As it usually did, bad news came by mail. Email, in this instance delivered by faceless electrons dancing to the silent tune of programing, ignorant of the import of the message they carried, nor the emotions of those who would read of their tidings and mourn. But mourn she would as Elisa Diaz opened her mail program and read of the death of a woman who had been both bitter enemy and treasured mentor over the space of the worst year of her life, and her last year as a man.
It was a generic company announcement, generated by a re-tasked contact management program some faceless coder in the company had written that picked and scrambled generic words of praise and condolence while noting the employee's passing. However trite and thoughtless it sounded, at least Themis was willing to spend the money on such a program and the staff to manage it. At least at some level, Themis understood that information was Infax, it's parent company's business, but people was Themis' business. The missive announced the death of Veronica Hartlet, Senior Supervisory Training Instructor, survived by husband Robert and children Maxwell and Stacy and a small collection of grandchildren. Funeral services to be announced, condolences to all whose lives she touched.
Elisa felt a tear roll down her face and stumbled backwards until her legs found her couch and she half fell, half sat down in shock. It was Saturday, Juan was over from school and she had been hip deep in cleaning her apartment and finishing setting it right from the ravishing it had been given by a pair of Saedar-Krupp black ops types, trying to get a handle on her. Being both a member of a utility division as well as a supervisor, Elisa had her emails forwarded to her phone as a matter of course. Being an Erinys meant you were never truly 'off the clock'.
She had been dusting when the email arrived, smiling over the banter she had going with her little brother and had called up the email without a second thought. “Sis?” Finally Elisa realized her brother had been calling her and looked up into his concerned face. “Hey, what happened, Chica? You ok?”
Elisa sighed and rubbed his arm in encouragement. “Just got some bad news, Juan. An old friend has died.”
At once the young man became contrite. “Oh, I'm sorry, sis. What can I do to help?”
The Fury smiled and shook her head. “Oh, nothing really, it's just I thought she would never die. Caught me by surprise is all.” He nodded and sat down beside her.
“You want to talk about it? Who was she?”
“There's a long story, little brother. She was my first trainer at Themis, during my last year as a man.”
“Oh, wow,” he replied. “So kinda like a mentor then, the wise teacher who took you under her wing?”
Diaz tried desperately not to choke on her laughter at her brother's naivete and shook her head. “Juan, you haven't watched any movies about soldiers, have you?” He shrugged and grinned.
“No, why should I? I'm a lover, not a fighter. And you're not a soldier, you're a cop.”
“Not exactly,” she hedged.
Themis Fort Peck Lake Training Facility, Glasgow Montana 18 Years Earlier
Edwardo Diaz's first experience with Themis had been an acceptance letter. Fairly generic in it's scope and verbiage, we're pleased to inform you, report for training on, for having a dream come true it was quite bland. The travel was also exciting as except for a singular trip to Spain to visit relations he hadn't known he'd had, and an abortive trip to the Walt Disney World Island, Edwardo had not traveled much from his native Virginia of the North American Federation. He had never been so far inland and the experience of not being near the ocean was mildly unsettling.
The first several hours had been quite nice, if boring. He'd been met by administrative specialists who had helped him and the rest of his training team through the paperwork, which seemed to be endless. They had been polite and friendly, no off putting looks or you want WHAT(?!) stares that Edwardo had become used to since he'd started coming out of the closet. Edwardo had always been closer to his sisters than his brothers, it wasn't until he was a teenager that he began to understand why.
A psyche test in school and a caring guidance counselor had helped Edwardo realize who he really was. Thus began a life lived mostly in computers as the growing circle of people he admitted his true self to meant the harder his life became. The shock of his parents, the looks of hurt and betrayal on their faces was a particularly painful memory.
Diaz and the other members of his team were then driven in a quite nice, if slightly old shuttle bus to a long, low building that was made of white timber. Inside was something that looked like a museum, or the set of an old World War II movie. It was a long open room filled with bunk beds separated by wall lockers. At the far end of the room were three breath taking women in Fury Combat Armor and wearing Australian bush hats with the left brim pinned up against the body of the hat.
All three of them were wearing pistols.
The group of men came to a stop, confused. The center woman, the blond, gave a slight nod, and the two Fury's behind her launched themselves at the crowd, shouting commands. The crowd of men scattered like ducklings, cowed by the sudden violence, even though neither of the women physically touched anyone. Once the men were in pairs beside a set of bunk beds, the other two women returned to their previous positions and the blond began to stroll down the center of room. “Good afternoon boys, my name is Veronica Hartlet but you will all address me as Ma'am! I am your Senior Training Instructor. And because I am an honest woman, I am going to explain just how badly your lives have taken a turn for the worst.
“This,” and she held aloft a form, an actual piece of paper. “Is Themis Form 127E. Before you advance any further in your hopes to disgrace the uniform I am so proudly wearing, you will read and sign this form. It is what is known to lawyers as a hold harmless form. Despite what the recruiter told you, despite what you have read, despite what you have wished for, you are not Themis employees yet. To become a Themis employee, to become an Erinys, you have to get by me.
“Getting by me will not be easy, because when you sign this form, you give me permission to strike you, to withhold food and water, to abuse you in disdainful language, to break your bones, to cause you severe emotional distress and to otherwise make your lives a living hell. Every one of you boys told the psych doctor you would gladly sell your soul to Satan to become a woman and I am here to collect! If you want to continue to sell your immortal souls, you will pick up the form on the bed, read it, ask questions about anything you do not understand and when you DO understand and agree with it, you will sign. If you do not agree, there is your crap, there is the door, get your ass through it!”
There as a brief rustle as the group shuffled through the paper on the foot of each bunk. To Edwardo's astonishment, one young man with tears in his eyes gathered his belongings and walked out. The document was quite long and while it was obvious that the legalese had been kept to the absolute minimum, it was a bit hard to follow. Instructor Hartlet and her two assistants walked the floor, asking and answering questions, making sure everyone in the room understood the document. A notary public was brought in, the documents signed, counter signed, sealed, affixed and left with the notary, much to Instructor Hartlet's obvious glee.
“Well! Now that I don't have to be nice to you sniveling little chicken shits, let's get down to the nitty gritty!” she purred. “For the next ten weeks, I own you, every last Nancy boy in here! I can hit you, I can call you all goat raping baby fuckers, I can break your bones, torture you and even shoot you! The only things I will not do is kill you or allow you to die. Because I want you to hurt, and I want the hurt to gnaw at you. Pain is the age old companion of womanhood and I am here to introduce you to it! Anytime you think I'm being too tough, anytime you think I'm being unfair, or anytime you miss your mommy, quit! Themis is willing to loose the money we've spent on your miserable, stinking hides, so you sign your letter of recant and resignation, we pack your bags and we fly you first class back to whatever shitty rock you crawled out from under!
“And in the spirit of full disclosure, why yes, I am paid a bonus for everyone of you chicken shit, nambi-pambi little boys I can convince to tuck your little tail between your legs and give up! So I am well motivated to do my worst! Thank you for asking! For now, you little turds have five minutes to strip, fold your clothes and report outside!”
“Naked?!” someone demanded. Edwardo barely saw her move, but something flew out of Hartlet's hand and struck the mouthy individual which knocked him out cold. It bounced off his fore head into the waiting hand of one of her helpers.
She smiled a feral smile that sent shivers down Edwardo's spine. “From this moment forward, you maggots will speak only when spoken to! The first and the last words from your filthy sewers will be 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' depending on the gender of who is so unfortunate to have to talk to you! And now every one of you dickless little shits knows I meant what I said about hitting you! And since we have a volunteer to ask, yes you will be outside and you will be naked. You entered this world naked and you'll enter my world the same way.” She turned and pointed at the two men nearest to the loud mouth. “You and you, pick up pinky here and throw him in the showers.”
“Ma'am, Yes ma'am!”
“Naked?” demanded Juan with a gimlet eye.
