It's U-Girl and You Should Know It

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

Down Deep

The only light in the chamber came from the readout, counting down the minutes. They had their own readout at the command center on the surface, of course. None was needed here. None could see it but her.

That was the whole point.

Rainey Ferguson was resigned to death. She felt no terror, even as the minutes dwindled to seconds. Only hatred for Kim Jong Il and his entire system. She hoped her country would nuke North Korea when it learned about the test, as it surely would.

People had talked about bombing Vietnam into the Stone Age when her parents were the same age she was, they’d told her. But this place was already back to the Stone Age, in anything that mattered. Surely the world knew that savages couldn’t be trusted with nuclear weapons.

The counter reached zero. Suddenly there was a bright light.

It took a moment to realize that she was seeing that light, that she wasn’t dead.

How could this be?

It had been cold as well as dark in the chamber, and the excavation had been so small that it had felt as if it were closing in on her before the guards had taken their leave and turned off the lights behind them. There was just enough room for the bomb itself, the technicians making the final settings… and her.

It was pleasantly warm now, and the chamber seemed larger – she couldn’t gauge how much larger, for she had no frame of reference, no points of reference. There was no sign of the bomb, but a pool of bright liquid was forming at the bottom of the chamber, rising quickly to bathe her legs and then…

Oh God, its warmth was invading her pussy and it felt so good. She was coming, coming hard -- something that had never happened with the Dear Leader. She couldn't believe how good it felt as the liquid lapped at her clit and her G-spot. Her knees went weak, and she fell backwards into… what was it that now covered her breasts, sending yet more shocks of pleasure through her body? She exploded again and again, orgasm after orgasm. She swam in it, she cavorted in it, her whole body was glowing.

She suddenly remembered what she'd read about the test procedure. Kim's nuclear technicians had forced her to read it:

The device is remotely detonated from a surface control bunker. The nuclear explosion vaporizes subterranean rock, creating an underground chamber filled with superheated radioactive gas.

As this cools, a pool of molten rock collects at the bottom of the chamber.

Minutes or hours later as pressure falls, the chamber collapses in on itself causing subsidence and a crater to appear on the surface.

The North Korean bomb was a relatively small device, so… As she pondered this, the chamber collapsed. What must be tons of superheated rock, she now realized, came crashing down on her.

Only it didn’t feel like that. It felt like a warm shower.

The white-hot rock pressed against her, yet didn’t crush her, let alone burn her; instead it caressed her body like a lover -- the kind of lover she'd never had here, never hoped to have again. She began playing with herself, building towards… it was only after another staccato series of orgasms that she began to think rationally.

This was absurd. It was impossible.

She must be dreaming, that was it. She wasn’t 700 meters underground; she was still at Kim’s palace, hooked up to some diabolical machine, and they were playing with her mind, Just as Kim had played with her body – the thought brought nausea along with anger as she began thrashing about. She was surprised that she could move at all. But it was a dream, after all.

Why were they doing this to her? What could be the point?

She remembered her last words to the Dear Leader, when she had lost it, when she had called him “nasty, brutish and short.” That was when he had pronounced his death sentence, leaving it to his lieutenants to tell her the time and manner of her demise.

It must have been a ploy, to overcome any resistance to their invading her mind – something even worse invading her body. She had taken a bitter pride in the belief that her mind was free, even if her body was enslaved. But now she must be living out one of Kim's perverted porn fantasies, more degrading than any of the videos he'd made her watch before he fucked her.

Everything he knew about sex came from porn, and she and the other members of his Pleasure Squad -- mostly young Asians and Europeans; she was the only American -- had been thoroughly indoctrinated in his tastes. Along with much else. The much else was comical, as in the narration that went with a typical propaganda video:

The Korean people regard it as their most worthwhile life to uphold Secretary Kim Jong Il and live and work in perfect harmony with him. The Korean people absolutely worship, trust and follow the General as god. These noble ideological feelings are ascribable to the fact that they have keenly felt the greatness of the General from the bottom of their hearts. He is the great teacher who teaches them what the true life is, a father who provides them with the noblest political integrity and a tenderhearted benefactor who brings their worthwhile life into full bloom. The life of the Korean people who form a harmonious whole with the General is a revolutionary life to glorify their noblest political integrity. This is why they have unbendingly advanced the revolution with an unshakable faith, not wavering under any obstacles and trials. The General is the mental pillar and the eternal sun to the Korean people. As they are in harmonious whole with him, they are enjoying a true life based on pure conscience and obligation. They are upholding him as their great father and teacher, united around him in ideology, morality and obligation. So, their life is a true, fruitful and precious life without an equal in history.

