Chapter One: Good Witch or Bad Witch?
2054, San Antonio, capital of the central region, Commonwealth of the Americas. The Ghetto District.
“So … I just need to hit those little balls into the pocket thingies, and I get the money?”
Grace examined the slightly glowing pool cue with a confused expression. Nine men sat, stood or leaned against the wall of the notorious and smoke-filled “8th Street Tavern.” As a holographic band played a classic techno-tune in the far corner of the establishment, the men watched Grace with hunger-filled eyes.
The woman of twenty-five was a beautiful brunette. She wore a tight-fitting, short skirt with neon-green fishnet stockings. As she held up the pool cue and attempted to position it as one of the men showed her, she leaned over, and they all maneuvered in a manner to get a better view of her ample cleavage. The low-cut and tight-fitting top seemed to barely hold Grace’s buxom assets in.
A tall man with a mustache and goatee moved close to her. He wore a leather jacket and appeared to be the leader.
“That’s it. Easy as can be! But like I told you, sugar, first you’ve got to break the balls.”
Grace giggled, stood back straight and put her hand to her mouth.
“I’m sorry, but that’s funny. I know something about breaking balls, but not like this!”
The men chuckled. The leader looked around the dimly lit room and smiled wide as Grace leaned over the pool table again and tried to take aim at the cue ball. She stopped and stood back up.
“I don’t know. … I’m not sure about this. I mean, I need the money but, if I lose?”
She looked at the leader, and he said, “If you lose, we get to have our way with you … for the next six hours.”
Grace grimaced. She looked around at the men and then looked down at the man’s communication device, which lay on the side of the pool table. She turned her head to read the “23,000” dollars displayed on the screen.
“Well, I’m a little scared … and besides that, once I return the money to Mr. Watson’s account, I’ll still need enough to get away.”
The leader expelled a long breath. He moved around to face her.
“Listen …” He held out his hand in a questioning manner.
“Grace,” she replied.
“Yeah, Grace. Listen, you came here to our little piece of heaven. You tell us that you’ve been embezzling your boss’ money, and he’s about to find out. You say you need 23,000 dollars real fast, so you can cover your ass. We’ve got 23,000 dollars here, and we’re willing to give you a chance to earn it.” He turned to the other men. “Right, guys?” They all murmured or grunted in affirmation.
The leader then turned back to Grace.
“But we are the Diablos. That may not mean anything to you, but our gang has a reputation to uphold. We would love to just give you 23,000 dollars and help you out, but we need to keep our dignity too. So, you play a simple game of pool against me. You win, and you get the 23,000. If you lose, we get to entertain you for six short hours. That’s the deal.”
Grace smiled a little. She looked around the room with a bit of apprehension.
“Yeah, but you’re probably better at this game than I am. And I need at least a thousand dollars to clean my travel log. Otherwise, Mr. Watson will know where I went.”
Again, the leader expelled a long breath, seeming to lose patience. He looked Grace over from top to bottom. Then, he turned to the others.
“Come on, guys … another thousand. Let’s make this easy.”
Several of the men stepped up and waved their comm. devices over the one on the pool table. The dollars jumped up until the last man saw it was 23,780. He tapped his device and waved it over the leader’s, and the amount jumped up to 24,000 dollars.
“There you go, sweetheart, 24,000 dollars.” He then smiled smugly.
Grace leaned over and looked at the device. “But it’s still locked.”
The man raised his hands in the air. “What, you don’t trust us?”
“Well, it’s just, if I lose … I mean, there are …” She counted the men slowly, pointing to each one. “There are nine of you! If I lose, it’s … well, six hours is a long time, and I’m just one woman! You’ve got to unlock it, or I’m going to have to say no.”
The man expressed frustration. He rubbed the side of his head and then leaned back to examine her bottom. This appeared to reinforce his patience, and he stepped closer.
“Listen, Grace, sweetheart. You’re already here, in the center of our little universe. It’s going to be difficult to say no now.” Several men chuckled under their breath. He continued.
“But we like to keep things nice and simple. So, for you, I’ll make this one exception. Just remember, though, I’m going out of my way to help you, all right?”
The man picked up the device and tapped several buttons on the screen. The screen changed to a green background, and he set it back down on the table.
“Now, can we get this game started? Mr. Watson will be waking up soon. You want to get that money back in his account before then, right?”
Grace smiled. “Thank you.” She turned to the other men with an innocent smile. “Thanks to all of you. I promise you; I won’t forget this.”
The leader smiled as Grace spread her legs slightly and again leaned over the table.
“Oh, we’re sure you won’t, sugar. We’re sure you won’t.”
As she propped her arm on the table and moved the stick in an aiming fashion, she could see a mirror across from her. In the mirror, she noticed a man stand up, step a few feet behind her and begin to make humping motions. The other men laughed about this.
Grace frowned, turned just a bit and began swinging the pool cue back and forth very swiftly as if she was about to hit the cue ball. But, on a backswing, she let go of the pool cue. It flew straight into the man’s groin with a thud. He went from making a humping motion to grasping his privates, then groaning, he leaned over.
“Oopsie!” Grace straightened up and turned around.
“Oh … oh, no! Did I hit you? I’m so sorry!”
She reached down and picked up the pool cue. As she raised up, the stick struck the man in the face, causing him to fall backward and onto the hard floor.
“Oh. Oops, oh, I’m sorry … again!” Here, let me help you!”
Grace took a step toward the man and appeared to trip. When she fell, her knee landed in the man’s stomach.
“Ahhgggg, you … stupid bitch! GET OFF ME!” the man grunted.
“Oh, oops!” Grace tried to get back up as the other men laughed aloud. The man who was making the humping motions now rolled on the floor in pain.