“As a jay bird,” Elisa replied with a chuckle. “And there we were abused, verbally mostly, while also doing callisthenics in front of the Myrmidon Training Battalion that we shared the facility with. In fact, I wouldn't earn the privilege of clothes again for two weeks.”
The color had drained from Juan's face in horror. “That's terrible!”
“The instructors for the Fury Divison have a nickname in the Myrmidons, they call them Dream Killers because their job is to try and make us quit.” Diaz shook her head at her younger brother's expression and through her implant commanded her entertainment screen to turn on. It linked to the Themis main web server and quickly searched over to the archives and pulled up a pair of pictures. At first blush they were very similar, a group of scruffy looking men wearing drab gray jump suits arranged on a set of bleachers behind a placard that read Fury Generation 2 Training Team 5. The men were all clean shaven, face and head and obviously not a one had had sufficient sleep. There were significantly less than forty nine men as well.
By contrast, the three Furies that stood with them looked as cool and fresh as if they'd just come from a day spa, hair, makeup and armor perfect. Juan stood and walked to the screen, mesmerized. “That's her, eh? Trainer Hartlet.”
Elisa stood and joined him. “We called her heartless Hartlet behind her back, not that she turned it often.” She laid a hand on his shoulder and met the eyes of the photograph from so long ago. “We didn't understand what she was doing, even though she did tell us.”
“What was she doing?” demanded Juan. “Other than being a bitch?”
“Juan, what Themis does to us is expensive. Sure, they'll make money off us, but only if we live. And since we're a 'utility' division, they throw as much at us as they can. They can't afford to let someone become a Fury who will quit in the middle of a fire fight because things got tough. That's how whole squads get killed. Veronica's job was to make sure only those of us who would go through anything got by her. Because we'd stick through that, we'd stick through the rest.”
He shook his head. “Sis, I have twenty Nubucks in my wallet. That's my 'fun' money for the month. If I'm careful, I'll squeeze out a date to the movies and maybe a trip or three to Golden Arches. You took on a debt of two hundred and fifty thousand Nubucks. I can barely imagine that kind of money. Our house didn't cost that!”
She gave him a knowing smile and nodded. “And to pay it back I've been a soldier in a variety of third and forth world hell holes, fought wars that didn't have names, been a kidnapper or a bounty hunter depending on who you talk to and a pile of other things I can't admit to, that you don't need to know about. Being a cop, being home in Old DC, I had to earn that, little brother, and it took ten years to do.” She sighed. “In my safe deposit box with my important papers I have six passports that are full and had to be replaced because I've traveled so much. If I'd been stamped for every time I'd entered or exited a country I'd probably have double that.”
He looked at her for a moment, then back up at the picture. “Which one was you?”
Elisa arched an eyebrow. “Can't you tell?”
He turned back and intently scanned the photo before he shrugged and shook his head. “Nope.”
“Good,” she purred before she pointed to a particularly tired looking young man with a long face and a somewhat prominent nose. The only thing he had in common with Juan's sister was his coffee au lait complexion. “That is your Uncle Edwardo, may he rest in peace.”
Juan looked again, leaning a bit closer. “That's not you,” he declared finally. “Though he kinda looks like dad did.”
Elisa rolled her eyes. “Oy, getting stuck with that nose. I swore for years that if I didn't have a Halloween costume, I'd just paint myself red, stick some horns on my forehead and put on a tuxedo and go as the devil.” Juan chuckled as he met her gaze again and gave her a hug.
“I can't imagine you any other way than you are, sis. So, I still don't get when you stopped hating this chica, Hartlet and started liking her.” The Fury gave her brother a view askance.
“So, you're telling me if someone came to you and gave you a million Nubucks, you'd hate their guts, hombre?”
Themis Fort Peck Lake Training Facility, Glasgow Montana 18 Years Earlier
Edwardo was in the process of gathering up his toiletries for his morning shower when 'Heartless' Hartlet's voice cut through the din of the remainder of Team 5 getting ready to face the day. Out of a starting number of fifty they were down to a mere nineteen. The Senior Training Instructor did not walk from place to place like a mere mortal, but appeared, wizard-like by magic behind whoever she deemed to speak to. Edwardo whirled around and came to attention. “Ma'am, yes ma'am!”
She was wearing the khaki dungaree utility uniform, bush shirt with it's many pockets, shorts and rugged looking boots and the ever present Outback hat that was her badge of office. Generally that meant a fairly light day, perhaps even staying around the base's quad area. Of course, she'd been wearing that uniform a week ago when she'd snatched up the entire team stuffed them in a helicopter and dropped them in a marsh, ten miles from the facility and told them if they weren't back on Post by lights out they were all fired. That had led to one of the most miserable days of Edwardo's life, every time he was sure the team was starting to make time and they'd succeed, she'd appear from nowhere and demand callisthenics or odd items that seemed to take hours to find in the swamp, all while looking fresh as a daisy.
Mud sticks to most people, Diaz fumed to himself. They'd only just beat out the deadline and as they arrived just at lights out, had had to choose to either ruin their bedding or go to bed filthy on the floor. Edwardo had picked the floor.
“My office,” she ordered, continuing past to complete her inspection. “Now.”
“Ma'am, yes ma'am!” Edwardo double timed to the Instructor's office, where, as he'd expected, he was kept waiting while she finished her inspection of the barracks. She walked by, opening the door, ushering Diaz inside and closing it.
“Sit,” she ordered as she circled her desk, pausing to remove her hat and hang it on the stand behind her. “So, allow me to be the first to congratulate you, Elisa.”
Veronica opened the drawer of her desk and produced a patch she offered the confused young man. It was the patch, the medusa head, crowned by her snake hair, hissing out of the patch. “You made it,” Veronica told her. I have your orders back to DC. You get a weeks leave and then you’re in the tank, sister.”
Diaz cradled the patch as if it were the most precious thing in the world. “I…I don’t know what to say, ma’am…”
Hartlet laughed. “Say yes, you idiot!”
“Yes, yes ma’am! I…this means so much.”
“I know. Oh, Elisa, one more thing hun. There’s been a budget cut, a big one. We had some kind of dust up in Costa Rica and corporate has taken it on the chin. Out of your class, we can now only afford to graduate one candidate. You were the easy choice. You’ve really impressed me with your attitude and your dedication.”
“Those poor girls,” Diaz whispered, casting a glance in the direction of the barracks. “I am grateful of your confidence in me, ma’am, I promise you I won’t let you down!”
“Good girl!” Hartlet beamed.
“And, they’ll be able to recycle when the next openings come available, right?” Edwardo asked. “I mean, the down turn can’t last forever…” Hartlet sighed and shook her head.
“Looks like things are going to be sticky for a while. By the time it clears, it will be easier to just start over with a new batch. Which brings us to your first contract, Elisa,” she said ominously as she opened a new drawer and withdrew a case. “We can’t afford the bad press of the lawsuits they’ll file either. And you might as well know now, some of the things you’ll do as a Fury aren’t exactly legal. Themis is willing to forgo your process debt and pay a million nubucks for you to see to it there are no lawsuits.”
“I don’t understand, I mean, the girls look to me, but I don’t think I could persuade them not to sue…” Hartlet opened the case, revealing a service pistol and a silencer.
“We’re not looking for persuasion, Elisa,” she said softly. “Don’t worry, there are training accidents all the time. And minus the two hundred and fifty thousand, you’ll become a woman with seven hundred and fifty thousand nubucks. And all you have to do is take care of this.” Edwardo’s eyes danced between hers and the weapon before him. It dawned on him what he was being asked to do and a desperate plan formed that he tried desperately to keep off his face.
He reached for the pistol, but before his fingers could close on it, she’d leapt to her feet and had her own weapon pressed against his temple. “I thought as much, you little do-gooder!” Hartlet snarled. “You think I’m stupid enough to fall for what you had painted all over your face? You think you’re fast enough to shoot me?”
“You going to shoot me, you maldita perra?! You’d better! I won’t kill for you!”
