Fandom: SPN RPF
Year/Length: 2012/18,880 words
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, only having fun.
Summary: Jensen is a private eye of the old school, based on a space resort that caters for high end clients, When movie star Jared Padalecki retains him to find out who is trying to kill him, he bites off a little more than he can chew. Good job he's telepathic!
Author's Notes: written for the 2012 spn_in_space
Beta: Beta: My beloved spoonlessone
She strode into my office like she owned it and, trust me, I would have given it to her if she'd wanted it.
"My mother is a fish" she told me, and all I could think of to say was, "Mine just drinks like one. Take a seat."
I leaned forward and tried to look sincere. She had a perfect rack, and wasn't afraid of sharing it. "What can I do for you, sweetheart?" I asked her.
"I want you to find somebody for me," she murmured, batting eyelashes that were altogether too long to be human.
"Will I do?" I asked her, wistfully.
"Only if you can find her for me - the perfect woman," she told me, and I winced. No happy ending for me, unless the two of them would let me watch.
"Can't guarantee to find her, but I can guarantee to give it my best shot," I murmured, and rose to my feet to reach for my fedora. "I charge two hundred a day plus expenses. Who do you want me to find?"
"Her name is Carmen. Carmen SanDiego..."
"Boss." The earth was shaking. I was in an earthquake. Flailing wildly, I narrowly avoided falling off my chair and dashing my brains out as my idiot clerk shook me in an attempt to get my attention. There was drool on my chin, and I think some lost gorilla had taken a dump in my mouth. Maybe two of them; I dunno. Someone needs to do something about the damned gorilla infestation around here. It's not something that should happen to an honest citizen, certainly not here on Astra Major. Not – of course – that I would class myself as an honest citizen. I'm a private eye, and that makes me somewhat shady before I even start. It goes with the label.
And for you ground huggers, Astra Major, also known as Bel Air in the Air, is definitely fertile ground for private eyes, because it caters exclusively to the rich and famous, and is peopled with elderly misers working on their fourteenth marriage to bimbos who are in it for the money, and tinsel town types who are all doing dirty things behind each others' backs. Yep, I'm one of those creeps that batten on the wealthy, and I'm never short of sleazy employment.
I'm a private eye, like I said, but that doesn't mean I'm rolling in money. I do okay, in that I can always – well almost always – afford another bottle of hooch, even if it isn't the kind of quality you'd expect if you're a ground hugger. I have an office and it has three rooms, one for my desk, one for my bed and one for the aforementioned idiot clerk to sit and try to look alert while waiting to masquerade as my receptionist.
Other people get perky blondes with impressive credentials. Me. I got the Chad.
What? Well, at least he's blond.
And he just woke me up. I guess he can be forgiven for waking me from a dream that I don't think was gonna do me any favors.
I squinted at him, trying to get both eyes to track together, and he squinted right back at me.
"What?" I said, finally.
"Someone here to see you, boss," he said. I rolled my eyes. He only called me boss when he wanted something, so I knew that this was gonna be some kind of setup, but I was too sleep-riddled to argue, so I just nodded.
"Gimme a minute to set myself to rights, and then show him in... It is a him, isn't it?" Chad beamed.
"Sure is, boss," he said. "I'll make coffee, okay?"
The way to my heart is through coffee. He knows that, and if there's a shot of Beaver's patented rotgut in there too, then I'll pretty much roll over and play dead on command. The little fucker gets me with it every time. "Do that, Chad," I murmured, and reached for a clean handkerchief to start making myself look pretty for the client.
It wasn't a minute later that he was back, and bearing a large mug of heaven in his hands. I accepted it with my usual charm and sipped. All was right with the world as I nodded to Chad. "Show him in," I said, feeling my pores open as they were wreathed by the fragrant steam.
It's one of those sayings I never understood before, but when I saw him, my heart skipped a beat. I'd seen him before, from a distance of course. He was one of those ‘beautiful people' you see on the sensos, and there are always stories about him playing on TMZOMG, but close up it was all I could do to stay sitting upright instead of falling to my knees like some kind of shitkicker rube and worshipping him. Hell, I had to restrain myself from reaching for my sunglasses to shield my eyes from the brilliance of his fucking smile. I may have looked like someone had just inserted an ice-pop into my nether regions, but he didn't seem to notice.
I looked him up and down, and then up again, because he went up a long, long way. He was built like the lunar module, perfect and shiny with every working part functioning to maximum. He had a pair of shrewd, cat-like eyes, cheekbones that would cut like glass, a heroic chin and a thick, glossy mane of hair that curled down below his shoulders, with gems and feathers tied into it so that they glittered if he turned his head. I didn't speak, and I didn't move, because I was totally paralyzed, basking in the warmth of his presence, but it didn't seem to faze him. I guess being an intergalactic heart-throb inures you to that kind of thing. He gave me the aforementioned beaming smile, and held out his hand to shake.
It took a moment to get my motor skills to kick in, but I managed to take it and shake it without keeling over. Go me! It took me a few more moments, but I succeeded in indicating the chair that Chad had so thoughtfully imported from the outer office and he took a seat. Holding his hand had given me an insight as to how he was feeling, but his thoughts were really too chaotic to sort out. He was scared though; that much came through loud and clear. Also loud and clear was his appreciation of my face. I could tell from the flavor of his thoughts that he was open to a relationship, and I do mean open!
"Good morning, Mr. Padalecki," I croaked. "Ackles Detective Agency at your service. How may I help you?" Behind him, I could see Chad making the crude sign for ‘loser' in an unnecessarily obscene fashion, and I frowned.
"Call me Jared," said the man, favoring me with a set of matched dimples that I hear were insured for a million solaros apiece.
"Jared thinks someone is trying to kill him." That was Chad, who was no longer making rude gestures, but who apparently believed he still had business in my office with me and Mr. Movie Star. I cast a quelling glance at him, but unfortunately he remained unquelled. "I told him to come see you. I told him you were the best in the business."
In a way, Chad isn't wrong. I am the best in the business here on Bel Air in the Air. I'm the only licensed gumshoe here – like Mad Magazine, I'm number one in a field of one. I refrained from telling Mr... uh... Jared that, however. I merely nodded graciously and started to ask the probing questions us gumshoes are famous for.
"What makes you think someone's trying to kill you?" I asked. Straight to the point – that's me. I've never been one for small talk. I steepled my fingers and leaned forward, attempting to radiate competence, integrity and a certain devil may care charm that I assure you I was very far from feeling. Jim Rockford, eat your heart out, I thought.
"My home was firebombed last night." Jared's voice was a little quieter than usual as he spoke. "I'd been held back to film another scene, because Ganymede was full, and they needed to get the shot right then, before it set behind Jupiter. I was outside, so I was lucky. The fuckers killed my housekeeper, and they got my lazoon too."
"You had a lazoon?" I frowned. "Could've been PETA, I guess." Those people for the ethical treatment of aliens were everywhere these days. I wouldn't have put it past them to be the ones orchestrating an attack on the man who boasted a lazoon.
"How ethical is it to firebomb a cute critter like a lazoon?" Jared sounded offended, and I held up my hand to halt any threatened interruption to my train of thought. That train got derailed often enough without any help from outside. "Besides, it's not the first time."
"You've been firebombed before?" I could see how he might think someone was trying to kill him, if that was the case, but, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to miss firebombing the victim once, may be regarded as a misfortune; to miss twice looks like carelessness. I wondered what his insurance claim might total.
"Not firebombed exactly." Jared went on the air again, and I shut my inner commentary down and listened. "Genevieve and I were at the opening of the Precious Things Gallery the night that everyone was gunned down."
I remembered that. It had happened Earthside, and the news had even reached us here in the Asteroid Belt on Astra Major. Around fifty of the beautiful people had been gunned down in a raid that had possibly been a little too over the top to just be considered revenge for that remake of "Pearl Harbor." Now, I raised my eyebrow in my patented Ackles interrogatory expression number three. "So how did you escape the bloodbath?"
"It was pure luck, actually." Jared seemed to be responding well to my eyebrow. "Genevieve got a call and went out back to take it. We'd been rowing, and I followed her, because I knew it was her damned bit on the side calling her, and I wanted to yell and scream some more at her, just so I could make myself look more pathetic. I was just getting into my stride when the killers broke in, back inside the gallery. I heard the screams and jumped into the dumpster. Genevieve ran, I don't know where to, because then I caught a jumpdart and came back here."
I frowned, adding things up. They didn't add up to a whole lot, but it certainly looked as if Jared Padalecki had a fairy godmother following him around with a specific mandate to keep him out of trouble. She must've been napping when he took up with Genevieve, nee Cortese, of the Sicilian Brotherhood. Genevieve was cute, if you like ‘em little and cold blooded. She had thick, dark hair and wielded a mean stiletto, and I'm not talking shoes here. She'd surrounded herself with the rich and braindead, and was seen most often in the company of chicks like Paris and Lindsay. I wondered who the boyfriend was, and whether he might be a suspect. That would be easy enough to check. I nodded, giving him my cutest lop-sided, ironic smile in the hopes that he would continue talking. He did.
"And then there was my car. I've got a perfect copy of a vintage Ferrari. I was due to race it at the new Le Mans 24 hour race in a bio-pic about Steve McQueen, but some fucker jinxed the steering, and my driver, Clif, ran it over a cliff on the way down to the south of France. Pretty ironic when you think about it." He shook his head, almond eyes filled with sorry. "I miss Clif. He was the only one who could do a steak just right."
I nodded again. Sympathy was in order, A person who knew exactly how to cook a steak was a rare treasure, and the loss would hurt. Of course, I'd only ever eaten real, bona fide cowflesh once in my life, and I have no idea if it was done to perfection or not. All I know is that I could live on that shit very easily. I just needed to make a lot more money than I usually do.
I thought that it was time to start pulling the strands together. I gave him a smile with eye crinkles and ticked off thoughts on my fingers. "Chad, write this down," I commanded, watching approvingly as he rushed around to find a pencil and a notebook. He's not the brightest bulb in the box by any means, but he's definitely able to follow simple commands. He was on his best behavior too, I could tell. For sure he was gonna hit me up for a favor later; I could just feel it coming, but no matter, right now he was pulling out all the stops.
"First," I said. "We need to find out who Genevieve's special friend is, and find out if he's made it up here to Astra Major." Jared – was it wrong of me to be thinking of the dude as Jared already? I usually maintained my servile attitude when confronted with senso stars who could buy and sell me without noticing any change in their income – Jared was nodding along with my pronouncement.