“That’s all right, sugar.” The leader took her hand and helped her up.
“Will he be all right?”
“Yes, yes … he’ll be fine in a few days. Now, can we get this game over? The sooner, the better, right?”
Grace continued to watch the man groan and hold his midsection. Then, the leader handed her the pool cue.
“Oh, all right. Well, if you’re sure he’ll be okay.”
“Yes, yes. … Just make your shot so we can give you what’s coming to you.”
Grace again spread her legs a bit, leaned over the table and took aim at the cue ball. Just then, a jingling sound emanated from somewhere. She stopped moving the pool cue and looked down at her chest. The jingling sounded again.
The leader leaned over and looked to where the sound was coming from. He then said, “Your uhm,” he pointed to Grace’s breasts. “They seem to be making a noise. Is that normal?”
Grace straightened up. She smiled and looked down at her exposed cleavage. Then, she did a little dance that caused her breasts to bounce and jiggle. The jingling sound stopped.
“There, no problems!” She smiled and again leaned over the table in preparation to make the shot.
Once again, the jingling sound erupted from the area of her breasts.
Grace expelled a breath of frustration, straightened up and leaned her pool cue against the table.
“Excuse me just one minute, please.”
She raised her finger into the air, then pulled on a gold necklace around her neck. A small cylindrical communication device was connected to the chain and came out from her cleavage. She then moved away from the table and touched the two ends of the small cylinder. The comm. device unrolled, and she held it up to her ear.
“Kǎ ēn xiān sheng de yún tūn diàn. Wǒ kě yǐ bāng nǐ diǎn cài ma?” After saying this, she glanced back at the men and smiled. They stood watching her with puzzled expressions.
“Lieutenant Wolfe, I know it’s you. This is a highly secure network, and your communication device only works for you.”
Grace winced at this. She frowned, and after a few seconds, replied. “Major Eneken, why is it you always call at the worst possible time? I have nine men behind me, all drooling at the thought of having their way with me for the next six hours. And I was really beginning to enjoy myself when, out of the blue, you call!”
“Lieutenant, I have no desire to hear about your personal life. And believe me, if it were my choice, you would never get a call from me. But for some unknown reason, General Thomas insists that I contact you and relay orders for a mission.”
Grace shook her head in frustration. She glanced back at the men, then turned away and, in a low voice, said, “Can you give me five minutes, major?”
There was a silent pause. Then, the major said, “Five minutes, lieutenant. I’m calling back in five minutes.”
“Thanks.” Grace then touched the two ends of the device. It rolled back into a small cylinder with one end still connected to the gold chain. She placed it back in-between her breasts.
Walking over and picking up the pool cue, she leaned over the table and, while taking aim at the balls, said in a much less innocent voice, “Looks like we only have time for a quickie, boys.” She then struck the cue ball, and it slammed into the others. Three balls dropped into pockets.
“I’ll take solids,” she said while moving around the table. She leaned over and shot again, this time causing two solid balls to fall into pockets.
As the men watched in surprise, she made another and then another shot in rapid succession, then moved without hesitation to make the next shot.
“Eight ball in the corner pocket,” she finally said, and then shot the eight-ball in. She then pulled an open comm. device from her pocket and waved it over the one on the table, transferring the money.
“Hey, bitch! You think you’re going to hustle us? You ain’t leaving here with our money! And we will have our way with you, but it won’t be nice and gentle like!”
Grace stepped back as the other men stood up.
“You should all consider this a learning opportunity. Philosophically speaking, can you really hustle the hustlers?”
At this point, the men attacked her. She swung the pool cue back and forth, taking two men down in rapid succession, then stepped aside and landed her knee in the stomach of another.
Pirouetting around this man, she swung her pool stick and took down another one. The leader pulled a pistol from his jacket, but before he could aim it, Grace kicked it out of his hand. Then, she jabbed the pool cue into his gut, causing him to fall over in pain.
Without missing a beat, she kicked another to the wall, then rolled over the pool table to evade a man who was charging her. She punched another out with her free hand, then knocked one out with the pool cue.
Grace pulled her short skirt back down a bit and walked toward the exit.
The man she evaded looked at his friends lying unconscious or writhing in pain. He hesitated briefly but then picked up a pool cue and ran toward her. She turned, and as he swung his pool cue, she blocked it with her cue, which spun it around quickly, causing it to fly from his hands. She stepped up to him as he stood in shock. Grace handed the man her pool cue. He looked at it. She smiled and then punched the man in the face, who fell to the floor unconscious.
She waved her hand a bit from the pain of hitting the man and then turned again toward the exit.
The manager stepped from around the bar, examining the nine men laying on the floor in agony. The other patrons stood or sat with shocked expressions. The music continued to play as she moved toward the door and the manager.
Taking the comm. device out, she punched in a couple of numbers and then waved it across the pocket of the wide-eyed manager. A bleeping sound came from the device in his pocket as it lit up.
“There’s a little something for the mess.”
Grace then walked out the door.
As she moved down the dimly lit walkway, a hovercar drifted past on the street. Then, a classic wheeled cruiser slowed and moved by. Several men yelled out obscene offers to her. She smiled but continued walking. She then ducked down a dark alley, past a small group of people smoking drugs. Shortly afterward, she came out on another dusky street.
Rays of sunlight found their way through a few openings but barely penetrated to the sub-level district, which was several stories deep. Streetlights were the constant form of light in the old ghetto areas. A weathered and defective “recreational drugs,” business sign blinked on and off.
A bit farther and moving past a liquor store, she noticed a flyer in the window indicating imported alien drinks such as “Kelluargan wine,” and “Aventian lostria,” to be on sale.
A man standing outside the establishment turned and said, “Hey, baby.”