“Too bad, Diaz, I hopes for you, but maybe I was wrong and Conner will graduate after all!” He made a last desperate grab for the pistol and she locked up his arm and made him go cross eyed, as she held her pistol against his head. “Last chance to wise up, Diaz! You said you’d sell your soul to be a woman, how about it? What will it be?”
“I’m not a murderer,” he hissed, a tear escaping his eye as he met her gaze without flinching. After a long moment, Hartlet nodded and stepped back.
“Good,” she declared, holstering her pistol. “Because we don’t hire murderers, Elisa.” She offered her had, the first ginueinely contrite expression on her face that Edwardo could remember on it. Diaz took the hand and Hartlet helped her up. “Sorry, Elisa, we have to be sure,” Hartlet declared. “Themis does some off the books work, but murder for hire won’t ever be one of them. Congratulations sister and Welcome to the Erinyes.”
Diaz blinked, gaze traveling between the still open case and his instructor. “This...this was a test?” he demanded, temper welling up in him.
“Yes, and you passed,” Hartlet retorted with a smirk. She opened another drawer and took out a folder and tossed it on the desk. “Here are your orders and leave papers. Go pack your kit, the shuttle leaves in an hour so keep your good bye's brief.” Hartlet's voice drowned out into a monotone, like the angry drone of an insect as Diaz's long suppressed temper welled up and finally took hold.
Without a sound, he launched himself across the desk, intent only on wrapping his hands around the throat of his tormentor and choking the life out of her. She'd been looking away, not that Edwardo had put any kind of planning into his attack, nor did it truly matter. Her arms swept up like coiled springs, catching him at the wrists. She pulled, using his own momentum to lift him over the desk and slam him into the wall behind, rattling awards, photographs and letters of commendations that dominated the 'I Love Me' wall every NCO had.
His left arm was splayed out, held in control by her grip on his thumb and forefinger, his right was twisted up behind his back so far that his wrist was pressed against he back of his head and it was forcing him to stand on tip toe. The pain left his arm and that made him start to struggle for a moment, but even without pain, he was completely at her mercy. She was directly behind him, pressed against him, holding him to the wall, before she whispered in his ear, “I thought you'd never lose that temper, Edwardo.” she said, her thick and heavy in a way he'd never heard her before.
A wave of euphoria washed through Diaz and for the first time in his life, he experienced the power of Ki being used. His anger melted like a predawn mist as he floated in a haze, that wasn't exactly sexual, nor strictly biochemical. It had the warm, nothing matters bliss of some of the strongest pain killers he'd had to undergo while he'd had a broken leg, but there was none of the mental fog or inability to think. He was very aware he was pressed against the wall and that she was holding him there, knew that from this position she could deal him horrific damage, possibly crippling blows that would leave wounds that would never heal right. But with the bliss was a sensation that was not unlike how you might imagine a baby would feel, being held by its mother, safe, and secure. Everything that was happening had a reason, was for his own good and he would come to no harm.
“I suppose,” she whispered in his ear, “I should have realized this last test might be the trigger that would set you off. You're a good person, Diaz, you understand now why I had to give you this test, don't you?”
Edwardo would never be able to articulate why or how he knew what Hartlet's motivation was, how important that she be certain what caliber of person she was about to approve to have this kind of power, how for her own sleep at night she needed to know she had picked the right people. “Yes,” he breathed, helpless in her thrall. “Yes, I understand now. I'm sorry, Ms. Hartlet, I was so angry...”
“Shh,” she told him. “We don't want robots, Edwardo, but we have to be sure we get the right people. That temper got you through this, through me, but be careful you don't let it rule you.” The euphoria faded away, leaving a vivid memory that burned like a brand on his mind while she released him and stepped back. Diaz composed himself and turned to face her.
“I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me, ma'am,” he said contritely.
For the first time he'd ever seen, Veronica Hartlet smiled a warm, sincere smile. “We're family, Elisa. Family always forgives. Now grab your kit and say your good byes and I'll see you in a few months when they fish you out of the tank.”
“The tank?” demanded Juan.
Elisa sighed and a few quick gestures to the screen brought up a vaguely coffin looking device. “The GE Medical Shok-Gel Recovery Tank,” she labeled with a shudder. “At least that's what it started life as. Themis heavily modifies them so that they are nano-sealed and capable of doing life support for more than a week. This was my second womb and home away from home for three months. It's where Edwardo died and Elisa was born.”
Juan paled a bit, looked at the picture. “Died figuratively, right?”
Diaz shook her head. “No, literally. For two days my heart was stopped so that the nanites could rebuild it and my blood was being pumped by a machine, so I was technically dead.” She made a face and raised her arms out in front of her. “Bbbbrrrraaaaaaiiiiiiiinnnnnnnsssssss,” she moaned, lurching forward to grab him.
“¡Ay, caramba!” he swore in surprise. “You do that too well!” he said with a smile. Finally, he worked up the courage to ask, “What was it like?”
“I don't want to talk about it,” she replied instantly.
His eyes widened a bit in disbelief. “That bad sis?”
“I don't want to talk about it,” she repeated, more forcefully. “None of us do! I'd rather have done a year with Heartless Hartlet riding me every second than go through that!” She hugged herself and with a sharp gesture dismissed the photograph.
Juan couldn't help rolling his eyes. “Come on, Chica! It can't be that...”
“Do you remember when you broke your arm because you fell out of Old Man Finson's oak tree?” she demanded, whirling to face him, a fire playing in her eyes.
He took a step back from the force of her vehemence. “Ye...si...”
“Now imagine feeling that about every bone in your body,” she snarled. “Not just in one spot, but every millimeter of them as the nanites eat your bones and rebuild them!” His dark complexion paled and she read the question written on his face. “Hijos de puta madre, they swore I’d be unconscious!” she snapped. “To this day the doctors swear I was out, that I couldn't have felt a thing. They showed me EKG read outs that showed I was so deep in alpha wave suspension I was practically brain dead! I felt it! We all feel it! Three months feeling yourself turn to goo that only the pressure of the Shok-Gel keeps your skin from rupturing and spilling you out into that lime green vileness! Three months of being on fire and not being able to scream! Or move! Just lying there and burning and not dying! Wondering if you're going to go mad...”
For the first time in his life, Juan Diaz moved faster than his sister. He swept her into a hug and squeezed with all his might. “¡Lo siento!” he swore. He held her until she stopped trembling and let her go when she pulled away, a smile that was only a little forced on her face.
“June 19th, will always be my favorite day,” she told him. “Because you and me hermano menor we started our lives together, me out of the tank and you out of mom!” She playfully muffed his hair and looked out the sliding glass door to her balcony towards the medical center, her eyes and mind far away. “I won't ever forget.”
Themis Sibley Memorial Medical Facility, Georgetown, Old DC 18 Years Earlier
For two blissful days there had been no pain. Two days of floating in the gel, breathing slowly; slowly letting her mind come back from the edge of madness. The last month had been the worst, bones in agonizing slowness reuniting, cell, by cell, becoming harder and then harder still, then it happened. In the midst of the burning, and the pain for which there aren't words, pain in which the promise of a moments relief even these select, the best and most virtuous, would have succumbed to, the Veil is parted and their Ki is awakened.
Lost in the labyrinth of madness and fire, the universe parts suddenly and Elisa was awake. For every Erinys it was different; once deep into her third bottle of Jack, Evangeline the agnostic had muttered about stepping back from the edge of the Universe and understanding it all. Religious, many call it, spiritual for others and for Elisa Maria Alya Diaz, confirmed Catholic, the tank, the building the sky itself were all swept aside and God smiled down on her from Heaven. And as she lay, basking in the warmth and love of her God, Elisa was naked and she was not ashamed, for she was new born and innocent.