"So you're gonna take me on?" he asked. I gave him sincere smile number seven – the one with the eye crinkles and just a smidgeon of world weariness.
"I sure am," I said. "My rates are... five hundred per day, plus expenses." I thought that Chad was going to swallow his tongue, so I hurried on. "Second, we need a list of Genevieve's known associates and to check if any of them have any connection with CentauriCorp or either of the Astra sites."
"You think Genevieve is the one trying to have me liquidated?" Jared asked me. I smirked and reached to pat his hand. The poor thing looked as if someone had just eaten his kitten – or his lazoon. He was a little up-market for mere kittens."
"I don't think anything yet. I'm just starting in the logical place." I nodded to him as I cast a sly look to check that he was okay with my quoted rates. "First we eliminate all the obvious possibilities and then we look at what's left. I need to know how things are between you and Genevieve. I can't help but acknowledge that she's a member of a very select and rather sinister family. Without wishing to disparage the lady I've heard that she can be a little ruthless."
"Yeah. She's definitely determined to have things the way she wants them. That isn't a bad thing, although she sometimes takes it to extremes." Jared looked a little sheepish, and I raised the eyebrow at him. "She wanted me to stay Earthside with her, and we had a fight. I make sensos – it's what I do. I told her I didn't want to become just a satellite for her, and she decided that we were incompatible."
"So you're getting a divorce?"
"You don't get it, do you?" He folded his arms over his impressive chest and leaned back in the rickety chair. I didn't speak. "She's Sicilian. They don't do divorces."
His words sounded final, and his face reflected as much. I gave him a ‘what can you do' expression and sat back. "So you want me to take the case?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he murmured. "Looks like I got myself a dick."
"I prefer the term gumshoe, thank you, but I can be a dick on occasion." I laughed. What can I say? I thought it was funny. "Okay. It sounds like we need to make sure you're safe. I guess it's not possible to go back to your quarters, what with it being a crime scene and all. I'm not sure what we can do with you, but we certainly need to get you out of the picture temporarily. How prepared are you to rough it for a while?"
"What do you mean, ‘rough it'?" he asked me, and I began to lay out my plan.
Chad may be kinda dumb, but he's a mean fighter, and he's learned all kinds of lethal arts. The dude could kill you with a potato chip; I'm not kidding. I left him to take care of Jared, while I went to do a little investigating of my own. My first move was to go see Danni at Admin Central over on Astra Minor.
Let me explain a little about the setup here. Astra Major is the resort. It's got room for twelve thousand guests at a time, with all the services you could possibly want, even if you were the most demanding rich guy in the known universe. The service staff are mostly live in, but some of them – the contractors, and therapists and folk such as yours truly all commute from the Admin and service section on Astra Minor. I have an apartment there, although I rarely see it, because I prefer to stay close to the shop.
As I made my way over to the portpad, I tried to shut my mind off from the perpetual hubbub that always assails me when I'm out in public. I get called a loner amongst all kinds of other, somewhat more derogatory terms, but honestly it's self defense. When I'm in a crowd it's really hard to concentrate on anything because of the noise generated by all those minds. One of the reasons I sleep over here on Bel Air in the Air is because the walls are all screened, for the A-listers. Wouldn't want to disturb the peace and tranquility of all those poor little rich kids. The menials over on Minor don't have the fancy screens, and that means the whole time I'm there, I am pretty much unable to hear myself think. No way can I retain my sanity in an environment like that unless I'm shielded, and right now the only shield I can afford is 80% proof. Maybe some day I'll be able to afford something slightly less - shall we say - unorthadox - but the new drugs are a little out of my price range right now, so I have to make do with what I've got.
So I made my way to portpad B, the one that transports you to the buzzing hive of industry that is Astra Minor, and the head offices of the Centauri Corporation, where I was hoping to be able to score a little information with which I could impress my new meal ticket. I would be fine just so long as the woman I was going to see didn't actually smell my breath.
Old Beaver is hardly the best single malt that's out there. It does the job, and it costs me three solaros a quart, so it suits my lifestyle. When I'm not drinking it, I use it to melt handcuffs and eat away at solid walls. It's that good.
The slightly nauseating twist in reality as I was ported from Major over to Minor was something I've never gotten used to. Douglas Adams described it perfectly when he said "It's a bit like being drunk..." to a glass of water. However, I survived, as I always do.
The corridors of Minor have a whole other look from those at Bel Air in the Air. Over there, the emphasis is on spaciousness, greenery, luxury. Minor has steel walls that haven't seen a lick of paint since the place was first commissioned. I hopped out of the portpad and greeted the techie there whose job it was to reset for the next lucky traveler.
"Hey, Chris, how they hangin'?" Chris gave me a grin and made a rude gesture with the weird gadget in his hands that I like to think of as his sonic screwdriver.
"They don't hang in zero gravity, son; they kinda wave around in the breeze." Chris gave me a smirk, and I caught a faint thought from him that he was due to go off duty shortly.
"Long day?" I asked him.
"Long enough," he replied. "Gonna be over Bel Air side later. Playin' the Holodeck tonight. Come along and have yourself a good evening."
"Sounds awesome," I replied. Maybe I'd take him up on that. Chris is good people, and he's useful to know. I gave him a grin. "Hey, do you keep a log of who comes through the gate here?" I asked him. "Got a job right now that might need that kind of info."
"Sure." He went over to the terminal beside the portpad and hit a switch. "How far back do you want to go?"
According to what Padalecki had told me, he'd only been back on the resort for a couple of days. "Let's say since Tuesday, shall we?" I asked him. "Don't suppose it covers everyone heading up to Major as well?"
Chris frowned. "You gonna get up onstage with me tonight and sing, instead of lurking in the corner being surly?" he said, eyebrow raised.
"Fuck, man, you know I hate performing." I was pleading; I knew it. So did he, and he wasn't giving ground at all. Guess the Ackles' innocent and sad expression number fifteen doesn't always hit its mark. "Oh, goddammit, okay. For that kind of intel, I'll sing anything you like for you."
"It's gonna take me a little while to get the info for you, so how about I pass it to you later, over in the club."
I knew what he was doing, the bastard. He'd withhold the info until I paid up. I couldn't complain, because that's exactly what I'd do in his case, so I gave in with good grace, gave him the finger-gun salute and told him I'd see him later.
Minor is a rabbit warren, corridors and offices are all around the hub, with living accommodations out on the rim of the station where gravity is a little higher. They don't keep gravity at full earthside levels, because it helps the freight deliveries to keep it low. Thing is, it changes all the time, depending on the time of day, and this was something one just had to accept. Right now, it was really low, and I figured that they must be unloading one of the supply barges up from the hydroponics farm on Ceres. Sighing philosophically, I grabbed hold of one of the sliderails that was moving in the direction I wanted and let it take me where I needed to go.
CentauriCorp takes up most of the middle wheel of Astra Minor. I headed towards the main control room at membership central, hoping that the person I wanted to see was on duty. The gods were obviously smiling on me, because when I crossed the waiting area and vaulted the counter behind it, I could see the shapely ass of the woman I was looking for. She was bent over the drawer of a filing cabinet, rummaging through its contents, and I could hear a steady litany of expletives issuing from her vicinity, Congratulating myself that I'd caught her in a good mood, I stepped up behind her and slapped her rump in what I thought was a friendly fashion.
She may not have thought so, since she whipped up and around and had a stapler pressed up against my forehead before I could draw breath. I was in awe. One of these days I should pit her against Chad in a knock-down-drag-out fight. My money would be on Danneel, just so you know. There's a limit to where the ancient writings of Shaolin monks will take you. Danneel knows no such limits.
"Lay one more finger on me, you gnarfworm, and you'll never be able to take your hat off again." I raised my hands hurriedly. I love my fedora; it makes me think of my heroes, dudes like Sam Spade, Mike Hammer and Philip Marlow. Course, I'm better at the detective shit than they were, because I can read minds, and I know for sure when I've caught the bad guy, but when all is said and done, nobody ever wore a fedora with more style than those guys.
"Love you too, baby girl," I said, making a kissy face at her. She snorted.
"Honey, I'd believe that if I thought for one minute you'd ever been able to get it up for a lady." The stapler was withdrawn, much to my relief, and she gave me a long, hard look. "To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of this encounter, Ackles?" she asked.
"Awww, Danni, you really know how to sweet talk a guy, don't you?" I gave her sexy smirk #1 - guaranteed to melt the stony hearts of school principals and female corporate bosses. She snorted again. Just my luck that she was immune to my charms! I liked girls occasionally – who didn't? But I was much more interested in hard, male bodies than the squishy ones most women possessed.
"I came to see if you'd like to put on your pretties and go to the Holodeck with me tonight, over on Bel Air." Well, okay, that wasn't really what I'd come for, but, hey, you make use of what you've got, don't you?
"The Holodeck, huh? What's the occasion? You stole someone's gold fillings or something?" Her lip was curling and her tone was sarcastic, but her eyes were saying yes. I gave her my best charming, boyish grin. I haven't actually catalogued that one yet, but watch this space. I'm still trying it out.
"Chris and his boys are playing a gig at the Holodeck tonight, and I thought you might like to join me for the festivities." It was the truth as far as it went, and after studying me for a few minutes she gave me a much more genuine smile.
"You know, that sounds like fun. I haven't been over to Bel Air for a while. Maybe I'll go formal and paint my skin." This was good. Danneel looks awesome most of the time, even in the plaspaper coveralls they give you as a work uniform here at CentauriCorp, but when she gets herself up to go dancing she's like a lightning strike to the gonads. Even I can see her charm, and I really don't swing that way.
"We'll have fun. Maybe I'll introduce you to my new client," I said, knowing that would score her some brownie points and also ease her around to talking about the case.
"Yeah?" She raised her eyebrows at me. "Who you got that might be worth a full skin treatment?"
I gave her my most mysterious smile. "Definitely worth it. He's the original tall, dark and handsome." The jab to my solar plexus made me cough a little. She gets impatient when I hold out on her, the vixen. "Aww, don't be like that, Dan, my man. It was gonna be a fun surprise for you."
"I don't like your kind of surprises, Ackles. Fess up or wear your bruises proudly." She straightened her hand and made a jabbing motion towards my groin. I gave in.
"None other than Jared Padalecki, the toast of the silver screen. Have you seen..." I got no further. She squealed and flung her arms around my neck.