When he hadn't had her watching porn or propaganda, she'd been subjected to the Dear Leader's other bizarre tastes, from Rambo to Daffy Duck cartoons. One night he'd topped even himself, making her watch both porn and cartoons, and coming on to her afterwards by yelling, in a thick accent, "I'm just a crazy mixed-up duck!"

It was usually one-on-one with her; she'd heard that Kim often staged orgies with the other girls. Being the only American somehow made her special, if only because he hated America so much. Perhaps he found her intimidating, at six feet and 38-24-38 -- the Asian girls were closer to his own five-two. But if so, that had only made him all the more determined to humiliate her.

Now he'd found another kind of humiliating entertainment. Was he, even now, this very minute, watching her masturbate? Maybe if she stopped playing his game, he'd let her wake up.

Yet Rainey had already stopped playing with herself, and nothing had happened.

Kim must be patient today. But she wasn't. After waiting in vain for what must have been half an hour or so, she decided to go along with the fantasy again -- but not his way.

Up was up and down was down, even in a dream. Seven hundred meters were 700 meters, even in a dream. In this dream she could swim through liquid and even solid rock. She struck out for the surface.

It felt very much like coming up from skin-diving, except that it took longer. And when she broke surface, there was just -- the bleak landscape of North Korea. Nothing of the utopian vision she might have expected from a programmed dream. But then, even the Dear Leader wouldn't expect her to believe in happy peasants and smiling workers.


Up High

She was far from the command center, having come up diagonally, but there was a guard post nearby. One of the North Korean soldiers spotted her, and froze in place, as well he might, at the sight of a naked woman suddenly emerging from the ground.

Being well trained, he quickly unfroze and called the other soldiers out of the post. It was the dead of winter, she knew, and the winds had been fierce, although she couldn't feel the cold or the wind now. The other soldiers must have been grateful for whatever shelter the post provided -- and annoyed to be deprived of it.

The first soldier started yelling at her in Korean, and when she didn't respond -- having learned as little of the language as she could -- they raised their Type 68 AKMs and began firing.

Because this was a dream, she didn't expect to be harmed, and she wasn't. But she was spun around by the first impact on her left shoulder, and knocked to the ground by those that followed. But as the rounds continued to rain in on her, time seemed to slow, as in those old Six Million Dollar Man episodes.

She heard the bullets as a patter, and when she turned around, bracing herself against a boulder, it seemed that she could actually watch them approach. Like any good soldiers, the North Koreans were aiming at her chest, seeking good kill shots, and those that hit her breasts sent waves of pleasure coursing through her.

Within what must have been a few seconds of real time, she was wet with arousal, and her nipples had turned bullet-size, aimed provocatively at her assailants. She glanced downwards and saw that she was dripping. As the storm of lead continued, some of the rounds actually found those nipples and sent her over the edge into orgasm. And then some found her pussy, hitting her clit.

Rainey practically swooned with pleasure, no longer able to conceal her ecstasy from the watching eyes of Kim -- it would have to be the Dear Leader himself, not one of his underlings -- on some monitor at the palace.

She was walking on air by the time the soldiers, their faces stunned with disbelief, ran out of ammo. Literally walking on air, for the ground -- littered with hundreds of slugs that had bounced off her -- was a yard beneath her feet.

Flying was a common fantasy in dreams, she'd read, although psychologists didn't agree on what it meant. She couldn't remember having had any such dreams herself. Had Kim? What could they mean to him?

But it felt so real. Everything in this crazy dream felt and looked so real. Even the confused soldier, now calling for help on his field radio. And it felt so good. Not just being invulnerable, but being free -- as free as a bird. Hardly had she had that thought than she began rising, leaving the guard post and its befuddled soldiers far below.

Could this dream take her home -- to an illusion of home? Home was East, she knew, and it was easy enough to reckon East. She imagined herself flying like Superman, because it was obviously that kind of dream, although Kim had never shown any interest in superhero comics. She willed herself to fly, and she did, heading straight into the morning sun.


In the Air

Rainey must be traveling more than a thousand miles an hour, for the morning sun was actually setting before her. She willed herself to slow a bit, and the sun stopped in its tracks, hanging before her as if it were an orange blob pasted on a postcard.

