, to his mind, an actor reading lines, but something heartfelt. He thought for a long moment, trying to decide whether to continue to be the skeptic or not, but then he realized there was nothing good down that road. Even if he was deluding himself, to be deluded into believing he was who he remembered being not only didn't harm him, but in his humble opinion did he considerable good. Nick Brennan was a man worthy of emulating. So he sighed and let the weight of possibly being a soulless monster slide off of his shoulders and decided to believe. "That...that's a relief," he admitted. "Though I'm kind of staring at a Court Martial now for threatening to kill my superior officer."
"If you're Colonel Brennan of the Paradise Island Defense Force he's not your superior officer," Astor pointed out. "But an officer of an less than friendly power with unpleasant aspirations on our national Sovereignty."
"What is it you want from me?" he asked.
"We have a group of volunteers," George told him quietly. "The defense force you're to take charge of, train and lead."
"We want you to do that." Astor added.
"And play into their hands?" Nick demanded.
Both politicians grinned. "Not at all," they declared. "We want to have a tea party for our European guests."
"Just like the Boston Tea Party," George said.
"Dressing as Indians optional," added Astor.
Heather grinned. "You're already my Stud, want to be a Founding Father?"
Nick rubbed his chin, but the chance for handing out a little pay back was very tempting. "Let me talk with my men."
June 28th, 1999
Office of Dr. DNA, Live Broadcast Production Facility, Paradise Island
"Satisfied with the house, my dear?" the doctor asked. Heather crossed her arms over her ample bosom and frowned. Or, at least her face 'felt' like it was frowning, she'd never really looked into a mirror to see. But that didn't seem to stop her from reading Rebecca or any of the other girl's emotions.
"The house is fine, Marty," she drawled, leaning forward to plant her fists on the desk to loom over the child like human. "That's not why I'm pissed and you know it."
Martin was nonplussed. "Please my dear, restrain yourself! I have hundreds of decisions to make every day and deadlines to meet! I'm sorry I may not be up to date on your issue, but I'm not a mind reader..."
"Don't hand me that, Marty!" she shot back. "What I'm talking about is this herd crap!" she declared, removing the memo on preliminary behavioral analysis Martin himself had written from her back pocket and threw it down on his desk. "This wasn't part of the deal!"
"You are part horse, Heather!" Martin replied as though it were obvious. "Horses are herd animals. One male several females and you're a country girl so you should certainly know that! More important, you're weren't you in a relationship with another woman when you came to me? What's the problem?!"
"The problem?" she demanded, then sighed and mastered her temper. "Look, yes, I was a wild child and a bad girl and loose and a tramp and all that shit! That's what got me in a gutter with a needle in my arm! Did you ever see June Cleaver swapping spit with Eddie Haskell's mom?"
Dr. DNA shot to his feet. "Don't be ridiculous, Heather!" he snapped, coming around the desk and taking the larger woman by the wrist because he couldn't reach her elbow. "You have far too narrow a view of 'traditional' family life, this isn't the fifties! You are going to be one of the founders of an entirely new race! Set your own traditions!"
"This isn't about traditions!" she hissed. She reached up and rubbed her eyes as she followed him out the door of his office towards the scientific area of the production facility. "It's about loyalty and trustworthiness and a pile of things and yes, damn it, what's so wrong with the fifties? Look where being 'alternative' got me?"
He spun, frowning, waving a finger at her, obviously offended. "It got you in a genetically perfect body that is stronger and faster than any human who ever lived! It is more resilient and resistant to disease and pain! Why it is better in every measurable quantity across the board. Your IQ tests to thirty points higher than it was; thirty points! Do you know how many people would kill for that? I've increased both the strength and the elasticity of your birth canal your womb and the associated muscles! Your husband will go to his grave thinking you every time he was with you he was claiming your virginity all over again! No matter how many children you give him! While we're talking about children at worst you'll experience a mild discomfort giving birth! You may even find it pleasant and sexually gratifying! How many women would trade their souls to be able to have that? And you most certainly will find being with your husband everything the story books promise that most men can't deliver! Don't denigrate my work, Miss Royce! I have made you a goddess amongst your gender!"
Despite their tremendous difference in size and strength, Heather raised her hands as if to surrender the point and ward off attack. "Hey, easy! I'm not dissing this Marty, do have any idea what it is like to have beaten an addiction? Or what a thrill it was to tip over that car by myself?! So long as my boy likes it, I'm fine, that's not the problem!" They entered the lab area and he stopped by a tank in which floated a colt well on his way to becoming a stallion, ruddy coated and dark maned and tail. He was just a gangly teenager now, but already there was promise of the massively powerful male he was growing into, floating in the slightly green tinted fluid.
"You don't like how Nick is turning out?" he asked, with a gesture at the tank.
"Are you being dense on purpose?" she demanded angrily. "He's fine! Hell, looks like he promises to be damn fine, I just want him to myself!"
"And if you and Rebecca weren't fooling around on the sly, I might buy into that!" he snapped.
She reared back as if he'd slapped her in the nose, stunned. "How...? But we..."
"Heather, you're going to be on a TV show! Of course, we keep an eye on you!" He sighed and took her hand in his own child like ones. "Look, I am not going to force you or Nick to do anything. But I will warn you the hormones and pheromones you put out are very strong. Didn't you find Rebecca somewhat irresistible?"
Heather chewed on her lip, unable to meet his gaze. "Err, well..."
"Before you get upset, I didn't do that," he told her. "It's part of the Equine DNA that is a part of you now. You were already bisexual, and you know Rebecca wasn't don't you?"
The blonde blinked in surprise and embarrassment. "I..that is, we...I what are you saying, Marty? That we can't control ourselves?"
He tisked between his teeth and made a dismissive gesture. "Don't be absurd. Nothing says you have to act on what these hormones will stir up, I'm just warning you they will stir them up. And it may not be Nick that brings a new girl into your family, it may be you."
It was obvious that thought hadn't occurred to her as she stepped up to the tank, looking at the forming youth within it. The development was nearly fast enough to watch happen. "I did this because I don't want to be a junky any more, Marty. I want to be a wife and a mother and go to PTA meetings and all that shit. That's what you promised me."
"I promised you the opportunity," he replied. "You have to make your play with him, you have to seduce him and gain his trust and of course you both have to survive George and Henry's revolution to "throw" Fredrick and Maxwell off the island." She looked down at him sideways and cocked her hip and flashed a grin.
"You don't have to worry about that little man. I was a Las Vegas Show Girl, I can have any man I want!" She looked back into the tank and the male floating inside it. "I just want to keep him, that's all."
Martin chuckled. "You make me want to go through this and make a play for you!"
"Still got it," she told herself. She sighed and locked a stern gaze on the scientist. "Fine, I'll play along and I'll convince the other girls too. But if I ever wake up and find some little filly in the bed that you or somebody who works for you put there, I'll sing like a canary, Marty."
"My dear," Dr. DNA replied primly. "I am a man of my word. What I promise, I deliver!"