"Oh, my god, I love him! Did you see him in "Hell For Leather"? He was amazing." Her eyes were shining as if she'd just seen a pair of antique Manolos with her name on them. I nodded. Sure I'd seen him. I love the sensos, and the man was built to last, with what looked like the biggest cock in the known universe. Not, of course, that such things weigh with me... much!
"Yeah. I'm doing some stuff for him. He seems like a nice guy." I could see her thoughts whirl around before my eyes, and reflected that I needed to drink the contents of my hipflask fairly soon if I didn't want to be banjaxed before I made it back to the relative quiet of Bel Air. She was thinking about possibly becoming the next Mrs. Jared Padalecki, a thought I could get behind, with one comparatively minor alteration.
"That's awesome. Can I do anything to help?" she asked, and, ladies and gentlemen, we had a winner!
"You sure?" I said. "Because there is something. "You get all the bills of lading and deets on the ships that come in from Earthside, don't you? I don't want to put you to any trouble, but..."
"No trouble," she chirped, "Come on back." Turning, she headed back into the stacks and paused at a filing cabinet labeled with the CentauriCorp Earth logo. "These are the regular supply vessels," she indicated the top drawer. "They come in every Friday, and their contents is checked off against the manifests in the folder with their name. These ones are the freighters that call in on their way to Marsport. Anything they drop off is in the ship folder as an import." I nodded. This was better than I expected. She was going to turn me loose with the files. "Finally, all the private jetabouts and that kind of thing are detailed in here. She kicked the bottom drawer with one dainty, booted foot. "Customs goes over them even though there isn't any duty to pay, because there are a whole whack of items that are prohibited here. In space, no-one can hear you scream, remember?"
"Yeah, about that," I said. "This whole thing is because someone tried to burn Jared in his apartment. They actually killed off his housekeeper and his prize alien critter. We've got to stop this, Danni, before something really bad happens and the whole of Bel Air burns out, or explodes, or something equally drastic."
"Oh, my God!" She shoved me to one side and reached for the drawer she'd kicked. "Here. You look through the freight manifests; I'll check out the ships and crew."
Armed with the kind of info I needed, I bade Danneel a fond farewell and headed back to my office. Chad was busily impressing Jared with his Nam Pai Chuan kung fu. I'm sure it actually is a form of kung fu, and it looks mighty impressive. I still think Chad needs to tone it down a little, but I've gotta say, when he's going through one of his forms his entire body transforms from scrawny, squinty little rat-faced thing to a flow of deadly, graceful intent. He looks like he could just pour himself through keyholes, and once in a while I'm really convinced that he does exactly that.
I hired Chad for his abilities, and they are simple. Chad can hold his own in the worst possible fight, but that's only one of his skills. The one I prize above all is the fact that Chad can steal anything. It's a strange skill for someone of the Martian aristocracy to have, and you'll appreciate that he doesn't actually broadcast his skills, but I've gotta say I cherish the day I first met The Chadster. The dude broke into my room on a dare, and as it happens I hadn't taken my morning dose of Old Beaver special, and I heard him loud and clear. The rest, as they say, is history.
"Okay," I murmured, moving over to my desk and dumping the papers I'd collected from Danneel in an untidy heap. "I've got some stuff to start looking through." Taking my seat, I reached under the desk for a bottle of oblivion, AKA Beaver's rotgut. I raised it to my lips and took a slug directly from the bottle, shuddering as it took the skin off the back of my throat on the way down. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I filled a tumbler and then reached for my flask to fill it up.
"Now," I said, giving a sigh of relief as the mental onslaught to which I'd been exposed slowly faded, leaving me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. I could still hear the two men in the room with me, but the chaos that had been battering me all the way home was gone. Chad was still working through his long form, and his thoughts were calm and somehow predatory, totally unlike his usual persona. Jared on the other hand was wound tighter than a watchspring. His brain was buzzing, and I could hear the suspicions that he was entertaining. The man was convinced that his wife had taken out a contract on him, and what I found really fascinating about that was the reason for it. Mr. Movie Star had been seeing other people - multiple other people, and the kicker was the fact that the people he'd been seeing were all random strangers at one of Old Hollywood's seamier gay bars.
I'd have thought that there was safety in numbers, but Ms. Cortese had apparently not subscribed to that school of thought, because the scene she had caused stood out in Padalecki's memory as being around ten times more terrifying than the last attack by Jovian Slithes. I tossed the man a handful of waybills and suggested that he start looking through them for anything he might recognise. Meanwhile, I was going through the lists of people who had passed through immigration to board Astra Major. Chad continued placidly slaughtering his imaginary opponents, and all was suddenly peace and quiet.
Some time had passed when I finally spotted something that might be interesting and sat forward with a soft curse. Chad had by this time had finished eliminating thin air and gone off into the other room to do something. I called Jared over to take a look at what I'd found, and he crossed to stand at my side just as Chad returned bearing a tray on which reposed three mugs of coffee. I nodded at him.
"Okay, Chad, you may live another day. This is good."
He deposited the tray on my desk and sat down in the chair Padalecki had just vacated. "Good thing too, boss," he said, reaching for one of the mugs. "Got me a date tonight. Going to the Holodeck for movie night."
That was interesting. "Me too. I saw Kane when I was over on Minor, and he invited me. I'm bringing Danni with me." I turned to Jared. "Don't suppose you'd care to come? My buddy Christian makes good, earthy rock music. You never know, it might lift your spirits some."
The dimples flickered as he beamed at me, and I didn't have to see his thoughts to know what he was thinking. To tell the truth I was absolutely okay with it. The man was hot, and I hadn't been laid for a long, long time. He nodded acceptance to me and then frowned. "Talking about lifting spirits, I can't help but notice that you're drinking rather a lot."
"Yeah." I was taken aback. Most people don't mention it; they just think I'm a lush, and in a way they're right, although it isn't through choice. "I have an unfortunate tendency to get overloaded by other peoples' thoughts if I don't keep it under control, and as Antipathy is rather more expensive than I can afford, the best I can do is keep it down with rotgut."
He pursed his lips as if in thought. "Interesting. You know that there are classes you can take where you learn to filter thoughts and block what you don't want to listen to?"
I gave him a cynical smile. "Yeah. Find me one that'll take someone on who smells of cheap booze all the time, and I'll be there tomorrow."
He beamed at me again, wide and white, and I felt an unfamiliar clench in my gut. Fumbling in his pocket he took out a small blister pack containing maybe nine or ten pills, Three had already been used. I raised my eyes to meet his in mute inquiry.
"Go on, take it. There's about four days supply there, and I can get more in the morning."
"What is it?" I was fairly sure I knew what it was, but I wanted to hear him say it.
"Antipathy of course." Well, that was a turnup for the books.
"You're a telepath?" I asked him, once I'd collected my scattered wits again.
"Not quite," he said. "Empath. Feelings and emotions rather than hard thoughts, but I can damp it down when I take Antipathy to the state where I have to touch someone to know what they're feeling. Try it. I'm guessing your own thought processes will be much clearer on it than cheap whisky."
"Don't dignify this shit with the name of whisky. I had whisky once and it didn't taste even slightly like panther piss." I studied the blister pack in fascination, looking for the instructions on dosage.
"Take one every six hours," he said. "And how do you know what panther piss tastes like? Inquiring minds want to know."
"Figure of speech." I popped a tab and swallowed it down with a gulp of coffee, It wasn't long before I felt it take effect, and the clarity of focus I could suddenly manage made me gasp. The extraneous hubbub was gone, but as I studied Jared, I could hear his thoughts coming through perfectly clearly. He was interested in me! This was going to be a good night; I could tell. Catching sight of the papers next to the mug as I set it down, I recalled what I'd found a few moments earlier. "Look at this," I murmured, indicating the line I'd found on the lists that Danneel had printed off for me. "A lady named Jennifer Curtis landed on Minor three days ago and ported over here same day. She is down as having bounced up from Old Hollywood on a liner called the Sicilia. That seems to me to be a bit of a coincidence, don't you think?"
"Jennifer Curtis?" Jared frowned for a moment, and then his brow cleared. "Oh, fuck! You don't think...?"
"I think it bears investigating," I said. "And if we head over to the Holodeck we should be able to find out more, because Chris is bringing with him a list of all the travelers through the portpads between Major and Minor for the past week. They will all have residential addresses on their entry, and that will allow us to either identify the lady or to cross her off our list.
There really wasn't anything else of note in the documents Danneel had copied for us, but we went over them very carefully several times. We were all starting to go cross-eyed by the time Danneel popped up on my vidscreen to say she was coming over.
I've got to say Danneel had really pulled out the stops. She'd worn the full, formal skin paint in blues and greens, and her breasts gleamed with a cunningly designed peacock feather design. She wore a gold belt slung low around her hips, with fine gold tissue that floated around her to form a full skirt. Her red hair was piled up on top of her head in artfully tousled curls, and her face was dusted with gold. I think Chad's eyeballs counter rotated as he took her in.
He's definitely a ladies man, and as she sauntered into the office in her 4 inch spiked sandals, I could see him straighten up. She smirked at me and then gave him her best fisheye stare. "Forget it, Chad. Not gonna happen," she murmured.
Watching Chad slowly deflate is always fun. I could see that Jared was amused, too, because that beaming grin spread across his features like butter, and I could tell Danneel was affected. She actually wriggled.
He held out his hand in a courtly, olde worlde gesture and drew it to his lips with a slight bow, and I swear I heard her ovaries explode. I suspect that mine did too, which tells you a lot about how the dude affected me.
Introductions over, we all headed rimwards towards that buzzing den of iniquity that was the Holodeck. Jared and Danneel went in front of me, with Chad bringing up the rear. I could hear his thoughts plainly, despite the dose of Antipathy - or maybe I just knew what he would be thinking. I gave him a rueful grin. "She's way out of your league, Murray, and she packs a vicious punch. Maybe you should reconsider hitting on her."
"You spoil all my fun," he grumbled. "A man has his needs."
"If you hit on Danni, you won't have any need for any needs if you know what I'm saying." I wasn't lying. Danni could get fierce very easily. "She's been known to emasculate a guy that got too hot and heavy with her using just her eyebrow tweezers. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"
Chad shuddered, and I elbowed him. "Cheer up, little soldier. There's a girl out there for you somewhere."
"That's just it. I don't want to confine myself to just one. That wouldn't be fair to womankind, would it?" He spread his hands in a dismissive gesture and smiled a particularly sleazy smile. I shrugged. I could see why he'd learned martial arts. He needed defense against outraged womanhood.