The air rushing past her felt like a soothing gentle breeze, but she could sense that her raven tresses were practically plastered to her back. Just for the hell of it, she tried doing somersaults; and her hair began behaving like a weathervane, always pointing true west.

She might have been halfway across the Pacific when she began running into storm clouds and the sun vanished. She should have thought of that, she realized; she knew the ocean wasn't always pacific. But how was she to keep her sense of direction, how was she to find her way?

 The storm had broken now -- or, rather, she had entered it. Of a sudden, there was an explosion of light and she felt an explosion of pleasure: she quickly realized that she must have been hit by a lightning bolt. Another followed, and yet another; she was screaming with pleasure as the electric fire bathed her breasts, invaded her pussy.

She was completely disoriented, but something must have told her what she had to do, for suddenly she was rising -- through the storm, above the clouds into clear air.

Why stop here? she asked herself.

Rainey flew further upwards, into the stratosphere and beyond, until she could see the curvature of the Earth and the sun blazed white, unfiltered by the atmosphere. Below her, she could see the cyclonic pattern of the clouds; it had been a typhoon. Above, she could see stars against a purple-black sky, if she looked away from the sun.


She was high enough to recognize the coast of Mexico, Baja California to the left. Way south of where she wanted to be.

Damn! She could have kicked herself, forgetting that the sun rose in the southeast as seen from her homeland.

There came another thought:

This was too perfect, too realistic. Dreams were never like that. You could be in a car and suddenly it would be a boat. You could be in New York and suddenly it would become Paris. You could meet people who were long dead, or people you knew but didn't look like the people you knew.

She had thought this was some sort of programmed dream, being fed into her from a computer in Kim's palace. She had felt like a player trapped in some insane video game, able to act within the rules of the game, but never to escape it. But could the Dear Leader really have created this?

Rainey was torn between relief and disbelief. She had never believed in God. She had never believed in miracles. None of that New Age shit, either. But there were only two possibilities here and now: either she was in an impossibly elaborate and consistent dream, or she had somehow survived a nuclear blast and become… superhuman.

It was time to take stock, make plans. She hadn't really thought of that before.


On the Beach

There was a nude beach near San Diego, Rainey knew. She hoped she could spot it from the air. She'd been there once for a photo shoot, five years ago, part of paying her way through college.

Her given name was Urania, and she hated it. It had been bestowed upon her by her parents, who were into Greek mythology. University professors, both of them, David in literature and Margaret in art. She'd been a freshman when they'd gone off to Greece on a dream vacation, and been killed in a plane crash just outside Athens.

She was calling herself Rainey by then, and she'd been devastated at the news. They'd always been good to her, except for the name. They'd encouraged her to find her own way, which had turned out to be modern rather than classical history. But she didn't want to be an academic; she wanted to bring history to the people, to make them see, to make them understand.

Her favorite writer was Joseph Kanon, who made history -- not just the details, but its essence, its meaning -- come alive in his novels: Los Alamos, The Prodigal Spy and The Good German. Kanon had begun writing novels late in life, after a long career as an editor. She aimed to get a faster start. But first she had to get the grounding. Whether she ended up writing novels, or non-fiction, she'd have to know her stuff.

That meant finishing college, and a lot of travel and research. She couldn't afford all of that, on what her parents had left her. By sheer coincidence, however, the college paper ran an ad a month after the funeral from Male Call magazine recruiting models for one of its frequent features on college girls -- in this case, The Girls of Winnemac.

Rainey was beautiful. She'd always known it, but she'd never traded on it -- never ran for Homecoming Queen at high school, never even served on the cheerleading squad. She'd never been a cock-teaser, never chased after the jocks -- not that she gave a shit about football anyway. And when she'd given up her virginity, it had been to a kid she'd known from childhood -- the kind she'd used to play hide and seek with.

She hadn't hooked up with anyone in college yet, although she'd been eyeing the possibilities. She’d signed up for the photo shoot, and got a grand out of it. She also got a lot of attention from guys on campus, but she brushed them off -- when she wanted a man, she was going to go after him.

She drew raves from Male Call readers, who voted her the best girl in the feature. One of them called her a cross between Lynda Carter and Sophia Loren -- he must be a dirty old man if he remembered both of them in their prime. But such fulsome praise got the attention of the Dirty Old Man, who offered her a contract for a centerfold. Big bucks.