The pain left her body, her spirit and her mind and within her, the light of her Ki burned brightly. New senses opened, blurry at first, but with growing sharpness they became aware of each other, Elisa and the three other new girls in the tanks around her. Together they held each other and slowly pulled themselves back from the brink. Dimmer, like shadows, were the doctors and technicians that came and went, checking on them and their tanks, but they were filmy and vague, not sharp and bright as Bridgit, and Marley and Sara and Elisa were to each other.
Elisa became aware it was her time when the gel she had been floating in slowly began to drain and she settled back down on to the cushioned bottom of the tank. Filmy doctors were fussing over her as she hugged her tank sisters, closer than lovers, closer than family and returned to her body. It was not a pleasant experience after being so free, so alive. Her body was weak and disobedient; the return of gravity crushing and everything was so much more. The tank lid swung up and the nurse flinched because Elisa was looking at her through the remnants of the Shok-Gel. “She's awake!” she screamed, horrified, but the doctors, the men around her laughed at their prank.
“Their eyes are always open,” one told her. “Don't worry, she's out cold.” They took off the oxygen mask and the feeding tube while the nurse upbraided them for their humor. Elisa wanted to tell them she was awake, but none of her muscles would obey her. The pulled her out and laid her on a gurney to attach monitors and IV needles. A pair of latex gloved hands invaded a new space and heralded a catheter, but compared to the tank, that almost didn't qualify as pain.
Their jostling of her caused her head to slowly roll to one side where she could see the other tanks and, one last time she could perceive Marley and Sara whose 'spirits' for lack of a better word were clustered around the new girl who had taken Bridgit's place. Her spirit was still dim and filmy and thrashing in pain that Marley and Sara were trying to comfort her through. Marley smiled at her told her to sleep, that she needed it. Finally a muscle obeyed and Elisa's eyes closed and she drank the oblivion she had been promised three months ago.
When Elisa woke it was morning, someone was touching her forehead with a slick substance and muttering in Latin. Her eyes opened to find a heavy set man who was both going gray and balding at the same time finishing the Rite of Baptism. “Father Leonard,” she managed, in a voice that was both foreign and her own. She realized at once that for it being a hospital bed, the sheets were silk, which she was grateful for as her skin was extremely sensitive all of a sudden and, she realized she was completely hairless.
The priest smiled down on her. “It's a girl!” he announced. “How do you feel, Elisa?”
“Tired,” she admitted, but managed to reach out and take his arm, the fabric of the jacket like steel wool under her palm. “Father, I saw God,” she managed, desperate to make him understand. “I really saw Him!” His smile broadened and he ever so gently patted her hand.
“I know,” he told her. “They said you would have some experience, it seems a very normal reaction.”
“Easy,” he cautioned her. “You won't have the strength to get excited for a while yet, so take things slowly. I believe you, Elisa, I believe you.” He gently returned her hand to her stomach and bent back to the chair next to him and rummaged through a case there. It was then that Elisa first became aware of the fact that laying on the top of her arm, through the surgical gown she was wearing was a breast. She looked down and saw the gentle swell of the body she had always wanted under the gown and the became aware of a new freedom of moment between her legs. “I have something here for you,” he declared as he removed a document from his satchel and turned back, taking her mind from any further explorations. With a flourish, he read out in a stentorian voice,
“By the Authority of Pope Gregory the Seventeenth be it known that our Brother In Christ, Edwardo Miguel Ayla Diaz has been called to service that of it's nature shall require that which amounts to his death in body and shall give birth to a woman, humble before God in which shall the soul of our brother reside. Hence forth, it is proclaimed that indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in the performance of their duties and in bearing the trials of life, raise their mind with humble confidence to God, adding -- even if only mentally-- some pious invocation, and our Sister In Christ is intended to serve and be faithful to practice the commandment of Christ that she `go forth, be fruitful and multiply.' That forever more, the deeds and trials of this soul shall be written unto the Book of Life to the name of Elisa Maria Ayla Diaz. For His Holiness, Pope Gregory The Seventeenth, signed Daniel Lethe, by Grace of God, Bishop, Archdiocese of Washington”
He turned so she could see it and grinned a lopsided grin. “I took the liberty of having it framed.”
A tear escaped her lashless eyelid and rolled down her cheek. “It's beautiful, Father. Thank you so much!”
He beamed in pleasure and put the frame and it's precious document aside. “And I have some news. You have a new little brother! Juan Ayla Diaz was born the day you were coming out of the tank, three point seven nine kilos, he is fine, mother had a somewhat rough time of it but is doing better. Your parents are looking forward to you getting out of the hospital and coming for a visit.”
“No, they're not, but thank you for the pleasantry, Father. Now,” and she yawned weakly, “I think I'd like to...”
Father Leonard kissed the bald young woman's forehead. “They'll come around,” he told her sleeping form.
“You were bald?” Juan demanded.
“Actually I was hairless,” she corrected with a smile. “There is a difference.” She gestured at the screen and another photograph appeared, again marked Training Team 5, but there were only ten people on the bleachers in addition to the trainers. Now all of the women were wearing the Fury Armor, and it was easy to spot Elisa now. A dark fuzz was clinging to her scalp, though her eyebrows were obviously pencil. “The Shok-Gel has a dilatory effect so that it can close the pores of the skin. There is a certain amount of transference through the skin that the gel is fighting against so that the nanites don't escape and my skin isn't damaged from being submerged for three months.
“Vaca santa you look young!” he observed. “I'd guess you were fifteen or sixteen in this! Even now I have friends who think we're dating not that you're my big sister! Does that stuff make you immortal?”
“No,” she told him quickly. “It's not a fountain of youth, but it is one of the best rejuvenations on the planet. The oldest person I know that underwent the Dragon's Blood and survived was fifty and she looks like she's mid twenties now. We age slowly, and very gracefully, but we do age. Here, look at this.” She made another gesture and the picture of a smiling strawberry blonde filled the screen. She was a full woman, with a soft, oval face, a strong nose and generous mouth made for smiling. Her hair and make up had been professionally done, but there were worry lines at the corner of her eyes that gave her character and an air of competence. She was obviously someone who knew what she was doing and how to get the job done.
“Who's this?” he asked.
Elisa smiled. “My old boss, Karen Astor. How old would you say she is?”
He wolf whistled, drawing a slap across the back of his head from her. “Hey, she has major MILF hotness!” Elisa chuckled.
“Oh? So, give me a number.” He shrugged.
“I don't know, how about forty?”
“I'm almost forty,” she told him. He looked up, disbelieving. “Thirty eight,” she reminded him. He nodded and rubbed his chin in thought.
“Ok, fifty five.”
“Try seventy,” she replied with a smile.
“Next July 4th as a matter of fact. So, more GILF than MILF, but yes, the Dragon's Blood makes time, if not our friend, at least a friendly rival and not an enemy. Karen was a first Generation Erinys, there are only twenty of them left, and they've all been force retired from field work. Themis isn't sure how long we'll live and so they're trying to remove violence from the equation to find out. And for being seventy, Karen can still clear out a bar room brawl all by herself. Now she gets giggles being taken for her husband's trophy wife.”
“Hijo de puta,” he whispered, then shook his head. “So, I still don't get how you got to be friends with this tormentor of yours! I mean, you were out of the tank and so off to assignments, right?”
Elisa smiled and shook her head. “Oh no. Well, first, I went to see you, and what an absolutely adorable baby you were!” She pinched his cheek, causing him to roll his eyes in consternation. “I think I'll gloss over all the fights and screaming matches that visit entailed,” she said with a sigh and shaking her head. “Then, I was back at Fort Peck Lake, actually learning how to do my job.”
“They didn't hire you knowing that?” he demanded.
“Oh, a couple of the other girls were ex-Special Forces, Bridget had been a NAF Ranger, Marley had been a Marine and Sara was Spetsnaz,” she replied. “I was in my sophomore year of my Criminal Justice Degree from VSU, but I'd only seen guns on the trideo! Let alone know how to move and shoot or be tactical? In a brand new body that was light years more athletic than my old one? That was what I was learning...”
