For Want of a Nail Part 2  

W A R N I N G

This story contains material of a sexual nature. It has explicit descriptions of sex, bondage and non-consensual sex. If you are at all offended by this kind of story. DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!!!!!! Any characters in this story are the property of Star Girl and the author, excluding Wonder Woman, who is the property of DC comics. This story is written for the sole purpose of entertainment and is not written for profit and cannot be transmitted, reproduced or otherwise traded for profit.

・For Want of a Nail...Part six

Lynx was no help at all. When she walked in, curiously silent, Mystery had asked her what was wrong. “I may be mistaken about men,” she answered, and went to her room. The infuriating part was that she would not explain what she meant by that. She didn’t say another word or venture forth from her room all evening. Star Girl was getting ready for bed when SuperConductor, clad in a white-silver bodysuit, knocked on her door. “Star Girl? May I enter?” “Come in, SC,” Star Girl answered. She was thinking about Jason again, trying to sort out these strange impulses she felt. SuperConductor poked her head in through the door. “I wanted to offer a solution. To the Jason Thorn situation.” SuperConductor had a funny way of talking about the same thing you were thinking about, yet turn it into something serious. “What did you have in mind?” Star Girl asked. She began removing the bustier she wore, without any self-consciousness at undressing in front of SuperConductor. SC had no real interest in sex, not since they wiped those files from her mind (at her request) and had built up other, healthier information-psychology, computer science, up to advanced robotics and mechanical engineering. “I was wondering how we might clear this up. Since the records are theoretically fiction, there may be another way to determine his background.” She paused, then went on, “I was thinking of finding a way to get a DNA sample from him.” Star Girl, clad in boots and her silver tiara, turned to look at SuperConductor. “That’s a pretty invasive test. How do you expect to get it from him? We can’t necessarily ASK him for it without arousing suspicion.” SuperConductor’s face was unreadable. “I’ll have to think of some- thing.” “When you do, let me know. All right?” Nanoprocessors opened and closed deep in the neural web of Super-Conductor’s ‘mind.’ “I will let you know.” SuperConductor turned and left without another word. Star Girl shook her head, then removed the rest of her clothing, and slipped into bed. SuperConductor left the grounds of the HQ in a personal flight-pack, which was a nega-grav unit in a backpack. Rocket-propelled jet-packs were dangerous, especially on the legs of the person they carried, but the new flight-packs not only negated gravity, but altered the pressure of air around the wearer, pushing them along simply by negating the air pressure ahead of where one wanted to go and let the pressure from the opposite side behind the wearer push them along. Cheap, non-polluting, and silent...and only the Star Squad had them. She needed to be silent. She was on a mission. Technically, she was not disobeying orders. She had promised to tell Star Girl when she had thought of something regarding Jason Thorn, but she reasoned that this PARTICULAR idea she had was not the one she promised to tell Star Girl beforehand. She had decided to tell Star Girl about another idea, but in the future. This idea she kept to herself. A DNA sampling of Jason’s blood would be more helpful than finger- prints. And the best time to do this would be when Jason was asleep. If she could get to Jason before we woke up, she had a small biofeedback device that would keep him asleep. Cruder versions of it have been used by doctors for patients with insomnia. It was simple, actually-it sent minuscule pulses of electricity through the brain, keeping it in a state of deep sleep. While the biofeedback machine was running, the Macy’s Day Parade couldn’t wake the user. It was perfect for the job needed. She consulted her records and located the street where Jason’s apartment was. It turned out to be a large complex, with his apartment being on the third floor in the middle. No one saw a blue-silver woman land on the roof, slip into the ledge outside the apartment, and unlock the door with a built-in pick ‘gun,’ a tool designed to force all the tumblers at once. She stepped inside. Jason proved to have Spartan tastes. The furniture in the apartment was traditional (no avant-garde or trendy furnishing here) and kept meticulously clean. An oak table was flanked by two wooden chairs, and there was one white sofa-loveseat combo in the den. There were no pictures on the walls. An entertainment center filled one wall, tricked out with speakers, amplifiers, CD player, radio, big-screen TV, cable-junction box, and a Sony PlayStation™ in one cabinet. Down the hall was a bathroom, a study (where a squat, long table held a personal computer setup and filing cabinet) and the bedroom at the far end. She scanned the room beyond with heat sensors, studying the body within. It did not shift around as a person just on the edge of wakefulness. She quietly opened the door and went in. She examined Jason Thorn with a critical eye, then moved closer, taking the inch-wide disc from her pocket and placing it on his forehead. He murmured softly, and she quickly activated the disc. A few seconds later, his murmur deepened, into a quiet snore as he sank into dreamless sleep. SuperConductor removed the sheet, and was momentarily surprised to see him wearing nothing at all. His body was on its side, his left arm folded over the washboard of his stomach, the right arm under his body. She could see his penis, long and full, sprouting from the dark tuft of thick pubic hair above the sac of his testicles. It had been a long time since she had seen a naked man. Her former owner had shown his nakedness to her, but the Middle Eastern’s body was not as finely developed as Jason was. She had watched the Arab having sexual relations with the women of his private harem, but she had never experienced anything herself-she was a ‘golem’ to him. She was not worthy of his touch, not until she could prove she could please him. She could not remember exactly what she had felt then, being allowed to watch, but never to participate. What WAS sex like, anyway? She reached out to touch his cock, and the touch brought a sudden warmth, the shaft lengthening at her touch. She examined it, but it did not diminish. She was about to touch it again when an idea came to her. She could get a sample of DNA from more than just blood. She unbuckled the flight-pack and placed it next to the bed. She then removed the bodysuit, exposing her chromed-blue body to him. She was built to be a sexual slave, which showed in the ripe fullness of her breasts, the curve of her slim hips, the contours of her long legs, and the fine features of her face. She knelt next to the bed, and touched his length again, now stroking it with her fingertips. It responded, growing long and hard under her light ministrations. She felt the slight pulse in it, and the odd sensations this observation produced were noted and logged in her vast database of information. She noticed his hand’s motions when it reached up to touch her face. She sprang back, startled, her body poised to flee...but the hand relaxed and fell to his hip. Note-Sexual arousal makes the body aware, even in beta sleep. I will investigate further. She went to him again, her face nearing his erect member. She did not breathe, as a rule, so he did not respond to her nearness. What to do next...? she wondered. She began to stroke his member softly, examining his biological responses. The member pulsed slightly with the flow of blood