To Love an Arion

By Joe Haley

Chapter 1

January 2002…

John Bruno had a fat wife. But that was only one of his problems. He sat at the bar of an Arlington hotel and brooded. Outside, the sky was overcast. The dirty, slush covered streets of a Washington winter matched his mood perfectly. He had recently come from his weekly marriage counseling session, and he needed some time to think before heading home. He and his wife always took separate cars to and from the session. It provided them both with some much needed time to cool off. He looked out the large plate glass window on the other side of the room. The winter of his discontent, he thought.

John ordered a scotch and water and thought back, trying to remember the key points of the session. The therapist was a decent enough guy, but they’d been at this for three months with no results. "Sam", as the therapist preferred to be called, liked to talk about feelings. Janet’s feelings in particular. John suspected the guy chose to talk about feelings instead of facts to hide his inability to actually solve any of his patients’ problems.

And one such fact was his wife’s weight problem. When John had met Janet back in the eighties she’d been pleasingly plump. She had a pretty face and the kind of large breasts that he found attractive. But as the years had passed, her weight had gone up and up. In an attempt to be helpful, he’d bought her gym memberships she’d never used and exercise equipment that collected dust.

Of course everyone is entitled to a little middle age spread, he thought. He looked in the mirror behind the artfully arranged liquor bottles. Both his waistline and hairline were moving in the wrong direction. Once, in his twenties, he’d been a paratrooper. Lean and mean that day in Grenada. But that was a long time ago. And the truth was he hadn’t really fit in as a paratrooper anyway. He loosened his belt a notch, and took a sip of his drink. He too had gained a few extra pounds since the marriage.

But Janet had gained close to sixty. And her current plan was to gain even more. She wanted to eat herself into a state of morbid obesity so she could qualify for this stomach reducing surgery she had seen on TV. As was typical with his wife, she hadn’t bothered to find out whether insurance would cover the operation before going on her latest binge of fatty foods and rich deserts. He’d looked into it though, and their insurance policy wouldn’t cover it. That had led to another fight.

"You’re quite judgmental, John," the therapist had said.

"Well doc, she’s gained fifteen pounds in a month." John just couldn’t bring himself to call the therapist "Sam".

"We’ve been over this before, John. Janet compensates with food because she feels you don’t love her anymore."

"She compensates by spending money too," muttered John.

"You could have done so much better if you’d gone to work in the private sector," Janet said.

"Hey!" snapped John, "People in the private sector are getting laid off in droves. At least I have a job."

This was another source of mutual hostility in the marriage; John’s modest civil service career and Janet’s lack of a career at all. She’d been a secretary when they met, although she called herself an executive assistant. Her bosses never seemed to reach the corner office though. John knew that upper management in any industry didn’t want an overweight secretary outside their door. He also knew that most companies had no use for secretaries at all, given the advent of word processing programs. Janet however, turned a blind eye to these facts. John kept his mouth shut and things just simmered.

The move to Washington had seemed promising at first. John had taken a job at the Washington Navy Yard. They bought a nice house in an outer suburb of northern Virginia. John assumed Janet would have no problem finding secretarial work somewhere in the Washington area.

It was then that Janet told him she had no intention of working as a secretary anymore. Instead she had decided to become an artist. Much to his dismay, Janet turned the den of their new home into a welding studio. She took some courses at the local technical school and began sculpting metal. She considered her work "abstract expressionism". John considered the term a euphemism for a lack of talent. She sold just enough of her work to keep her enthusiasm up, but since she didn’t bother with bookkeeping, it was impossible to tell if she was making any money. John knew better though. Just as their counselor preferred to talk about feelings instead of facts, Janet preferred to talk about art instead of the bottom line.

He sat there brooding about her growing credit card debt. They might have to sell the house. How had a smart guy like him ended up like this? He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. Have to get these damn things adjusted, he thought. Or maybe he should splurge and get lasik. But then again, his daughter needed braces. That took priority. This can’t go on, he thought to himself. But divorce lawyers were expensive. Maybe it was cheaper to keep her.

The bar was filling up with a happy hour crowd. Government workers and lobbyists mostly. He noticed a woman in the mirror behind the bar. She was moving his way. She sat down on the stool to his left. He studied her out of the corner of his eye.

Tall, nice face, medium length black hair, maybe thirty or so. The bartender noticed her too, and immediately came over.

"Take your coat, ma’am?" he asked. Boy, smirked John, is she ever getting the treatment. She removed her knee length coat and handed it awkwardly over the bar. The bartender hung it on a nearby hook. Every man at the bar took notice of the special treatment the brunet got, and then they saw why.

She was wearing a tight, expensive sweater and her figure was spectacular. She looked like some kind of movie star on a ski weekend in Aspen. The men exchanged glances among themselves

"Silicone?" thought John. But who cared? It wasn’t every day he got to nurse his drink with a piece of eye candy like this to look at. Of course it didn’t mean anything. What with the crowd and all, she hadn’t had much choice but to sit by him.

"I’ll have a Glenlivet and water," said the woman. "A scotch drinker?" thought John. He had assumed she was the chardonnay type.

When her drink was served, she took a sip. "Excuse me," she said. "Do you have the time?"

John was momentarily stunned. First of all, she had spoken to him. Second, she had the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen. He looked at the inexpensive watch on his left wrist. Despite the careful lighting in the bar, the wedding ring on his finger seemed obscenely bright. "Five after six," he said.

"Thanks," she said. She took another sip of her drink.

He was starting to feel the effects of the scotch. What the hell, he thought. "You expecting someone?" he asked.

"No," she said "are you?"

My God, thought John, she’s talking to me.

"No," he said, grasping for something more impressive to say.

"So what are you drinking," she asked.

"House blend," he said.

"Then you must work for the government," she laughed.

John ignored the reference to the low pay of civil servants. Instead he gestured towards her drink and said "And you must be a lobbyist, or a lawyer."

"The former," she said. She gave him a dazzling smile to let him know she meant no offense with her joke about government salaries.

"So who do you represent?"

"That’s classified," she said.

"Oh come on. If you’re registered, I can look it up."

"Only if you know my name," she said.

He sat there stumped. "It’s Allison," she said.

"John Bruno," he said.

She extended her hand and he shook it. She had a surprisingly firm grip.

"What’s going on here?" he wondered. Is she looking for a drinking buddy? Then it hit him. She’s a call girl, of course. But no, that didn’t make sense. A woman like this in the district would cost at least a thousand bucks. She must know I can’t afford that. Or can I? He thought. His felt his blood pressure rise as he remembered his wife’s latest shopping spree for welding equipment. If she can do it, so can I, he thought. But then again he didn’t have anywhere near that much cash. And what if she had aids, or herpes? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, he thought. Just chatting with this beauty was a real boost to his ego. And it hadn’t even cost him the price of a drink yet.

So who do you work for," she asked.

"Defense Department," he said. "I used to be with NASA. The Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. I had to transfer to DOD to avoid a layoff. Frankly, I liked NASA better."

"So you like space exploration, John?

"Yeah, ever since I was a kid. I was eleven when Apollo 11 landed. I thought it was a really big deal that my age matched the mission number."

"That was the month I was born," she said.

"Wow," he said. "So where you from?"

"No place around here," She paused, "Would you believe a galaxy far, far away?"

He laughed. "That’s a good one." My God, he thought. A prostitute who knows science fiction. This was too good to be true. But why was she humoring him? Surely she knows time is money. When would she get down to business? Cool your jets, he thought. The sooner she pops the question the sooner she learns you’re broke. And then she moves on to some other John.

"So can I buy you another drink," he asked.

"I haven’t finished this one yet," she said. "But let’s get a table. I’d like to hear more about your days at NASA."

He asked for the tab, still not believing his luck. They adjourned to the adjacent dining room. Every man at the bar gave him a covetous look as they departed. He ordered some appetizers to accompany their drinks. Then he excused himself to use the restroom. In the foyer he made a phone call. He carefully punched in the number to his wife’s cell phone. She’d be expecting a call on the house phone, and as he had hoped, he got her voice mail. He mumbled a lame excuse about having to go back to the office for something. He hung up quickly and pressed the off switch on his phone. When he returned to the dining room, Allison was still there. "Wow," he thought. "This is for real."

She asked him about his days at NASA. He worked in the field of imagery analysis he said. He’d been involved in the final phase of the Voyager project and with the Magellan probe. But then when a series of Mars probes failed, there was nothing for him to analyze. A government program let him transfer to DOD, but he still viewed it as a layoff. He’d ended up in living in an outer suburb west of the city. He spent his days at the Washington Naval Yard studying satellite photos.

"You mean spy satellites, right?" she said.

"Well, you know it’s classified," he said. "I can’t really go into any details. Let’s talk about you. You still haven’t told me who you represent."

"Well you know, it’s classified," she said with a laugh. "But you show me yours and I’ll show you mine."

This was incredible John thought. I’m sitting here drinking scotch with this super model. And on top of that, she funny and smart. "What’s going on?" he wondered. And then it hit him. She’s a spy. Holly shit. He swallowed hard. God, I could end up like Robert Hanssen.

He cleared his throat and tried to sound professional.

"I’m not allowed to discuss classifided information," he said sternly.

"Classifidid?" she laughed.

He felt himself blushing. "I just mean there’s a lot of espionage these days, what with the war and all."

"So you think I’m a spy?" she said matter of factly.

"No, no, nothing like that," he said. "It’s just there are certain regulations about what I can discuss in public."

"I’m not a spy, John." After a pause, she added "I’m an alien."

"So, you got a problem with your green card or something?" he said.

She looked him in the eye. God they were blue, he thought. "Not that kind of alien," she said. "You know what I mean."

Uh huh, he thought. He’d actually been in this situation before. Once when he was younger, and single, a woman had tried the same line on him at a science fiction convention in Atlanta. But she wasn’t nearly as good looking as Allison. With two drinks under his belt and Allison’s gorgeous eyes staring at him, he had no trouble playing along.

"Okay," he said, "So what planet are you from?"

"I’m from the planet Aria, John. I represent a race called the Arions."

"And you’re just passing though on your way to Vulcan?" he laughed.

"Very funny, John. In a little while, I’ll prove my credentials. Don’t you want to know why I’m here?"

"Yeah sure, but let me ask you something first. If you’re really an alien how come you look like some lingerie model? If you know anything about exobiology, then you’d realize the chances of evolution producing two humanoid species on separate planets are close to zero."

"I know a great deal about exobiology," she said. "And the reason I look human is because my ancestors were abducted from Earth in the second century AD."

"An alien abduction!" He laughed again and this time he couldn’t stop. "And I bet the aliens had sex with you, right? They always do. But remember, the truth is out there!"

"John, I think you’ve had too much to drink." She picked up a knife and calmly bent it in half. Impressive, he thought. Then she bent it in half again, and then again. She cupped the bent instrument in both hands and rolled her palms together. When she opened her hands, the knife had been reduced to a misshapen silver marble. She rolled it across the table. "Be careful, it’s hot."

He watched the marble wobble slowly towards him. He stopped it with a napkin. A scorch mark appeared on the paper. "Wow," he said, suddenly sober. How’d you do that? Where’s the knife? What’s up your sleeve?" She pulled up the sleeves of her sweater and repeated the trick with a spoon.