As Grace continued approaching her street-glider, she noticed someone squatting close to it. The man held a small device in his hands and was obviously attempting to break the security and steal her ride.
Suddenly, a holographic guard dog appeared by the glider. The man quickly scrambled back as an authoritative voice shouted, “Warning, this property protected by PIT BULL!” The holographic dog snapped at the man who had by now moved several feet away.
Grace stood watching. As the security system automatically shut back down and the holographic pit bulldog disappeared, the man again slithered up to the glider and returned to his attempt to break the protective system.
Moving up silently behind the man, she tapped his left shoulder. As he looked to the left, she reached down on his right side and snatched the device from his grasp.
“HEY!” The man turned around. “Hey, bitch, give that back!”
Grace smiled with glee. “Well, look at this! A Hacker 5000! I’ve always wanted one of these!”
The man stood up and moved toward her. Grace stepped back, lifted her leg and jabbed her high-heeled boot into his chest, then pushed him back and against a wall. The man grunted in pain as he slid down to the sidewalk.
Grace punched a few numbers into the console of her glider, and the power lock disengaged. She then quickly tapped information into the Hacker to keep it unlocked.
As the man got back to his feet, she examined the hacking device curiously.
“You better give that back, bitch! I’ll kill you if you don’t!”
She looked over to the man, who still rubbed his chest in pain.
“What do you think? If someone takes something from a thief, is it really stealing?”
The man reached into his jacket and pulled out a short metal pipe. Raising it, he moved toward her. As he swung, she stepped back and grabbed his wrist with her free hand, then twisted it around. To avoid a broken arm, the man moved around in a circle with his back toward Grace. He dropped the metal pipe from the awkward position. She then put her boot to his rear and pushed him headfirst against the wall again.
As the would-be thief rubbed his sore head and tried to collect himself, Grace reached down and picked up the pipe, then sat it and the Hacker 5000 on the seat of her ride. She then pulled the gold chain from her cleavage, and detaching the small cylinder, placed it into a holding socket on the glider console.
She turned and glanced at the would-be thief, then touched several buttons on the console screen. A thin rod lifted from the vehicle. Once the rod was extended to a few inches over Grace’s head, a holographic image lit up. The display was a shower curtain that went all the way around Grace and her glider. On the outside of the curtain, the image of a woman would peek out from time to time. She held the shower curtain over her chest area and would wave her finger as if chastising would-be peeping Toms.
Being covered by the holographic curtain, Grace began to get undressed. Though no one could see into her privacy curtain, she could see out. As she took her clothes off, she continued to keep a close eye on the man who had attempted to steal her glider. He sat on the ground staring at the holographic curtain.
A jingling sound issued from the console on her street-glider just as Grace was stripped down to her underwear. The screen lit up, and she saw the image of Major Eneken. The officer, who was fifty-something, with clean-cut, graying hair along with a thin mustache, became surprised and obviously embarrassed by the sight of a barely clothed Grace.
“Lieutenant, do you not know how to place your display in privacy mode?”
Grace was turned away from him, watching the thief.
“Uhmm, no major. … I never use that option. How do I do that?”
The major shook his head.
Grace reached over and picked up the metal pipe as the thief stood up, reached into his jacket and this time pulled out a knife.
“Excuse me just one second, major.”
As the thief raised the knife and moved toward the holographic curtain, Grace took aim with the metal pipe and threw it as the man came a few feet from her. The pipe hit the man on the head with a thud. He staggered back a step and then fell to the ground, unconscious.
Grace turned back around, and the major got the full view of Grace wearing only her sheer undergarments. He held his hand up.
“Lieutenant!” He then reached over and touched something; the screen went dark.
“What is it, major? Where did you go?”
A disgruntled groan came from the console.
Grace pulled a sleek, black outfit with a corset-styled top from a compartment of her glider. As she dressed, the major talked.
“Lieutenant, you must be at the Americas Trade Headquarters in Vancouver at twelve o’clock for a high priority meeting.”
Grace adjusted the outfit on her body, then reached down and zipped it up.
“I’m sorry major, but that’s not possible. I’m in San Antonio, and I’ve been up all night. I’m very tired. You’ll have to postpone the meeting.”
Again, a disgruntled moan issued from the console.
From another compartment on her glider, Grace pulled two holstered, small automatic laser weapons and then strapped them around her lower waist.
The major finally replied.
“Lieutenant, there are representatives from all four world trade federations coming to this meeting. As much as I would love to tell the general what you said, I assure you he will not postpone the meeting for you. You are to proceed to the closest hyper-transit station and be in Vancouver at twelve o’clock for this meeting. That’s an order.”
Grace stopped what she was doing and looked at the darkened console screen. “Public transportation? Really, major? Do you know what a hassle that is? Not to mention what it does to my hair!”
The major replied as she pulled a long black trench jacket from her glider and put it on, then pinned the sides back to keep the lower section from being spread out.
“Lieutenant, I’m not the least bit concerned about your hair or anything else for that matter. My only concern is that you make it to the meeting on time.”
She pulled several small items from the compartment and placed them in jacket pockets. Then, after a long pause for thought, she responded.
“Well, you tell the general that I’ll be expecting lunch. I’ll turn right around and leave if there’s no lunch. Hyper-transit makes me nauseous if I eat beforehand, so I’ll be hungry when I get to the meeting.”
Once again, she heard a moan. Then, after a short pause, the major said, “I’ll be very happy to relay your demands to the general. Perhaps, when you arrive at the meeting, he’ll have sent word that you’re not needed for this mission after all. Nothing would please me more, but my orders are to make sure you arrive at the meeting, so just be there. Anything afterward is your responsibility.”
Grace shut the compartment on her glider and climbed onto it.
“Thank you, major, but I’m not getting my hopes up about being released from the mission. Obviously, it is highly critical if the general insists I be there.”