through it. This provokes a reaction of increased heart rate, as well as unusual touch- data in the examiner, she noted. She felt that this was not progressing, and consulted her databank. She found there was a way to induce further arousal. Since there was no chance of him waking up... She placed her lips on the head of his member, tasting the drop of pre-cum. The taste brought a wealth of data, most she could adequately under- stand. She moved down, taking more of him into her mouth, and his hips flexed upward thrusting the head against the back of her throat. She did not need to breathe, but this startled her just the same. Her own systems were running at 107% normal, her tactile-response software relaying streams of data she took as ‘feelings’ that indicated that more data was needed... ...as quickly as possible. Her head rose and fell, as she repeatedly deep-throated him, trying to acquire as much information as possible. Her chrome-blue hands began moving over his hips, analyzing the flex of muscles as his hips rose slightly with each plunge of her mouth. The data was untranslatable into normal human words. They conveyed strange emotions, unusual feelings. She wondered if this was the full range of data, and decided to move ahead. The sudden, potent explosion in her mouth took her completely by surprise, and all she could do was swallow, the semen moving down her throat and into the biomechanical furnace that processed solid matter into energy. It was destroyed in an instant, revealing a substance high in protein. If she was a living creature, she would have cursed. She sat up, looking down at Jason and berated herself. You lost the sample! NOW what will you do? She was about to break out the needles when she noticed that he was not diminishing in length or arousal. She took a deep breath (which she did not need, but had noticed it worked to relax other humans when they did it) and wondered if he was capable of another sample. THIS time, though, she would not simply destroy it. She straddled his stomach with her legs, a knee on each side. She could take the sample and store it in a compartment inside her, and the internal workings of her body made it possible for her to collect a sample and re-acquaint herself with sex at the same time. She began to stroke his shaft again, feeling the streams of data trickle up from the tactile sensors in her gleaming fingers to connect to nanolines of energy from other parts of her brain. This action, seemingly innocent in its practice, created...very interesting equations. It was time. She lifted herself slightly, reached between her legs to grasp his erect member, and guided it into her as her hips descended. The data that flowed in seemed to awaken every sensation in her body, coursing from her hips throughout her body, the data flowing from her inner canal through every subsystem, making her blue-silver ‘skin’ more sensitive to touch, collecting more data than she thought was necessary. When her hips met his, his full length inside her, the functions of her brain began to run faster, burn brighter, than before. Her hips began to rise and fall, drawing up and away from him to envelop him again, electricity beginning to hum through her body as it delivered the data of his hard cock thrusting into her. Note! she managed, her brain being besieged but this new, nameless data. Classify...classify this data...as ‘Pleasure,” subheading ‘Sexual!’ Giving it a name seemed only to increase its flow, her vaginal walls growing tighter around him, trying to draw as much Pleasure (Sexual) as her body could manage. She felt as thought she were on the receiving end of a high-voltage power line. Every sense seemed enhanced, every ‘nerve’ in her body seemed to be crammed with the sensations she felt, translated into machine-language ecstasy. She felt herself being set off-balance by the sudden rise and fall of her breasts, and she raised her hands to cup them in an effort to support them. Now, THIS was an entirely new form of pleasure! Her nipples seemed to be alive with electricity; she touched them with her fingers and the combined input from fingertips and nipples sent shudders through her body. As she impaled herself on Jason’s shaft, she began to caress the skin of her breasts, but as the intensity increased, she began to tease her nipples with just the tips of her fingers, then to press harder against them as she senses greater Pleasure, Sexual could be reached. She pinched her own nipples, lightly, and are rewarded with a sudden, potent wetness deep within her-not a distress signal that inner hydraulic systems were leaking, but an outpouring, a release of lubricating heat that prolonged the Pleasure, Sexual for her. Not to be outdone, she began to tweak and pinch her nipples hard, feeling a small amount of Pain (this she knew well) but also welcomed the intense feelings that threatened to rob her of reason. She would have felt Hate for her former owner if the waves of Pleasure, Sexual weren’t short-circuiting her normal thought processes. Then, she felt IT. IT was a build-up of what felt like pressure. It was almost like a battery inside her, filling with energy, almost swelling as it drew in power from the ecstasy she was experiencing. She suddenly felt fear-what if its eventual discharge would overload her systems? Would she simply burn-out as every internal circuit breaker blew, a pile of useless parts to be discovered the next morning? But for her to stop what she was doing was as impossible as moving the Earth out of its orbit. Stop! Stop now! I can’t assimilate all of this! she commanded her body, but it did not hear her, her body seemingly running on autopilot, on a program that would not stop until it was finished. It was building, cresting, threatening to discharge at any time... No...! Stop! Stop she ordered in vain...then, If I must, then I will take all I can! Prime Builder, help....help... Then, her body froze, galvanized, as the ‘battery’ finally discharged. The sudden, violent explosion of Jason Thorn’s orgasm seemed to fill her, bringing down all the barriers, releasing the grip of gravity, the last thrust lifting her into the bright whiteness of her own electrical climax. She did not hear herself scream. The data that crammed every conductive line in her body seemed to turn white-hot, searing her body with the penultimate ecstasy that overcame her. Her body seemed to be on fire, but it was a fire without pain, a conflagration of pleasure that crowded out all other senses. She was deep in the depths of it pulled down by the weight of it, and she thought she would never come up again, that she would be lost in the endless loop of Pleasure, Sexual given and attained. But eventually...she rose up from it, the systems of her body re-covering from the overload, coming back under her control. She tried to push them away, wanted to stay in the fiery depths, but the data slowed, the pulses farther apart, letting the rational world fall into normal parameters. She felt exhausted, although she was not sweating. She could not sweat. No wonder humans place so much importance on this act! she marveled. She looked down and was suddenly aware that his climax had given her an ample supply to collect DNA from. She slowly withdrew, her hips aching as she stood on her feet. She looked at the clock and was thunderstruck to see that she had been engaging in sex with Jason Thorn for over two hours. Did it take that long because of Jason’s internal stamina, or was it simply due to his relaxed state? Luckily, she had recorded the entire act in her memory, and resolved to play it back to determine what had gone on... A smile bloomed on her face. ...as many times as it takes, she thought wryly. She put the jumpsuit back on, and had the impression that the outfit covered up too much of her body. Maybe it was time