The bouncer at the Holodeck was a man mountain I'd met once or twice before. He eyed me up as if I were something he'd stepped in, and I had to sigh. "Check the guest list," I growled. "Chris Kane invited me."
It took him several minutes to find my name on the single page on his iWire, and in fact it was only when the text was projected, and I could point it out to him that he finally moved his lard encrusted carcase to one side and allowed me to enter the sacred portals of the club.
Kane weren't onstage yet, but they'd set everything up already, and as we strolled into the club I could see Christian sitting at the bar up on the VIP balcony with his musical guru, Steve. The two of them hollered at us to come over, so we picked our way through the crowd and ascended the stairs to join them.
Danneel instantly settled herself next to Steve, and left me to introduce Jared to them both. I looked around for Chad, but he was already gone, chatting up a cute little woman dressed in fishnets, a g-string, high heels and pasties and nothing else except a charming smile. She seemed to be coping, so, shrugging, I turned back to Chris and Jared.
Chris was just telling me that he had brought the printouts that I'd requested, when Jared suddenly stiffened and hissed out a breath. "That's her," he growled.
"Her?" Jared's brain was agitated, and I wasn't really getting anything coherent from it, but as I looked around the VIP lounge, I could see a little, dark haired woman talking animatedly to a couple of guys, both of whom looked old enough to be her grandfather at the very least.
She was striking rather than beautiful, but she had an air of confidence about her that told me she didn't ever take no for an answer, and a set to her mouth that made me shiver. She'd kill; I knew the type.
Up here on the VIP balcony there was an auto-server, to preserve privacy for the VIPs. It was molded like a man - or at least its top half was, and spoke with a lack of intonation that betrayed its mechanistic origin. Nevertheless, Jared had been to the bar, and now he passed me a glass of something that glowed an acid green and had assorted vegetation floating in it. It was topped with a sparkly little umbrella thing, and when I sipped it dubiously it was a definite improvement on old Beaver's rotgut. I smacked my lips and smiled at him.
"You like that, eh?" he asked, smirking.
"Yeah. My doctor told me to eat more vegetables," I told him, and he threw back his head and laughed. As he did so, I caught sight of la Cortese over his shoulder, and it made me shiver. She had large, expressive eyes, and as she gazed over at where we were standing, the look in them was filled with such a venomous hostility that I felt my stomach roil uneasily. For a moment, I met that gaze, and then it was veiled, eyelids erasing it as though it had never been as one of her companions bent to say something to her.
I shook my head as if to clear it. I hadn't needed to hear her thoughts to tune into the sheer malevolence that had been directed to us.
"She doesn't like one of us very much, and since she doesn't know me, my money's on you," I murmured. Jared frowned.
"Tell me something I didn't already know," he muttered. "I'm not biddable enough. She likes her pets to be obedient."
At that moment, I saw her snap her fingers, and a slender redhead with a formal body paint almost as complex as Danneel's came rushing over to her. After a muttered conversation, I watched the newcomer nod, touch her forehead and turn, making straight for where we were sitting.
"Don't look now," I murmured, but it was obvious that Jared had anticipated something, because he made a face and turned slowly to look over towards his wife.
"It's Julie," he murmured. "Gen's enforcer. Don't shake hands with her."
There wasn't time to ask him what he meant, because by that time, Julie the enforcer had reached us, and was drawing very favorable attention from Christian, who appeared to think that Christmas had arrived early, She pinned him in place with a look that reminded me of snakes and then turned to where Jared and I were awaiting what might transpire.
"Jared," she said, inclining her head briefly. He gave her an equally frosty nod, and was about to say something, when she turned away from him, one smooth, painted shoulder shutting him out as if he didn't matter. I have to admit she was a pretty thing, all slender lines and wild hair. Her body was painted as if she were a fire, reds and yellows blurring in a flicker of flame that licked up from her crimson mini-skirt to curl over white shoulders and lick up along her elegantly turned neck. It was all false advertising. She was cold. The thoughts that radiated from her when I tuned into her wavelength were as icy as any snake, and the eyes she fixed upon mine above the pleasant, polite smile she wore were dead, dead, dead.
I tried to read her, but all there was, was duty. She didn't hate, but she would kill, and then she would walk away without any qualms at all. I gave her patronizing smile number two - the one with the faint astonishment conveyed by brows just faintly raised, and felt the surge of cold fury in response. She smiled even wider. "Miss Curtis extends her compliments," she said in a husky contralto. "She wonders if she might beg a moment of your time."
"I'd be honored," I replied, rising to my feet and bowing to la Cortese. "If you'll present my compliments, I will be over in just a moment."
She nodded again and turned on one elegantly spiked heel to return to her mistress. Jared was half out of his seat, and I pressed him back down. "Relax, dude. She's not going to try anything in this crowd. It would all be way too public for her. Let me go talk to her and see if I can get anything from her thoughts. That antipathy is awesome stuff. It lets through anything I aim for without the general racket that usually makes it impossible to hear the important items."
I could hear Jared's mind loud and clear, and it was sweet. The man was worried about me, and I wanted to kiss him for it. Hell, there were a whole bunch of reasons why I wanted to kiss him, and most of them were nothing to do with him being worried about my upcoming conversation with his (almost) ex. He nodded. "Yeah, okay. Just be careful, and don't let Julie touch you. She's poisonous."
He wasn't joking. Every thought in his head radiated sincerity. I nodded. "I get it. She's dangerous." I fished out an olive from the green thing he'd given me and ate it with relish. God, I love olives, especially soaked in high grade veridium and gin. "I'll be just a minute, but I'll probably need more of this awesome fruit salad to recover. Is that on the cards?"
The grin he gave me was a little shaky, but it told me that he understood what I was telling him. He got up and made for the bar, and I swallowed, took a deep breath and went to confront suspect number one.
Genevieve Padalecki-Cortese was laughing with her two male companions when I arrived at the booth that she had decided would be her HQ. As I stepped up to it, I felt the unmistakable tingle of a scanner ray, and I smirked. I didn't need a gun in a place like this. I had Chad. Where was Chad, anyway?
Her body paint was stark black and white, zebra stripes across her torso and over her breasts to end on milk-white shoulders. She fixed me with brilliant eyes, and as I sifted through her thoughts I almost thought she could read me in return, so focused was her stare.
"I suppose you're one of his fuck toys," she said. She was about to say more, but I pre-empted that.
"No, ma'am," I replied. "I'm the hired help." I like to tell the truth and shame the devil. Sue me. I wanted to be a fuck-toy, but so far I remained spotlessly unfucked.
Her brows drew together in a frown, and I caught a thought that made me ponder. This woman loved her husband, if the thoughts I'd just captured were accurate. She was insecure, and thought that Jared was doing her wrong. That was something I hadn't bargained for.
"I don't understand," she said, waving me to take a seat beside her.
"It's quite simple, Ms, Cor..."
"For fuck's sake, call me Genevieve," she snapped.
I blinked. "Okay, Genevieve," I said, waiting to see if I would be withered on the spot by some lightning bolt that was designed to destroy the improperly reverent. It didn't come, I drew in a deep breath, uttered a prayer to holy Jim Rockford, the god of Private Eyes everywhere. "I'm a detective, and Jared just hired me today to try and find out who's trying to kill him."
The shock she radiated could have been nothing but genuine. She bit her lip for a moment and then beckoned her two earlier companions to come and join us.
"This is Christopher," she said as she indicated the lantern jawed individual who had just taken his seat beside me. "I'd count it a blessing if you'd let him read you."
I nodded. I had nothing to hide.... yet, murmured the evil part of me that was hoping to sample Jared's more esoteric skills. Christopher leaned in and pressed clammy fingers to my forehead.
I swear, I could've told Christopher anything I wanted. All I had to do was lay my thoughts out in a straight line for him to pick through, and I could've been plotting to rule the world, but he'd never have caught it. As telepaths go he was a piss-poor specimen. The second guy, Matthew, was different. For a start, he was exactly my type. He was tall, dark and handsome, with the 1950's movie starlet looks made popular by such clean cut characters as Paul Newman, Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. If I hadn't already fallen for Jared, I'd be trying to mean more to Matt, believe me. I wasn't sure what Matt's particular talent might be. I felt nothing as he stared at me. Still, I felt relief when he turned and nodded to Genevieve.
"He's clean, boss," he murmured. I smiled at him, wondering what he'd done to determine that.
"Maybe I could get your number," I husked. Well, it couldn't hurt, could it? The least benefit would be an eye on the other camp, although I was beginning to suspect that in this case the other camp was going to turn out to be a false lead.
I didn't miss the nod that Genevieve gave Matt before he reached to program his call signal onto my Com-Ident. I gave him seductive, come-hither glance number 12, and was pleased to note that it hadn't failed. The man was radiating rather kinky love signals. Christopher was moving away, and I almost sent him a message to soothe him - almost but not quite. I was really more interested in Jared's problems right now, and Christopher's lack of any real telepathic skills meant that sifting through his thoughts probably wouldn't reveal any clues I couldn't scoop firsthand.
Genevieve cleared her throat, and Matt backed away, taking his exceptionally vivid imagination with him. I turned to her, and clearly caught worry for her husband uppermost in her mind. "You said that someone is trying to kill Jared?" she said.
I nodded. "To tell the truth, I thought it might be you."
Her eyes widened, and then she shrugged. "But now...?"
"But now, I don't actually know. I'm going to have to do a little more sleuthing."
She gave me a faint smile. "If you need any help, my people are at your service," she said. "Just tell Matthew what you need." With a nod, I was dismissed, and she turned away to murmur something to Julie.
Returning to Jared, I saw that he'd lined up another of the green frothy things for me. I could get used to living la vida loca. Steve had gone off somewhere, and Chris was getting ready to leave too, which meant that they would be on the stage pretty soon.
I grabbed Danni's hand as she made to follow Chris and wagged a finger at her. "Now now, sweetie pie. Let the nice man go play his concert. There'll be plenty left for you after the gig." She gave me the kind of look that would have withered a lesser being, and reached for my drink, snagging a piece of cucumber out of it. "Hey! Get your own salad," I snapped, and she laughed as she reached for something else.
Jared saved the day, bringing us both another round, and I smiled my thanks. "I think I'm going to have to keep you," I murmured. He grinned at me, and was about to respond when everything seemed to happen at once.