Themis Fort Peck Lake Training Facility, Glasgow Montana 18 Years Earlier
“Today,” Instructor Hartlet intoned. “You ladies are going to learn to shoot. Some of you, suffer under the delusion that you already have this skill, you do not! Some of you, have never handled a fire arm before, either way, you are both a liability on my firing range. None of you, have ever touched a weapon in the body you currently wear! It reacts very differently to the body you are used to, and for this reason, you will forget what you think you know, you will listen to my instruction, you will pay attention and follow my directions, or you will pay for it.”
Elisa had never been to any of the weapons ranges at the training facility. Her previous time there as Edwardo had the single goal of toughing her body for the transition and eliminating those who lacked the will power to see the training through. The range was out doors, but was equipped with a sturdy looking storage shed, a restroom, and several vending machines, which was good because all of the new Furies were constantly eating. There were ten firing point lanes, rather like a bowling alley, with bulls eye targets floating holographically in front of a berm of earth being used as a back stop. The firing points had benches, shelves to set things on, and were covered against the rain, which there was actually a light drizzle coming down. Everyone was wearing Fury Armor, both for safety and to get used to it.
After spending several weeks nude, the sensation of being 'on display' in the cat suit didn't even register in Elisa's mind.
Instructor Hartlet met every girl's eye before pointing at a poster on one of the beams holding up the roof. “These, are the range rules. Violation of any of them will cease your training for the day. You will forfeit your pay for today, as well as incur a one thousand Nubuck fine to your debt every time you break one of my rules. Is this clear, ladies?”
“Yes ma'am!” the group chorused
“Behind me are the tools you indicated your preference for on your hire sheet. They are only tools, inert lumps of metal. Of themselves they are worthless. You are the weapon. You are responsible and this is why you will be held accountable if my range rules are broken. Diaz, you're first, front and center.”
“Yes, ma'am!” she called, rising from the bench and trotting over to the lane Hartlet indicated. Her thumb opened a case that caused her a moment of pause as she looked from the pistol to her student and back.
“Beretta M9? No, I stand corrected, a 93R. Is there a reason you picked this museum piece?” she demanded.
Diaz paused for a moment to look at the weapon she'd selected, then back at her instructor. “I did a lot of research, ma'am. It seemed like a reasonable choice. It's open top so the possibility of stove pipe jams are reduced, has burst fire in case that's needed and the 9mm Parabellum cartridge allows for high capacity magazines compared to larger rounds with an acceptable reduction in stopping power.”
“So you didn't see it in a movie and think it was cool?” Hartlet retorted with a gimlet eye.
“My dad is a big Mel Gibson fan, but I don't see how...”
Veronica shook her head. “Fine, whatever, you'll have plenty of time to regret your choice and come to your senses. A weapon made this century would have a SMART interface that your armor and implants could talk to. But this has only mechanical controls. So, here is the slide release. When the weapon is empty it will lock open, like so.” She cleared the pistol, holding it in the locked open state. “The safety and selector switch are combined. This round lever is the safety. Down is engaged, weapon will not fire. Up is disengaged, weapon will fire if trigger is pulled. The other side is a selector, up is single shot, down is three round burst. Keep it in semi for right now. Uplink to the range's computer and sight in the weapon.”
“Engels, you're next!”
Elisa was already linked to the Range's servers through the facilities encrypted WIFI link, which doubtlessly Hartlet already knew. She'd already watched the proper sight picture tutorials and safety procedures of the pistol, but picking it up for the first time, two things leapt out at her. First that the pistol was remarkably heavy for it's size and two that the weight didn't bother her at all. She put the pistol on safe and busied her self loading bullets into her magazines.
Finally Hartlet had finished her briefings to all the other girls and the range was cleared hot. Elisa mentally turned off the assists of her implant as she lifted the pistol and inserted a magazine she'd just filled. Anyone could hit a bull's eye every time with SMART assisted weapons. Even without the SMART assist on the pistol, Elisa's implant was wired into her vision center in her brain and so was aware of what she saw and could overlay a 'HUD' over her normal sight, even without her eyes being augmented. But even though that wasn't quite as accurate as the SMART assist in the weapon, she had turned that off as well, relying on her own understanding of the physics, the mechanics and the tutorial.
She racked the pistol, chambering a round and brought it up into her line of sight. The new sense she was becoming aware of began to mentally label her 'Ki sense' told her that Instructor Hartlet was just behind her left shoulder, watching her. Elisa ignored the distraction and concentrated on her pistol craft. Diaz took up the slack on the trigger and concentrated on her breathing. As she had been struggling to do, the shot surprised her, despite that her new strength kept the 'snap' of the recoil to a minimum and on target at that. The round pierced the target on the upper right arm of the X at the center breathtakingly slightly high and right. The holographic target flashed to the cartoon caricature of Achilles who was the safety mascot of all Themis ranges, internal and public who winked at her and give her a thumbs up. “Bull's Eye!” the Greek Hoplite declared.
“Are you kidding me?” Elisa demanded, incredulous.
“Don't get me started,” grumbled Hartlet. “You're slightly high and right, Diaz, work on it.”
Elisa diligently put six, twenty round magazines through the pistol with all of her augmentations off. The range computer verified her and marked her as safe and trained with the weapon, freeing the use of the augmentations. This cleared the way from the static bench to the more strenuous training that was to come.
Days passed into weeks while Elisa and her team trained. As one they marveled in their new abilities. Obstacle courses that had been objects of torture to them the year previous now became playgrounds as each found new and more interesting ways to defeat the obstacle rather than the 'correct' way. Of course, the ability to leap more than three meters from a standing start certainly added to the motions that would have made a Parkour enthusiast sick with envy.
Then, just when the obstacle courses were getting boring, they began to run them with their weapons and targets began to appear. They were only allowed paint tip simunitions, but, the combination of acrobatics, obstacle running and shooting brought the days to new highs. The outdoor 'jungle gym' type log obstacles were replaced with the 'Urban Environment Simulator', four generic city blocks complete with office buildings, 'shopping center' and other city based scenarios. Then the targets started shooting back, and then there were innocents, mixed in with the combatants.
Had it only been a game, it would have been tremendous fun.
But the 'innocents' put on a damned fine act of being terrified for their lives and it brought home that life and death were not a game. Neither was training as Elisa discovered in their first combined arms exercise with the platoon of Myrmidons that were using the facility for their new hires too. They were running a scenario in the Urban Combat Simulator, militants having seized a shopping center with hostages, making demands and threatening to kill hostages if their demands weren't met. It was the most 'popular' form of terrorism in the latter half of the twenty first century.
Nearly all the windows of the buildings of the simulator were rigged with compressed natural gas lines with piezoelectric igniters built in. A diaphragm valve would build up a charge and dump it, just as the igniter went off, which made a wonderful fireball that could be controlled and shock the troops with realism. Unfortunately one of the diaphragms developed a leak in a storefront window. The enclosed space filled with CNG and one of the young Myrmidons wasn't looking as closely as he should have for the number of grenades he was chucking down range.
The 'grenade' was a glorified cap gun, a 'bang!' of gun cotton for sound effect and a WIFI transmitter to the range's computer with it's GPS coordinates. The computer calculated the closest window and programmed an explosion. At that moment, unfortunately, Myrmidon trainee Jim Talmadge, was running up the alley between that building and it's neighbor. Under normal conditions, this would not have been an issue, but the window the computer chose to detonate was filled with nearly one hundred cubic meters of extremely flammable gas.
The explosion rocked the simulator, destroying the three story building it was set off in and deafened the next two closest Myrmidon trainees by rupturing their ear drums. Jim's ears, eyes and testicles burst from the over pressure of the explosion, but he wasn't alive long enough to feel the agony as the same shock wave killed him and then threw his corpse six meters away and then buried it debris.