to re-design her uniform. She removed the sleep-inducer and slipped out quickly, strapping on the flight pack and taking off into the air. Jason woke up around 10 am on Sunday, rubbing his head. He’d had the WEIRDEST dream last night. He looked down and realized that he must have ejaculated in his sleep. A late-in-life wet dream? He tried his hardest to remember, but the only image that came up was a female figure composed entirely of mercury. “Oh man, I must have had a bad burger or something,” he groaned, and went into the bathroom to take a hot shower. After that, he might go back to bed. For some strange reason, he was exhausted... As he went down to get the Sunday paper, a neighbor, Mr. Sykes, called out to him. “Mr. Thorn!”Jason stopped, then turned around. “Yes?” “If you’re going to entertain a lady like that, can you at least ask her to keep her voice down?”Jason frowned, puzzled. “A lady?” “Yes...she let out a shriek that liked to curl my hair!” He struggled to remember. Did he invite some woman home...? No, not possible. He thought about the wet-dream theory, and decided to keep it to himself. “Yes, Mr. Sykes. If I have a woman up there from now on, I’ll keep it down.” The older man nodded. “Sounds like ya gave her a ride, though.” “Uh, right.” Jason turned forward again, shaking his head. This neighborhood was getting a little weird for him. When Star Girl woke up, SuperConductor was hard at work on the DNA sample. She figured it would take some time to match the sample up against all the people in the files, but she was content to wait. Star Girl came down in a blue robe, walking into the computer room, and then stopped, looking at SuperConductor. She was not dressed in the usual jumpsuit. She had foregone it for a new costume that was frighteningly explicit. It might have been a one-piece bathing suit once. The gold suit’s neckline wasn’t plunging, it was diving, ending at a point that was at least an inch below her waistline. The top of the suit was attached by silver rings at her sides to the French-cut bottom of the same gold material. Oh, no...she must have dropped back into her ‘slave girl’ programming last night! “SuperConductor, are you all right?” SuperConductor turned, her eyes sparkling. “I am doing...WONDERFULLY, thank you.”Star Girl’s left eyebrow rose. “Oh? What brought this on?” “I had...an experience last night. One I have never had before. It was the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.” Mystery walked in, rubbing her head. “I heard that...” She stopped, eyeing SuperConductor, then asked, “What...KIND of experience?” “I acquired a DNA sample from Jason Thorn while he slept.” “Oh? I just hope you got that internal sterilizer before taking his blood,” Mystery said, slightly annoyed that SuperConductor would go off on her own like that. “I didn’t draw any blood from him,” SuperConductor replied, then smiled disarmingly. Five seconds elapsed while the two women examined SuperConductor. Mystery got it first. She covered her mouth with her hand and whispered, “Oh my God...” Star Girl figured it out in the next second. “You...you DIDN’T!!” “That is a fallacy, Star Girl,” SuperConductor replied smoothly. “I did. And I have the aud-vid recording to prove it.” “I can’t believe that you raped a man in his sleep!” Star Girl exclaimed. “I’m sorry. I did not rape him. He was asleep the entire time. No mental trauma was detected.” SuperConductor stated this in the same way she would state, “The world is indeed round.” There was nothing Star Girl could say. The very IDEA that Jason had been ‘taken’ in his sleep by...by...Mystery asked candidly, “Was he any good?” Star Girl gaped at her while SuperConductor nodded. “SuperConductor, would you like to explain why you used him that way to get what you wanted?” SuperConductor looked blankly at Star Girl. “Men sleep with women to get what they want all the time. Why shouldn’t women do the same?” Mystery opened her mouth...then closed it. Star Girl looked heavenward for divine assistance, then sighed. She had no idea how to handle this. SuperConductor, it seemed, had her own moral code, which ultimately was the logical code of the machine. “All right...do you have anything from the...sample?” she asked tiredly. “I do.” Superconductor placed a finger on the touch-sensitive screen, and a face appeared in 3-dimensional space above a circle in the center of the computer room. It was a face that had little in common with Jason Thorn’s face. It had a thick, black beard and mustache that was trimmed in harsh, exacting lines. The eyebrows were thick and bushy, over blue eyes that looked like hard chips of glacial ice, frozen for millennia. The mouth was set in a hard grimace, as though the bearer of the face held no love for anything or anyone. The face conveyed all the intelligence of a thug. “Who is THIS person?” Solaria asked. She had walked in, wearing her costume, while everyone had been examining the face. “The DNA sample has a 99.3% match with this person. His name is Jason Malenkov, Sergeant, of the United States Air Force.”

For Want of a Nail...Part seven

“You are saying that this...Malenkov...is the same person as Jason Thorn?” Star Girl asked, incredulous. SuperConductor frowned. “Yes...and no.” “Explain that,” Mystery snapped, losing her patience quickly. The face was unsettling to watch. “The match is not perfect. There are small and large differences. I pulled his genome from the Air Force Archives, and there are a few differences between Jason Thorn and Jason Malenkov. Malenkov’s IQ is somewhere in the lower 70s, while Thorn’s seems much higher, based on the creativity involved in his career choice.” Solaria looked thoughtful. “Yes, there is that...” “Second, and more telling, is that Malenkov came up positive for the Metagene. Thorn’s sample has come up negative.” Mystery shook her head. “But the similarities are too close! A match of over 99 percent only occurs between identical twins.” “Malenkov was apparently born an only child,” SuperConductor replied. “So...it is theoretical that Jason Thorn should not exist...but the reality is that he does.” Star Girl began rubbing her head. “This is giving me a headache.” “The results prove that there is some link between Malenkov and Thorn, although I do not have enough data at this time to form a hypothesis on what this link is.” SuperConductor seemed angry at the fact that she could not figure out this puzzle of logic. “So...who IS Malenkov?” Solaria asked. “Malenkov is...was...a test subject for a project at Los Alamos, but that information is classified Top Secret-Presidential. I do have medical records, though.” SuperConductor paused, then went on, “Apparently, Malenkov is a paranoid schizophrenic. He has been diagnosed with sociopathic episodes, extreme right-wing political views, and one doctor suspected him of being a full-blown psychopath.”Star Girl’s skin began to crawl. “And?” “And...well, it gets confusing. Apparently he went AWOL five years ago. He escaped a military base during some kind of test at Los Alamos, and his current whereabouts are unknown.” SuperConductor frowned. “There is other information here, but it makes no logical sense. I will have to study further.” Star Girl felt weak with worry. Were Malenkov and Thorn linked? Was Jason Thorn actually a psychopathic Jason Malenkov? “I have to find out,” she muttered. “Excuse me?” Mystery asked. “I’m going to find Jason Thorn and I am going to get some answers,” Star Girl said firmly. “Star, are you sure? If he is as twisted as the records say, he could be capable of ANYTHING!” Solaria sounded very worried. She knew how willful crazy men could be. “What am I to do? I will not walk around on tenterhooks whenever his name is mentioned!” Star Girl seemed filled with righteous anger. “I am going to confront him.” Without another word, she stormed upstairs and practically LUNGED for her costume. Mystery followed her upstairs. Mystery found her while she was fastening the leg-bracer on her left leg. “Star Girl?” “I don’t want to hear about it. I’m going to bring him in.”