There was a shout from the corner where Genevieve had taken up residence, and as we turned to see what might be happening, I saw her slump forward and then topple to the side to rag doll it down to the tiles. The emcee chose exactly the same time to come out and announce Kane, and there was enthusiastic applause that masked the sounds that were happening up here in the VIP lounge.
A bunch of things happened at once. Jared and I both jumped to our feet and made for his fallen wife. Matt, the enigmatic psychic who had cleared me from any ill intent earlier got Jared in a choke hold, and Christopher pointed a very sleek stunner at him. Of Julie I could see no sign, and it was as if she'd melted into the shadow like smoke.
I knelt beside Genevieve and felt for her pulse. It was there, faint and thready, and as I touched her I could hear her thoughts, full of regret, full of wishful dreams about what she could have had, full of love for Jared. As I knelt beside her, I felt her die. It was not fun.
Danneel, who had watched the events unfold with apparent fascination, rose to her feet and sauntered toward Christopher. "I can't help noticing that you're holding a gun on my friend," she murmured. "Is that really necessary?"
"It's okay; he's clean." Matt stepped away from Jared, and dusted his hands together. Christopher, who had not even glanced in Danneel's direction, lowered his weapon and smiled at her apologetically.
"Just doing my job, protecting Miss Genevieve from getting hurt," he said, darting a worried look over at Genevieve. I thought it was time to let them all know exactly what had transpired. I hate being the center of attention; I don't do it well, but this was a line I could deliver perfectly. I'd seen Star Trek, after all."
"It's worse than that, she's dead, Jim," I said, brightly, and rose to my feet.
They stood around, gaping at me, all four of them, as though they hadn't quite processed my words. Jared looked stunned, and I felt a little sorry for him. The two of them had been estranged, but it was obvious that they'd actually cared for each other in a strange way. "Her last thoughts were of you," I told him, and he blinked away a tear. I could hear his thoughts, and he was trying to make sense out of what had just happened.
"She wasn't the one who was trying to kill me?" he asked, his brow furrowed and his nose pink with emotion.
"Doesn't look that way," I agreed. It had been an awesome theory, but it seemed to be shot now. Ah, well, story of my life. "So we have to assume that whoever is after you might have had it in for your wife too."
Christopher had been calling someone while we were talking, and the paramedics had appeared, taking over from Matt's ministrations. Genevieve was officially pronounced dead and removed discreetly from the club as Christian and his bandmates continued to play on, all unsuspecting. Matt and Christopher had left alongside their fallen employer, and as I watched them go, my mind was racing. If not Genevieve, then who was behind the attempts on Jared's life? I turned to him.
"Okay, so who else might want you dead? It's got to be someone who wants you both out of the way." I was stumped. This whole thing was bizarre, and it seemed that Jared was now in as much, if not more danger than before.
"I think there's a question you need to ask yourself sooner." Danni was inviting herself into the tete a tete, apparently, and as we both looked at her, our mouths open in equally baffled expressions, she smirked. "How did la Cortese die? We were all watching her. I didn't see anything. Did you?"
That was true. Damn! I hate when a woman is right, She gets all uppity and thinks she deserves praise. Fortunately, Jared was feeling up to providing it. "You're right. And where's Julie?"
That was the sixty-four thousand dollar question. I'd probed her, and it had been like attempting to read an automaton. It was as if she'd been programmed to carry out instructions, and that was all there was. I turned back to Jared.
"When you told me not to shake hands with her, what exactly did you mean?" I asked him.
Jared grinned. "Julie's a Xenobian. She's indentured herself for the duration of her contract, and her mind is locked down so that she can give total allegiance to her employer. She's been trained as an assassin, and her fingernails are poisoned. If you gave her an opportunity to touch you, and you were on her hit list, there wouldn't have been anything that could save you."
I made a mental note to look up Xenobians when I got back to the office. I hate to admit it, but I'd never heard of them. I looked blankly at Jared, but he'd already sensed my confusion. "I'll tell you about them when we're out of here. Danni's right, though."
Rub it in, I thought as Danni preened beside me. I would have said something, but just at that moment, Chris called me onstage. I looked around for Chad, and found him making nice to the bartender, who was, if I may say so, exceptionally well built in the bosom department. "Chad, you're on bodyguard duty," I called to him, and at his nod I went to face my adoring public.
Down on the stage Kane was sweating, his shock of hair flying as he stomped his way through a rendition of "Spirit Boy." His other half, Steve, was lost in the music, eyes shut, rocking out as usual, and the audience was watching them instead of talking, always a good sign. I could sense the positive thoughts as I made my way through to the stage, the Antipathy giving me the barriers I needed to hear without being deafened. It was almost entirely positive, except for something so faint that I couldn't quite get a fix on it.
I frowned as I reached the stairs and climbed up onto the stage, pausing to high-five Jason as I passed him to head towards Kane. I don't like performing in public, but a deal is a deal, and I really, really wanted the information that Christian had for me - now even more than before, since Genevieve was out of the picture,
Chris had just finished his war dance. He greeted me with a smirk and stepped up to the mike again. "Tonight, Kane is proud to present a rare treat for you all." I frowned at him. He was going to introduce me instead of letting me just take my place at the mike. That was so not what I'd signed up for. He knew it too, the rat bastard. He gave me a bland smirk that told me he knew exactly what effect he was having. "This here's Jensen, and he's going to sing for you now."
"You're up for "Sweet Home Alabama", murmured Steve as he brought a guitar over to me. At least it was a song I knew, so I nodded and stepped up to the mike. I didn't try to talk to them. I don't do that shit; I'm just not that guy, and Chris knows it. As Steve hit a chord I began to sing the old song and tried to swallow down the stage-fright that always gets to me. Usually, once I get into it, the nerves leave me, and I can get down with the music and boogie, but somehow, this time, there was that tiny undercurrent of malice that unsettled me. I struggled through the song, searching the audience for the ones that might be responsible, and at first I could find nobody. Each fresh mind I scrutinized seemed to radiate the kind of euphoria a really good gig induces, and I was almost at the end of the song before I finally saw her - or should I say them.
I've seen them around - who on Bel Air hasn't? - but I've never really paid much attention to them. They always struck me as being the kind of bland clothes horses that the popular press reveres. Skinny and blonde, make-up expertly applied, the Olson twins gazed up at the balcony to where Jared was hanging over it watching the show. Their eyes were remote and hostile, and despite the sugar pink taffeta and tulle they wore they looked feral. Once I'd spotted them, it was hard to look away. I could hear enough of what they were thinking to know that they, too, could converse telepathically, and that piqued my interest. I made a note to do some research on them and also to find out just what there was about Jared that was holding their interest to such an extent.
The set came to an end, and there was applause. I even found that there were girls trying to attract my attention, and I sent out a mental plea for help to Danni to come defend me from them. She had been standing behind Jared on the balcony, and as I called, the two of them descended the stairs to come and rescue me.
As we made our way through the crowd and back towards the dressing rooms, I caught a single thought from one of the sisters, and it made me sweat. It was, "I've got a list of things we can do to her, once she's served her purpose." I wasn't at all sure who the unfortunate subject of that thought might be, but I was sure that it would be worth finding out.
Back in the dressing room, Chris fumbled in his guitar case and handed me the spool of wire that contained the info he'd promised. Steve passed out beers to us all and sat down to continue playing.
"You really need to join us up there regularly." Jason was packing his equipment away, tucking his prized antique electric guitar into its cocoon of synthosilk wadding. "It adds a whole dimension to the sound."
"S'what I'm always telling him." Chris had taken off his shirt and was tying his hair back out of his eyes. "Was a good night tonight."
"Where's Chad?" I asked Jared. I was going to kick Chad's ass, He was supposed to be protecting Jared, and it looked as if he'd pissed off with the first showgirl that he'd come across. I sighed. You just can't get the help these days.
""He was up on the balcony with us, but he didn't follow us down the stairs." Danni was frowning, her thoughts disorganized as she tried to work through events and recall what had happened. There was something... I could tell she'd seen something, but she wasn't really convinced that it would be important, and as I started to dig for it I could feel it fade. She put her hand on my arm, obviously thinking hard as she tried to recall events. "We didn't see where Julie went, did we?"
Jared gave a curse at that, and made for the stairs, and I followed him, worried about security and calling Chad names under my breath.
Jared has incredibly long legs, and he took the stairs three at a time, going up the damned things like a monkey up a stick. I hissed, "Fuck!" and galloped after him. I hadn't quite succeeded in reaching the top when he staggered back and nearly sat on my face. For a cold and dreadful moment, I thought that something had killed him, but then he grabbed for the edge of the balcony, leaving me flailing as I attempted to regain my balance.
I didn't fall to my death, fortunately, and, when I finally reached the top of the stairs, I saw what had startled Jared enough to cause his stumble. No Chad was visible, but on the ground beside the bar lay Julie, the Xenobian. Her red hair was spread around her like a cloak, and her hands were folded together across her breast around the feathered dart that had pierced it. Jared was gazing at her in horror, and I dropped to my knees beside her to feel for a pulse.
"Is she...?" He'd turned pale, and looked terribly shaken. I nodded. He didn't need to add the rest of the words. There was no need to complete the sentence. Julie's true personality was lost forever, along with Julie herself. She would never return home to enjoy the earnings she'd accrued. In a way it was just, since she'd failed to protect her employer, but it was still sad.
I reached for my Com-ident and called for the local cops, letting them know that they had another stiff on their hands and then made for the bar. The auto-server smiled brightly and asked me what I'd have, and I bit my lip. There would be no help from it unless - a thought occurred to me, and I reached over the bar to fumble at the robot's shoulder, feeling for the release catch to open the thing's front. It paused in mid speech as the chest cavity popped open and revealed the spool on which the visuals of the evening were recorded. I popped it out and closed its chest.
"What'll you have?" it asked, chirpily, as I walked away. I didn't think a club this up-market stocked Old Beaver.
"Come on." I beckoned to Jared and Danni, who were still hovering beside Julie's body. "I want to play this through. It might tell me what's happened to Chad."
He was nowhere on the balcony. A quick scout around failed to reveal any more corpses, and, since we knew that he hadn't come down the stairs, we knew that he must have gone out of the service door at the back of the bar. There was no reason to stay, especially since the law would soon be on site making things complicated, so without further ado we pushed open that door and headed down the stairs.
It wasn't much longer before we found out what had happened to Chad. As we descended the stairs we heard his voice, yelling for help, and as I rushed to the janitor's cupboard at the foot of the stairs to let him out, I could hear his thoughts cussing up a blue streak.