The Dirty Old Man had an exaggerated sense of his own dirty old charms, and after the centerfold shoot, he'd invited her to join his harem. Even bigger bucks, but she turned him down flat. Whenever she needed more money, there’d plenty of other men's magazines -- including the kind that didn't require girls to go full frontal.

That nude beach she was looking for now… She remembered that there'd been a large power sub-station just inland, across Highway 101. Sure enough, there it was. If anyone saw her, she hoped they’d take her for a bird or a plane. Now she backtracked out to sea and took to the water about a mile from shore.

It wasn't that she especially wanted to visit a nude beach just now, but where else could a naked woman appear without attracting undue attention? So she swam in, a few yards under, and broke surface close it as if she'd been there all along, wading ashore like Venus as soon as her feet could touch bottom.

She had it all worked out. Steal somebody's clothes from the locker room -- not something she could take any pride in, but the regulars would have a way of finding new clothes, which she didn't. Then she'd have to steal some cash -- cracking open an ATM was the best bet, smashing the surveillance camera first. Find a place to stay that didn't ask any questions.

Then catch up. She'd been away for more than four years. She didn't have any idea, beyond the North Korean propaganda, of what had been going on in the world. She needed to know. She also needed to know more personal things: did she still have a safety deposit box in Mohalis? Could she access it? She didn't have any ID now, no way to prove who she was.

Somebody might recognize her, but did she want to be recognized? It would make the news if she reappeared in the world without explanation. It must have made the news when she'd vanished, only a month after her centerfold had appeared. Did she want Kim Jong Il and the North Koreans to find out what had happened?

She could catch up on world events at the library, on the Internet. There'd be stuff about her there, too. But she needed somebody to talk to, somebody she could trust, and she could think of just one man -- Bobby Rutledge.

Rainey had a close call in the locker room, just after she'd jimmied the lock on a second locker -- finding women's clothes this time. A burly-looking man had walked in. Had he seen what she was doing?

Evidently not, but he had indeed seen her. His cock rose to attention, although that was considered bad form at nude beaches.

"No way," she told him, and that seemed to take care of the problem.

She dressed quickly, relieved to find that the fashionable sportswear fit her well enough to avoid attracting notice, and that the woman's purse had enough cash to tide her over for a while. She made note of the woman’s name and address so that she could return the cash and clothes as soon as she was able. She left the credit cards and the purse in the locker, warping the door enough to jam it shut.


Back to the Future

Bobby Rutledge… Where was he now?

It didn't take her long to find out on the Internet. He was living in New Romford, Ohio. Right full name (Robert F. Rutledge), and right date of birth (September 9, 1984), according to the Public Records database, Apparently living alone.

She’d already found out about a lot of other things, from the ugly details of the war in Iraq -- not the same she’d been told in North Korea -- to her own disappearance having been linked to serial killings in the Zenith area. All college girls; she fit the pattern, the only anomaly being that her body had never been found.

Just what Bobby was doing in New Romford, she’d have to find out. They'd both grown up in Shetland, Illinois, and he'd taken time to tutor her in science beginning in grade school -- she hadn't been big on science as she was on history. One thing had led to another…

She hadn't been looking for eternal love or anything like that when she'd seduced him that spring during their senior year at Shetland High. But he was really sweet, and they'd enjoyed their study dates and movie dates, even smooched a bit. Puppy love.

One night, when her parents were away at an academic conference, she'd invited him home -- not just to the living room, but her room. He'd assumed she just wanted to show him something there, until she started taking her clothes off.

She'd read up on sex. She'd thought she'd known what to expect. She knew what men wanted, and she wanted to make the first time a night to remember for both of them. Under her utilitarian shirt and jeans, she'd worn her sexiest bra and panties, acquired with just this occasion in mind.

Bobby's face turned red, then lit up as he hurriedly began shedding his own clothes -- only to turn red again moments later, as she playfully removed her bra, shook her breasts in front of him, and crowed, "Ta Da!"

The reason became clear when she saw that his underpants were soaked with cum.

"I'm sorry," he almost stuttered, looking crestfallen

Rainey didn't want it to end this way. She wouldn't let it.

"It's just… I've never done it before," he stammered. "And you're so… so beautiful."

All she could say was: “I haven’t either.” And then she was at a loss as to what to do, until she saw that he was still semi-erect, his cock rising again, despite his embarrassment, tenting his jockeys, and her own body responded.

"It's all right," she said. "Look at me."