“Bring him in? On what?” Star Girl turned, overfull of righteous indignation. “He’s a thief, and a military fugitive, and...” “No, no! We don’t have anything legally binding on him!” “What does that matter?” “Star Girl, look...” Mystery sat down on the bed. “First off, we do not have anything we can bring to a courtroom. The process we used to identify him is tested and true by US, yes, but not by the country at large. It will most likely be dismissed.” Star Girl’s ardor showed no sign of cooling but she had to admit that Mystery had a point. “What else? There’s more, I hope.” Mystery nodded. “Do you want to know HOW SuperConductor got the sample?” Star Girl’s left eyebrow rose. “She entered his apartment without his permission by picking the lock. That is the first charge, breaking-and-entering. She then went into his room and put a sleep-inducer on him, which can be legally identified as assault, the second charge. She then undressed, engaging Jason in fellatio first...” Star Girl’s right eyebrow soon joined the left one in rising. “...then, having destroyed the sample because she swallowed it, began non-consensual sexual intercourse with him. So, now we have one of our own committing assault, breaking-and-entering, and RAPE to acquire the sample,” Mystery finished calmly. “Athena have MERCY,” Star Girl whispered, horrified. “What do you think the courts would do with that...?” “They would CRUCIFY us!” Star Girl exploded. “What was she THINKING of?!” Mystery sighed. “She was thinking about all those times she witnessed sex without experiencing it herself. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, eh? So, in a fit of sudden indulgence, she satisfied her curiosity, as she wanted to do. Since Jason was not undergoing any stress, she never thought about his feelings on the subject. She is, in many ways, still a machine... and being treated as such caused her to doubt her own worth. So, she took control of herself and placed Jason in the role of machine. She didn’t know any better.” “How...how is SuperConductor doing now?” Star Girl asked, finding a chair to sit in before her unsteady legs gave out completely. “Well, she is coming to grips about what she has done. I suspect that she will realize what she did and have some kind of breakdown. Hopefully, she will come out of this stronger...and possibly more human. But she understands that it was something she had no right to do, but she’s not dwelling on it.” “Any other unwelcome surprises?” Star Girl asked. “It depends...” Mystery began. “Do you intend to see Jason again?” The question took her by surprise. An automatic NO! was her first reactive response, but...”I don’t know,” she answered quietly. “You might be in a good position to determine who Thorn really is.” Star Girl looked at Mystery. “Are you serious?” “VERY. From what you’ve told me and from what I saw on stage, Thorn and Malenkov are two radically different people. We need to know what is behind it all. We need to find out if he is truly a different person, a mentally-ill man whose illness seems preferable to his normal mind-state, or someone working a deep-cover assignment with the skill of Sean Connery.” “And if he is one of the latter two?” she asked carefully. “Then you’d never have to go near him again. We could get the police or we can take him in ourselves. But suspicions are not enough.” Star Girl nodded. “I think I will call him. See what kind of man he is.” She reached for the phone, then dialed his number from the phonebook. “Hi, this is Jason Thorn,” replied the fuzzy voice of an answering machine. “If you are calling about the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes prize, leave a message and I will call RIGHT back! If you are someone asking for free tickets to my act, tough...you’ll have to buy them like everyone else. And if you are calling for some other reason...well...I guess you could leave a message. Lemme find a Beep around here and I’ll give it to you...” Then it cut to the quiet beep. Star Girl thought for a moment. What kind of message could she leave? “Hello, Jason. It’s your recent lunch date. The actress? Please call me at the number I give you. If I am not there, one of my co-stars will answer it for me.” She hung up, then sighed, laying back on her bed. Jason did not answer the phone when Star Girl called because he was out shopping. He needed some new material for the next show on Monday. He had exhausted his available material last weekend and felt he could put some new sketches in and take out some of the older stuff. For some reason, he did not have the heart to make jokes about super-heroes anymore. So, he went out, decided to drive around, stop at different places, and observe other people. The bank robbery was old news by now. No witnesses, no suspects, no little visits from the police...in short, things were finally looking up. “I see him,” Max said quietly. He was looking down at Jason Thorn from an observation station, using a saucer-shaped surveillance drone. “Are you sure that’s him?” Pamela replied, “Yes. I ought to know an ex-lover.” “OH?” Max turned, watching her closely. “Why the ex?” She looked away. “He was taken away from me, by General Steele.” She began to examine a computer screen fitfully. “He doesn’t look like your type, Pammy.” Max purred. Pam glared at him. “He was one of the best lovers I ever had. Better than YOU, anyway!” Max frowned imperiously. “I might take offense at that.” Pamela did not notice. Max ceased to be the most important factor in her life. She was now replaying her nights with Malenkov in her mind at fast-forward, listening to Max with only one ear. Maybe, she thought, I can cure what ails him... Max didn’t like this. This Malenkov person didn’t seem like much, but he obviously had some effect on Pamela. She was acting like some giggly schoolgirl with a crush on the teacher. And Malenkov simply wasn’t ACTING like Malenkov. Max decided it was his personal duty to get rid of the guy, once and for all. It might get Steele mad, and it might even lose the location of the armored suit for them. But, on the other hand, it would give him great personal satisfaction to get rid of his primary competitor for Pamela’s affection. He made a mental note to hire an assassin for the job. “What is the alias he is using?” Max asked her. When she didn’t answer, he continued, “Find out, why don’t you? Get everything you can on him, where he eats, where he works, where he sleeps, where he parks his car... everything.” Pamela nodded, restraining herself from licking her lips at the prospect of getting up close and personal with Malenkov... Jason stopped by a large bookstore that had ‘bargain bins’ of books on the sidewalk in front of the doors. He peered into the bushel-size baskets of books, checking to see if he could find any good deals. He didn’t find any first printings of Robert E. Howard’s Conan books, but he chanced upon a copy of Robert Cormier’s THE CHOCOLATE WAR. He care-fully extracted it from the pile, turning it over in his hands. The cover was the same as when he had seen it in 6th-grade English. Archie and Brother Leon on the right, peering over at Keith (was the name Keith Faultner? He couldn’t remember it exactly), co-conspirators plotting against he who would disturb the universe of fictional Trinity High School. Back then, he had hated to read anything he had to be graded on, but he was suddenly itching to open it again, to read it for himself and not for the ‘B’ grade he had gotten for his book report. “’Do I dare disturb the universe?’” he asked no one in particular, and went into the store to pay for the book.