Man, he though. Uri Geller could never do this.

She retrieved the first marble from the table. She held up the pair, one in front of each breast. They looked like stainless steel nipples, he thought.

Now maybe you’ll listen to me," she said.

John nodded. He still didn’t believe her, but he wasn’t quite as skeptical.

"My people are expanding throughout the galaxy, John. We want to make Earth a province in our empire."

He spoke very carefully. "Isn’t a galactic empire rather impractical? I mean given size and distance and all."

"Are you familiar with the Goldilocks theory of the solar system, John?"

"You mean how Venus is too hot, Mars is too cold, and Earth is just right?"

"Exactly. Are you aware that a similar principle applies to the entire galaxy?"

"What do you mean?" he said.

"Despite the size of the Milky Way, habitable planets are quite rare," she said. "There’s too much radiation near the core to allow life to form on planets orbiting stars there. At the opposite end, centrifugal force acts like a centrifuge and flings the lighter elements out towards the galactic rim. Planets in that region are lacking in metal. They’re light weight and geologically fragile, so they’re not worth settling. But there’s a band of stars about thirty to forty thousand light years from the center. That’s were all the good planets are. And given the rarity of intelligent life in the galaxy, all you need to do is control a few thousand out of billions and you can effectively rule the galaxy."

"I see," he said, "but why would anyone want to rule the galaxy. It seems like an awful lot of work."

"We’ve expanded into space for the same reason men climb mountains, John. Because it’s there. Did you ever wonder why the Roman Empire grew? Why leave sunny Italy for the chill of Gaul and Britain? They did it because it was their destiny. Just like us."

There was a definite change in her tone of voice. She was utterly serious. The look in her eyes was a little scary. This is not a woman to be messed with, he thought.

"So you got a starship or something? A warp drive? It takes a hell of a lot of energy to travel between stars."

"Energy’s no problem," she said. "There’s enough out there to accelerate a universe. You just need to know how to tap into it."

"I see," he said. "So you going to share this secret with us?"

"Your scientists are within twenty years of figuring out how to do it. But solving the engineering problems will take a hundred years after that. "And John," she paused, "You don’t have a hundred years."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Your oil’s going to run out long before that. Solar power, wind, geothermal. Do the math and you’ll see those sources just don’t provide enough energy. With no oil, and global warming, drug resistant diseases, and overpopulation to deal with, you’re looking at a new dark age by the end of this century. Your race will be too busy just surviving to ever build a starship."

"What about fusion?" he asked. "Or fission?" Such a pessimistic outlook called for another drink, so he signaled the waiter. After he’d placed his order, she continued.

"You’ve been working on fusion for forty years with no results. How long do you think the funding will last given the more pressing priorities I just outlined? Fission is a viable option, but it’s dangerous and dirty. Of course no one will care once things get bad. Keep in mind I’m not talking about mass extinction here. Just the end of civilization as you know it."

He took a long pull on his drink. "So uh, are you ‘Arions’ going to save us?"

"We’re doing our best," she said, "but there are complications."

"Of course," he said. There always are. Maybe he could write this up and sell it to Hollywood.

"There’s another race competing with us for this planet," she said. "The Velorians."

"And their planet is called Velor, right?"

"Don’t be a smart ass John, but you happen to be right. The Velorians are a racist society dedicated to maintaining the status quo. I hate to admit it, but our two races are related. We rebelled against their eugenics program centuries ago and went our own way. We’ve welcomed diversity into our race and the advantages it brings. The Vels, on the other hand, are an inbred race of Nordic blondes. Due to genetic engineering though, they are actually more powerful than most of us. But that will prove their downfall. Because they’re so biologically advanced, they have little use for technology. We’re way ahead of them in that area. That’s why in the long run we’re going to win."

"So this is Battlefield Earth?" he smirked.

She ignored his impudence. "Yes, something like that. Except we don’t want the war to get out of hand. Our strategy is to pursue our goals slowly. Think of Earth as a low intensity conflict or an economy of force operation. There are even more powerful races in the galaxy than the Velorians. We don’t want to attract a lot of attention until the new status quo has been established."

"And the Velorians are trying to stop you."

"Yes, they follow a prime directive that prohibits interference with other races."

"Like Star Trek, huh?"

"Yes, but just like Star Trek they’re always breaking the rule. Your government has known about this conflict for years. Back in the late eighties a Vel demonstrated all her talents up at Aberdeen. How’s that for non interference? But even though they’re hypocrites, if they win the war they’ll enforce their prime directive. That means Earth will have to solve its own problems. And I’ve already pointed out that you can’t do it."

"So, what does all this have to do with me?" asked John.

"Probably nothing. I just had to get it off my chest. Look, you’re real sweet but I’ve got to go. Here’s my card. Call me sometime and we’ll talk some more. She stood up to leave and he began to rise too.

"No, keep your seat," she said.

She picked up her coat and walked around to his side of the table. In a graceful move she leaned over and kissed him. Her lips tasted faintly of scotch. They were firm and warm and red. Her tongue rimmed his lips and then darted briefly into his mouth. Her soft hair fell about his face, adding to the tactile sensation of the kiss. Her cologne smelled wonderful, like fresh cut flowers or something.

She stood up and grinned at him. Then she turned and walked quickly out of the room. John sat there stunned. Then he broke into big smile. He looked down at the bulge in his pants and shifted in his seat to relieve the growing pressure. Wow! he thought.


Chapter 2


John got home that night around nine. His wife was sitting in the living room. Through the hallway he could see the room that had once been their den. It was a now a warren of shop tables, drill presses, acetylene tanks and various other junk. The smell of propane drifted out of the room. "Working late?" she asked.

"Naw, I had a few drinks with a guy from work."

"That’s not what you said in your message."

"Well, whatever. Haven’t I asked you not to weld in the house? It smells awful."

She ignored his comment. "Dr. Heisler thinks you have a drinking problem." Heisler was the psychiatrist his wife had found after their move to Virginia. In addition to marriage counseling, she was also in individual therapy. Their health insurer balked at covering both.

"The guy’s only met me twice," said John. "He ought to stick to curing you." Janet’s criticism of his drinking bothered him more than he let on. Once an Army doctor had suggested the same thing. The doctor had even used the term "addictive personality." What a bunch of crap, thought John. I don’t smoke, I don’t use drugs. I’ve got a clean driving record and a top secret clearance. I’d say Heisler is being quite judgmental, he thought.

He eyed the large piece of chocolate cake by his wife’s side. "You deal with your problems and I’ll deal with mine," he said. He really didn’t want to fight with his wife tonight. He was in too good a mood. The illicit kiss from Allison was still on his mind. It gave him a delicious feeling of satisfaction. A secret way of saying "Fuck You" to his wife.

Before she could reply he left the room. He went up the stairs and down the hall past his teenage daughter’s bedroom. The door was open so he stuck his head in to say hi. She was engrossed in a television show.

"Any homework?" he inquired.

"Nope," she said without taking her eyes off the screen.

The next bedroom down the hall he used as an office. He plopped down on an old sofa by the window, leaned back and put his hands behind his head. His thoughts returned to Allison. God, what a woman, he thought. He remembered the kiss, the thrill of it. It was like being kissed for the very first time. As if he were a teenager again. How was it possible at his age to experience such a thrill from a simple kiss? Well, it was her looks for one thing. And those eyes. And the dazzling smile. And her laugh. But there was more to it than that. She had a scent about her he recalled. Perfume? Cologne? Maybe, but it wasn’t so much a scent as an aura or something. The total package, he thought. Greater than the sum of the parts. Yeah, definitely. He noticed he was getting an erection again. Jesus, what a woman.

He pulled her business card out of his pants pocket. Allison Cooper. Should he call her? Of course he should. But what about Janet? If she found out, it would really exacerbate his problems. Shit, he thought. You pussy whipped wimp. Call her, for God’s sake. A woman like this comes around once in a lifetime. Besides he wasn’t talking about an affair or anything. She was eleven years his junior. Surely she had a man in her life. But maybe he could still share a laugh or a drink with her.

He eyed a wall shelf stacked with books. Mostly astronomy and science fiction. Allison the alien, he thought. What a line. What an imagination. What a sense of humor. Of course, there was that trick with the silverware. How’d she do that? The only way to find out was to see her again. Okay, he’d do it. He’d call her. God, what a body. Maybe she’d kiss him again.

He spent the next half hour reading email and checking his favorite websites. Then he went to bed. He liked to be in bed by ten. Along with thousands of other commuters, he had to get up very early to fight the traffic into DC


Chapter 3

The alarm went off the next morning at five thirty. John rose in the dim light and glanced at the bulk of his wife gently snoring on her side of the bed. It would be another hour before she got up, and then only to ensure Kimberly made it to the bus stop on time. After that, she’d routinely go back to bed, or watch day time TV, or work on her sculpture.

John shaved and then dressed in the spare bedroom that doubled as his office. As was his habit, he had set the timer on the coffee maker the night before. He filled a large thermos cup and grabbed a bagel from the refrigerator. He walked out into the cold garage and got in his car. "Morning Edition" was on the radio.

He pulled out of the driveway and headed up the street. His subdivision was a collection of identical split level houses. To save money, the developer had clear cut the land, so the only trees to be seen were little sapling planted by the homeowners. Like everyone else in the subdivision, John’s house was on a cul-de-sac. The numerous cul-de-sacs fed into the main drive and the main drive led to the highway where the subdivision had its only entrance. This scheme of traffic flow was great for keeping intruders out of the neighborhood. And the cul-de-sacs made a nice place for children to ride bikes or roller blade. The drawback though, was that before John was even out of the subdivision traffic was backed up two hundred yards along the main street. He sipped his coffee and took a bite out of the bagel. There was no use getting upset.

On a good morning John could make it to work in ninety minutes. In the winter though, it sometimes took longer. When they made the move from California, they had briefly considered trying to live closer to the city. But the cost of real estate had quickly changed their mind. Unless you were rich, the cost of a decent single family house in the Washington area was a ninety minute commute. Like so many others, John reluctantly paid that price.

When he finally got on I-66 the pace picked up a bit. But then it slowed again when he reached Arlington. He listened to the radio and poked along with the other commuters until he finally crossed the river. From there he headed cross town to the Washington Navy Yard. He showed his ID to the guard at the gate, and entered the compound. He drove a quarter mile to a nondescript eight story office building. It was the National Photographic Interpretation Center. He walked across the lobby and showed his ID once more to the guards by the metal detectors. He tossed his keys in a small basket and walked through the detectors. He had done this so many times that he hardly even thought about it anymore. He took the elevator up to his floor and exited.

Unlike other floors in the building, John’s floor had no windows. In addition, most of the overhead lights were turned out. The dim lighting made it easier to see imagery on the computer monitors and antiquated light tables that were John’s stock in trade. He poured himself a cup of coffee from a pot in the break room.

"Good morning," John. It was his boss, Tommy Shepard. Shepard had served twenty years in the Marine Corps, a fact he never let his subordinates forget. He was a large man with a graying crew cut. In contrast to the usual introverts in the IA section, Tommy was an outgoing, gregarious man. In his ten years at NPIC he had been promoted over analysts with far more seniority and now was a section supervisor. His employees didn’t particularly like him, though. His gruff manner and penchant for crude jokes was in sharp contrast to the quiet library-like atmosphere they preferred. Fortunately for them, Tommy’s position rated an office on the outside wall. This gave everyone the luxury of having some distance between them and their boss.