"What kept you?" he demanded, once I'd picked the lock and gotten the door open. Jared and Danni were both laughing so hard at his predicament that it was hard to hear myself think, let alone that idiot, Chad. He was red faced and sweaty, and somewhat outraged. It seemed that the cocktail waitress he'd been macking on had gotten fed up with his persistence and bundled him in there, locking him in and leaving him to cool his ardor rather than having him thrown out. I shook my head and snickered at him while he spluttered. He would never change.
"Dude, you're supposed to be protecting Jared. Do you even know what's happened since we got here?" I spoke sharply, and he shrugged. "You sang; so what?" He sounded unconcerned, but I could see his thoughts and knew just exactly how ashamed he was. Concerned for Jared, I didn't press the point any further, just led the way out of the club and back to the office to regroup and look at the records Chris had given me. One thing was for sure, Genevieve was out of the picture now, and what the auto server had seen would very likely be far more useful information,
Back at the office, I ordered in take-out from Luigi Chang across the hall, and watched Jared go from suspicion to ecstasy at the mix of flavors Luigi builds into his menu. Danni had excused herself and gone back to Minor, after receiving a call on her com-ident, and that left the three of us to do some plotting. Frankly, I had no idea who was threatening Jared, and I felt a little vulnerable, because I was getting to kinda like him.
I fed the wire from the auto-server into the processor on the wall and the two of us settled on the couch to watch. Chad was patrolling the corridor to guard against potential assassins, and I trusted him to do his job efficiently. The guilt was still sitting on him like a thundercloud.
The screen flickered to life. This one was a fairly advanced auto-server, and there was sound as well as vision. It was fascinating to watch through its eyes as we ascended the stairs and came into its purview. I saw Jared step up to the bar and order the drinks. I watched as the robot added cucumber and grapes, strawberry and lime to the goblets it had poured and saw Genevieve and her party in the background as Julie came over to summon me for my audience.
I saw myself wander over to be given the third degree by Ms. Cortese and her associates and return to Jared again, then watched as Chad wandered away with the diminutive brunette he'd been hitting on. The good stuff was coming. I prayed that the heroic robo-bartender wouldn't look away at the important part, and, bless his cogs and wires, he didn't.
Julie had faded into the background and stood over towards the corner of the room. It was Matt who stepped forward to bend low and whisper something in Genevieve's ear. I saw her frown and look up at him, and he suddenly turned his head as if listening. Watching avidly, I saw Danneel cross to him, and handed something, and then Matt nodded, bent and put his hand on Genevieve's shoulder. That was when she convulsed and died.
I paused the playback and turned to Jared. "What?"
He shook his head. "You think she's got something to do with it?" he asked.
"We need to look at Chris's records. I want to see how often she's been over from Minor. That's going to tell us more." I was shaken, I'll admit it. Danni had been my friend and confidante for several years, and I couldn't believe that somehow she had become someone else, someone different, feral. I couldn't see how she'd managed to keep that kind of change from me. Her thoughts had been utterly calm and typically her. I was more than shaken; I was shocked.
Jared had run the auto-server's vidwire through the player and was now threading Chris's logs into it. Together, the two of us began to sift through the lists of people who had ported to and from Minor. The first thing I spotted was that Matt, the cute guy whose number I'd gotten, had left the station about 5 minutes after Genevieve Cortese had bitten the dust. Shit!
It was Jared who first spotted the arrival of Genevieve and her entourage, and straight after their arrival I noted that the twins had appeared. Both had ported through to Bel Aire straight away, but their traveling companion had not. Her name was Elta, Elta Graul, but her photograph was that of Danni, my longtime friend, and she was listed as coming from the planet Xenobia. It seemed that everything I thought I knew about her was a lie.
"I'm sorry," muttered Jared, sotto voce. "I can tell you're upset."
"Yeah. Sorry. Guess you've got every right to be upset too. Looks like my best friend killed your wife." I hung my head. Best in the business I may be, but I'd failed. Not only that, I'd fucked up so spectacularly that there were now two people dead, and at least one of them had been dear to my client.
I don't know what I was expecting - maybe verbal abuse or even the withdrawal of his custom. What I wasn't expecting was for him to grab a hold of me by the back of the neck and pull me in for a kiss.
His lips were soft, but his kiss was not. It was hot -super hot. There was no request for comfort in it; it was all sex, and I felt small in his embrace. The boy was built like one of the American Gladiators they send around during the Games each year, and I have no shame when I say that I couldn't have broken his hold on me even if I'd wanted to. I didn't.
He kissed me, and I couldn't resist him, couldn't hold back. I opened my mouth to him like a pleasure slave, and he delved inside, his tongue exploring as he reeled me in to envelop me in his arms. His thoughts overwhelmed me, despite the Antipathy. His emotion seeped into my pores, through my skin and ignited a craving in me that found fertile ground. He wanted me. That was good, because I sure as hell wanted him, and that made things tidy.
It felt strange in a way. I'm not a small man, but he was built on much more generous lines than I, and for once I felt cradled, helpless and needy. Spikes of lust resonated between us, and his hand slid down to cup my ass and press my body up against his. I could feel his pulse under my fingers as I clung to him, and I think I moaned - one of us certainly did.
"Oh, fuck," I whispered.
"Yeah," he said, his voice a growl. He was hard against me. I was hard too, desire urgent in me as I bathed in his excitement and provided my own counterpoint. He bit my ear, and I shivered, feeling my cock spurt sticky inside my jeans. I felt him shudder in my arms as he tapped into my excitement, and this was going to be incredible. I could feel what he felt, and knew he was feeding on my mounting pleasure. I wanted...
"We need..." I don't know what he was going to say, because just at that moment there was a yell from outside.
"That's Chad," I froze, and he let go of me, stepped back to let me move. I frowned, concentrated, sent. What's going on, Chad?
Get him out of there! These bitches are gonna kill him. I could feel Chad's urgency. He was fighting, and, unusually for him, he wasn't sure that he was going to win.
You need me to come help? I was useful in a tight corner and could hold my own, but I wasn't like Chad. I thought Chad was the best - or I had until now.
There was a faintly amused tone in Chad's response that stung a little. You'd only get in the way, boss. Just get him out of there and take him somewhere safe.
I focused back on where Jared was standing. He looked like every sinful thought I'd ever had, made into one, gigantic package, and I wondered how I could possibly keep him safe. I wondered how I could possibly keep him.
"We need to get out of here, now," I said, wondering whether that was even possible given his size.
"How? You got a portable hole stashed somewhere I don't know about?" He didn't look scared, but I could feel his unease like an annoying hum behind his thoughts. I wanted to cuddle him close and tell him it would be okay, but to tell the truth I wasn't sure it would be, and way back when, my momma taught me that it was bad form to lie to people you l... wait! What?
Goddammit! The last thing I needed in my situation was to fall in love. I ground my teeth. It didn't help.
"Kinda. You'll see." I beckoned him to follow me into the holy of holies, aka the broom closet I'd fitted out as a bedroom. Reaching up, I yanked on the cord that hung from the light fixture and it pulled a rectangle out of the ceiling to reveal a closet ladder that unfolded as it descended. "Behold my portable hole," I announced, beginning to ascend it. "Come on. Let me introduce you to the fascinating world of the service tubes of Bel Air."
I'd worried about whether or not Jared would fit, and in truth it was a squeeze. Once he was up, he couldn't stand straight, but then neither could I. There was a reason why the maintenance workers on Bel Air were all under 5'6" in height.
"Wow," muttered Jared as he stepped up behind me and past to give me the room to draw up the ladder and close the hatchway. Hopefully, anyone entering the offices would think that we hadn't come back tonight. I sent a quick message to Chad to let them through and get out of there himself, then turned and led Jared along the service tube to where I knew there was an unmanned portpad I could use.
"I'm sorry," I muttered to Jared as I peered out of the service hatch to make sure there was nobody around who would see us. "You and I are going to spend the night in a service pod. I'm hoping that nobody will suspect that's where we are. It'll be a little uncomfortable, but I think we'll be safer there than anywhere in the complex."
I thought he turned pale, but I could've been wrong. He didn't feel scared, and his expression was placid enough. I knew enough to get us into one of the pods, but I was going to have to trust someone to get us out again, and I didn't want him to sense my own apprehension. Taking a deep breath, I led him over to the portpad.
I reached for Chad, but I couldn't find him. I hoped that meant he was out of my range, and not that he'd been overcome by his assailants. Sighing, I reached for my comm unit and called Chris to tell him what we were about to do, then I programmed in the location of maintenance pod 3, and without further ado we ported ourselves aboard.
Maintenance pods are not built for comfort; they are set up strictly for functionality. The maintenance drones use them for external checks to the shielding, and they are tethered to the surface of the station rather like roaches that scuttle around on its skin, scavenging. There are a couple of viewports, one facing down onto the surface, and one looking over towards Beta, and beyond it into the starry void. I've never felt all that comfortable with the starry void. It's just way too full of nothingness for me. I like the confines of the corridors and the knowledge that there are walls around me, enclosing me. I turned my back on space and very decisively sat down facing away from it.
Jared, on the other hand, was fascinated. "Oh, cool," he murmured, stepping closer to the window that looked out into the emptiness that so affected me. "It's like we're the only ones. You and I, together, with nobody else in the universe."
I didn't actually like the sound of that at all. I could feel my head swimming as the idea settled, and the back of my neck pricked with heat as I gasped for breath. Jared sensed my distress and with a muttered curse turned back to sit behind me, sliding his arms around me.
"Hey! What's all this?" I could feel his breath on my cheek, cutting through the dizziness of panic. "I thought you were unflappable."
"Well, now you know my dreadful secret," I mumbled, leaning back against his chest and letting his warmth seep through into my bones. "I don't do too well with emptiness. It freaks me out."
"Guess you should suit up then, just to be on the safe side." He reached around me for one of the pressure suits with which the pod was equipped and began to help me into it. I complied mindlessly, putting it on as he prompted first my legs and then my arms. Once I was zipped in tight, he kissed me, long and sweet, then began to pull on one of his own.
"So tell me, Jared," I began. "Why do you think that a pack of Xenobians would be after you? What is it about you and the Cortese family that's aroused their interest?" Never let it be said that I shied away from any opportunity to derail any chance at a relationship I might possibly have.
"Gen's dad is the one that was dealing with Xenobia. I don't know much about it, except that Gen didn't approve. It was something to do with the way that they can temporarily override a personality when they indenture themselves." He spread his hands as he spoke, a gesture that conveyed his helplessness and frustration. "It involves drugs, I know that much, and Gen said that it would be a bad thing.for the human race..."