For Want of a Nail...Part eight

Jason came out of the shop, with another book for his shelves. He decided to check his messaging service, to see if he would be needed for the next couple of nights, or if that fell through. The first message was from the comedy club. He was indeed on for that night, as well as the next three. Turnout had to have been better than Jason thought. He got the time he had to show up, erased the message, then waited for the next one. As he listened to it, he began to frown. Actress? I don’t know any actresses...I wish I did, tho... Then the word ‘co-stars’ popped up and his eyebrows rose. Co-stars had been HIS little invention, the one for Star Girl. Actress...female star. Star girl. Of course... “She should be in show business,” he said wryly. He committed the number to memory, then called her back. “You have reached a private number. Please identify who you want to speak to,” the sterile voice on the other end said. “Star Girl,” Jason said quietly. A momentary click of rerouted connections, then the buzz of a phone ringing. Then, “Hello?” came from the other end. “You oughtta be in pictures...” Jason sang quietly into the phone. A pause, then, “Hello, Jason. I was hoping you would call.” Jason opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by a curt, “I need to speak to you...in person.” Jason was jolted out of his pleasant reverie by the sudden flatness of her voice. “Sure. No problem. Should I come to your place after the show?” A pause. “No. I’d prefer meeting you at the club.” Jason’s frown deepened. “All right. Give a name to the manager, tell him you’re there to see me. He should let me know, then come back to guide you in. There’s a side hallway for the staff you can use, he’ll take you through it. Sound all right?” “Good enough. What time?” “Best time would be...9 pm.” “See you then.” She hung up without saying goodbye. Jason stared at the phone, then hung it up and walked back to his car, lost in thought. He drove to the club early, then picked up a newspaper and proceeded to read it while waiting for the show to start. The show went off well, better than Jason thought it would. It seemed that a little nervousness had helped him early on, making him sound a little more real. Some customers seemed a little surprised that his normal ‘hero’ sketches were noticeably absent from tonight’s performance, but a couple of new parts he had come up with seemed to placate them. As long as it was funny... He finished the act, then went to his small dressing room. He sat down in the chair, picked up the newspaper, and started reading the comics page. He was halfway through DILBERT when the manager came by. “Some dame’s here to see you,” the manager said. “She says she’s an actress.” “Bring her on in,” Jason said, turning to the Business section and laying it on the table. A few seconds later, Star Girl came in, an overcoat hiding her resplendent costume. She closed the door, then said, “Hello again, Jason Thorn.”His smile was coming up when she said, “Or is it Jason Malenkov?” The smile fell, shot down, crashed, burned. He tried to compose him- self, opened his mouth for something comedic to say, but it was too late. He closed his mouth, then took a deep breath. “Not me...but I know the man.” She gazed down at him. “You know him? He’s you, isn’t he?” “Yes...and no.” Jason leaned forward in his chair. “It’s a long story, Jamie.” Now it was HER turn to be astonished. Her eyes flashed, her face betrayed wonder, amazement, suspicion. “And what makes you think my name is Jamie?” she asked bitingly. Jason suddenly felt guilty over his faux pas. He hadn’t meant for that to come out. He pointed to the newspaper on the table. “There’s a part in there next to the Obit page called Announcements. Your transfer to another STARS facility includes a promotion. Your company photo is right next to the announcement.” Star Girl picked it up, looked at the photo, then at Jason. “Is this what you planned to do? I did not think blackmail was part of your arsenal, but...” Jason looked suddenly, terribly wounded, the pain plain on his face. “Jesus, you think that’s what I had in mind? I just read about it today. I didn’t even mean to bring the damn business up! I’m not a blackmailer, any more than I am Malenkov!” Star Girl found herself at sea. His tone was genuine...but... “Who are you, if you are not Malenkov? His file said he had no brothers, no relatives...” “Take a load off. I told you, it’s a long story. It also explains how I was able to identify you.” She looked at him for a long moment, then sat on a nearby chair. “Very well. Tell me.” Jason took a deep breath... JASON’S STORY I guess I should start with my story, before Malenkov got involved. I don’t even begin to understand any of it, and what I do have is pure speculation. I was born in a world a lot like this one. Don’t give me that look, Star Girl, I know how it sounds...but it’s true. I was born Jason Thorn in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1958. (pause) You’re giving me that look again, Star Girl. Please listen. The Earth I was born on doesn’t have superheroes, supervillains, and the like. None of them. No Superman, no Batman, no Wonder Woman, no Justice League...none of it. I’ve heard of Firestorm, the Nuclear Man...but on my world, if you get a serious dose of radiation, you don’t get superpowers...you get radiation poisoning, and maybe two or three different types of cancer. Metropolis doesn’t exist, and neither does Gotham City...although they both seem to resemble the light and dark side of New York City. On my Earth, THERE IS NO METAGENE. People who actually have some kind of ESP or psychic power do not dress up in costumes and fly around helping people, they join up with the Psychic Friends Network and tell fortunes for $3.99 a minute. In my world, no one has powers far beyond mortal men. The only heroes there are the ones who risk their own frail lives to help others. Or, they are the quiet and diligent who work hard for long hours so that a poor family or a wrongly- convicted man can get justice. That is my world...or at least, it was until about six years ago. I was a comedian in that world, too, but before that, I was a police detective. I did it for roughly 6 years before a bullet lodged in my spine and put me in a wheelchair. After that, I became a comedian...but every place I worked at needed a ramp for me to get in. Six years ago, though, I started having some very strange dreams. Dreams where I could walk, where I was strong...but in those dreams, I was vicious, dangerous. I talked them out with my wife, Claire (yes, in that other world, I was married, had been for 10 years) and she suggested I go to a psychiatrist. He called them ‘night terrors’ and figured that the things I had seen as a police officer were coming up again. This next part I’m not sure of, because it comes from military files. But I think it was when I began to see into the mind of the man I might have become, a man who was named Jason Malenkov here, in this world. He was a man who was a twisted version of myself, still in his twenties. He hated anything or anyone who didn’t think just like him. He was cruel and sadistic, with sexual habits that would turn me cold and shivering in my bed. He was a psychopath. He was also a soldier, selected for a project that would help him...USE his special talents for mayhem. It was some kind of suit that was ‘extra-dimensional’...among other things. While Malenkov was undergoing testing in the suit, I think the suit opened up some dimensional link between him and