"Good morning," said John.

"We got some really good stuff last night from Afghanistan. Take a look when you get a chance and let me know what you think."

"Sure, I’ll get right on it," said John. He walked to his cubicle and settled down in front of his computer. Despite what he told his boss, he wasn’t in any hurry to get started. Like most government jobs, the pay at NPIC was mediocre, but as compensation the work was not that difficult. There was plenty of time for surfing the web, chatting with co-workers, and personal phone calls. Of course, you had to be careful what you said on the phone. The lines were monitored. Sophisticated voice recognition software screened all calls for words like "terrorist", "Arab", "assassinate", and a whole list of others. But John and his co-workers had learned that if you just watched what you said, the program would never activate on one of your calls.

Imagery analysis is a quiet job. Often hours would pass without a sound on the floor. The men worked independently in their in their cubicles, their minds literally thousands of miles away.

John checked his secure email and downloaded the first batch of images. The resolution was startling. The cameras in the satellites had a better than one meter resolution. This meant if he chose to he could zoom in enough to see an object one meter in size. Generally, John liked to start his morning with a broad view of the terrain. He liked looking down on the planet from space. He uploaded a video file and clicked on the start button. He was looking down from space on the main highway between Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. He scrolled slowly along the highway looking for anything unusual. He scanned north from the Salong Tunnel all the way to the Uzbek border. Today there was nothing but the usual assortment of United Nations vehicles, military convoys, and horse drawn carts.

Next he loaded images from the border region next to Pakistan. He zoomed out and gazed down on the snow covered mountains. It had been afternoon in Pakistan when the satellite took the shots, and there were no clouds obscuring the view. The mountains stood out in sharp relief due to the shadows cast by the western sun. This was the part of his job he liked best, gazing down at the world like some kind of god. Of course, he would have preferred to be studying Mons Olympus on Mars, but NPIC was not a bad assignment. A man could do worse, he thought. The word "worse" reminded him of his marriage, though. This in turn reminded him of Allison. He took her card out of his wallet and dialed the phone.

He got her voice mail. Shit, he thought. He left a message anyway and got back to work. The day passed slowly, and several times he considered calling her again. No, he thought. He was probably just some kind of funny diversion for her last night. He didn’t want to make a fool of himself. Not at his age.

It was quarter to five, and he was about to leave, when the phone rang. He stared at it in anticipation. Could it be? It certainly wouldn’t be his boss this late in the day. His wife maybe? He picked up the phone.

"Hello John? It’s Allison Cooper."

"Allison! Thanks for calling."

"So what can I do for you, John?"

"I just wanted to let you know what a good time I had last night," he said.

"Yes, it was fun."

He paused. "So ah, do you want to get together again?"

"I’d love to," she said.

Wow, he thought. "So what’s your schedule like?

"Well, let’s see, I’m going to be visiting a client on K Street next Monday. But I should be through by six. I know a good restaurant nearby. Maybe we could meet there."

"Okay," said John. She gave him the name of the restaurant and said goodbye. He hung up the phone and rubbed his hands together. He hadn’t been this excited about getting a date since he was in high school.


Chapter 4

When Monday came, she met him in the lobby of a restaurant known in Washington for discreet deal making. She was wearing a dark blue business suit. The skirt was a tasteful length but cut rather tight. A white silk blouse strained against her ample bosom. The jacket had shoulder pads and was also cut tight like the skirt. A strand of pearls and three inch heels completed her look. Every head in the restaurant turned as they walked by. The Madre de led them to an out of the way table with no nearby diners. The restaurant was on the upper floor of an office building, and the city lights lay spread out beneath them.

After they had ordered, she told him tales of the rain forests and red seas of her home world. "We carved our cities out of the jungle," she said. "Now they look like tropical resorts. The red sky on Aria gives the impression it’s always sunset. It’s very pretty."


"It wasn’t all progress though," she continued. "We suffered many setbacks. There was the time the Velorians attacked us with biological weapons. It was terrible. Ninety percent of our population was maimed. Imagine every morning when you wake up you’re weaker than the day before. Imagine this goes on for weeks until you’re no stronger than a small monkey. That’s the human equivalent of what the Vels did to us, John. They called it a ‘genetic bomb’. It was a virus that affected our genes and was passed down for generations. We’re still suffering the effects. Fortunately, my ancestors were immune. That’s why I’m called a Prime. I still have the strength that all my people once had."

"That’s terrible," said John.

After their food was served, she continued. "Yes, well, we recovered as best we could. We’re a strong race John. We have no use for self pity." Despite her words, he thought he detected a tear in her eye as she told the story.

"I see," he said.

He sat there staring at her. This is the most elaborate story I’ve ever heard, he thought. She sensed his skepticism and decided more proof was in order.

She used her fingers to snuff out the candle burning on the table.

That’s gutsy, thought John.

She studied the candle and her eyes seemed to quiver ever so slightly. The candle burst into flame.

"Wow, he said. "You’re really good at that stuff. How’d you do it?

"Heat vision," she replied. "You have to understand that even though I look human, my physiology is very different than yours."

"I see," he said, not sure anymore what he really believed.

"John, remember how I told you we were at war with the Velorians?"


"Well, we need your help."

He sort of knew the conversation would take this turn. But he felt such an attraction to her he didn’t care. "So what do you need?" he asked.

"We need satellite imagery on troop movements in the Middle East and elsewhere."

"You’ve got a starship and you need imagery from us? That doesn’t make sense."

"Earth is not that high a priority, John. The starship only comes around every few years. We do have a small space station in the Van Allen belt. But it’s unmanned and four thousand miles up. The resolution’s just not sharp enough. And it’s in an equatorial orbit, so it’s no good for getting pictures of countries like Russia that lie in the higher latitudes."

"But still, if you’ve got a starship, surely you could deploy your own satellite."

"Well, I suppose we could rig something up in a lower orbit. But there aren’t that many of us, John. We rely a lot on human sources. Like you."

"I don’t know," said John. "I could get in big trouble".

She took his hand in hers and looked him in the eye. "We’re going to win this war, John. We’re in it for the long run. Once we get rid of the Vels, we’ll get things organized. No more petty wars or turf battles. No more hunger or poverty. We can teach you how to cure any disease. We can get the population down to a sustainable level. Once you’ve proved your loyalty as a client state, we’ll even give you a starship. We can use a race like yours to help continue our expansion."

"Sort of like Starship Troopers?" he asked. She was certainly a good lobbyist. He couldn’t deny the appeal of her argument.

"Exactly. But listen, John. This is real. This is the moment of truth. What are you going to do? Sit around and read science fiction books the rest of your life? Go home every day knowing your grandchildren will be living in a cave someday when the oil runs out? What are you going to do, John?" She sat there in her power suit and pearls, staring at him with her hypnotic blue eyes. Her chest was heaving and she was mildly flushed.

She’s really putting it all on the line, he thought. "Ah look, I need to think about this." Was she a real alien? Could she be telling the truth?

"Okay, John. That’s all I ask. Just think about it. She sat back in her chair. "I guess we better go. Walk me to my car?"

She let him pay the bill and they left the restaurant. They were both parked in the underground lot. They walked out to the lobby and got on the empty elevator. John pressed the button for the parking level. As the doors closed, he noticed a mischievous look on her face.

"Look what I’ve got," she said. She unbuttoned her jacket and removed a small key from her inside pocket. She inserted it next to the button marked "Stop" and the elevator jerked to a halt.

She walked over to him. Her eyes seemed to glow. She put her arms around his neck and pulled him to her. Unlike the first time, this kiss was deep and penetrating. Her tongue slid into his mouth, thick and surprisingly warm. She pressed her breasts against him and he felt her erect nipples through the sheer fabric of her blouse. A feeling of warmth seemed to spread through his body. She stepped back from him and he stood there dazed. She slid her hand under the waistband of her skirt. He could tell from her face she was pleasuring herself. She removed her hand and held it up to him. He caught that scent again, wildflower, or honey, or both. But now it was much stronger.

"You know you want it," she said.

He took her fingers in his mouth and tasted her juices. A wave of euphoria washed over him. It was like heat lightning going off in his brain. He’d been wounded once, in Grenada, and the medic had given him morphine. This was a similar sensation, but much more intense, and without the grogginess of the medicine. Instead he felt a heightened sense of awareness that seemed to surge from every pore of his skin. He looked down in excitement at the erection bulging painfully in his pants.

Allison removed her hand from his mouth and licked her palm in a suggestive manner. She gently unzipped his pants. His erection popped out immediately. She skillfully stroked him, once, twice. On the third stroke he exploded in a shower of ecstasy and slumped against the wall.

She gently lowered him to the floor of the elevator and zipped up his pants. She turned the key and the car resumed its decent. She exited at the garage level and calmly walked to her car.


Chapter 5

He called her the next morning from work. He used his cell phone in the parking lot to ensure privacy. She answered on the first ring.


"It’s me Allison."

"Oh hi, John, How are you?"

"Doing great. Uh, listen about last night."

"Oh that. Don’t worry about it. I should have told you I have an impulsive streak. Your puppy dog eyes were such a turn on. I just seized the moment. I hope you don’t mind."

"Mind? Why would I mind? In fact, I’d really like to see you again."

"Well, I’m awfully busy"

"Busy?" He tried to keep the desperation out of his voice.

"Yes, busy. I mean I’d like to consider you a friend, John, but I wonder if we have enough in common."

"A friend? You think of me as a friend?"

"Well, I’d like to think of you that way. But frankly John, friends can count on each other for support. And you know the kind of support we need."


"The empire, John."

"Oh yeah, the empire."

"You do believe me, don’t you?"

There was a pause. "Yes, I believe you," he said.

"Well good. Then can I count on you to support our cause?"

Another pause. "Yes," he said.

"Oh John, that’s wonderful! You need to know though, that for an Arion our word is our bond. I’ll expect no less from you." There was a definite change in her voice. It was the tone he had noticed when she talked about "destiny." The deadly serious tone.

He swallowed hard. "I understand," he said.

"Good," she said. "Let’s get together Saturday for lunch.

"Saturday?" he said. What would he tell Janet?

"Yes, Saturday. Is there a problem?"

"Oh no." Saturday’s fine."

"Good, oh and John, there’s someone I want you to meet."

"Someone else? Is that necessary? Can’t it wait?"

"Just trust me, John. I’ll see you Saturday."

The rest of the week seemed to crawl by. When Saturday finally came, he told Janet he had some errands to run in the city. He didn’t really care whether she believed him or not. He had dreamed about Allison all week. He had never met a woman anything like her. Of course, he had no intention of becoming a spy. He shouldn’t have been so hasty to say yes. It was just that she was so damn persuasive. But he’d think of some way to finesse the issue.

She had called him again on Friday though, and made a slight change to their plans. She wanted to meet at the house of a friend of hers. He was disappointed, but he didn’t argue.

He crossed the river and headed into the city. Unlike his usual commute, this time he turned left and took the Georgetown exit. He drove along MacArthur Boulevard and then turned right onto Foxhall Road. Stately old homes dominated this part of the city. High walls and sweeping lawns provided the residents with plenty of privacy. Here and there new homes or condominiums were interspersed among the old estates. He followed the directions Allison had given him and turned into a cluster of large brick townhomes.