The screen on the console became clear. The major had a puzzled expression. Grace looked at him and smiled.
“Yeah, well … for whatever reason the general has in mind, just be there on time. Got that, lieutenant?”
“Yes, major. I understand, and you be sure to pass the information on about lunch.”
The major nodded with a bit of exasperation, and the screen went black. Grace powered up, then pulled the glider out to the street and was soon speeding toward an exit.
Twenty minutes later, she was walking into a large and very busy hyper-transit hub. She unpinned her long jacket, and it fell around her, covering her two pistols.
Strolling over to a line, she moved up behind a woman with what looked to be her daughter standing behind her. The young girl appeared to be around five years old, and once she noticed Grace, she examined her very closely.
Grace smiled and waved at the girl. The line moved up a few feet. The young girl then raised her hand and motioned with her finger for Grace to come close.
Once Grace leaned over, the girl asked in a soft voice, “Are you a good witch or bad witch?”
Grace stood back straight and glanced down at her outfit. She realized, with the long jacket and black corset top, she likely did look like a witch to the young girl.
As the line moved closer to the ticket dispersal unit, Grace considered the question. She then leaned over and answered the girl in a soft voice.
“Actually … I’m a good witch, disguised as a bad witch so I can infiltrate bad witch headquarters and put them out of business. But you must keep it a secret, all right?”
The girl’s eyes widened a little, and she nodded. She then moved forward again with her mother.
A few seconds later, the girl turned and again motioned for Grace to come close. When she leaned over, the girl asked, “Can you do some magic for me?”
Grace stood up straight again and briefly thought. She leaned to the side and saw there was one person in front of the girl and her mother. After this person received their ticket, the girl and her mother would go through, and then Grace would be next.
Leaning over, Grace said softly, “Ordinarily, I don’t do magic in public, but just for you, I’ll make an exception.” Grace then pointed to the ticket dispersal unit, and the girl looked to where she pointed. Then, Grace continued.
“After you and your mother get your tickets, turn and watch me. I’ll raise my hands into the air and make all sorts of magical things happen, okay?”
The girl smiled with excitement and nodded.
The mother now seemed to notice that someone was talking to her daughter. She turned, and after giving Grace a suspicious stare, pulled the young girl around to her front.
The woman and her daughter stepped onto an area beside the ticket dispersal unit. It was a large square platform. Once they were on the slightly elevated floor, a light scanned over them from top to bottom. Then, the device asked for a destination. The woman said, “St. Louis,” and a price displayed on the screen. The woman waved her comm. device across the screen and the transaction displayed complete.
The woman and her daughter stepped from the ticket dispersal unit. Grace then stepped onto the platform. The girl leaned over and looked back to Grace as the mother secured her comm. device. The light began to scan Grace from top to bottom. As soon as it got close to her chest, Grace raised her hands into the air. Immediately, buzzers and lights began to go off. A clear, but thick barrier shot up from the floor around the platform, effectively isolating Grace and containing her.
The girl said, “Wow!”
Grace smiled and winked at the young girl as the mother turned, and seeing the commotion, quickly ushered her daughter away.
Security personnel ran from different directions toward the platform with weapons drawn.
“KEEP YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!” one shouted.
A few minutes later, a thin and obviously timid man, who Grace imagined to be the station director, approached the platform. He raised a device, and after reading something, looked to Grace.
“Uhmmm, do you have any weapons on you?”
Still holding her arms in the air, Grace said, “Yes, I have lots of weapons.”
The man nodded nervously and then looked at the device again. Several seconds later, he asked, “Do you have a security clearance for said weapons?”
Seeming to lose patience, Grace said in a slow, deliberate voice, “Yes, I do have a security clearance for said weapons.”
Fifteen minutes later, and after a thorough meeting with the station director and security officers, Grace was finally boarding a hyper-transit module.
She slid past a man in his thirties and sat down beside him. He glanced over to Grace with an air of interest.
As they buckled up their seat restraints, the module director began to go over the pre-jump instructions.
The man leaned over toward Grace.
“I get so tired of these hyper-jumps. My company sends me on so many. You know what I mean?”
Grace looked at the man, examining him closely. He smiled and winked at her.
Her face lit up, and she crinkled her nose with a cheesy smile. Then, with an exaggerated effort, she winked back at him.
The man smiled as Grace replied with an excited, girlish voice.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I thought I hated flying until I had to stop due to my snakes. Something to do with insurance liability. So, now I’ve got to ride these silly hyper-jump machines.”
The man’s face twisted a bit. She looked at him with a straight face. He chuckled and smiled a little.
“So … you’re in entertainment, I’m guessing?”
Grace reached into a pocket and pulled out a folded, plastic item. She unfolded what turned out to be a colorful shower cap. As she put it over her hair and tucked the loose strands in, she replied in the same voice.
“Well, not anymore. It’s really a strange thing. I used to hate wearing clothes! And it was great for making a lot of money. Then, one day, I woke up and realized I hated being naked. So, I had to find a new career. Now, I’m a professional snake venom milker!” She smiled at him and continued. “You would not believe how many things snake venom can be used for! And I have to say, ya really can’t claim to know a rattlesnake until you’ve milked it!”
As the man studied her suspiciously, the face masks lowered from overhead. Behind them, she could hear the hyper-engine powering up. Grace smiled at the man and then put her breathing mask on.
The man put his mask on as the module director sat in her seat and buckled up. Then, she put her mask on, and the lights dimmed.
From the seats, a gooey blob seeped out and enveloped each passenger. Once they were completely covered, the goo solidified. A few minutes later, the hyper-module burst from its launch point. For forty-five minutes, it moved at a mind-numbing speed. Then, it slowed and stopped. The module shifted to another launch point, and then again, it blasted away. After another forty minutes, the module slowed and stopped.