me. Star Girl, stop with the look! I know this sounds crazy, but does it sound ANY crazier than traveling from a planet called Krypton?? (pause) Uh-huh...didn’t think so. Shall I go on? Okay. Anyway, about three months after I was introduced to the black world as seen through Malenkov’s eyes, he underwent some sort of final test. By this time, I think he might have known of my ‘presence,’ but he didn’t seem smart enough to make the connection between it and the suit. At the climax of this test, the suit went completely insubstantial, then came back to its original state...but something had changed. During the point of total dissolution, Malenkov and I had switched bodies! I awoke from my dream to see some man in his fifties pounding on the helmet, asking if I was going to be all right. I must have said I was fine, for he bellowed laughter and said he expected that of me. I thought I was still in the dream, but I slowly realized that this was reality...that I was somewhere else, someONE else! I saw myself, and saw the man Malenkov staring back at me through the mirror, but my presence seemed to have softened his hard face. But the worst part came when I went to sleep in this new Earth. I dreamed again, but this time I was the outsider looking out of the body of Jason Thorn. I knew that this was Malenkov in my body, for he had hardened my face, raging to some doctor about how he ‘wasn’t supposed to be here,’ and that kind of thing. I think he suspected my presence as well, for I felt he could see me. As the nights passed, I had dream ‘conversations’ with him...and before you ask, Star Girl, I have no interest in repeating them in detail. I told him I had no idea how it had happened, and had no way of knowing how to reverse it...for indeed, I WANTED it reversed! My wife on that world had seen what was happening to her husband. I had no intention of leaving her with that madman! But by the time I had figured out who to talk to, the suit was gone, hidden away in some lab while they tinkered with it. Malenkov began to beat upon my wife in an attempt to get back at me, and the nights when I was a witness to that nearly drove me as mad as he. Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to send him to an institution, declaring him mentally unstable (the stories of my dreams must have sounded like approaching dementia to the doctors) and they shut him away...for awhile. I was spending a lot of time learning about the world I was now trapped in. The suit had returned for a new set of tests, but they seemed to have fixed whatever flaw had put me in Malenkov’s body, for after the tests were done, I was still here. I did not know what my wife was doing, but it must have been sheer hell for her. Watching the man she loved turn into a monster...and never knowing that I was HERE, trapped! I would have gladly given up this stronger body for the chance to be with her. I was also learning what the older man (who I learned was an Air Force general named Steele) had planned for me...and this suit, which he named ShadowBox. I was going to be his personal assassin. I found the prospect utterly inhuman! I agonized over what I could do. My only option, I reckoned, was to steal the suit, leave the base...and destroy the suit, if I could. I spent many weeks observing, trying to figure out the best way. Before I could implement my plan, my alter ego on my world had escaped from the institution, and was returning to my wife. I confess, I tried every-thing I could to reason with Malenkov (through my dreams) but he stubbornly believed that my wife was the key to his ‘imprisonment’ and that getting rid of her was his ticket home. And the night before I planned to escape...he made it home. They found him two hours later, still...mutilating...my wife. I was so enraged. I realized I couldn’t stay one minute longer in that damnable place. I went out to the warehouse where they kept the suit and all of its materials. I put the suit on, then rocketed out of there...and sent what they called the ‘EMP shell’ into the warehouse, corrupting all the files and computers they had. They came after me, and I went into hiding...but not before I held my own private service for my wife, Claire. The next three years were the worst in my life. I found I had to learn about the world all over again. I didn’t even want to TOUCH the suit-I buried it under a rose bush in the dank little house I rented, tried to forget about it. The nights were terrible. I dreamed maybe once or twice a week, but when I did, HE was there. I went through his entire trial with him, as though I was sitting inside him. They found him competent to stand trial, found him guilty of premeditated murder. They sentenced him to death in the electric chair, and put him on Death Row. All this, I saw. (deep breath) I thought that with him alive, there was a chance, however small, that I might go back...but I never wanted to go back. Every- thing I cared for was gone. Claire was my only reason for going back...and HE put her in the ground. I started my comedy career again, drawing heavily from current events. I also noticed things others didn’t. You see, I noticed then what I noticed just now...that some people had suspicious similarities to some of these heroes and heroines. I worked as a policeman, so that was some of it...but in some cases, I keep thinking that people on this world picked up some kind of ‘blind spot.’ There’s a guy working in a major metropolitan newspaper that looks so much like one of this world’s heroes, I’m surprised his cover wasn’t blown long before this. And that is just one example. Maybe it was because I was from another Earth...I really don’t know. I close with this...if you are looking for the REAL Malenkov, don’t bother. They executed him roughly one or two days ago. (shivers) I was never a great fan of Capital Punishment, and I doubt my own partial experience on the receiving end of Old Sparky will change my mind. But he died in my world... “..and to quote Ishmael, ‘only I am left to tell thee.’” Jason fell silent. Star Girl didn’t know what to say. The tale was fantastic, almost impossible...but it would explain many things. If he was lying, he was a world-class liar...but Malenkov was found to be dim and low-minded. And she had seen his act herself. Malenkov simply could not do what Thorn could do very well. “I believe you,” she said simply. Jason looked up at her. “I’m glad, Star Girl. I truly am. You’re the first person I’ve ever truly cared about since I woke up in this topsy- turvy world.” That brought a slight smile to her face. “So...what now?” Jason asked. “I don’t know. I...” she paused, as she suddenly remembered what Diana had told her. “Jason, Steele knows you’re here.”“WHAT? How?” “I was informed that Steele was running some kind of operation here. It must have to do with you.”Jason was up and pacing. “Are you sure he knows? Knows for SURE?” “That...I do not know for certain. Perhaps you were spotted at a performance. The connection could have been made at any time. You haven’t been keeping that low of a profile.” “I had hoped he thought I was dead. He still thinks I’m Malenkov.” Jason looked up to the window, then said, “We better get...” He never had time to finish. A grenade burst through the windowpane and exploded in the confined space of the dressing room. “Got ‘em,” Max said, smiling widely. “Go get them, Pam. And remember the special things we have to do for the wench.” He packed up his weapon, a man-portable grenade launcher with a telescopic sight, and walked leisurely to the stairs that led down to the street.