"About that," I murmured. Like I said, I was good at picking at sores. "I can't help noticing that your wife was just murdered..."
"She was." Jared's thoughts echoed in melancholy. "She was my friend. I'll miss her."
"But you didn't love her?"
"Not the way you mean," he said. "I married her because she needed a friend. She was lonely. Her father was always wheeling and dealing, and she was hedged around with minions, but nobody that actually saw her as more than a chore. She always hoped we'd grow to be lovers, even though she knew I didn't bat for her team."
"You'd argued?" I was attempting to piece together what had gone on between them. I sensed regret from Jared, but no great desolation. There was sadness, but it was more for things that he wished for than for things he'd lost, and there was that attraction - damped down but still strong, He wanted me.
That was okay though. I wanted him, so it was tidy. I didn't know if it was possible to have sex in a pressure suit. It probably wasn't, but heavy petting was a distinct probability, and once I'd caught his mouth against my own it swiftly became an absolute certainty.
We kissed until our lips were numb, bodies tight against each other despite the constraints of the p-suits. We had nothing to do but wait, and this was the most amazing way of waiting I've ever experienced. Jared was in my arms, warm and real, and I was going to make sure he'd stay that way. He moaned as our tongues entwined, sending tingles down my spine. His heart pulsed against my chest, and he made a growling sound in his throat, the kind that caused my insides to melt as I kissed him, and kissed him. He gave in to me briefly, and then he pulled away, panting.
"I want to..." I knew what he wanted, and I wanted it too, but like I said, fucking and pressure suits just don't mix.
"As soon as we can," I murmured, rolling my hips against him just so I could feel his dick twitch against me inside his p suit. Mine twitched right along with it, and we both felt our bodies tighten. We lost ourselves in the pressure and tingling sweetness. I could see his need for release like a star glowing somewhere inside him, and sparks leapt between us trailing along our limbs and twisting down our spines as we made out like horny teens.
It had been years since I'd come in my pants like a schoolkid, but I could tell it wasn't far from happening then. There was sweat dripping inside my suit, and I could taste it on Jared's skin. He was breathing hard and his eyes were blown, lids heavy as he tried to get closer despite the impediments.
It was inevitable that we'd do serious damage to the interior of the p suits, given the pleasure feedback loop that was going on between us. I could feel him starting to get there, and the idea of it tightened things in my groin, sent impossible tingles along my nerve endings. I could feel my cock pulse and ooze, sticking up the inside of my underwear. He stiffened in my arms, breath strident as his hips swung. He was coming, face contorted and gorgeous, and I could only follow him, body shuddering with the feel of it as my orgasm slammed through me.
As the aftershocks flickered along my blissed-out veins, my comm unit decided to prod me. It was Chris, and he sounded anxious. "Jen, get out of there," he said.
"I can't." There were no portpad controls on Pod 3. "Can you grab us?"
The moment of disorientation as we ported left me nauseous, and we both tumbled to the floor in the portpad bay on Minor to look on in horror as a runabout armed with a laser gun fried Pod 3. Chris was at the controls, headset flashing as he communicated with someone, and for the first time since I'd met him, Jared panicked, clinging to me and trembling.
"Get off the pad," yelled Chris, setting the port mechanism up for another transfer as he spoke. I rolled us both down onto the ground beside it, unable to find the strength to get up, and in another second I saw Chad materialize, crumple, and fall beside us.
He looked very much the worse for wear, bruised and bleeding from wounds that were a testament to how hard he'd fought. He looked at me out of the one eye that wasn't swollen shut and mumbled "Pocket. Left leg. Hurry."
I fumbled, but it was Jared that found what Chad wanted in the leg pocket of his cargo pants. He tossed it to me, and I inspected it. It was a hypospray of Quicken. I gritted my teeth,
"Chad, you really need this?" Quicken would speed up his metabolic rate, make him super fast, but there was a terrible price to pay for the temporary super speed. Sure, he'd be fast for a couple of hours, but it would take years off his life, and in the kind of state he was in it could kill him.
"Just do it, Jen." He was slurring, blood coating his teeth. I wasn't sure I should give it to him. It seemed too much as though I was sentencing him to death, but he fixed me with that one good eye and said again, "Just do it; they're coming, and we don't have time.
Biting my lip, I pressed the hypospray to his neck and depressed the activator. The change in Chad was instant and shocking. I could see him healing before my eyes. Cuts scabbed over and then faded, bruises vanished and his eyes cleared. He rose to his feet and flickered across the room, pausing beside the door, just as it burst open.
They'd traded their trendy gowns for serviceable black lycra, but the make-up was the same, and so was the vacant look in their eyes. One of them - I'd never been able to tell the difference - it might have been Mary Kate, stepped in, glancing around and smirking. Ashley was close behind and both walked straight past where Chad had been visible just seconds ago. The one in the lead strolled over to where Christian was standing and ran her fingers through his hair while he stood gaping. "Hello, little fishy," she said, her voice a purr.
Chris's brow creased in bafflement, and she laughed, leaned in close and snapped her teeth at him. The other one stepped up behind him and began to play with his controls, flicking switches at random, while exclaiming, "Ooh, I wonder what this one will do."
"Don't touch that!" Chris was starting to freak out. One of the sisters slid her arm around him, pulling him back as the other brought out a slender metal probe and stuck it into the panel she'd been playing with, sending a cascade of sparks down to the floor and causing an acrid smell of burning insulation.
"Oops," she murmured. "I broke it."
"Are you fucking insane?" Chris's face had turned red, and he cried out as his tormentor yanked his hair back so that his throat was bared. The other raised the metal probe she'd used on the control panel to stroke across his larynx.
"Shall I do it now?" she asked her sister, raising the probe and giggling.
"Of course." The second girl was still holding him so that he couldn't move, and both Jared and I rushed forward to try and stop what was apparently going to happen.
We never made it. There was a flicker of movement and the one with the probe - I'll call her Ashley even though I don't have a clue if that's who she was - gave a gurgle and crumpled to the floor, her neck at a very unusual angle.
"No!" The other blonde let go of Christian and dropped to her knees beside her fallen sister, who lay like a discarded doll. She turned on Jared, her teeth bared. "This wasn't supposed to happen," she screamed.
"I didn't do it." Jared was wide eyed, his face displaying his complete astonishment. "Why are you blaming me?"
"You're just supposed to die. Why don't you just do it?" She fumbled for her belt, pulling out a slender silver tube and raising it in Jared's direction.
There was a rushing sound and suddenly the metal probe that the other girl had been using bloomed between her shoulder blades, flowers of red welling up around it as she convulsed and followed her sister down.
We stood looking down at the two of them, aghast, and Chad morphed into view. He was somewhat fuzzy around the edges, but at least we could see where he was. I guess, in hindsight, that wasn't such a great idea. We hadn't heard anyone approach, and Chris's instrument panel was still fizzing and crackling although the internal fire retardant spray had been triggered. A halo of blue energy suddenly crackled around Chad, and he bit the dust like it was something he'd always intended to do. Jared, Chris and I swiveled round together and gaped anew as we saw Danneel lounging in the doorway. She was holding a mean looking energy gun, and I stepped in front of Jared without even having to be asked.
"Step away from him, Jen. I have no quarrel with you." Her words were cold steel, and her eyes glittered in an unnerving way.
"Not a chance, Dan. You want him; you go through me." Yeah, that's the kind of rash fool I am. Just call me Mighty Mouse, all right?
"I can do that," she said, a grim smile twisting her features. She raised her weapon to take aim, and Jared pushed me.
"Get out of the way, Jen," he growled. I sighed. He was ruining a perfectly good death scene for me, and I kind of forgot Danni for a moment as I turned to remonstrate with him.
"What the fuck, Jared?" I snapped. "You want her to kill you? Are you insane?"
"Of course I don't want her to kill me!" He seemed a little overwrought to me, and I stepped in close to him, making sure that I remained between him and Danneel's gun. "I only just found you. I'm not ready to die just yet."
"If I might interrupt for just a moment?" Danneel's voice cut through Jared's declaration.
"Shut up!" The order came from both of us at once, and she stepped closer making incoherent sounds of protest.
"I don't think you appreciate the gravity of your situation," she said, prodding at me with her funky designer weapon. I ignored her in favor of getting in a last kiss while the getting was good. As kisses went, it left a lot to be desired, but I was going to hang onto it until I had to let it go. Because of my valiant efforts to have one last make-out session with my object of desire, I missed what happened next. Chris and Chad both described it to me in glorious technicolor later, but both of them ran screaming when I reciprocated by describing the kiss Jared and I were sharing while everything went down.
Chad was still enjoying the hyped up state that Quicken had induced, which as I'd already seen accelerated his healing as well as his metabolism. Whatever strength of beam Danni had shot him with had stunned him, but his body had shaken it off. As Danneel stepped closer to make sure she got Jared with her shot, Chad came to and rose to his feet. He still wasn't at full speed, but he rose up behind her like an avenging angel - according to him at any rate. Within a second, he'd disarmed her and had her down on the ground while Jay and I were still busy sucking face.
He waited for what he said was ages, but I know personally was only a matter of a few seconds and then coughed accusingly. "Listen up, bitches," he said, his voice a weird, helium buzz. "If you want to question the girlfriend here, you need to get on it right now."
Sheepishly peeling myself away from Jared for a moment, I turned to look at Chad, and then Danneel. "Danni?" I said, dropping down to kneel beside her. "Why? Why are you trying to kill my boy?"
"Why else, Jen? Money." She gave me the grin I knew so well. "A whole shitload of money." She bit down on something in her mouth. "Old man Cortese is looking to recruit a new army of indentured soldiers."
"You wanted it to happen?" I asked. "Why the hell would you want that to happen?"
"I follow orders," she mumbled, and then gave a little sigh, and she died.
We weren't going to be able to charge Danni with anything, and old man Cortese was down in Old Hollywood, safe from pursuit without all kinds of legal extraditions. It looked as if Jay would be safe for the time being. There was no chance of using the portpad to get back to Bel Air at that particular moment, so I turned to Jay. "You wanna go back to my humble apartment on Beta for the rest of the night?" I asked him.