Once the goo had turned back into gel form and retracted back into the seats, Grace took her mask off. As she unbuckled the seat restraint, the man also unbuckled his.
“So, maybe I could call you sometime?” Grace asked with enthusiasm.
The man’s face twisted again. “Well, uhm, I’m actually married and have three kids. But thanks anyway.”
“Oh, well, that’s all right. Most of my other boyfriends are married too.”
The man stood up, and smiling sheepishly, waved and left the hyper-module quickly. Grace smiled to herself as she folded the shower cap up neatly and placed it back in a pocket. She then stepped off the transit module and into the station area.
Chapter Two: Swords and Magic
As Grace moved toward the exit, she noticed a man in uniform holding a holographic sign that read “Lt. Wolfe.”
She walked over to him and asked. “Are you looking for me?”
“Uhm, are you Lieutenant Wolfe?”
“I might be. Why are you looking for Lieutenant Wolfe?”
The man appeared puzzled.
“I’m to take the lieutenant somewhere.”
“Where are you supposed to take the lieutenant?”
“I can only give that information to the lieutenant.”
She looked him over with a keen eye.
“All right, you passed the test. I’m Lieutenant Wolfe. Now, where are you supposed to take me?”
The man nodded. “I’m to take you to the …”
Giving her a suspicious eye, he said, “I need to verify you really are Lieutenant Wolfe.”
“Very good! You’re on your toes today. That one gets most.”
The young man smiled and nodded.
“All right, let’s go.” Grace began walking, and the man followed behind.
Once outside, he directed her to a large, black hover vehicle. He opened the door for her.
Grace started to get in, but the man almost jerked and closed the door.
“Ahhhhmm, I still need to verify that you are Lieutenant Wolfe.”
Grace smiled. Then, she pulled the left side of her jacket back and stuck her left breast out toward him.
The man appeared surprised but then noticed the small round badge on the front of her outfit, above her left breast.
Somewhat timidly, he lifted a device to the small badge. It bleeped, and a holographic image of Grace, along with her credential’s underneath, streamed up from the small badge.
“Ahh, thank you, lieutenant.”
“My pleasure,” she said and winked at him.
He opened the door, and she climbed in.
After a short flight over Vancouver, the vehicle landed in front of the Americas Trade Headquarters building.
Grace climbed out and made her way up the steps. Once inside, she cleared security and moved to the front desk attendant.
“I’m Lieutenant Wolfe. I was directed here for lunch.”
The young man eyed Grace suspiciously.
“We don’t provide lunches here, lieutenant.”
He then pulled up an information screen that hovered in front of him.
“You’re scheduled for a meeting in … Uhm, well, the meeting room was recently changed.”
As the man said this, men in white uniforms began moving past the desk with food carts that hovered over the floor.
The man watched as several passed by. He then looked at Grace.
“Well, it seems I was wrong. Apparently, the meeting location was changed to a larger one to accommodate a catered lunch.”
Grace replied with a quirky smile. “Really? What an odd coincidence!”
The man frowned.
“You can follow them to the meeting room.”
As the last of the food caterers moved past, she fell in behind them and followed the group.
Six floors up and through a maze of cubicles with administrative personnel, she followed the caterers.
As she moved through the cubicles and toward two large double doors, men leaned out to get a better look at Grace.
When the last of the food vendors moved through the two doors, a soldier shut them. Noticing Grace walking toward him, he expressed shock.
The young soldier stepped in front of the doors to block her. He then touched a communication button on his chest and spoke in a nervous tone.
“Uhmm, sir … I think she’s here.”
As the soldier eyed Grace apprehensively, a reply came from the tiny device.”
“Keep her there. I’ll be right down.”
Grace smiled at the soldier.
“A welcome party? For me? How flattering!”
Soon, a man in uniform approached. He was in his mid-forties and stood several inches shorter than Grace. His hair was black but had hints of gray.
“Yes, and you must be my welcome party,” she replied with a bright smile.
“I’m Captain Bradford. We’ve been expecting you.”
“Well, that is good news, indeed. I always hate when I’m the party crasher.”
The captain seemed puzzled but continued.
“Lieutenant, your reputation has preceded you.”
Grace became instantly excited.
“Really? That’s marvelous! Please tell me all the details. I want to hear everything. The good, the bad, the naughty! Actually, start with the naughty and work your way back!”
The soldier tried to contain a smile, but the captain did not appear amused.
“Lieutenant Wolfe, I’m sure you know Major Eneken.”
“Yes! I know the major. I had a conversation with him a few hours ago, though I don’t remember much about it. Come to think of it, I was in my underwear at the time. Perhaps that’s why it’s a bit fuzzy.”
Again, the soldier stifled a smile. Several men leaned from their cubicles, as the conversation was obviously becoming interesting to everyone within earshot.
Captain Bradford groaned in frustration.
“Lieutenant, the major, notified me concerning your arrival. He also notified me of your troublesome nature. I’ll have you know, I’m the officer in charge of your mission group, and if you get out of line, I’ll use every resource available to have you reprimanded.”
Grace again became excited.
“Could you? Could you just reprimand me now? But please be gentle. The last time I was reprimanded, it left bruises. You may not believe it, but I am somewhat delicate.”
The soldier behind Captain Bradford could not help but chuckle and turned away to hide it. Again, men leaned out from their cubicles to get a better look.
The captain turned and gave the young soldier a sour look. He turned back to Grace.
“There are representatives attending this meeting from around the globe as well as our lunar colonies. You’ll have to leave your jacket and any weapons you have here.”
“Oh, very well then.”
Pulling her long jacket off, she handed it to the soldier, who placed it in a locker to his side.