For Want of a Nail...Part Nine

Jason woke up, his head pounding. He did not make a sound. Waking up from whatever had happened was a relief, but an internal warning system told him it wasn’t good for him if OTHERS knew he was awake. He kept his breathing slow and deep, one eye opening just a little to figure out where he was. The shapes were confusing, and he was unable to orient himself. Okay, so what do his ears tell him? The low rumble of a vehicle. A heavy vehicle. A truck, maybe, or a van. The sound was strongest ahead of him, so he was near the back. An odd shifting of something heavy next to him. His body was curled, he felt, and it was lying down on a rough carpeted floor. An RV? The light was dim and he opened both his eyes...just a little, not enough to clue in anyone who might be watching. Now, move the eyes SLOWLY... He was on the floor of a small bedroom. An RV, definitely...maybe even a Winnebago. It would make sense, especially if someone was running a secret op and wanted to move in and out of town without being suspected. Hello, officer, glad to see you...us? Oh, we’re on our vacation, the company gave us at least two weeks. Now...what else? The heavy object was large, and above him, behind him. Best not to chance a look yet. What’s that around the wrists? Handcuffs there...and leg cuffs, too, around the ankles. The two sets were linked together behind him, bending his feet back until they were resting on his lower back. The classic ‘hog-tied’ position. Whoever they were, they were taking no chances with him... Wait...all right, no one’s here. No security cameras. Okay, Jason, roll carefully until you’re on your back...OUCH! Those damn cuffs HURT. Deal with it, you’ve got little to worry about pinching cuffs. Now, you can see up there and... Well, what do you know? Star Girl’s up there, hog-tied just like you. Big sigh of relief. If she’s bound, she must still be alive-who’d bother chaining up a corpse? Wait. Leg cuffs are like yours, but those bracelets she’s wearing are not the ones you saw on her. They’re thick, long, made of steel, and are binding her wrists together. On each of them is a keypad. That doesn’t make sense. Why these big things for her wrists and just cuffs for her ankles?Worry about that later. Is there a window? Jason brought himself up slowly, almost an inch a minute, until he could see out the back window. The lights of Metropolis...far away. About... oh, maybe 40, maybe 50 miles away. The RV looks a lot better now for a cover vehicle. What happened up there? Why aren’t we dead? The thing that came in, hmmm...not the standard grenade, or at least one of us would have been turned into Picante Sauce, Chunky Style. Okay...what about a concussion grenade? It would explain a lot...they were knocked cold, not shredded into ground round. Isn’t Star Girl tougher than that? Or did she just get the lion’s share of the blast? Now...the cuffs. These aren’t standard cuffs, but they haven’t taken away my key-ring. Just the standard keys there, but a .45-caliber cartridge is still there, hooked to the ring. Just unscrew the bullet from the casing, and...yes, it’s still there. The roll of six 100-dollar bills. Your escape-money, you called it. The money to use in emergencies. But the money isn’t the important thing right now.The paper-clip that holds it together neatly, however, IS... In a few seconds, Jason had unbent the clip and was going to work on one of the cuffs. It was tricky, but he had had the benefit of needing to get out of his own handcuffs when a crazy man with a gun had taken a store hostage. He had gone in, the crook had put his own cuffs on him, and had kept him under the gun. He knew it had saved his bacon again when the hasp of the left cuff loosened and fell open. He pulled it out from behind him, freeing his legs, and then began on the other handcuff. As he worked he listened for any sudden increase or decrease in speed. If whoever had them decided to check on them, they’d slow down or stop some-where... He heard a moan and turned quickly. Star Girl was coming to. He placed a hand over her mouth and her eyes flew open, her body straining against the bonds. Her eyes were filled with alarm and anger. “Quiet!” he hissed. Star Girl did, and then recognized him. Jason took the hand away, putting an upraised finger over his mouth in the universal sign for QUIET. Jason continued on his handcuff. “Where are we?” she asked in a whisper. “On our way. Away from Metropolis. Can you bust out of those quietly enough?” She tested her wrists. “No.” Jason looked up at her, curiously. “Aren’t you...well, aren’t you supposed to be super-strong or something...?” She shook her head sadly. “Not with my wrists bound together like this.” Jason realized, finally, why the special restraints had been for her. With her wrists bound, her power went away (and she seemed none too happy about THAT) and there was no need for heavy restraints anywhere else. He felt the other cuff loosen, and he put the handcuffs aside and went to work on Star Girl’s leg-cuffs. “There’s got to be a code to unlock those, but I don’t think they’d tell us if we asked them.” He got her leg cuffs off and she could stand again. As he worked on his own legs, she flexed her hands, twisting her wrists. Her wrists seemed flexible, but she could not bring her wrists away from each other. She looked down to see Jason spring himself from the leg-cuffs, and three sets of cuffs soon rested on the bed. “Any ideas?” she asked Jason. He looked up, puzzled. “I thought you might. Don’t they teach you to do stuff like this in Heroine School?” She glared at him. “I have roughly 15 different ways to handle armed gunmen, but all of them involve having my HANDS FREE!” she hissed. Jason held up one hand. “All right, all right...I’m sorry I jumped on you like that.” He looked out the window, trying to gauge the speed they were traveling. Too fast, he figured. “They’re all gone!” Star Girl whispered. “My stars, my lariat, my bracelets...all of it!” “Okay, okay...so we have to deal with them, sooner or later. We’re not going anywhere and leaving that kind of equipment behind,” Jason replied. “You have no idea how important they are,” she whispered soberly. “Well...maybe I can get a good ide...Sh! Someone’s coming...” Pamela pointedly ignored Max’s requests to check on them until he made it an order. Then she went back, fuming. Everything had gone so well at the club, but then Max ruined it by telling her to drive while he examined them both. She knew it was his way of denying her the chance to touch Jason again, as well as get a few cheap thrills by fondling the brunette bitch. She was thinking of ways to explain why Max disappeared on the trip back to the base when she opened the door. Jason had rolled over on his back, but the Star Bitch was still the same way Max had left her. She felt the need to touch him, to make sure that he had returned to her... She bent down, caressing his face. “I have such plans for you, my dear Jason...” His eyes opened like a magic trick. “I’ll pass...!” She registered shock and surprise, and then Star Girl brought her hands up and fastened one of the handcuffs to the bedpost, then swung the other around to snap closed around Pamela’s exposed wrist. She had enough time to yell, “MAAAAXX!” before Star Girl hit her on the nape of her neck and sent her to dreamland. The RV wrenched, fishtailing to the left slightly, as Max slammed on the brakes. The RV sputtered to a stop on the shoulder. Jason whispered, “Okay, how about this? If you stay ahead of me, maybe we can rush him...” A beam of light came through the closed