Her panties were transparent; she'd wanted him to get a good look at her bush through them. But now they were wet.

Bobby must know what that meant. His face lit up again as he pulled down his shorts and his cock sprang into full view, ready for action.

Rainey was ready, too. She peeled off her panties, sat down on the edge of the bed, and invited Bobby to join her. She pulled him in for a deep kiss, hugging him tenderly, trying to make him feel at ease before she reached for his cock and began stroking it – only to feel him come again.


But she made believe she was flattered to have his cum splash on her, and as he toyed with her provoking breasts, he began rising to the occasion again. She began to moan as he brushed her nipples -- finally he was getting something right! -- and he went wild when she invited him to suck and nibble them. So did she.

Rainey went even wilder when he moved south and began nibbling her clit. She'd been playing with it herself since puberty, and had never failed to bring herself off. But to have him there, to feel his lips and his tongue, to see him between her legs, eating her so eagerly. She screamed as she came, and her entire body shuddered in delight.

When Bobby came up for air, he looked pleased with himself, as well he might. It was time for the piŹce de résistance. She'd kept a rubber handy under a pillow; now she took it out. There was a huge grin on his face as she unwrapped it, and a look almost like prayer as she slipped it lovingly over his cock. It was a terrific turn-on for her to take the initiative, and she sensed that it was for him too.

She took it again now, inviting Bobby to lie back on the bed, then straddling him. His eyes were filled with wonder as he gazed up at her, and he gasped as she impaled herself on him and began a gentle rocking motion. She had nothing to worry about; she’d taken care of her hymen with a tampon a while back because she’d wanted to get that over with. Tonight, she wanted nothing but pleasure.

Oh God! Having a man inside her felt so good, even better than she'd imagined from the steamy romance novels her mother had "accidentally" left for her to find, just as she had "accidentally" left a sex manual. She felt so alive as her cunt gripped his cock, as she began humping him and he began returning her thrusts -- faster and faster until they both exploded, crying out in pure ecstasy.

Their afterglow was pure rapture. Words failed them, until…

"Tonight I am a man."

"Tonight I am a woman."

They'd kept it up, whenever they could, until they went to different colleges.

They might have gotten back together -- if she hadn't been taken.


New Romford by Night

"So you want me to believe it because it is impossible?" Bobby asked.

"Actually, Tertullian's words were, "It is certain because it is impossible," Rainey responded. "My parents were sticklers about things like that."

This has got to be the strangest day of my life, Bobby reflected.

It had begun with the message on his phone when he'd arrived home from work.

"It's me. I need to talk with you. I'll come by tonight."

That was all. But it drove him crazy, because he knew the voice, and he knew that Rainey was dead. Had to be dead.

When she'd disappeared from Mohalis, it had made the papers -- even made CNN, her having been a Male Call centerfold and all. It bothered him, bothered him more than he cared to admit. And when the FBI in Zenith had added her to the list of presumed victims of the Chainsaw Man, that had….

He'd vomited at the thought that she had been cut to pieces by a serial killer who was still at large. He'd seen the tabloids with front-page pictures of other victims -- they were supposedly sanitized, but they still left little to the imagination.

He'd cried all night, unable to sleep, unable to rest. He'd hardly eaten for days, and had to call in sick -- the flu, he'd told them.

Jill had come after that. He hadn't told Rainey about Jill yet -- he'd hardly told her anything. She'd done all the telling, and none of it made any sense. She'd simply rung his doorbell, and he'd let her in.

It was her, no mistaking. His heart was pounding, but he tried not to show it. He'd offered her coffee, because that seemed to be the thing to do, and it took his mind off the memories of their nights together as well as the terror he'd felt when…

"Are you in trouble?" he'd asked, because he surmised that something bad must have happened to her.

"I was in trouble," she said. "Now I am trouble."

"For God's sake, Rainey, what are you talking about?"

So she told him. About having gone out to a Korean restaurant in Zenith, passing out there and ending up in Pyongyang. About her years as a sex slave to a mad dictator. And then about the bomb, and her escape and the flying…

He could barely believe the kidnapping part, after all those reports about Japanese being snatched off the streets and put to work as translators, or language teachers for North Korean spies. But the rest…

“CNN thought the bomb was a dud,” Bobby said. “But even—“

"Don't you think I know it's impossible?" she cried.

Which led to the exchange about Tertullian.

"But where's my brain tonight?" she scolded herself. "I meant to show you when I came in, but…"

With that, she marched over to the range, lit one of the burners, and stuck her right hand in the flames.