Captain Bradford motioned with his hand toward the two laser pistols strapped to her legs.
She reached down and unlatched the leg straps, then unbuckled the belt and handed the two automatic weapons to the soldier.
Noticing several throwing knives in sheaths sewn into the legs of her outfit, he motioned for them also. Grace expelled a breath of frustration while pulling the knives out and handing them to the soldier.
The soldier then scanned her with a small device, which immediately lit up yellow and beeped, indicating she could still have something on her.
The captain and the soldier looked her over. The sleek, black outfit she wore was skintight, and they didn’t see anywhere that she could be hiding a weapon.
“Do you still have any weapons on you, lieutenant?”
“Perhaps you should frisk me, captain. Or, I should probably strip down. … No. Better yet, I should strip down completely, and you should both frisk me!”
The soldier smiled brightly with this comment, and more heads leaned out from the cubicles in apparent anticipation.
The captain shook his head in frustration. He stood, looking at her for several seconds.
“Could I ask you a question, lieutenant?”
She held her arms out. “Please ask me anything. I’ll reveal all my secrets to you. I’m an open file.”
“I would just like to know how you not only completed special ops training but managed to acquire the rank of lieutenant?”
“Oh, well, that is an interesting story. You see, in the special ops training, there’s a lot of running and jumping.” She moved her arms as if running, then continued. “And, then there’s the crawling around in mud and …. well, eewww, it’s all very barbaric and repulsive. But, as it happened, there was some extra special training available that I qualified for.”
The captain appeared lost but asked, “extra special training?”
“Yes! Every morning after breakfast, I would go to one of the officer’s quarters, and he would supervise some special exercises. I would take all my clothes off and then do some jumping-jack thingies and some squatting sort of exercise things for about thirty minutes. Then …”
The captain held his hand up. “Wait, wait, stop there. I don’t want to hear any more. I don’t want to know any more.”
“But don’t you want to hear about the showers? It’s one of the best parts!”
“No, no. Just go in. But keep in mind what I said, lieutenant.”
The soldier opened one of the doors, and Grace started to walk in but stopped.
“Uhm, just what part of what you said am I supposed to keep in mind?”
Captain Bradford growled and walked away. Grace turned to the soldier. He was smiling with glee. She winked at him and went inside.
A long table with a white tablecloth sat in a spacious meeting room. The scent of roasted meats drifted in the air. Caterers were busy placing plates, utensils and food in various areas.
Around the room, people stood talking. Most wore uniforms, though some were dressed in suits.
Moving over to a small table, Grace picked up a plate and spoon, then stepped to the dining table and began filling the plate with green grapes.
A large and burly man wearing a European Commonwealth uniform walked toward her.
As Grace noticed the man approaching, she quickly stuffed several grapes into her mouth and pushed them into her cheeks, causing them to poke out.
When she turned back to him with her cheeks poking out like a chipmunk, the man stopped and appeared surprised.
After looking her over briefly, he did a slight bow and spoke with a strong Russian accent, “Captain Goryunov, European Commonwealth Commando Unit.”
Grace pushed another grape in her mouth and examined the captain carefully.
“Corpheral Munnchkin. … uhm, Thirhd Lancers, battalion … X.” She did a slight bow also and immediately shoved another grape into her mouth.
The captain’s face twisted slightly.
“Uhmm, did you say, Corporal … Munchkin?”
Grace nodded. “Uhmm, humm.” She then started walking slowly down the table, examining the food.
The captain followed her.
“The Third Lancers … I’m not familiar with that unit.”
She glanced back at him, expressing surprise that he was still behind her. Then, with her mouth full of grapes, she replied.
“Iphts somtheng lieke ahh speecal … uhmm, hoorse unet. Wee uusee, uhm, sowrds ann pikes annn yoou knoww … aah, little magicc … ann stuff.”
Again, the captain seemed confused.
“Uhm, did you say you use swords … and magic?”
Grace stuffed another grape in her mouth. “Uhmm hmm.” She smiled and nodded, then continued slowly down the table.
He followed behind her.
“I didn’t realize advances were being made in, uhm, ‘magic.’ Could you tell me more about it?”
She stopped and turned to him, then pushed another grape into her mouth and replied with less of a mouthful this time.
“Well, the reason you’ve not heard anything about it is that it’s all ‘hush-hush,’ top-secret stuff. I’m not supposed to tell anyone about it, but I think I can trust you.…” She held out her hand in a questioning manner.
“Goryunov,” he replied.
“Yeah, I figure I can trust you, uhm, Gory…munudo. … I mean, you’re like a general or something, so you should be okay to tell.”
She took another step, pushed another grape into her mouth and stopped. She raised her finger, chewed, swallowed, then continued.
“As it turns out, elves are best suited for crafting magic swords, but it seems they have a labor agreement that forced us to have our magic weapons made by the dwarves. I don’t know if you’ve ever negotiated with a dwarf or not, but let me tell you, they are shrewd bargainers. That whole ‘Snow White, getting off rent-free,’ thing is really farfetched if you ask me.”
The captain’s face twisted as if he smelled something bad. He raised his hand.
“Uhm, well, this all seems to be far above my pay grade. I don’t think I need to hear any more.”
She pushed another grape into her mouth, then stared at him briefly before replying.
“Don’t you want to hear about our new wizard regiment? The wizards, now they know how to handle a magic sword, let me tell you!”
Captain Goryunov examined her with a confused expression. He shook his head a bit and then walked away and moved to another side of the room to talk with a man in uniform.
Not far away, a woman who also wore an officer’s uniform had closely watched Grace and Captain Goryunov. When the captain moved away from Grace, she moved toward her.