He carefully wiped his shoes on the mat and then knocked on the door. Allison opened it and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Hi John," she said. Turning to her companion, she said "John, I’d like you to meet Ann Johnson. Ann’s law firm sent her to a seminar in Miami last week."

"Hi," said John. "Nice tan."

"Thanks" she replied. She was very attractive. About 5’ 7", with a gorgeous face. She was wearing a University of Virginia sweatshirt over a tight pair of jeans. Another supermodel, he thought. She seemed a little more relaxed than Allison though. Not as driven.

He looked around. Like the neighborhood it was in, Ann’s townhouse seemed to exude quiet wealth and taste. Expensive fabric adorned the furniture. Limited edition prints hung on the walls. Hickory logs burned in the fireplace. They walked into the dining area.

Allison had picked up a take-out order at a near by delicatessen. Ann brought out a bowl of sirloin chili she had made that morning. John caught the smell of fresh baked pie coming from the kitchen. They opened their sandwiches and sat down to eat.

"I was telling Ann how proud we are to have you working for us, John,"


"Yeah, sure," said John. The food was delicious but his mind wandered. He remembered Allison’s body pressed against him in the elevator. Her friend Ann seemed like a nice person, but did they really have to meet here at her house?

Allison though, seemed to have completely forgotten how their previous meeting concluded. Instead she asked, "So John, I was wondering, can you get us imagery of U.S. forces as well as foreign ones?"

"Yeah, I could do that," he said.

"Why would your satellites photograph your own troops?" said Ann. "Don’t you already know where they are?"

"Yeah sure," said John. He noticed Ann’s eyes were every bit as pretty as Allison's. "Sometimes though, you want to check the camouflage of a location. If you can’t see it from space, it means no one else can either. Other times, we use imagery to scan the perimeter of our bases overseas. Looking for weak spots or anything unusual. You know."

"You certainly sound knowledgeable about you work," said Ann.

"I told you he was the best," said Allison.

"Well, I’ve had a lot of experience," said John. "What exactly are you interested in?"

"Our main focus right now is on Iraq," said Allison.

"Iraq, huh? Nasty place."

"Actually it’s one of the few places in the Middle East where women have equal rights," said Allison.

"Actually, nobody over there has any rights," said John.

"Touché’, John," said Ann with a laugh.

"I agree," said Allison. "But we have our own plans for the region. We think Saudi Arabia’s the key."

"Oh yeah?" said John

"Yes, like your president we want to see regime change over there. Radical Islam can play a transitory role in our plans, but after that, they’ve got to go. Why, some day I’m going to walk down the streets of Riyadh wearing nothing but shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt. And when the religious police come to beat me with their sticks, I’m going to smash their heads to a bloody pulp."

"Allison! Not while we’re eating," said Ann. "What she means, John, is that those countries have a real problem dealing with women. We’re going to change that."

"That’s right," said Allison. "But don’t worry. It won’t be tomorrow. Our plan requires the patience of a peasant. I think it was Mao who said that."

"You two sound like communists," John said nervously.

"Not at all, John. Communism got tossed on the dustbin of history, remember? The same is true of all your civilizations."

"Huh?" said John.

"Have you ever studied Toynbee?" said Allison.

John paused. He was embarrassed to admit he dropped out of college due to lack of money. It was the reason joined the army. "No," he said simply.

"In his study of history, the English historian Arnold Toynbee studied twenty-three civilizations here on Earth. The one thing they all have in common is that they eventually fell to ruins. If he’d lived long enough, I’m sure he would have listed communism as number twenty-four."

"But thanks to you, John, we can change that," said Ann. "On Aria, we’ve only had one civilization. And we haven’t fallen. In fact, we’re expanding. And Earth can expand with us."

"That’s right," said Allison. "One Aria, one empire, one galaxy."

"Okay," said John. He hadn’t counted on a history lesson. In fact, he was still hoping he might get laid.

Ann had finished her sandwich. She excused herself for a minute and left the room.

John looked at Allison hopefully. "You’ve got that puppy dog look again, John. I bet you’re hoping for a treat. But there’s something I need to tell you."

"What’s that?" he said.

"I know you want to have sex with me, but it’s out of the question." His disappointment was obvious. "Sex with me would probably kill you."

"That doesn’t sound so bad," he said.

She smiled. "You men always say that. But I’m serious, John. I’d be like an overdose of heroin to you. Ann, on the other hand, she’s more like methadone. You should take your methadone every day, John. You really need it."

He didn’t like her references to drug abuse, but he didn’t say anything.

"Look, John, I’ve got to run, but I’ll be in touch." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I’m so proud of you."

Ann returned and Allison announced she had to run some errands. She let herself out the door.

Ann served coffee and apple pie for desert. "Allison said a lot of nice things about you, John."

"So, how long have you two known each other?" he asked.

"Quite a few years. I was assigned to her cell when I got out of law school."

"You two really do sound like communists."

"I know. All revolutions share common traits. It can be a lonely life, though. We have our assignments, our cells, various contacts.

"If it’s lonely, why did you come here?

"The Primes run everything on Aria. If you want to get ahead, you have to go off world."

"Interesting," he said.

"There’s a substantial reward for bringing a new planet into the Empire."

"Really, like what?"

"Well, it depends on the planet. But it’s always more than anyone can spend in a lifetime."

"Wow," said John.

Ann got back to the subject at hand. "I must say, John, when the party showed me your file, I was very impressed."

"The party?"

"Yes, in our language the same word can mean party, empire, or Aria, depending on the context."

"So, I’m your assignment? Is that why I’m here?"

"Oh come on, John. It’s no different than a dating service. I looked at your profile and liked what I saw. One of the drawbacks of living here is that I lead a double life. I can’t be honest with any of the men I meet. So I jumped at the chance to meet you. With you, I don’t have to hide who I am. Women care a lot about sincere communication, you know."

Yes, he thought. His marriage counselor had told him the same thing once.

"You do like me don’t you?" Ann looked him in the eye. Since her arrival on Earth, she had learned that if you act like a Prime, humans will treat you like one.

"Yes, I do," he said. He was surprised to realize he meant it.

"I’m so glad. You’ll be a fellow traveler with us. Together we’ll help Earth reach the stars."

After they’d finished their desert, Ann said, "Let me show you the rest of my home. Decorating is a hobby of mine and I’m quite proud of it." The first floor was the living room, kitchen and dining area. There was also a small den she used as an office. Upstairs was the master suite and a spare bedroom.

Ann stood there by the bed. She had an unmistakable "come hither" look on her face. She reached down and grabbed the hem of her sweat shirt. She lifted it in a slow graceful manner as if she were doing a personal striptease just for his benefit. She wasn’t wearing a bra. The winter light filtered through the gauze curtains by the window and highlighted the curves of her breasts. They were absolutely perfect. She noticed him staring and said "Would you like to kiss them, John?"

He came to her and pressed his mouth to her breast. He encircled her erect nipples with his tongue, first one, then the next, tugging lightly with his teeth on the protruding tips.

"Harder John. I need more stimulation."

He carefully bit down until her hips tilted forward and a strangled moan rose from her throat.

"Get undressed," she said.

He did as she asked. Ann reached down and unbuttoned the top of her jeans. He was distinctly aware of the soft hiss of her zipper in the room. She peeled off her jeans and stood before him naked in the soft winter light. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

She pulled back the covers of he bed. "Come join me," she said.

He caught her scent. Not strong as Allison, more cloying and subtle. He lay down beside her and she kissed him. A long deep and drowning kiss that left him breathless.

"You smell it don’t you, John? Go ahead, I want you to be happy."

He slid down the bed, the warm down comforter covering his waist and legs. In front of his face lay perfection. Glistening dewy perfection surrounded by creamy thighs with a triangle of dark hair on top. Her scent was much stronger here and he buried his face between her legs. Once again he felt that wave of euphoria cresting in his brain. He lost himself in her sex and only his raging hard-on brought him back to reality. She pushed him away from her and rolled him onto his back. She was surprising strong for her size. Then she straddled him and crouched low. She looked deep into his eyes and gently took his erection in her hand. She placed the head of his penis between her thighs. His eyes had a crazed look as she lowered herself inch by inch, giving him time to adjust to her heat and the energy that flowed through her. She felt him swell even harder. Then she relaxed the muscles in her legs, sinking down so he could fill her completely. He gazed up at her, this erotic goddess who possessed his soul. She rose up, savoring the feel as every inch of him eased out of her body. Then she came down hard, bringing herself close to the brink. He gasped as if he were about to come. She tightened her muscles and forbid it. She developed a rhythm, in and out, up and down. She pinched her nipples hard and slid her hand down her stomach to finger her clit. When she came, it was with an uninhibited scream that took him by surprise. Her scream pushed him over the edge and he exploded inside her. He then slipped away into a dream of wild flowers and honey.

When he awoke, she was already dressed. She sat in a chair by the window reading a legal brief. "Did you have a nice nap?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

"Good. Get dressed and meet me downstairs. I need to show you something."

He got cleaned up and put his clothes on. He found her in the small den she used as a study. In the corner was a desk and computer. As he entered the room, she smiled at him and reached in the drawer of the desk.

"This is the camera," she said. "Hold it about eighteen inches from the screen and press this button. It won’t make any noise."

She handed him what appeared to be a credit card. It had the look of a well known bank card, but it was slightly thicker and heavier. "Huh," he said. "Interesting."

"It focuses automatically and doesn’t need a flash," she said. "It will also adjust for the scanning rate and resolution of the NPIC computer screens. We know your every click and key stroke is recorded. With this, there’s nothing to email or download. We want you to annotate the imagery though, before using the camera. That way it will make more sense when you explain it to us."

He had to admit it was an ingenious idea. His work log would never show that anything was out of the ordinary. He studied the camera carefully.

"The circuitry is fiber optics. It has no metal content whatsoever. Just put it in your pocket and walk through the detector like you do every day."

She gazed at him with her blue eyes. "I can’t tell you how much this means to us," John. "Someday Earth will name a starship after you."

He blushed at the flattery. "So how do you get the imagery off the camera?" he asked.

"You bring it back to me as often as possible. I’ve got a connector for it. We can download the imagery to an ordinary PC." She held up a short cable with a small black box in the middle of it. She showed him how the cable plugged into a port on the back of the computer.

"Make sure you come by at least once a week," she said. "Come more often if you can."

He nodded.


Chapter 6

John didn’t really think of himself as a spy. He took the camera to work Monday morning, not really sure he would use it. But as he sat there staring at his computer screen, it became a surprisingly easy decision.

In order to betray, you must first belong. And John had never really belonged at NPIC. His calling had been NASA. When he got laid off, he took it as a personal rejection. Allison’s tales of a galactic empire were admittedly farfetched. But John didn’t like the "Rare Earth" theory currently in vogue among astronomers. The idea of an infinite vacuum filled with lifeless worlds was quite depressing. The Arion concept of an interstellar civilization was much more appealing. It was sometime he could belong too.

He glanced out the entrance to his cubicle to make sure no one was walking by, and then he started reviewing the day’s imagery. When he found something interesting, he got out the camera. But then he hesitated. To hedge his bets, he uploaded some harmless photos of tanks in the desert. Then he started taking pictures.