Bobby shot out of his chair, terrified at what he saw, even more terrified that this woman -- this woman who’d made him a man, who’d become his lover, who’d inspired his fantasies ever since from memory and from the pages of Male Call even after they parted -- had gone insane.

Too late, too late, he cried inwardly. He'd call 911, get her to a hospital, but she'd be scarred for life, if she kept her hand at all.

Only, nothing was happening. Rainey didn't scream in pain, nor was there the stench of burning flesh. She took her hand out of the flames and held it up to him.

It was completely unharmed.

Bobby stood there, transfixed, like a deer in the headlights. Then he began shaking like a leaf. She came to him, taking him gently in her arms.

He felt a rush of desire, embraced her with his own arms. She felt like a statue – a warm statue, but still something more like stone than flesh.

“Oh God,” she cried. “I’m so sorry.”

They let each other go now, stood looking at each other, so near and yet so far.

“You’re not impossible, after all,” he said. “But we are.”

"I might hurt you," she explained. "I don't know my own strength yet. It's not the sort of thing I can practice. On people, at least. Not safely."


Why, Oh Why Ohio

“At first, I tried to think about you while he was doing it,” Rainey said. “But it didn’t work. Anyway, Kim never got over being a speed hump.”

“So what did you do then?”

“Played chess in my head. Sometimes he actually wanted to play chess with me.”

“How did that go?”

“He was a sore loser.” She hesitated a moment, then asked, “So how’s life been treating you?”

“Well, I got my degree in computer science from Cal Tech. I’m working in electronic security now. I’d be doing pretty well if it weren’t for the child support and the legal bills.”

She had to know about Jill. He had to tell her.

“It was after the FBI said… you know… that I hooked up with her, but it was really her hooking up with me. I figured that out later, too much later. She was in a programming class with me, and wondered why I had such a hangdog look. So I told her, and she got all slobbery, oh you poor man and all that.

“Well, one thing led to another, and soon we were going at it. It should have bothered me that she didn’t seem to like it that much, but I figured a mercy fuck was better than no fuck at all. But she kept coming back for more. She was on the pill, she said, and I believed her. Only as soon as she got pregnant, she lowered the boom on me.

“Turned out she was a lesbian, already partnered, and just looking for a sperm donor. Only this way, she didn’t have to shell out to a fertility clinic, and she could also sue for child support. Well, I got a lawyer and tried to fight it, but she’d found a really cozy judge. Plus she told the sisterhood I’d raped her, and they believed it -- even though she never went to the police about it. I’d get nasty e-mails and phone calls, and the lawyer finally advised me to settle – after charging me a mint.

“I was able to get a job here through a friend of my father’s, but I had to take out a loan to pay off the lawyer. Between installments on that and child support, it’s been tough. But I’m getting by. At least I’m shut of Jill, and shut of the lawyer.”

“What about the child?”

“A boy. They named him Anakin for some reason. I’m not allowed to see him. But I wonder what they’ll be telling him about me.”

He was silent for a few moments.

“Hell, maybe it’ll turn out for the best,” he finally said. “Motivate me to work on some ideas that’ll bring in more money.”

“Like what?”

“Well, electronic security is like locking the barn door after the horse is stolen – strictly responsive. Another virus, another patch. Another hacker, another firewall. Another phishing rod, another defense. A new kind of spam, like image e-mails, another program.”

She didn’t know about phishing and image spam, so he had to explain before going on.

“Anyway, I keep wondering why we can’t get more aggressive, trace the spammers and the phishers and the hackers – trace them back to their computers and mess them up.”

“Probably against the law.”

“So are they going to call the cops? Not that the authorities seem to be much use. I figure the feds could hire hackers to break into jihadist websites and mess them up. But word is, the government doesn’t like that idea. Maybe they just want to keep tabs on the jihadists, or maybe they’re afraid the jihadists could strike back and mess up our sites.”

“Can you think of any ideas the authorities would like?”

“One,” Bobby said. “It came to me right after the FBI… I thought, what if I could come up with a program that would detect patterns in criminal activity – patterns so subtle that they might escape notice even by trained detectives. I thought…”

Here he choked up, and tears came to his eyes.

“I thought maybe I could avenge you, help catch the Chainsaw Man. But I’d need to have access to the police reports, crime scene photographs, forensics, everything. No way they were going to give me that. I tried to pitch my idea and they told me to forget about it, that Numb3rs wasn’t real life.”