As Grace turned, she could see the woman approaching. The female officer was an attractive woman, but she also had a short haircut, and Grace could see the officer carried herself in a masculine manner.
Looking around, as if searching for a way to avoid the officer, Grace realized she was stuck.
The female officer stepped in front of her and smiled suggestively.
“I noticed you come in earlier. I was going to say hi when the gentleman began to talk with you. Men can be such bores, don’t you think?”
Chewing her grapes, Grace finally swallowed and said, “Yeah, they sure can be!”
The female officer smiled with satisfaction, then Grace continued.
“That’s precisely the reason I purchased an Omega-5, android sexbot.”
The woman’s face twisted. Slowly, a half-smile returned to her face. She lifted her head slightly, her eyes squinting just a bit.
Before she could reply, Grace continued. “In fact, I was so pleased with my first android, I purchased two more. They’re super! No backtalk, endless energy and if you get tired of one, you just turn them off and stick them in the closet for a while.” Grace smiled and added, “I recommend the Adonis model … or the Vulcan XL. Either one, you won’t be sorry.”
The female officer almost appeared ill.
“Oh … well, that’s, uhm … nice.” She then glanced past Grace. Seeming to spot someone, she said, “Oh, I see a friend of mine. Will you excuse me?”
“Sure,” Grace said and then moved back to the buffet as the officer quickly walked away.
Finding her seat around halfway along the table, Grace sat down. She picked up the small, folded name card that read “Lt. Wolfe,” then noticed a plate, napkin and utensils, including a steak knife, were all laid out for her. Grace glanced back at the doorway and could see more people entering.
A distinguished man in a business suit entered from another door at the front of the room. He stepped up on a small stage and pressed a button on the wall. A podium rose from the floor, and as he prepared for the meeting, everyone in the room began to find their assigned seats.
A few minutes later, the man began to speak as the food caterers served the main course.
“All right, everyone, I’m Commissioner Welch. I apologize for any confusion with the meeting room. We were scheduled for room sixty-one A. For some unknown reason, the higher-ups decided to serve us lunch. So, we were moved to this room at the last minute.”
Grace examined the others around the table as the servers moved from person to person, dishing out items. Eventually, when the servers were done, they left the meeting room, and guards stepped in front of the doors to block any unauthorized entry.
“Okay, we’ll get this meeting started. Please continue with your meal. I believe we’re all professionals here, so there should be no problem getting the information.”
Grace ate her meal but also continued to study the room and everyone in it. As she was scanning the layout, something caught her eye. She immediately stopped eating. As the commissioner continued, her attention was drawn to the vent in the corner behind the commissioner.
“You’ve been called here today because our planet faces a crisis. You’re considered the best of the best by your home federations. In this room, we have military, law enforcement, counterespionage, technical and other fields deemed critical to resolving the current threat.”
As the commissioner spoke, Grace watched an odd, slightly shimmering, but almost invisible movement that seemed to slither from the vent to the left and in the corner behind the commissioner. Grace realized the mysterious movement to be some type of stealth device. It also obviously had shape manipulation capabilities, as it changed form to slip through the thin vents in an almost liquid manner. It then began to reassemble itself as Grace watched closely.
Before the device was completely reassembled, Grace realized something and turned away from it. She checked her pockets and then looked around her in search of something useful, recalling her weapons had been taken at the door. All the while, the commissioner continued.
“Since the earth became an intergalactic trading post fifteen years ago, we’ve faced a plethora of challenges. We’ve made lucrative trade agreements with friendly planets but have also had to defend our world from interferences and influences by not so friendly planets.”
As Grace considered what to do, a man was let into the meeting room. The commissioner stopped.
“I’m sorry. I thought everyone was here.”
The man moved sheepishly toward the table.
“Uhm, yes, I apologize for being late. I was informed the meeting would be in a different room. I’m Detective Vandenberg, representing the Antarctic Mining Colonies.”
The commissioner looked over his information screen. “Oh, yes, I see you on our list now.”
As Detective Vandenberg stood by a wall, the commissioner continued to examine the information on the screen.
“Well, it seems I must apologize again, detective. We changed meeting rooms at the last hour, and it appears you are not on the table list.”
The detective smiled meekly. “Oh, well, it’s not a problem, sir. I’ll just stand. I sat far too long during the transit here.”
“All right. Well, again, I apologize, Detective Vandenberg. I was just informing everyone of a crisis. You’ve not missed much.”
Grace searched her pockets. She pulled a small rolled item from one of them. The man next to her watched curiously as she unrolled a set of disposable sunglasses. She smiled at the man and put the glasses on. Then, she reached into another pocket and pulled out the shower cap, also putting it on over her hair.
As the commissioner continued, she glanced back to the stealth device. It was now a flat block that blended almost seamlessly with the wall. The device was so well camouflaged that she could barely see it. Once she assured herself it was still there, she quickly turned away.
“Recently, our planet has been flooded with the designer drug ‘Fellirex.’ It’s cheap, extremely addictive and difficult to trace. It’s common on several of our trading partner planets but only recently introduced on earth. With the market being flooded worldwide, we feel it will reach epidemic levels within a month. Law enforcement from around the globe have had no luck tracking down the smugglers. It’s been suggested that several small smuggling groups have merged into one large and elusive group, but we really don’t know. Therefore, you’re here now. The world leaders believe we must go on the offensive before it’s too late.”
Grace examined the plate and utensils in front of her. She now felt certain the strange device was collecting information, and very likely, it was also gathering facial recognition data. As she considered this, she noticed the steak knife.
The man next to her expressed a bit of irritation, as Grace seemed to be paying no attention to the commissioner. Also, the sunglasses and shower cap she wore gave her something of a clown appearance rather than an expert of any sort. Yet, she expressed no concern for him or others who were becoming distracted by her activities.