He left the building at lunch and called Ann on his cell phone. She was very excited and suggested he come by on his way home from work that day. He spent the rest of the afternoon remembering her beautiful eyes, her firm young body, and her delicious scent.

John arrived at the townhouse around six. Ann met him eagerly at the door. She hung up his coat and handed him a scotch and water. She was bubbling with excitement, like his teenager daughter when a popular boy band came to town. He handed her the camera and she plugged it into her computer.

The first image to appear on the screen was a shot of an Iraqi training area in the eastern part of the country.

"So what are we looking at?" she asked.

John set his drink on the desk. "This is the Iranian border," he said. "Look at these tanks. As you can see from the labels I added, they’re Russian built T-72s. I can tell from the shape of the turret and other features. Notice the small dust clouds behind them. That means the tanks are moving. If you study lots of pictures like this over time, you can get a feel for how many functional tanks the Iraqi’s have."

"I see," she said.

"What’s significant though is that the average T-72 is almost thirty years old. The Russians provided Iraq with thousands of them back during the cold war when Iran was a U.S. ally. The fact that the tanks are still running, means the Iraqis are getting spare parts from somewhere. The obvious supplier is Russia. They built the tanks and they have the most access to spare parts."

"But I thought Russia is an ally of the United States?" said Ann.

"Yeah, but that doesn’t stop them from trading spare parts for oil in violation of the U.N. embargo. The Russians then mix the oil with their own and sell it on the world market for hard currency."

"Wow," said Ann. "You can tell all that from a photograph? You really are good." She smiled at him. "But you know, John, all these shifting alliances are going to be the downfall of your race. Earth is really lucky we decided to take over your planet."

He nodded thoughtfully.

"Come on," she said. "I don’t want to talk politics. Let’s celebrate your success." She took him by the hand and led him upstairs to the bedroom.


Chapter 7

Over the next few weeks, John managed to stop by Ann’s townhouse several times a week. The imagery he brought her grew ever more sensitive. He was increasingly infatuated with the woman. She was everything he had every dreamed of: beautiful, loving, competent. She never seemed to have a headache, a cold, or the usual female problems his wife was always complaining about. She was something of a goddess in his eyes.

One day in late February, Ann called him on his cell phone.

"Allison’s planning a ski trip for this weekend," she said. "You’ve got to be there."

"I’d love to," he said.

He had grown increasingly estranged from his wife in the weeks since he met Ann. In fact, he was now sleeping on the couch in his office at home. His wife got angry when he told her he was going skiing with some friends from work. "And what happens if it snows here?" she demanded. "Who’ll shovel the driveway?"

John drove over to Ann’s house that Friday afternoon. He was really looking forward to the weekend. He had learned to ski as a teenager growing up in western Pennsylvania. But then as an adult he’d rarely had time, and living in Pasadena all those years hadn’t helped any. He had thought about taking up the sport again after the move back east. But the cost of raising a teenager daughter, and his wife’s refusal to find a job had killed that dream along with so many others.

The next morning John and Ann packed for the trip. "So who is this guy Allison is bringing," he asked.

"His name is Thomas. He’s a Prime like Allison, but he’s not in my cell so I don’t know him that well."

"Is he her boyfriend?

"Oh no, nothing like that. She just calls him up when she’s interested in sex."

John nodded. He could see Allison doing that. He recalled a term his daughter had blurted out one evening at the dinner table: "A booty call."

John and Ann were waiting in the living room when Thomas and Allison pulled up outside in a Lexus SUV. Allison introduced Thomas. He was a cub reporter with the Baltimore Sun. He was a nice looking young man, around six feet tall, maybe two hundred pounds. He seemed to have a muscular build and the same dark hair and blue eyes as the other Arions. He was quite polite and differential to the women. The kind of guy John wouldn’t mind his daughter dating — but no time soon.

They put their overnight bags in the rear of the vehicle, and John noticed a case of champagne. It was Dom Perignon. My God, he thought. The case cost more than his monthly mortgage payment.

They merged onto the expressway and headed west towards Deep Creek Mountain in western Maryland. It wasn’t as good as the Rockies, explained Allison, but with everyone’s busy schedule, it would have to do.

The resort was a three hour drive from Washington and they arrived around noon. Allison had arranged for them to rent a condo near the slopes. It was two bedrooms, two baths with a large two story great room. The great room had a beautiful stone fireplace. It was at floor level and there was no mantle. Instead, the stones above the opening formed an arch with a large keystone in the middle. On either side of the fireplace were floor to ceiling windows with a view of the slopes.

After a quick lunch they were ready for some skiing. It took John awhile to regain his skill, so Ann kept him company on the intermediate slopes. Allison and Thomas though, were absolutely fearless, rocketing down the steepest slopes as if it were child’s play.

It was a delightful afternoon, sunny and not too cold. John gained confidence with every down hill run. But by sundown he was exhausted. The Arions took pity on him and called a halt for the day. They went back to the condo to get cleaned up and changed for dinner. Allison had made reservations at the nearby lodge. After dinner, they returned to the condo. The meal had left John feeling extremely content. There was a delicious ache in his thighs and lower legs from muscles he hadn’t used in years. Thomas started a fire and drew the drapes. Allison announced that a soak in the hot tub was the perfect remedy for sore muscles. John felt mildly self-conscious. His middle aged body did not compare well with that of the fit young Arions.

They walked out onto the deck. Allison noticed his embarrassment. "Get in or we’ll throw you in," she joked. The chill night air was biting and John didn’t argue. He slipped down into the hot water. It felt perfect. Thomas brought along two bottles of chilled champagne.

The foursome relaxed and sipped from their glasses. The stars shown down brightly in the night sky and Ann pointed out two that had Arion provinces. Allison, John, and Ann got into a political discussion. Who was in line to be emperor, what planets were next on the list for conquest. Occasionally they’d drift off into their native language. Then they’d notice John, laugh, and switch back to English. It turned out they were all eagerly awaiting the return of the starship. Apparently it brought supplies and luxuries that were not available on Earth.

They had gone through both bottles of champagne and everyone was feeling mellow. Allison said it was time to go inside. In the great room the fire Thomas had started was roaring away and the room was nice and cozy. Everyone toweled off, but nobody bothered to get dressed.

Ann motioned to him to sit beside her on the couch. She let him share the blanket she was huddled under. She leaned over and whispered in his ear, "The Primes go first." He wasn’t quite sure what she meant.

Thomas and Allison stood naked in the center of the room eyeing each other like a dance couple waiting for the music to start. Thomas reached out and embraced her and they shared a deep kiss. Their bodies rubbed against each other and they kissed again. Then Thomas lowered his head and began biting her nipples. Allison let out a low moan. She reached around and slid a hand down her stomach and began stroking her clitoris. After a while she stopped and dropped to her knees. She gave Thomas the same suggestive look John had seen on her face that night in the elevator. She took him in her mouth. Allison circled his shaft with her tongue, occasionally nicking him with her teeth to heighten the sensations. She alternated this technique with an in an out motion that left Thomas gasping. After several minutes of her ministrations, Thomas was on the verge of orgasm. Then Allison stopped and slowly stood up in front of him. Thomas was breathing heavily. His erection was enormous and stood almost straight up. Juice slowly ran down his erect penis, glistening in the firelight. Under the blanket, John felt his own penis growing as well.

Thomas reached out and grabbed Allison by the hips. He lifted her in the air and impaled her on his shaft. She avidly wrapped her legs around his waist and clung to him tightly. Thomas staggered forward, trying to catch his balance. Allison’s butt slammed against the top of the stone arch over the fireplace. John watched in horror as the hot flames flickered outward and licked against her skin. His erection wilted as he imagined the searing pain. But her flesh did not burn. Instead, it started to give off a faint glow from the heat. The fire seemed to drive the Arions wild. Thomas pinned her to the stone with his arms and chest and began thrusting upwards desperately with his hips. The flames were all around him. The muscles of his legs, back and arms stood out in sharp relief as he continued to pound away. Allison was getting so hot he caught a whiff of her pheromones from across the room. Thomas was giving off pheromones too, and Ann was growing increasingly agitated. John noticed she was licking her lips, and he looked under the blanket. Ann’s nipples stood up like acorns on her perfect breasts. She reached down under the blanket and began to stroke her clitoris. John felt his erection grow once more. He looked again at Allison and John. In addition to their glowing lower bodies, he could now see a glow coming from between where the friction of their contact was creating heat of its own.

Again and again Thomas pounded into her. Allison began to moan and then to scream. The flames continued to lick her backside, but with no more harm than a kinky spanking. With a groan and a mighty thrust Thomas slammed Ann hard against the stonework and exploded inside her. There was a creaking, breaking sound and several large stones came loose. They crashed onto the burning logs, sending sparks and embers all over the room. John was terrified. He hid his face and clung to Ann like a little boy in a nightmare. Thomas calmly set Allison down and began putting out the small fires the embers had started. Allison wiped her brow as if nothing were amiss. There was a glow about her face like a Madonna.

She looked at John and Ann on the couch. "Your turn," she said.

John was dumbfounded. The exploding fire had shrunk his penis to the size of a small sausage. He doubted he could do it at all, and certainly not with the Primes watching.

Allison sensed his fear. Her skin had quickly shed its heat. She walked over and kissed him boldly on the mouth. Ann reacted immediately. She tossed the blanket aside and shoved Allison out of the way. She pushed John down on the couch and straddled his face. She was so wet her juices ran down his chin and stained the cushions. She pinched her nipples and ground her pussy onto his face. He tongued her clit as best he could as the familiar wave of pleasure swept over him. His hard-on returned with a vengeance. Ann got off him and lay back on the couch with her legs spread wide. "Come on," she said. Come on!" Her eyes were glazed with lust and there was a desperate, pleading note in her voice.

John lay on top of her and slowly slid his penis into her dripping vagina. She was satiny soft and very warm. Ann reached around him and grabbed his ass to give more power to his thrusts. He was dimly aware of the two Primes sitting beside them on the rug shouting advice and encouragement. But on a deeper level his entire being was centered deep inside Ann. He felt another wave of pleasure rising within him. It started in his head and slowly moved downward. His need to come was becoming urgent. Allison and Thomas started chanting in time to his thrusts: Go!, Go!, Go! When the wave reached his swollen penis he exploded. The two Primes gave a lusty cheer and poured cold champagne all over him. They laughed uproariously at the expression on his face.

After Ann and John had recovered, Allison refilled everyone’s glass. They all stood naked in a circle. Allison raised her arm. "I propose a toast," she said. "To the Empire."

"To the Empire!" they all shouted.

Later that night John lay in bed as Ann slept peacefully beside him. There was a skylight over the bed and the stars burned bright in the clear winter sky. He no longer had the slightest doubt that the woman beside him and her companions were creatures from another world. John Bruno believed in the Empire.


Chapter 8

He moved in with Ann the week they returned from the ski trip. Living in the district cut an hour each way off his daily commute. He used the money he saved on gasoline to join a fitness club near the townhouse. He went there every day on his way to work, and within a month he had lost ten pounds. Ann bought him some new pants to celebrate.