Fortunately, the range computer realized nearly instantly what had happened and shut off the linkages to the CNG tank and purged the system to reduce the fire and explosion hazard. The fire team on the facility was already on hand, as was the SOP whenever this simulator was used, thus the fire was quickly contained and damage limited to the single event. The two injured Myrmidons would have their hearing restored a week and a half later by cybernetic implant of artificial replacement ear drums wired directly into their cranial implants. This gave them hearing up into the ultrasonic range and the two took to composing music on dog whistles in their spare time.
None of that was any consolation to Jim Talmadge's widow, Irene, or to trainee Erinyes Elisa Diaz who found Jim's mortal remains, or what was left of them.
Irene took the survivors benefit check from Themis, went back to school and would become a lawyer who specialized in suing Private Military Contractors on behalf on anyone they harmed, or their own employees that the less scrupulous PMCs abandoned when they were injured. Elisa Diaz got an off Post pass and went to drown her sorrows at Buck's Place.
Buck was a retired Myrmidon Heavy who lived to piss others off. Glasgow was a sleepy, one horse kind of town that would consider a Reagan conservative a wellspring of newfangled liberalism. Reactionary, as a word, fell far short of its duties. While the Themis Training Facility was the largest employer for the town, not everyone worked there and significantly less than everyone approved of the product of the base, specifically, the Furies. Buck sank his retirement into a bar so the Themis employees could have a friendly place to go in town and an understanding with the Sheriff that so long as the girls didn't do anything permanent, the bigots could come try to prove their manhood on fledgling Furies. In any other town this would have resulted in heavy handed attempts at seduction. But not in Glasgow.
There were times it was just cathartic to beat the crap out of someone, and Glasgow's under-educated, under-employed class never ceased to provide ignorant shit kickers who couldn't learn and seemed to honestly enjoy having the crap beaten out of them. A base taxi took Elisa to the bar while it was still early and the crowd still light. The furniture, which Buck bought in remanded lots by the ton from thrift stores nation wide was still intact. She entered the bar in a pair jeans that left no one wondering how shapely her back side was and a T shirt that was doing the same service to her front. It was a blown up image of the Fury patch, the unofficial uniform for town passes and a warning to anybody looking for trouble, they'd find more than they wanted. “Dos equis,” she ordered sliding into a bar stool.
Buck nodded and found a bottle, opened it and placed it in front of her. “I know that look, Red,” he said with his slow drawl. Elisa had picked up the nickname 'Red' because only Bridget her Tank Sister could get away with calling her Liz. “You know the rules, nothing permanent.”
Elisa took a long pull on her beer and shook her head. Her hair had grown out from 'buzz cut' to 'short and flirty', but was still a long ways from where she wanted it. “I'm not here for the floor show,” she told him. Buck shrugged while taking the Nubuck she paid for the beer and making change.
“You know my place, Red. Sometimes the 'floor show' isn't picky about who's in it.”
She took another long pull and shuddered. “You hear about The Fire?” He nodded. “I found the lone fatality. Private Trainee Jim Talmadge, whose mortal remains they had to pick up with a sponge and a bucket.” Elisa used more beer to push down the bile that rose unbidden at the memory.
“That's life in the big city,” Buck replied as he poured himself a cup of the black sludge he called coffee and took a drink straight up. “Talmadge knew the job was dangerous when he took it, and while I note that brochure they give you girls really plays up the perks and down the job, it does say what's expected of you.”
Elisa snorted in remembrance. “Erinyes Corps: Be More Than Just A Woman,” she quoted with rancor. “Somehow I must have missed today's actives being spelled out.”
“Then you're not nearly as smart as I gave you credit for being,” drawled Veronica as she slid onto the stool next to Elisa's. “Gimme a Bud Light Lime and two shots of tequila, Buck.” She was dressed in a style that could only be called 'South-West Tramp'. A plaid 'cowboy' shirt that had the sleeves cut off and had been tied under her impressive bosom leaving her taunt, tanned belly exposed and jeans that looked like they'd been spray painted on her that flowed into a pair of snake skin boots that had probably set her back a month's pay. She scooped up a handful of peanuts from the bowl on the bar and popped some into her mouth.
“Come on Diaz, you saw the danger warning page, it's got 'high risk job' all over it and another page just on death and dismemberment.”
“Condénelo,” she muttered under her breath. “I've just never seen a corpse before.”
Veronica made a guttural dismissive sound as the drinks arrived. “First one I saw I made,” she countered, sliding the second shot of tequila at the young Spanish woman. “Big fucker too, damn near two and a half meters, hundred and twenty, hundred thirty kilos maybe and it was all muscle.” She salted the back of her hand, then handed the shaker to Elisa. She licked the salt and tapped her shot glass against Elisa's.
“More than a woman!” they toasted and tossed back the liquor.
Elisa took the lime from her lips as asked, “What happened?”
“Got stupid,” Veronica replied as she returned the shot glass to the table and reached for her beer. “Went around a corner on an infiltration extraction without checking it and 'Atlas' was waiting for me. Connected with a right that actually knocked me out for a second. By the time I could think again he had those ham hock hands around my throat and was doing his best to strangle me.”
Diaz's skin paled at the horrific tale her instructor spun so nonchalantly. “What did you do?”
“Ki Knife hand,” she replied, her tone light and indifferent, but her mind saw the looks of shock and agony on the mans face as she forced her hand into his chest and squeezed the life from his beating heart. Remembered seeing the life drain from his eyes and the confusing feeling of relief that she was alive, a strangely detached horror at what she'd done and the overwhelming burning feeling of ultimate power that drowned out the other two as she realized she had taken her first life.
She took a pull of her beer and locked eyes with her student. “Him or me, Diaz. I picked me.”
Elisa wasn't sure she liked where the conversation was going so asked, “How do you drink that orina?”
Hartlet looked at her bottle and back to Elisa's. “We're both looking to get buzzed, right? For us, that's going to take a lot of beer. What did that import cost you?”
“Eighty cents,” she replied. “But it tastes good!”
“This,” and Veronica held up her bottle, “is thirty cents, and after four or five I won't care what they taste like!” For the first time, Elisa shared a laugh with her instructor and 'Heartless' Hartlet died and a friendship was tentatively formed with Veronica Hartlet. As the laughter died down, Veronica lowered her voice and leaned in closer. “Look, it's only natural to get shook up a bit by today, Elisa. Death is a part of the job, you've got to figure out how you're going to deal with it. You want my advice? Find you a boy toy and wear him out.”
“Ms. Hartlet!” she exclaimed shocked. The blond shook her head.
“We're both out of uniform, Elisa, it's just Veroncia, and don't tell me you haven't fantasied about it since you came out of the tank!” Elisa's blush did her answering for her as she turned away and drank more beer. “Just like I thought,” roared Hartlet. “As cherry as a '68 Mustang!”
“I'm Catholic!” she declared almost primly.
“Even better!” the instructor replied. “Sin tonight, confess tomorrow, start the week fresh!”
Elisa snorted a laugh into her beer bottle. “It doesn't work that way,” she said.
“It works however you want it to,” Veronica shot back. “Though I wouldn't recommend a local. Body sculpting and enhancement might be the 'norm' in the rest of the country, but here in shit kicker heaven we're still waiting on the twentieth century.”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
Veronica drained her beer and waved for another. “Are you kidding me? Look, Elisa, back in the 'real world' of the North American Federation, we're enjoying all the modern conveniences of late twenty first century living. Not the least of which is the nanite and body sculpting revolution! It let the both of us be who we were on the inside, but it has other definitive advantages! You're from BAMA, they're fairly cosmopolitan over there, when was the last time you saw someone who was obese? I'm not talking thick or curvy, but rolling fat morbid obesity?”
“It's correctly referred to as the Boston Atlanta Metropolitan Authority...”
“BAMA!” shouted Veronica around her laughter. “You've never seen one, have you? Have you? Of course not! And you won't, as cheap as the options are, as critical as looking good has become to keeping a job. And let's be honest, we aren't exactly paragons of restraint, are we?” She took a long pull on the beer leered at the somewhat aghast Spanish young woman. “And why should we, huh? When you can look like you belong on a porn set, why wouldn't you? Eh? Eh?”