“What’s this about numbers?”

He had to explain that, too.


So Near, So Far

Rainey slept over. But that was all she did. She insisted on taking the couch, even after Bobby offered her the bed.

“You need the rest more than I do,” she told him, after he admitted he’d taken time out from work for her – he usually brought work home with him; as long as he had a terminal, he was on the job. She was feeling bad about that, bad about herself.

Bobby had managed to access the First Bank of Zenith records in Mohalis. Yes, she still had an account there, although it had mostly been eaten up by fees. She had never formally been declared dead, so the bank hadn’t closed the account or taken the safety deposit box with her birth certificate and other records. But how could she get to them?

Nobody but Bobby knew she was alive, let alone only a couple of hundred miles of home. If she came out, she’d have to explain herself somehow, and she couldn’t think of any explanation that would make sense.

“It’s all Kim’s fault. I should have killed the bastard,” she told him shortly before he turned in for the night.

Bobby shook his head.

“Bush thought all our problems would be solved if we just got rid of Saddam Hussein,” he said. “And look where it’s gotten us.”

She’d seen the news about the Iraqi civil war on TV, but couldn’t see how it related.

“Bush didn’t get butt-fucked by Saddam, did he?”

Bobby was embarrassed into silence, which she finally had to break.

“I didn’t mean to take it out on you,” she said. “But he hurt me.”

“And now nothing can hurt you.”

It was her turn to be shamed into silence.

“Let’s sleep on it,” Bobby said. “Let’s sleep on everything.”

So they did, without so much as a parting kiss. They hadn’t touched at all. There was too much between them, too great a gulf….

She’d read once that sleep was necessary to restore the mind as well as the body, that dreams were essential to spiritual well-being. Rainey knew only that, despite her transformation, she welcomed sleep even though she didn’t feel physical fatigue.

She dreamed she was back in Shetland, that she and Bobby were making love. When she awakened, her panties were soaked. She heard moaning from the bedroom, as if Bobby were having a bad dream. Tiptoeing in – she had to be careful about that, careful about so many things with her superhuman strength – she saw that he was clutching his pillow, that his body was writhing -- in agony or ecstasy or both. His incoherent moans suddenly took form: he was crying her name.

Despite her silence, it was if he sensed her presence. He came awake then, rolled over and looked at her -- looked at her as if in a prayer that could never be answered.

"I can’t stand it," he said. "I've got to do something."


What's the Buzz?

“Somebody did a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while you were away. And a prequel. No, wait a minute, they were calling him the Chainsaw man before that. Well, the original was notorious enough."

"I never saw it."

"Me neither, or the others. But you can't help knowing about them. Like the man said, 'Popular culture is like the air we breathe.'"

"What man?"

"I don't remember. Does it matter?"

"Does the Chainsaw Man matter that much to you? You know he didn't take me."

"But I thought he had. And he might have. And he took those others. They were all young and beautiful. That's all they had in common. Well, not all; they were smart -- all honor students or young professionals on the way up. No drifters, no runaways, no hookers. Nothing like the usual pattern in these cases. And… he’s still out there."

"What have the authorities been saying?"

"The usual. Appealing for leads. Appealing for women to be more careful. The usual profile psychobabble: he hated his mother and loved his father, or vice versa, he's straight, he's gay, he's impotent, he's a real ladies' man. None of it adds up. Serial killers want to feel powerful, feel important. That's all I know. But this one must want to feel especially powerful and important.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know. But I think he must hate women’s minds as much as their bodies. I don’t think the police and the FBI have figured that out yet. Not from what I see in the news and online, anyway.”

“You’re still following this?”

“Not as much as I did a couple of years ago, before they gave me the brush-off. But yeah, I still check in every week or so. Nothing really new lately – but everybody’s waiting for another victim to turn up. It’s been four months now. Longer than usual. Only now I feel guilty about slacking off. I might have missed something.”

He glanced at the clock.

“Only…damn, I have to go to work now.”

“Maybe I could help you….”

“It’ll turn your stomach. And I don’t think you’ll really be able to—“

“A fresh pair of eyes…”

“You’ll cry them out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

She went ahead anyway, after Bobby left. He was right. It did turn her stomach – not just the uncensored crime scene pictures that had made their way to offshore websites, but the approving remarks in related discussion groups. She couldn’t believe the depravity she saw on the screen, yet there it was. She did cry her eyes out, not just for herself but for Bobby, who had followed she case since she had been put on the victims list. How could he endure it?