Unlike John’s government job, Ann tended to put in long hours at her firm. To help out around the house, John got interested in cooking and started preparing dinner each night. He also liked looking at her books. She had the most amazing collection of astronomy books he had ever seen. He couldn’t read the language, but the imagery dwarfed anything from Voyager or Hubble. Equally fascinating were some tapes she had, that she’d converted to work on her VCR.

When John’s birthday came around, Ann paid for lasik surgery to correct his vision. She also put him in touch with an excellent divorce lawyer, so he wouldn’t have to deal with his wife anymore.

His daughter Kimberly came to visit one Saturday in early spring. She was clearly impressed with Ann’s townhouse and her sense of style. Ann took her shopping in Georgetown that afternoon while John stayed home and watched basketball. They returned with numerous bags. His daughter was glowing with excitement.

"I want to be a lawyer, Dad," she said.

"Well, that’s great, Kim," he said. It was the first time his daughter had ever displayed any ambition.

"Ann says lawyers run the world," she said.

"Well, just study hard and you can be one someday."

"You think so? You really think so?"

"Of course I do," he said.

"You think I can do it, don’t you Ann?"

Ann replied, "Of course you can Kimberly. Why a girl like you can reach the stars someday."

"Oh dad, she is so cool!"

The days grew warmer and the cherry trees blossomed. John and Ann made love almost every night. She had a way of making him feel like a twenty year old again. He grew to crave her body and daydreamed about her constantly. He discovered he wasn’t drinking as much either. Life had never been better.


Chapter 9

Tommy Shepard sat at his desk in his windowless office at NPIC. He generally got more work done in four hours than other people did in eight, so he always had a lot of time to think. When he retired from the Marine Corps, he had tried to get a job with the CIA or FBI. Unfortunately, he was considered too old by those organizations, so he settled for NPIC. But supervising a bunch of geeks all day was not what he viewed as a satisfying second career. After 9/11 he had avidly read everything he could find on Al Queda. On days like today, he’d sit in his office and rack his brain for ways he could contribute to the war effort. He took it for granted that Al Queda had numerous spies in the United States. Of course that fact had little to do with him or his work at NPIC. And that was the problem. He wanted to be closer to the action.

Because of his efficiency, Tommy was always looking for more to do. He was always the first to volunteer for any project and he had been responsible for several new initiatives that the center was pursuing. Another aspect of his quick mind was his excellent memory. He was meticulous in remembering important dates in the lives of his employees. He knew their birthdays, their spouse’s names, the number and ages of their children, and numerous other details about their personal lives. To some extent Tommy’s familiarity with his employees’ lives was no different than any other good manager who shows concern for the welfare of their subordinates. And keeping track of details like this was another way to fill up the time when he was at work. But Tommy’s concern for his subordinates often crossing the line into meddling. It was a source of friction in the office which he simply ignored.

Recently his favorite target of unwanted attention was John Bruno. Tommy had mixed feeling about John. He hadn’t wanted to hire him in the first place, preferring instead to promote from within. But a government rule gave John preference when a vacancy came open, and Tommy had been overruled.

Most of the analysts at NPIC had been hired straight off active duty. John though, had a substantial break in service. After the army he gone back to school and earned an astronomy degree from a second rate college. Then he had lucked into his job at NASA. John had also been in the infantry while on active duty. Tommy respected that, but most of the other analysts had been IA right from the start. The bottom line was John Bruno just didn’t fit in.

John was also rumored to have a drinking problem. There was no real evidence though. He always showed up for work on time. But then again, a lot of alcoholics were early risers. Tommy knew John was having marriage problems. Phone calls are difficult to keep private in a room full of cubicles, and Tommy had several sources. First there had been strained whispers indicating differences between John and his wife. These calls gradually evolved into other calls setting up appointments with someone who was obviously a marriage counselor. The most recent conversations to drift over the cubical walls involved discussions with some women who didn’t sound at all like his wife.

Of course an extra-marital affair was no big deal. Been there, done that, thought Tommy. But when he investigated further, Tommy discovered that John had filed a change of address notice with the personnel department. Judging from the zip code, John was now living in one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. He’d also changed his government life insurance to split the proceeds between his daughter and a woman named Ann Johnson.

Tommy had no trouble looking up Ann Johnson on the internet. She was a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School and she worked for a prestigious Washington firm. She was also twelve years younger than John. This raised suspicions. Why would a woman like her shack up with a guy like John?

NIPC was a SCIF, a sensitive compartmentalized intelligence facility. That meant that by design, intelligence information was kept separate so that very few people knew what other people were working on. Of course to some extent, this was impossible in a room full of cubicles. But it did mean that a supervisor like Tommy had access to more information than his subordinates. Mostly out of boredom and curiosity, Tommy started reviewing John’s work more closely. Every key stroke made on a network computer was recorded at NPIC, so Tommy could literally track John’s work by the minute. He noticed a curious pattern. Areas that John observed tended to be the site of an ambush or terrorist attack anywhere from seven to 10 days later. Of course it could be a coincidence. The correlation was certainly less than perfect. But it got him to thinking.

Tommy liked to read spy novels. The world of action and espionage depicted in the books was far more exciting that the sedentary life at NPIC. John Bruno fit the profile of a spy. Even in an office full of introverts, John was a loaner. The marriage problems, the low pay of a government job, and now a girl friend twelve years his junior. It all spelled trouble. He looked up Ann’s firm on the internet. Judging from the firm’s reputation, she must be making three times the money John made. And if she was a partner, she could be making ten times more. It just didn’t make sense. Unless, of course, she was a spy. It was a common tactic of the Russians to use attractive women as agents.

Assuming John was a spy, and Tommy didn’t really believe that, what could he do about it? Union work rules prohibited personal searches without probable cause. And if John really was a spy, he was probably passing on intelligence verbally to his new girlfriend. Maybe he could find a way to do a search anyway. Tommy didn’t get along very well with the government employees union. They’d clashed several times in the past over productivity issues and other work related disputes. It would give him a thrill to go behind their back. He thought some more about John. If this Ms. Johnson was a spy, she wouldn’t be satisfied with just verbal intelligence. The Russians always insisted on documents. In both the Hanssen and Aldrich Ames case there were always documents involved. So if John was a spy, he must somehow be providing hard copies.

Then Tommy had an idea. He recalled a miniature spy camera he’d seen advertised repeatedly on the internet. He could bug Bruno’s cubicle. It was a crazy idea. Totally unauthorized. Completely illegal. It gave him an adrenaline rush just thinking about it. Did he really have to nerve to do this, he wondered? Maybe he should go see the Counterintelligence Section about his concerns. Naw, he thought. They were just a bunch of bureaucrats. No, instead he’d do it himself. After all, no guts, no glory. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. He started humming the Marine Corps hymn in his head. His job no longer seemed so boring.

That night at home he logged on to his computer and ordered the camera he had seen advertised. To save money and for better security, he avoided the wireless version. He also specified rush delivery so he’d get it before the weekend. The camera arrived at his house on Friday afternoon. The next day he went in to work on a Saturday.

The security guard said good morning and waved him though the medal detector. Tommy and the guard had known each other for years. Tommy also knew the metal detector was old and in need of calibration. The small camera in his coat pocket was mostly plastic got through easily.

Tommy took the elevator to the IA floor. The room was dark and quiet. No one else was there on a Saturday morning. He went to his office and grabbed a lap top off his shelf. The laptop was government issue and was pretty much dedicated for use in this building. It was easy to bring a computer to work, but almost impossible to leave with one. It made far more sense just to leave it at work on a permanent basis. He scrounged around in his desk drawer for the necessary cables and some tools. Then he turned on the computer and hooked up the camera. He was surprised to see how easy it was. He had halfway expected software glitches to derail his plan. But everything worked perfectly. He reviewed the camera instructions and set up the computer to store images on the hard drive. He clicked on the timer function to record from eight to five Monday through Friday. That was John’s normal work schedule.

When he was satisfied everything was working correctly, he went down the hall to the utility closet and got a small step ladder. He went to John’s cubicle and removed the ceiling tile next to a ventilation duct. For a moment he considered what he was doing. At home or around retired marines, he liked to make fun of the geeks who worked at NPIC. But this scheme of his took the cake for geek behavior. What exactly did he expect to find? Was he really going to sit around and watch hours of video of John Bruno looking at a computer screen? Probably not, he admitted to himself. But he’d invested too much in his idea to give it up now.

He used some heavy duty scissors to make a hole in the duct work above the ceiling. Then he got some wire to hang the camera so it peered down through the vent. He placed the laptop on the junction of two struts that held up the suspended ceiling. Then he connected the cables. The only thing left to do now was connect the power. His solution to this problem was a simple extension cord he’d bought at the hardware store. He had carefully selected the color to match the blue computer cables that ran throughout the building. NPIC was an old building, and it lacked built in connections for accessing the internet and NPIC's internal network. . Instead, cable was strung above the suspended ceiling and then down the support columns in the room. From there the cables branched off into various cubicles. Tommy figured no one would notice one more blue cord. He replaced the ceiling tile and left the building feeling like James Bond. All he lacked was an Aston Martin to drive off in. Or was it a BMW?

Of course, one of the flaws in Tommy’s plan was that it would be at least a week before he could review the results of his handiwork. Unless he wanted to stay late one night. But that was sure to raise suspicions. No one ever worked late unless there was a crisis. Then again, if Bruno really was a spy, he could do a lot of damage in a week. Tommy thought about it and decided the best option was to wait out the entire week. That way he wouldn’t arouse suspicion. He’d also have more video footage to review, which would increase the chances that he might actually find something.

The next Saturday, Tommy went in to work and removed the camera and computer. Perhaps he should have stored the data on a CD, he thought. That way he could keep the camera in place and continue his surveillance. But a CD couldn’t hold forty hours of footage like the hard drive could. Also, by removing the camera and computer, he’d eliminate the chance of getting caught.

He briefly reviewed the footage he had obtained. The slats of the vent blocked out some of the picture. Nevertheless, there was John working away. He hit the advance key to speed things up. He watched John annotating imagery, surfing the internet, drinking coffee, talking on the phone. He even watched when John got up to use the restroom. This is ridiculous, he thought. He had better things to do on a Saturday than watch John Bruno pick his nose. Her turned off the computer and left the building.

Monday morning, Tommy had a staff meeting that lasted almost until lunch. He didn’t get back to his office until after one pm. He got out the lap top and turned it on. Over the weekend, he’d thought of a better idea than just watching John work. Tommy logged on to his desktop computer and pulled up John’s log from the previous week. Tommy had deliberately assigned some extra sensitive imagery to John in order to test his theory that the man was a spy. Now he scanned John’s log to find out when John had accessed that imagery. Then he hit the fast forward key on the lap top to advance the camera imagery to the corresponding time. At first there was nothing unusual. He observed as John studied the imagery and annotated it with appropriate labels and graphics. Next, if he followed procedures, John would type up a report outlining the significance of what he was looking at. Tommy continued to hit the fast forward key. But then he caught a flash of something unusual. He backed up and focused closely on the image. John was holding something up to the screen. It looked like a credit card. But Tommy knew this was not some e-commerce web site John was looking at. He appeared to be photographing the work he’d just completed. Tommy backed up and went over the camera shot again. Yes, he was sure of it. John was using some kind of camera!