“How many have you had tonight, Ronny?” demanded Buck as he was drawn over by the instructors raucous sense of humor.
“Two!” snapped Hartlet. “That's all you know about, and all you need to!”
Buck's long face pulled into a frown. “Tone it down and slow down or I'll cut you off now, read me?”
“Yeah, yeah,” she muttered, then made a point of checking his rear as he walked away. “Now Buck,” she whispered to Elisa, “there's an amusement park with all the fun rides!” She held her hands up better than a third of a meter apart which caused Elisa's eyes to widen in shock. “But don't get any ideas, I have plans for the dour proprietor of our watering hole! Which brings us back to my original point nicely! In the real world, do you know what the average penis size is?”
“Why would I care when I was trying to get rid of my own?”
She frowned. “Oh, now you're going to spin the 'lesbian trapped in a man's body' crap on me?”
Elisa took a sip of beer and turned away before she whispered, “I like men.” Veronica took a pull of her own and leered.
“I thought so! Thatta girl! Nothing to be ashamed of! And if you want a man, then you want a man, girl! And out in the real world, thanks to our wonderful friends in the lab coats, the 'average' man is now a woman pleasing thirty centimeters! But, out here in the mild, mild west, they're still using inches and are hard pressed to come up with more than six!”
Elisa blinked. “Inches? Wait, we covered that in history, that's what, only twelve centimeters?” Ronny held up her hands again, much closer together and Elisa started. “Are you kidding me?”
“I wish!” she groused. “Damn near ruined a friendship too, but you don't need to know about that! My point is, the Myrmidons are in the tank, just like us, and have you ever seen an ugly one? Don't sit out here and mope! Nobody says you have to marry him! Love 'em and leave 'em! You'll feel better in the morning!”
The most peculiar sensation crawled up Elisa's back, a burning, hairs on end feeling that started at the base of her spine and ran all the way up to the top of her skull. Without thinking, she put the bottle on the bar, slid off the stool and threw both hands up to her left. She intercepted the sucker punch that was on it's way to her left check, much to the amazement of the stereotypically dressed cowboy that was throwing it who was in the process of yelling, “Faggot whore!”
She neatly reversed the hold that had him standing on tip toe with his wrist against the back of his head and crying like a baby. “If you're going to call me names, hombre pick one set and stick with it!” she hissed and flung him back into the crowd of his buddies that were in the process of spilling into the bar through the door. The locals fell like ten pins as the two Furies and three Myrmidons that were in the bar got to their feet. Five Themis employees against fifteen locals, it didn't seem fair; for the locals.
“Nothing permanent!” shouted Buck as the two Furies shouted the undulating Ki based Erinyes war cry and launched themselves into the pile, punching, kicking, even a bite or two snuck past the watchful eye of Buck. In the mist of a great deal of unlicensed tool-less dentistry, Elisa met Squad Corporal Todd Masters, the grenadier who was holding himself responsible for Jim's death and attempting to drink himself to liver failure. He was thirty, though the Myrmidon Process made him look a fresh faced captain of the Varsity squad of around twenty or so. He was a hundred kilos of hard, well defined muscle with the deep green eyes and shaggy black hair of an Irish poem.
He was a tremendous back up man in bar brawl, had his own car on site that made for a discrete exit before the Sheriff's Posse could arrive to clean up the nightly brawl at Buck's Place and he'd be deeply honored to share Elisa's bed that night.
So Elisa Diaz gave up her virginity to a young man who was feeling just as lost as she was by way of the ghost of Jim Talmadge. While it wasn't deep, true love, Corporal Masters knew his way around a woman's body was himself better than average you might say. There were awkward moments, there was laughter at the awkwardness, there was tenderness and caring there was a unity where neither was alone for a time and it was what they both needed. They didn't fall in love, but they fell in friendship you might say.
Friendship with benefits, wonderful, wonderful benefits.
Elisa was awakened from some of the best sleep she'd had in some time by the voice of Instructor Hartlet and the light of the hallway across her face. No longer were the 'Post Tank' girls in the barracks like some World War Two movie, on return to the facility they'd been housed in a dorm with small, but private rooms and a bathroom she shared with Bridget her 'tank sister'. “Diaz, up and at...oops, sorry.”
Elisa sat up in bed and stretched which showed she wasn't alone in the bed and Corporal Master's pride and joy was on display. She reached down and flipped the coverlet from her bed over him while standing and without self consciousness strode nude to the door. “Yes ma'am?”
“Hate to break it to you, Elisa, but leave's been canceled. Get ready quickly and grab your combat go bag and report to the big bay downstairs. Masters too, we've got an emergency.”
“Yes ma'am, right away!”
Ronny's face was bleary, and the bruise on her cheek was already nearly healed, but she managed a smile and nodded at Elisa's bed mate. “Was I right?”
“The Senior Training Instructor is always right, ma'am,” Elisa replied with a sly, cat in the cream smile. “In this instance she was wonderfully more right than usual.”
“Glad to oblige. Suit up, bad men doing bad things.”
“Roger that, ma'am,” she replied, closing the door and heading to the shower. She shook Todd's leg on her way by. “Up and at 'em hombre! We got to move.” He sat up groggily as Elisa continued into the bathroom she shared with Bridget. Bridget was already in her shower cubical and reached back from washing her hair to touch the fogged glass door right as Elisa's fingers touched it in the same place on the other side.
“What about leave?” he called after her.
Elisa reached in and flipped the shower on to her favorite setting. “Canceled,” she yelled back over the water as she got a towel and let the instant water heater come up. “There's some emergency we're responding to. My trainer said to show up in armor with a go bag.”
Muffled curses were her answer.
Bridget was a tall blonde, taller than Elisa's one hundred seventy two centimeters anyway, though they were nearly eye to eye when Bridget was flat footed and Elisa in the ten centimeters heels she favored. The warm water flowed over her, loosening muscles that were complaining of over use or stiffness from too long asleep in one position. Bridget's cornflower blue eye caught one of Elisa's dark brown ones as she wet her hair to wash. “Was he as good as you leaked?” she asked with a smile.
Neither woman understood the bond that had been created between them by being in the same room at the same time both were in the tanks. The Ki flowed between them quite strongly and, sleeping so close to one another they tended to be aware of what the other was doing. When this happened they dubbed it 'leaking'. Sister was the best description the two could come up with for it, perhaps something akin to the phenomena that identical twins experienced. Elisa just 'knew' when Bridget was having nightmares about her time as a Ranger and when she needed to crawl into her bed to comfort her. Now, evidently, Bridget knew exactly how good a night she'd had. “Better,” Elisa whispered. “I hope we didn't keep you up.”
“Sometimes a girl likes to be kept up,” she retorted with a smile. “If it hadn't been your first, I might have invited myself over.”
“Mi casa es su casa,” Elisa replied. “I have no claim to him, and I told him I wasn't looking for a relationship.”
“Fuck buddy,” Diaz agreed. As she washed her hand found the small oblong lump of the nanite factory that had been implanted in her left thigh, just where it met her torso. “Bri, what do you know about this birth control factory? You know how good it is?”
“The one the put in us?”
“My younger sister had it done,” she replied while rinsing the conditioner from her hair. “Don't worry; if her results are typical you will not get pregnant on it.”
“Ouch,” Elisa sympathized. “Something of a 'free spirit' eh?”
“If by 'free spirit' you mean 'complete slut,' yes,” Bridget replied. Elisa looked down and rubbed her belly with one hand, while reaching up to take her sister's hand over the partition with the other. “You'll have kids, 'Liz, just got to pay back Uncle Themis first.”
“Two hundred and fifty thousand nubucks,” Elisa whispered as the water beat on her. “It didn’t seem so much when I signed on…”
Bridget shut off her shower and started toweling off at the opening of Elisa’s. “You’ll do it, girl. I know how bad you want it. And with this alert thing seems like we can finally start making some cash. Combat pays great.”