Chad announced his intention of taking himself to sick bay to get a shot that would bring him down from his Quicken. I nodded, mind whirling as I gazed down at the three dead women now littering the portpad floor. Chris had pulled out his comm unit and was talking to someone, whether it was maintenance or the sheriff I didn't know. I looked back at Jay, who shot me a mildly anemic smile and reached to clutch my hand. "Humble apartment?" he asked.
I nodded, turned to Chris. "Gonna go sleep for a week. Gimme a call if they want eye witness testimony, right?"
"You know they will," he said, a lopsided smirk on his lips. "I'll tell ‘em you'll talk to ‘em after a sleep."
"Thanks, man," I said.
"Yeah, yeah." Chris's smile was evil. "You can thank me at the gig we've booked next Friday Night. I'll expect you to be on stage with us, okay."
I spluttered, but Jay drew me away just then, and I knew that I'd be there. Chris packs a mean wallop when he's not happy.
It had been weeks since I'd been to my apartment on Beta. Like I said, I prefer to stay over on Bel Air, but the apartment itself isn't too shabby. I cracked the door open with great caution. I couldn't be sure that there wasn't some whacked out booby trap set for us on the off chance we might pay the old homestead a visit.
There was no explosion, and no tongues of fire shot out when I kicked open the door. I nodded to Jared. "Stay here for a moment."
Slipping inside and clapping to turn on the lights, I watched a little nervously as the small apartment lit up. "It's okay to come in, Jay," I called, and he did, closing the door behind him as I checked the bedroom and the small bath.
Bath! Now there was an idea. I unfastened the closures and seals on the disgusting mess that was the p suit I was wearing and let it drop down my body. Tee and jeans followed it, and my sticky underwear was only a step behind. When I turned, naked, to see if Jared was overcome by my glorious display of nudity, I saw that he was following suit. Wow! That's all I could say. He'd seen my glorious display of nudity and raised it. He was built to last, as they say. There was miles of him. Acres of tanned skin, taut over ridges of muscle, and, endearingly, his family jewels only needed a pair of glasses to look exactly like Groucho Marx.
I've never really studied my own dangly bits, but most men's look really dumb until they are pressed into action. According to a girl I once knew, they still look dumb even then. I gave a sigh. Danni had been my friend; she had. I was going to miss her so much. I smiled at Jared, but I knew he could tell that I wasn't really feeling it.
"Where's your ‘fresher?" he asked.
"Thought you'd never ask," I murmured, reaching for his hand. "Gonna get these grubby things in the laundry first. It's through here. Feel free to start without me."
He nodded and went into my bathroom. I concentrated on gathering up the soiled clothing we'd shed and stuffing them into the laundry facility. Once they were in, I made for the bathroom. I'd heard the ‘fresher turn on, and thought for a moment I'd be too late to join Jay, so imagine my surprise when I got into the room to find that he was filling the tub with honest to God water.
"Dude, I can't afford that kind of luxury," I spluttered, watching as the water, steaming and wonderful, poured into the tub.
"Easy, Jen. I can." He smirked at me. "Might as well exploit me to the fullest. You've earned it."
Speechless, I nodded. I don't think I've ever taken a bath in my life. I've always wondered what it would feel like to immerse myself in water, but until now it had never been even a remote possibility. Jared's smile widened, his arms reached, and I found myself grabbed and pulled into an embrace that ended with me splashing into a tub full of foaming water. He pressed me to take a seat, and then turned off the water, stepping in to hover over me with a gleam in his eye.
"What are you going to do?" I asked, my breath quickening almost as if I'd taken a dose of Chad's drug.
"Shhh." He reached past me for a bar of soap I didn't even know I possessed and lathered up a washcloth, stroking it firmly across my chest. I guess he couldn't help the mischievous grin that spread across his face. "I thought you knew what a bath was, Jen."
"Yeah. Of course I know what a bath is, Jay." I was off balance, not sure now that we'd finished the case just where I stood. I'd never experienced this level of luxury, and, frankly, I could get used to it; I wanted to get used to it, so much. "I want to know what the relevance of this particular bath might be."
Jared smirked at me just the tiniest bit, and I felt that tightening in my groin again that would turn it from a muppet to a mean torpedo of love. "Let me pamper you, just a little bit, Jen," he said, bending to kiss my ear. "I really, really want you to stay with me."
"I can deal with being pampered," I laughed. "Pamper away! It's a given that any pampering had just better not involve blowing raspberries on my wet flesh."
"You spoil all my fun," Jay pouted, kneeling down over me and doing things with the soap that ought to be illegal. I was fully hard now. I felt clean and relaxed and roused and ready. Jared's eyes surveyed me with wicked intent, and I reached up to drag him to me, nipping on his lower lip and then pulling him closer.
"I'm kind of afraid," I confessed. "I could fall very hard if I didn't take really good care of myself."
He cupped my face in hands that were way too big to resist. "I want you to," he said. "It can't just be me."
I didn't know how to reply to that. I could feel the sincerity in his words, but I wasn't sure just how permanent Jared might view a relationship. "When I love, I love forever," I said. "Better run now if all you're looking for is temporary." I closed my eyes, but I could feel him searching, trying to get into me, trying to tell if what I'd said was the truth or just a bunch of bullshit. I reached to slide my fingers through his unruly mop of hair. "Don't hurt me. I'm just not ready for that kind of pain," Who knew that I could be such a wuss? But I was telling it like it is. I really didn't think I could do casual with Jared.
"Hey." His voice was gentle, and he cupped my cheek, turning my face up to make me meet his eyes. "I'm in this for the duration," he said, and kissed the tip of my nose. That gesture, corny and silly as it was, melted me. I nodded and reached my arms around him.
Soap appears to be an excellent lubricant. I don't think there was a single part of my body he didn't soap up, and although the feeling was a novel one for someone who is used to the water-free cleansing by sonic vibrations that a ‘fresher affords, after the initial strangeness I found it very relaxing.
What wasn't very relaxing was the way his fingers found every sensitive spot on my body. It was as if he had studied me like a map, not the back of my neck, just so, and watch me start to shake myself apart; lick along the inside of my elbow and see how my cock begins to drool pre-come like one of Pavlov's dogs at dinner time.
I gave as good as I got, I think. His breathing accelerated, and his eyes darkened, and I nodded to myself. I love it when a plan comes together, and my plan was most definitely to make him fall for me. I took hold of his dick, and he gasped. "Gonna suck you down and drink whatever you can give me, I mumbled, and hard the little sound he made in answer with great satisfaction.
We clambered out of the tub, and he wrapped me in a towel to dry me. It was a whole new sensation, being wet all over like this, and an entirely different feeling from a cleansing in the ‘resher. I reached to hit the recycle button and send the water back into the system to be repurposed, and put in the order for it to be returned to my apartment. I wasn't going to give up that much water. Jared had given it to me, and I would treasure it. Now I knew what bathing felt like, I wanted to do it again. With Jared. He grinned at me.
"You liked it," he said, and it was a statement rather than a question.
"I loved it," I agreed, wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling him down so I could kiss him again. Together we stumbled through to my bedroom, and a single, croaked command I brought the bed down ready for us.
Everything about this felt new, unreal, like I was being given a prize for being a good boy, although lord knows I was not a good boy.I think that the dose of Antipathy was wearing off, because I could hear the beginning of the hubbub that would eventually drown out my concentration and make me nuts, but above it, crystal clear and precise, were Jared's thoughts. He wanted me, and that very thought resonated in me, driving my own desire up until I thought I might burst.
This was a situation I'd never been in. Usually I was half snockered on Old Beaver, just to keep the voices at bay, but here and now, with this incredibly beautiful man wrapped around me like his favorite teddy bear. I licked along his chin and ground my dick against his thigh, and the sound of his husky voice catching in his throat made my insides pool liquid, low down where it counts.
He was leaking, sticky against my newly washed belly, and I slid one hand down to capture his cock. "Well lookie here," I murmured. "You appear to be armed and dangerous." I squeezed its fat girth just to be friendly and then pumped it to spread its juices along his shaft. He moaned then, a full throated sound that sparked more tingles in me.
I laid him down on the bed and he spread for me, opening up his body with a grin. I spent a moment looking, drinking in the beauty of him, all taut muscle an smooth brown skin. All mine.
I could hear him echo that ‘all mine' inside my head as he reached for me. "Come on, Jen. What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?"
"Pushy, pushy," I growled, bending to taste that gorgeously sticky cock of his, and he bucked into me, eager, so eager, that I laughed. Then I knelt between his legs and began to open him up.
Sliding into him was heat and musk and deliciously piercing sweetness. It felt like home. He held me tight, sucked me into him and wrapped his long legs around my hips as if he wanted to merge with me. I felt myself going, knew that it wasn't going to take much to tip me over, counted backwards furiously from 1,000 and tried to stop myself from coming. He was close, those slanted eyes half-lidded and white teeth bared in a grimace of ecstasy. My head swam as I watched, and mumbled filthy words to make him tighten and whimper. He felt like oiled silk against my desperate thrusts, and we shared a rough, wet caress that was more mouthing than actual kissing. He was rock hard, his cock pressing between us as though making room for itself, and I reached to stroke him, pulling and twisting , drawing those sweet, guttural sounds of pleasure from him. It gave me heat and chills, and made me feel as if somehow my stomach had migrated to another dimension.
He was close; I could feel it. I followed behind him, because I couldn't help it.
When he came, it was like the bursting of a dam. Sparks of prickling pleasure shot through me, twisted along my spine to tighten my balls and empty me inside him. I thought I was going to die - or maybe that I had already died and this was my heaven. Collapsing against him, I let the aftershocks shake through me, and listened to him purr softly as he came down from his climax,
It took me a while, but eventually my breathing returned to normal, and I was able to roll myself onto my back. "I was so clean and nice," I lamented.
"Need another bath?" Jared snickered. "Can be arranged, you know."
"I don't think I'll ever have enough baths," I said, sliding my head onto his shoulder.
"You need to come down to Old Earth with me," he said, turning his head so he could press a kiss to my eyebrow. "I'll take you swimming in the ocean."
"You gonna keep me then?" I hadn't been going to say that; I knew it sounded needy, but somehow the words slipped past my censor and made it out through my mouth before I could stop them. It made him chuckle.
"Oh, yeah," he said, snuggling up against me. "You're a lot more fun than a Lazoon."
I gave him a smile that was possibly more genuine than ever I ever offered anyone since I left the crèche. It certainly wasn't studied or categorized in any way. "I'd like that," I said as we closed our eyes.
We were going to have to go after Matt, I knew, but that would keep for another day. Tonight, it was just us, and it was enough.