Holly shit, he thought. He quickly typed in some commands on his desktop computer so he could see John’s work in real time. At that very moment John was looking at an extremely sensitive shot taken just that day in northern Iraq. He clicked some commands so that his monitor showed the identical image that John was viewing on his screen. He waited patiently and watched as John carefully identified the objects in the image, labeled them and began to annotate their likely significance.

Now, thought Tommy. He got up from his desk and left his office. He walked quickly down the corridor towards John’s cubicle, trying to make as little noise as possible. He crouched low behind the partitions like he’d been taught to do in the Marine Corps. Some of the analysts in nearby cubicles noticed him and gave their boss a strange look. Tommy peered into John’s cubicle just in time to see John raise the camera to the screen.

"Gotcha!" he shouted. John jumped uncontrollably.

"Freeze Bruno!" Sheppard rushed into the cubicle and grabbed John from behind. The camera fell from his hands and clattered on the keyboard. Sheppard’s booming voice was like a bomb going off on the quiet floor. Everyone came running to see what was going on. John stood there dumbfounded and absolutely paralyzed. The other analysts gathered at the entrance to his cubicle and stared at him in disbelief.

"Okay, traitor, what’s going on!" said Sheppard. John just stood there with his mouth hanging open. Someone had called security and two armed guards got off the elevator.

"Let’s go, John, into my office," said Sheppard.

One of the security guards picked up the camera and gave it a strange look. "Wow," he said. "Never seen one this thin."

John, his boss, and the security guards gathered in Sheppard’s office. Sheppard told everyone else to get back to work, but of course they ignored him.

The director of NPIC came up from his office and listened in amazement to Tommy’s story. He knew that of the numerous law enforcement agencies in the Washington area, the FBI had jurisdiction over domestic espionage. He said he would personally make the call.

"I need you to get this entire floor closed down", the director said to Tommy. "All computers off and locked. All hardcopies in the vault. All trash secured, the works. Then move all your subordinates downstairs and make them available for interviews."

"Yes sir," said Tommy. John just sat there, not knowing what to do. He stared at his feet.

It took only twenty minutes for the FBI to arrive. But then it took another thirty minutes to get past the lobby because they lacked the proper security clearance. Finally, the Director overruled his security chief and the agents were escorted to the IA floor. No one could quite figure out how the camera worked. It was definitely of foreign manufacture, though. One of the agents dropped it in a plastic evidence bag."Hold it," said the director. "There could be classified images on that thing. It can’t leave the building. Same goes for the laptop and video camera."

Even without the camera, the agents decided Shepard’s testimony was enough evidence to arrest John Bruno. They handcuffed Bruno’s hands behind his back and read him his rights. Then they called for another car to come get him. They also called for an evidence team to come search his cubicle. They specified the level of clearance the team would need to enter the building. In the meantime, it was agreed that one of the agents would remain in the room with both cameras and the laptop it until the security issues could be worked out. The director then instructed a NPIC guard stay and guard the FBI agent.

Within the hour another twenty agents arrived from FBI headquarters. Ever since 9/11, the bureau had been highly sensitive to charges of incompetence so they pulled out all stops when they got the call from NIPC. They escorted John out of the building, cordoned off the area, and started arranging interviews with John’s coworkers.


Chapter 10

Like other spies caught by the FBI in Washington, John was taken to what is officially called "an undisclosed location." In reality, it was an interrogation room at the FBI headquarters on E Street.

John sat in a straight back chair in front of a metal table. The room was white and bare except for a second chair and a gray mirror on one of the side walls. The interrogator entered the room. He had short black hair and a firm jaw line. His sleeves were rolled up and his tie was loose. "Hello John. My name’s Jack Cozine. I know you were read your rights and you said you were willing to talk. So let’s talk. But look, John, we can do this easy or we can do this hard. So what are you going to do, John? Will you help me out here?

John said nothing. "Look at this," said the interrogator. He tossed a piece of paper onto the table. It was a fax copy of John’s Bronze Star citation from Grenada. John’s lower lip started to quiver. How had they gotten hold of that, he wondered?

"Eighty Second Airborne, John. All American, remember? If they’re all American, what’s that make you? You know, John, the Eighty Second’s got a brigade over their right now getting shot at by Al Queda. And it’s your fault. You want to go down in history as the biggest buddy fucker since Benedict Arnold? Young men are dying because of you, John. Come on John, talk to me."

John began to cry softly. The interrogator handed him a handkerchief.

Slowly, John began to tell his story. When he got to Allison’s claim to be an alien the interrogator interrupted him. He bent down within inches of John’s face. "Do you think I’m stupid? Do I look stupid to you?"

"I’m telling the truth," said John. The interrogator reared back and slapped him.

John broke down completely and sobbed.

The interrogator looked momentarily distracted as if someone else was talking to him.

"Okay, John. Let’s just start over. Look, we’ve already got this figured out. All we need from you is the details. Your girlfriend. We ran a background check on her. It looks like she got into law school with a forged transcript. Same thing when she was admitted to the bar. No one ever heard of her as an undergraduate. We think she’s east European. Bulgarian, Hungarian, something like that. She’s in with the mafia over there. She sleeps with you in exchange for satellite photos and she hands over the goods to her bosses from Budapest. Then they sell the stuff to the highest bidder. In this case, Al Queda."

No it’s not like that. They come from the planet Aria…"

"Cut the shit!" Jack slammed his fist down on the table and John jumped back, obviously rattled.

John heard a faint hum in the room, like a pager or something in the interrogator’s pocket.

"Okay, John, I’m sorry. I lost my temper. You just tell your story and I’ll listen."

So John told his story, leaving nothing out. The interrogator looked bored. Occasionally he’d look at the mirror as if pleading for relief. But he didn’t interrupt again.

When John was finished, Jack started in on him again. "Okay listen John. You got an astronomy degree, right? So exactly what star do these ‘aliens’ come from?"

"It’s a long way off. Not on any of our star charts."

"Of course. And the heat vision thing. John, you’re a smart guy. Me, I’m just a cop who got lucky when the bureau took me on. But John, even I know eyes take in light, they don’t emit anything. Right, John? So how about it John? Repeat after me: There is no heat vision."

"All I know is she lit the candle without touching it and said she used heat vision."

"Uh huh," said Jack. "Well, let’s take a break here, okay?"

Jack left the room to confer with the observers in the next room. "This guy’s nuts," he said. "He needs a shrink to talk to him, not me."

"Just stay with it, Jack," said his boss. Try to get more detail. Tell him we’ve tracked down his girlfriend and she’s under arrest. Tell him his story doesn’t match hers and see how he reacts."

When Jack told John that Ann had been arrested, he started crying again. But he didn’t change his story.

The interrogation went on for hours. Occasionally different agents would enter the room and contribute to the questioning. They all wanted to hear about the orgy at the ski lodge.

"It wasn’t an orgy," said John. "It was Thomas and Allison, and me and Ann. There was no swapping."

"You sure there was no swapping?" said the new agent. He was an older man with gray hair. "The names sound like a movie from the sixties."

"Yeah," said Jack "and didn’t you say earlier the tall one kissed you? That sounds like swapping to me."

"Look," said John. "I was just a kid in the sixties. I don’t know what you’re talking about."

"Okay, tell us again about how they glowed."

"That’s right," said John. "They did."

"Like they were radioactive or something?"

"No, it was just heat. From the fire and the friction."

"Friction?" said the new agent

"Yes, friction," said John

"Man, talk about your tight pussy," said the agent. "And this couple smashed the fireplace?

"That’s right."

"So who paid for that?"

"Allison told the Lodge to put in on her credit card."

"I see," said the agent. "Now you, you balled your girlfriend while the other two watched. Right?"


"And you say these women can give a guy a hard-on with just a kiss?"


"Because they have this scent, huh?"

"It’s not really a scent. It’s more complicated than that."

"But it works like Viagra, right?"

"Yes, but it’s much stronger. It’s hard to describe," said John.

"So, if you got this super hard-on, why not screw them both?" asked the new agent.

"I told you," said John.

"Oh yeah, I remember. The tall one said sex with her would kill you." The two agents exchanged looks and cracked up laughing.

"We’ve got to find that woman," they said in unison. John said nothing.

Another man entered the room. "Let’s take a break, guys," he said. The agents left the room and John was alone for the first time since his arrest. He let out a long sigh and started to cry again.

Outside the door the agents compared notes. "Well, we know his story. What’s with the woman?"

"She’s taking the fifth."

"Just like a lawyer."

"But get this. She used her one phone call to dial a cell number somewhere in DC. Some woman answered. We’re not sure who yet. But we recorded the conversation."


"It was gibberish. Obviously code. She used a language that’s totally undecipherable. The language guys think it’s Indo-European but they can’t trace it any closer than that.

"I bet it’s Hungarian," said Jack.

"No, it’s not Hungarian," said the other agent.

"There’s more. We got a warrant for her townhouse. You wouldn’t believe the shit the search team found."

"Like what?"

"Well, like a connector that hooks the camera up to her PC."

"Bingo," said Jack. "That’s a conviction right there."

"That’s not the half of it. They also found these really weird video tapes."


"No! Some kind of travelogue or something. But they’re like out of this world. The tapes show some kind of city at sundown. But the sun’s out of the frame. An ocean in the shot has a reddish tint from the light. But get this, the narrator on the tape is speaking the same gibberish she used on the phone! And there’s books too. Same weird pictures. But the writing, it’s not English. It’s not even a Latin alphabet. The language guys say it’s vaguely Phoenician but with a lot rune stuff in it. They think it’s the fucking language she used on the phone. And that’s only one book, man. Some of it’s even weirder."

Jack felt the hairs on his neck stand up. "So you’re saying this guy’s telling the truth?"

"Hell, I don’t know. But get this. The director wants a blood sample from the bitch."

"Jesus," said Jack. "That’s not admissible."

"Hey. Nobody’s talking about a trial here. This is bigger than that. Much bigger."

Eventually, Jack’s boss decided that further interrogation was pointless. John was handcuffed and taken to another floor to await transportation to a federal detention facility. When he entered the room Ann was there. She was also handcuffed. John noticed a bandage on her arm.

She smiled at him. "I’m okay John. Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be all right."

"No talking you two, or I’ll have you gagged." The speaker was one of two plains clothes agents assigned to guard them. The guard had the two prisoners sit at opposite ends of the room with their backs to each other. There was a television in the room. The other guard turned on an Orioles game to watch while they waited.


Chapter 11

Allison knew she had to act fast. If the FBI followed standard procedure, it was only a matter of hours before Ann and John would be transferred to separate federal detention facilities in West Virginia. She went by her apartment and gathered the equipment she needed. The key to her plan was a pair of large artificial wings specially tailored to fit her body. It was for this reason she had selected a twenty story high rise outside the district as her residence. The wings were made of a high tech composite that offered the strength of steel without the weight. Given her strength to weight ratio, man powered flight was no problem for an Arion Prime like Allison. Of course, carrying two passengers would be difficult, but nothing she couldn’t handle for a short distance. She briefly considered killing John. After all, he’d been compromised and it would be one less body to carry. She decided against it though. He could prove useful in recruiting new agents. Next she selected a rope and harness device. To a human, it looked like rock climbing equipment. But from Allison’s point of view, why climb when you can fly?