The commissioner glanced at her, as well. He could only see the back of her head, as she was intentionally turned from the odd device that no one else had noticed. He paused for a second and then continued.
“The Inter-Federation Law Enforcement Association has managed to accumulate a number of leads, and we’ll be assembling each of you into teams. We think there’s not much time to unravel this situation. At the current rate of drug infiltration, half the population of earth could be addicted by next month. Since the drugs are coming in from trade points, this mission has been placed under Trade Commission Authority. As the majority of Fellirex has been coming in through the Americas District, the burden of stopping the flood of illegal drugs falls to the Americas Trade Commission.
“As you may also be aware, I’m in the process of running for the Office of Trade Regent. As the current trade commissioner for the Americas, I’ve been ordered by the global trade federation regent to head this task force. I’m hopeful we will resolve this threat before the election in five weeks.”
Grace took her steak knife and, placing it on her finger, began to balance it to get a feel for the weight distribution. On the other side of the room, Detective Vandenberg took notice of her. He watched her check the knife quickly and, from time to time, glance toward the commissioner. The detective also noticed she wasn’t looking at the commissioner. As the others were making efforts to ignore Grace’s disruptive behavior, the detective became entranced by it.
Once she had a good feel for the weight distribution of the steak knife, she again glanced at the barely visible object on the wall behind the commissioner. He noticed her looking his way, as well as her now very odd appearance. She again quickly turned away from him.
The commissioner paused, looked down to the seating sheet and then, lifting his head, he said, “Uhmm, Lieutenant Wolfe?”
Grace scanned the table beside her and noticing a saucer of cream-colored dip. She reached over and poked her finger in it, then daubed it across her top lip, giving herself what looked to be a “milk mustache.” She then turned to the commissioner.
As she faced the commissioner and the strange stealth device on the wall behind him, it captured images of her to add with those of all the attendees.
“Lieutenant, are you getting this information?”
The others in the room examined Grace with disdain as she considered the question. She then smiled and appearing much like a clown, wearing her shower cap, sunglasses and daubed on mustache, replied. “Certainly, colonel, every word and detail. My mind is like a…” She waved her hand in the air as if trying to pull the words from it, “steel capturing device thing!”
The commissioner studied Grace. Everyone in the room examined her as if she were nuts. Then, the commissioner cleared his throat and continued.
“So, from here, you will all be grouped into teams. Your skill sets will be matched with other team members, and each team will be assigned to a specific lead the IFLE has acquired. It is hoped that this crisis can be resolved quickly and efficiently.”
As the commissioner continued, the detective watched closely as Grace positioned the knife in her hand, as if preparing to toss it like a throwing knife.
Once Grace had the knife, blade first, positioned in her right hand, she looked around but didn’t notice Detective Vandenberg watching her. The others were again focused on the commissioner and intentionally ignoring Grace.
Leaning back in her chair, she began to balance on the back legs. She wobbled a bit and managed to get the attention of those sitting close to her. Grace balanced a few more seconds, then appeared to lose her balance. She grabbed the white tablecloth as she fell backward, and the result was a chaotic crashing of dishes and food being pulled from the table. Many of the attendees received a lap full of lunch while others had their drinks spilled on them.
Immediately, everyone stood or looked to the mess that was all around Grace’s assigned spot. What they didn’t notice was her rolling away from the disaster that she had created. She slipped behind a food cart, then crouched and took aim. Rearing her arm back, she quickly let the knife fly. Her aim was true, and the steel blade planted in the strange device. Glancing back, she saw that everyone was still occupied by the huge mess. Some were brushing themselves off while others attempted to pick dishes up from the floor.
Still crouching, she glanced back to the device and saw it lose its stealth camouflage. It then shook violently and fell from the wall.
Grace stood and walked over to the others who were, for the most part, covered with food or drink.
“Here, let me help!” She reached down and, picking up a half-full plate of food, raised up and turning quickly, slung it on the commissioner who had come down from the small stage area to try to assist the others.
“Ahhgg!” He glanced down at the mess on his suit. “Please, lieutenant, just step back. We’ll take care of this.”
He then turned away from her. Trying to wipe his uniform with a napkin, he side-stepped a large bowl on the floor and moved to help an officer who was covered with her meal.
Grace sat the dish on the table and backed up several steps. Again, ensuring all were preoccupied with the table disaster, she continued to move slowly toward the stage area.
Slipping over to the device, she saw it was attempting to regain its stealth mode and move from the floor. The knife was embedded into its body. She reached down and pulled it out. Then, noticing a piece of the device’s covering that had come loose, she reached down and pried it away with the knife. It was a thin octagonal fragment that resembled an armor plate, but as she held it, the plate took on the image of her hand and became almost invisible.
The device began to shudder, and as Grace placed the thin plate in her pocket, the stealth device melted down and almost completely disintegrated, leaving practically nothing but dust on the floor.
Looking back around, everyone appeared to be recovering from the mini-disaster Grace had initiated. Again, she didn’t notice the detective across the room, standing in the shadows. He had not taken his eyes from Grace and continued to watch her as she moved back toward the others.
“Oh … I am soooo sorry. Please, let me help you!” She picked up a cloth napkin and attempted to help a man get food off his uniform.
The man glanced at her. “No, no. Just leave me alone. I’ll get it.”
Grace began picking up dishes and continued to apologize. She then noticed the commissioner walk back to the stage. Curiously, he stood for a second, scanning the wall as if searching for something. He then glanced back, and without noticing Grace, he stepped back to the podium.
After a few more words from the commissioner, the meeting was wrapped up hastily as most were covered with food or drink. Everyone was instructed to meet in Washington, DC.
Grace caught a short ride to the closest military installation. She then acquired transit to her home in Las Vegas.