Yet she kept at it. In the crimes themselves, there might be a pattern – although none had emerged beyond the type of victim: nothing related to dates or locations or mutual acquaintances or phases of the moon. A seemingly irrelevant thought crossed her mind: which was worse, a man who killed up close and personal like the Chainsaw Man, or one who killed at a distance, through proxies, like Kim?

She had to take a break. Looking through Bobby’s CD collection, she picked out the Herbert von Karajan recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. It had been composed, or at least completed, just after the death of Stalin, who had gone to his grave still persecuting artists and intellectuals – men and women who had kept silent during the great purges, the slaughter of millions, and the imprisonment of millions more: for to have spoken would have accomplished nothing but their own destruction.

Shostakovich had worked his initials into the score, as if to tell the world: This is me, now I can finally speak for myself. But he was also speaking for all the dead and persecuted, hoping that he might reclaim his country’s soul as well as his own. In the last movement came an expression of hope that it could happen, that Russia might emerge from its nightmare.

Only it hadn't, then. Even fifty years later, after seeming liberation, Russia was slipping back into darkness. And even her own country…

It put things in perspective: Kim Jong Il was, after all, only a minor league Stalin. It was the idea behind them that was truly monstrous. She would have to fight that idea, and all the other bad ideas that had corrupted the world.

But fighting the Chainsaw Man might be a good start.


Coming Out Party

It was a week later that Rainey made the news. Or rather, that U-Girl did.

It had been foolish of her. It was a narrow escape.

She had been awakened in the middle of the night by a loud crash. It sounded like an accident of some sort, just a block or two away. She called 911 and then, senselessly, put on a bathrobe and went outside to find out what had happened.

She could see a glow in the distance that wasn’t from streetlights, and headed for it at a fast pace – faster than any Olympic runner, although she didn’t think of  that at the time.

A dump truck had collided with a tanker truck at a main intersection, and spilled fuel had caught fire. The dump truck driver had apparently gotten out okay, only he was helpless to rescue the tanker truck driver, as were nearby neighbors who had responded: the flames were in the way, and the tanker truck itself itself was bound to explode in a few moments.

“Get back!” Rainey shouted. “It’s going to blow!”

They had already figured that, they were already getting back. But they hadn’t figured on Rainey making a run for the truck, ripping the door off with her bare hands, and carrying the driver to safety half a block away as easily as if he were a teddy bear.

Then the tanker truck did blow, an inferno of gasoline nearly turning night into day. A few shards of hot metal made it this far; falling near the feet of the bystanders. In the distance, there were the sounds of approaching sirens: police and firemen and medics. But the bystanders weren’t looking that way: they were staring at Rainey.

Only now did she realize that one of the hot shards had landed on her. Her robe had caught fire. She ducked and rolled to smother the flames, but it was too late: in the eerie light, her unmarked flesh was clearly visible where the fabric had burned away.

What could she say? Nothing. She stood up, gathered what was left of the robe around her, and began walking away. Not back towards Bobby’s; the opposite direction.

“Hey you,” one of the bystanders called after her. “You girl!”

Another bystander recorded that on his cell phone, along with Rainey’s back as she strode away. She eventually made it home to Bobby’s, by a circuitous route, after stealing some clothes again – from a boutique this time. She’d reimburse them with cash, by mail.

She’d need a day job, she realized. Can’t just sponge off Bobby.

She wished she could make love with him. Whatever gods had turned her into a superwoman had cheated her of that.

The cell phone clip, fortunately of very poor quality, was on the morning news.

“You girl” somehow became U-Girl, and a legend was born.

* * *

This is only the introduction to a future e-book, and I have just a vague idea of the direction of the story from here. Something has to be done about the Chainsaw Man, and the relationship between Rainey and Bobby. But I want to get into other things, too – the rewards and pitfalls of being a superheroine.

I imagine Rainey taking on villains ranging from Somali pirates to Asian child sex traffickers, and arousing both love (from those who see her as a noble crusader against evil) and hatred (from those who see her as arrogating the law into her own hands, or as a racist – even if she also takes on white villains. Bobby will be her collaborator, using his hacking skills to locate criminal networks. But I need more.

Any of you have ideas of your own? Or a better title for the story – I admit the working title is too facetious. Contact me!

-- Brantley Thompson Elkins