She put on her black uniform so she’d blend in with the night sky. Then she waited for darkness. When the time was right, she climbed over the railing of her balcony and launched herself into space. She flapped her arms hard and began to climb into the darkness. Then she went into a long glide to gauge the wind. There was no room for error tonight. Once she was satisfied, she flapped her arms again and headed out across the city. Her target was an office building adjacent to FBI headquarters. She made a gliding decent onto the roof and trotted to a halt. She hid behind a safety wall and studied her target. The J. Edgar Hoover Building appeared to be about nine stories high, but it was hard to tell because the windows were different sizes. She noticed a helipad and stairwell entrance on the roof. Getting in would be no problem. Finding her companions though, would be more difficult.

She blinked her eyes and engaged her tachyon vision. The Hoover building appeared as a cut away drawing in her mind. She peered carefully through ceilings, walls and floors. The pattern she saw was very complex. The steel skeleton of the building stood out clearly. Certain rooms were shielded with lead, however. Cable and ventilation shafts ran everywhere. She saw an elevator rising slowly despite the late hour. Given her distance from the target and the size of the building, the scan took every ounce of concentration she could muster. Then she saw John and Ann. They were both in the same room on an upper floor. What luck, she thought. There were two guards in the room with them. She also spotted two other guards in the front lobby and several men in the building’s command center. Next she checked for cameras. The helipad was covered and most of the roof. She looked closely though. It looked like one camera covering the stairwell had been blown slightly askew by the wind. She estimated there was a blind spot about two feet wide.

She launched herself from the roof and flapped her arms to gain altitude. She wanted to come down in as steep an angle as possible to stay out of camera sight. When she was directly over the building, she tucked her wings in as far as they would go and spiraled downward towards her target. Her wings weren’t designed for such a maneuver though, and she landed hard. But she kept her balance and didn’t fall. To her delight she was close to the stairwell door and safely in the blind spot she had calculated. She removed her wings and pumped her fist in triumph.

She pried the door open with her bare hands, trying to make as little noise as possible. Leaving her wings and equipment behind, she descended the stairwell to the right floor and exited into the hallway. So far, so good. She crept down the corridor to the room where her companions were held. She could hear the drone of a television on the other side of the door. She used her tachyon vision to ascertain the situation. The agents were armed but their guns weren’t drawn. John and Ann sat on opposite sides of the room, no doubt to prevent communication. The guards were watching a baseball game.

The time for stealth was over. Allison smashed in the door and killed the first agent with a chop to the neck. The second agent went for his gun. She crossed the room with a flying kick and drove her foot into his sternum. He smashed into the wall and collapsed. Allison landed on her feet. "Let’s go!" she snapped.

John turned white as a ghost. Ann stood up calmly, as if Allison’s appearance was just a scheduled appointment at her law firm. Allison broke off their handcuffs and said "Follow me". They ran down the hallway to the stairwell and then up to the roof. As far as they could tell, they remained undetected.


Chapter 12

Kara the Velorian had turned off her phone while she slept.  To conceal her identity on Earth, she was enrolled as a student at UCLA and had a part time job in the evening.  As such, she liked to squeeze in a nap each afternoon between the end of classes and the start of her job.  It was around five thirty when she awoke.  She picked up her cell phone to check her messages, wondering idly what she should do about dinner. 

 There was only one message, and she recognized the voice immediately.  It was a high level contact in the FBI.  They’d caught two spies in DC.  A man and his girlfriend with top secret satellite imagery.  The woman’s blood type didn’t check out.  Her source used the codeword "Omega".  He left a number where he could be reached.

Kara pressed the button to hang up and sat down to think.  The fact that they’d been able to get a blood sample meant the Arion must be a Betan.   And seducing a human male was a common tactic.  The ambushes and terrorist attacks she’d read about in the news suddenly made more sense.  If the humans had caught a Betan, it meant there was a Prime nearby.  This was serious.

She looked at her watch.  It was all ready eight forty in Washington.  There was no time to lose.  She quickly put on her blue and red uniform with the supremis "S" emblazoned across the chest. She peered outside.  Her apartment was in one of Los Angeles' poorer neighborhoods.  She could hear an argument between gang members one street over, but there was no one in sight. 

Normally, to avoid detection, she preferred to drive out into the desert before taking off, but this was an emergency.  If she launched at maximum acceleration, she could theoretically move too fast to be seen.  She’d have to chance it.   She walked outside and took several deep breaths.  She focused inward for a moment on her volatai, that remarkable organ that enables a Velorian to fly. She concentrated in the same manner as a weightlifter about to attempt a difficult lift.

She crouched briefly and then leaped with all her might.  She streaked out of the atmosphere far faster then any missile.  Within minutes she had passed into darkness somewhere over the Midwest.  It was about nine pm local time when she entered Washington airspace.  Her target was the J. Edgar Hoover building.  Her source had told her that’s were the Betan was being held, so that’s where the Prime would strike.

As she approached the building she saw three figures up on the roof.  One of them was in an Arion uniform.  Just in time, she thought.

Allison handed John the safety harness. "Put this on," she said. Ann picked up the other end of the rope and started to put the second harness around her waist. Allison took a piton from a small bag and jammed it under the edge of the broken door. That should keepout any unwanted company, she thought.

"Look!" said John. He stared in amazement as a blonde haired woman descended from the night sky and landed on the roof about twenty feet away. She was tall, good looking, and buxom. Her tight uniform left nothing to the imagination.

 "A Vel," hissed Allison. And to make matters worse, she had landed in plain view of the cameras.

Kara glared at Allison. "Just leave," she said sternly. "Leave these two behind and there won’t be any trouble."

"Fuck you," said Allison.

Kara took a step forward. An Arion Prime is trained to never be intimidated by a Velorian’s superior strength. For Allison, losing a fight was far less humiliating than backing down from one. So Allison charged. She slammed into Kara like a linebacker. The collision sounded like a car wreck, and John covered his ears to shield them from the sound. Allison bounced backwards from the impact, and fell on the roof. Kara staggered but stayed on her feet.

The collision with Allison triggered a hormonal response in the Velorian. She felt a wave of violent lust wash over her. Adrenaline coursed through her veins and her strength increase dramatically. Her breasts swelled visibly and stretched the fabric of her uniform even tighter. The feeling was almost sexual. She wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around Allison’s firm body and squeeze the life out of it. Kara advanced again, confident her desire would soon be met.

There is a fine line however, between confidence and hubris, and Allison was gambling that Kara would cross that line. She rose to her feet, feigning caution. When the Velorian was in range, Allison lashed out with her heat vision. She aimed for Kara’s eyes, the one place on the supremis body were she might be vulnerable. Kara was caught by surprise and partially blinded. She stumbled backwards. To gain some time, she ripped a large exhaust pipe from the surface of the roof and hurled it in the direction of her attacker.

Allison ducked. The metal pipe flew past her and crushed Ann against the stairwell wall. The Betan died instantly. John screamed like a wounded animal. He fell to his knees over his dead lover’s body and a horrible moan came from his throat. He scratched his face until his cheeks ran red with blood. The two supremis stood by awkwardly, their combat temporarily forgotten. Supremis generally have little need for this degree of emotional attachment. Both women stared in amazement at the human’s display of grief.

John rose slowly to his feet. He wiped the tears from his eyes and glared at Kara. "You goddamn bitch!" he said. "You goddamn bitch! Why don’t you go back to fuckin Olympus where you belong? Just leave us the fuck alone!" His eyes were cold and hard.

He moved toward the Velorian. He reared back with all his strength and drove his fist into Kara’s stomach. He promptly broke his hand on muscles with the strength of steel. He wailed in pain and hit her with his other hand. Kara took pity on the poor human. His grief had completely drained her of the blood lust she had felt. She softened her muscles so that when his second blow fell, he merely sprained his hand.

"Everything they told you is half truths and lies," she said.

John didn’t seem to hear her. He staggered toward the low retaining wall that lined the roof. Kara reached for him, but Allison grabbed her. "Let him go!" she said.

John stepped up on the wall and wobbled, tying to get his balance. He steadied himself, looked down briefly, and then jumped.

Kara struggled, and with a mighty heave, broke free of Allison’s grasp. She ran and dived over the side. Allison jumped too, but without the benefit of her wings. All three plunged towards the street. John was ten feet from the pavement when Kara reached him. She grabbed him by the wrist and reversed her thrust. John’s arm popped from his shoulder socket and he screamed in pain. Then Allison smashed into Kara’s back. The Velorian lost her grip and John fell to the pavement below. He landed on his feet and broke both ankles. Allison rolled off Kara’s back and landed on the ground without a scratch.

The fight on the roof had been in full view of the building’s security cameras. Both security guards and part of the watch team came running out the front door. A Washington police car had also arrived on the scene. Kara surveyed the situation. Her feet never touched the ground as she turned and rocketed out of sight. Allison had to make do with her leg muscles. She accelerated like a racecar and sprinted into the darkness. She felt two bullets strike her in the back. They bounced off and fell harmlessly to the pavement.


Chapter 13

John was taken to a nearby hospital and put under a heavy guard. It was a few days later when the letter arrived. The FBI read it first. It was the first concrete evidence they had that Allison Cooper even existed. The head of the public relations firm on her business card denied all knowledge of her. The credit card she used at the ski lodge had been cancelled. Government specialists analyzed her signature, the ink, the paper and the envelop. They tested the stamp for DNA, but the stamp had been moistened with water. Numerous psychologists studied the content. When they were content they had done everything possible, they gave John a photocopy:


Dear John,

I know you told your government everything. Perhaps I should have killed you before you talked. Or made sure your suicide attempt succeeded. If you’d kept your mouth shut, you’d be a free man right now. But you betrayed us, so you deserve your fate.

On the other hand, perhaps I should have expected such weakness. After all, you’re only human. Despite your betrayal, our cause is proceeding as planned. The information you provided was valuable.

You will no doubt go to prison for a long time. If we achieve our triumph before your sentence is completed, I might arrange a pardon. You also have the option to kill yourself. It would be an honorable choice given the situation you find yourself in.

When you look up at the stars at night, know that we are there. If you submit to us, your race can join us among the stars. If you reject us, then you deserve whatever future you create.

Yours Truly,


After John recovered from his injuries, he was confined in a secret location. Ann’s law firm offered to represent him for at a greatly reduced fee. It soon became apparent though, that their main priority was avoiding a trial that would publicize Ann’s ties to the firm. The government didn’t want a trial either because of the wealth of classified evidence it would entail. A plea bargain was worked out and John pled guilty to espionage. He was sentenced to 15 years in a minimum security prison. His lawyer told him it was a very good deal. After all, John Walker Lind got twenty.

As his body adjusted to the lack of Arion pheromones, John suffered withdrawal symptoms and sank into a deep depression. He was placed on a suicide watch and given various anti-depressants. Eventually he recovered form the physical addiction. But at night he would still dream of Ann and Allison. He’d wake up amidst the wet sheets with the same sense of astonishment he’d once felt as a teenager. The prison psychiatrist told him he was still psychologically addicted. A poet would have called it love.

He went for long walks in the prison yard. At night he’d gaze at the stars through the tiny window of his cell. He thought a lot about the mistakes he made. As the days pasted, he slowly regained a sense of hope.  With good behavior he could be out in ten years.   Why, with a little luck, he might even get a second chance in life — to serve the Empire.

The End

© 2004, by Joe Haley