“Yeah, killing people has always been an upwardly mobile move.”
“Hush,” Bridget chided her. “Grab your armor and your boy toy and get your can in gear!”
“I guess it's good her boy toy likes to be grabbed, huh?” asked Todd as he wandered into the bathroom, wearing only a grin from ear to ear. Bridget gave him an appreciative, measuring glance.
“Indeed,” she opined archly. “If only there wasn't an alert!”
The 'Big Bay' was the largest room in the dorm. It served as a day room and 'activity center' for the lulls in training that, despite the complaints of trainees, did in fact happen from time to time. There were the usual kinds of amusements, a wall screen that had a Cloud Movie account, a pool table, a collection of card and craft tables and a half dozen TIS cabinets. There were comfortable couches and love seats that had now been arranged to face the wall screen where Instructor Hartlet and unknown man in a Myrmidon uniform were standing.
Clustered around the couches were the Post Tank trainees that had earned the right to sleep in the dorm, not the barracks and were all advanced enough in their training that curtailing the last bits wouldn't be a detriment. There were the ten surviving members of Fury Training Team 5, ten who had proven themselves to have had the chops to take the worst Hartlet and her Dream Killers could throw at them, the proud survivors of a starting group of fifty.
They were the pepper in their black Fury Armor scattered through out the one hundred Myrmidons in their khaki jump dungarees. The uniform had been designed to quickly be added to as need arose. As they were, it seemed to be a simple jumpsuit and boots with plenty of pockets and odd looking plastisteel D rings that allowed the attachment of everything from armor plates to canteen holders and everything in between. It was called the Modular Logistics Link System by Themis who had designed it, and sold the equipment aftermarket as the MLLS. The Myrmidons called Molly and it allowed each boot to configure his gear they way he or she liked. Despite being a PMC, Themis did a number of things differently from the traditional military approach, the foremost being that as it was his or her rear on the line, the grunt could configure the field gear for the uniform however they liked.
It also meant the Myrmidons could go from 'barracks casual' to 'tip of the spear' kit out in a matter of seconds.
Instructor Hartlet's two assistant instructors had long since rotated out to other assignments leaving the room with 11 Erinyes and twenty or so other women scattered throughout the Myrmidons. Of them, sixty were 'light plate' combat operators, with ten Heavy power frame drivers, with the rest being a collection of techs, mechanics, support specialists and, most importantly, five medics.
“Listen up!” the unknown Myrmidon by Ms. Hartlet announced to the group. Quiet quickly fell as the attention became focused on him. “My name is Major Dan Hawk, and I have been placed in operational command of the mission you are about to embark on. STO Hartlet will serve as my XO with a brevet rank of Captain.”
Behind him, the screen came to life and began playing raw footage of various reporters throughout the Central American region. It was mostly combat footage, blood, carnage and men and women frantically firing automatic weapons. “Some of you may be aware of the ongoing unpleasantness that sparked the Former Mexico in to joining the North American Federation. For those of you who came in late the Reader's Digest version is that Central America is a hell hole of dictators, strong men and Generalissimos all fighting for control of the original states and territories in the region. Themis has presence in a number of areas throughout Central America, generally guarding plantations, mines and other Natural Resources in the area for other large corporations. We also provide the manpower to the Panama Canal Zone Security Force under contract from the NAF Army when they retook the zone last year in Operation Teddy's Prize. Captain?”
Hartlet nodded and gestured at the wall screen. The combat porn flipped over to an enhanced sat-nav map of an island. “This, is our engagement zone,” she informed them. “Cayos Miskitos is a forced growth coral archipelago roughly eight kilometers on a side that was washed clean of life in the tsunami generated by the eruption of Mt. Erebus in '21. Since then the forced growth island was generated by anchoring it to the skeleton of the old island and keeping up with the rising seas.”
“It's approximately fifty klicks off the coast of Nicaragua and is our primary staging base for operations in the region.”
“Why aren't we based out of the Canal Zone?” someone shouted in disgust.
Elisa expected the newly promoted 'Captain' Hartlet to cut some body part off the offender and feed it to him, but she only shook her head. “For a number of reasons, not the least of which is cost, having the NAF Army constantly looking over our shoulder and that Cayos Miskitos is more centrally located for our operations in the region.”
She made a gesture and the sat-nav map was overlaid with a series of code names for the areas. “Here is what we know.” Inset to the map came a portrait, somewhat blurred and distant of a stern, cruel looking man wearing a uniform covered in braid and medals. “Here's our bad guy, General Alejandro Esteban. He controls a largely rural and undeveloped chunk of what was Honduras and Nicaragua as far south as Puerto Cabezas and north as Puerto Lempira. What he doesn't have is a whole lot of technology and infrastructure which he seems to think he's going to take from us. Three days ago, just after midnight local time, a set of combined arms guerillas thought to be no more than two thousand strong, executed an simultaneous attack on the docks here, and a helicopter assault on the airfield here.
“Personnel on station were overwhelmed as the reactionary force normally stationed here was off island responding to several requests for assistance under fire by other forces throughout the region. These were obviously diversions, orchestrated by Esteban. Myrmidon Colonel Hiram is regrouping the reactionary force in the Canal Zone but any attack he can make will have excessive casualties unless we split the defenders attention.”
Major Hawk nodded his thanks and stepped up to the fore. “Our mission is to be deployed by a sub-orbital semi ballistic. None of the support craft we would normally use will make the trip, so we will all be staggered jumping from the ballistic mover. I will be first out the door with most of you, we'll be jumping just past apogee, and corporate assures me this will count as both a combat drop and a high risk drop as we'll actually re-enter the atmosphere.”
A murmur ran through the assembled Myrmidons about fifty fifty in favor of the stunt or terrified of it. Major Hawk allowed the group to mutter for a moment, then continued. “Next out will be Captain Hartlet and her Furies, who will actually be our second wave. Last out and first on the deck will be the heavies. Our target is Morgan Field. The heavies will blast us a landing zone while Captain Hartlet and her furies establish a perimeter. The heavies must take and hold the LZ!
“Once the entire company is on the deck, Captain Hartlet will take half of her Furies and the supply power frame drivers here to the air field warehouse. The base was just resupplied two days before the invasion and Sat-Intel shows the warehouse hasn't been looted. While they secure the resupply for the Heavies, the other half of the Furys will escort two heavies and a squad of light plate here to the headquarters administrative building. Thermographics tells us the surviving base personnel have been held here. They will liberate the hostages and return, making as much noise and damage as you can to hopefully trick them into thinking there are three fronts. We then hold the airfield until relieved by Colonel Hiram. Questions?”
The room was silent and Captain Hartlet stepped forward again. “Myrmidons, you will consider my Erinyes to hold a master sergeant ranking, except for Elisa Diaz. Diaz, you'll lead Team Two as their Team Leader, think of her as a lieutenant.”
“Yes ma'am,” Elisa replied, smiling at the jostling Bridget gave her.
“Corporal Masters?” called out Hawk.
“You'll lead the squad going with Team Two. Take Kolowaski and Saunders as your Heavies.”
“Hooah.” the Corporal replied.
“Suit up,” the Major ordered. “Bus leaves in fifteen minutes.”
The crowd quickly began to disburse to retrieve go bags and head out side. For herself, Elisa caught the eyes of Bridget, Marley and Sara and as simply as that, Team 2 was assembled. They fell into together and began to head out when they were intercepted by Captain Hartlet. “Ladies,” she greeted. “My apologies, your rifle choices have yet to be delivered from central supply. But I do have substitutes. Follow me.”
She led the way under a tent outside where various gadgets and other gear had been laid out on tables. The company store looking to do business as the troops headed out. Finally she arrived a table that had a series of rifles laid out. “H&K G36, not the newest girls at the dance, but they know the steps. We're a training base and they were the best in the armory. My other recommendation is to take as many of these one hundred round drums as you can carry.” Team two shared a glance then each girl picked up a rifle, opened their go bags and emptied the table of drums.