door, cutting a shallow furrow in Star Girl’s arm, and exited through the back with a loud ZZAZZ! Star Girl did not cry out, but Jason could tell that it burned like hell. Her knuckles whitened as she gripped her fist tight. “Whoever you are out there, I’ve got your girl in front of the door, think it over!” Silence for a few seconds. “The name’s Max, Jason. That’s Pammy in there. And personally, buddy-boy, I don’t mind perforatin’ any of ya in there, not even her.” “Jason, this plan isn’t WORKING,” Star Girl said through clenched teeth. “I know, I know...Max, you working for Steele, right? Can’t we work this out without turning this into a slaughterhouse?” A long pause. “You certainly don’t sound like Jason Malenkov. We know it’s you, of course, but you sound awful strange.” “I’ve been going to therapy?” Jason offered, then cringed as another laser bolt shot through the door and passed them out into the night, doing God-knew-WHAT kind of damage out there. “All right, Pammy. Where’s her gear?” “The top drawer. In there.” She pointed to a drawer near the door, which was padlocked. She flinched as another bolt came through over their heads. “Sorry, Malenkov. General Steele LIKES you the way you were before.” “What, maladjusted, malicious, and malfunctioning?” Jason called out. “Hey, Max, what say I just give you the suit? Call it even?” Star Girl looked STONILY at Jason, and he whispered, “Gotta keep him talking. Got any ideas?” She looked up and saw a mirror over Jason’s head. She grabbed it, then put it in front of Jason. “We send it back at him.” Jason nodded, then said, “What do you say, hunh?” He took the large mirror from Star Girl and placed it in front of them. Then an idea occurred to him and he angled the mirror. “Hey, Max, Pam says she likes me more than you!” A blast came through the door, and Jason had an instant of adjustment before it hit the mirror in front of his heart...and angled up at the drawer with a loud ZZZANG!, punching through the padlock and through the drawer. The now-useless lock dropped to the floor. Star Girl jumped up to collect her gear as Jason said, “Max, I’ll give you one last chance...” “I have it all,” Star Girl whispered. “Go, out the back!” Jason urged. Star Girl slipped out through the window and dropped to the road. “Jason, in a few seconds, I am going to open fire and kill you all. Anything more you want to say?” Max called out. Jason pushed the mirror aside, leaning it against the bed, and said, “Remember the Alamo?” “What a PATHETIC choice of last words!” Max replied, and opened fire. Jason had barely enough time to drop out of the back window and run for the side of the road. Three blasts came through the back over Jason’s head. The fourth one never came out, but Pamela saw where it went. It came through the door, hit the tilted mirror, and was deflected downward... ...into the gas tanks. It all went up. Star Girl was already near the hill and lay flat as she saw the bloom of flame envelop the RV. Jason was still running-the force of the explosion lifted him into the air and deposited him on the ground on the opposite side of the road. He cried out as he landed hard, knocking the breath out of him. He rolled on the ground until he no longer felt heat at his back, then stopped to examine himself. “Two arms, two legs, one head...Star Girl!” He got to the side of the road, where he saw Star Girl brushing herself off. He ran over to her side of the road. She turned, saw him, and then they were holding each other close, Star Girl raising her arms in the air as he came close, then lowered them to enfold him into her arms. He smelled of smoke, dirt, and crabgrass, but she was surprised at how CLEAR everything was, after the closed-in darkness of the RV. How clear...and how good. They held each other for awhile, then slowly pulled away, neither knowing for sure what was happening between them. Jason looked towards the burning vehicle and whispered, “Jesu Christus...” “Do you think we should wait for the police?” Jason added, after a long moment. Star Girl shook her head. “No. There are too many questions that they would ask that we have no answers for. If the military is connected to this as much as we know, our names must stay beyond public attention.” Jason nodded. “Then we better lay low for awhile.” He looked out into the night. “I think I saw a farmhouse about five or six miles back. We should try to find someplace to hide out, or at least find a phone.” “As well as a way to get these off,” Star Girl added, holding up her wrists. “Right. Sorry about that.” They began walking. Seven quiet miles later, they found themselves sequestered in a hay- loft. The house and barn were empty, but the two of them were able to find a place where the hay actually felt and smelled clean. The night was cool, but the barn seemed to keep in enough heat to actually make it comfortable. Jason and Star Girl patiently worked at the high-tech handcuffs (Jason began calling them the SuperCuffs-Star Girl wasn’t amused) for over an hour. In the end, they gave up. “If SuperConductor was here, she’d have these open in half a heart- beat,” Star Girl said moodily, leaning back against a hay-bale. Jason sat next to her, his hands folded on his chest. “I imagine that we need a phone to do that...otherwise, you’d have called her by now.” Star Girl nodded. “I had a special beeper, but I couldn’t find it. I gather those two left it behind, so I couldn’t be tracked.” “Yeah.” Jason leaned back. “Well, when it gets light, I can head down the road until I can hitch a ride to the nearest phone.” Star Girl stared at him. “What about ME?” she asked pointedly. Jason held up one hand in protective protest. “Easy! It just seems that one man hitchhiking draws less attention than one man and one super- heroine hitchhiking.” Star Girl looked up again, her ire cooling. She had found out her capacity for flight had left with her strength. “Yes...there is that. I suppose I can trust you. You don’t seem the type to leave damsels in distress out in the cold, alone.” “No, I’m not...although I could hardly call you a damsel in distress.” “Oh? I’m handcuffed, without benefit of strength, speed, or flight...” “...AND still escaped from two armed military spooks. Don’t forget that.” Jason replied quickly. “...WITH your help, MISTER Thorn...” she shot back, a little of her good humor returning. “...BECAUSE you had the good sense to travel with EXCELLENT company,” Jason countered, a smirk on his face. Star Girl threw up her hands. “I give UP!” she admonished, but she felt much better...even WITH the SuperCuffs on her hands. “You should have been a superhero, what with that suit and all. After all, even though that Steele character had evil plans for it, you could turn it around, couldn’t you?” That quieted Jason for a few minutes. “I don’t know,” he said with a loud sigh. “I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to do it. I barely know how to pilot that suit.” “Oh, I don’t know about that. You seem to think fast on your feet. And you said yourself that on your world, the heroes there were those who did their jobs. You seem to know how to do the job of a policeman. Jason Thorn, SuperCop!” Star Girl said, with a broad smile. “Yeah, right...” Jason said in a mock-aggrieved voice. “Still...maybe it’s worth looking into. I do know at least one person who could give me a few pointers.” He chuckled to Star Girl, who got the point. “Well, Jason, there’s always Diana. I mean, she helped me.” “Diana Prince? The article mentioned that. But how would she...” His voice trailed off, his eyes widened. “NO!” he blurted. Star Girl smiled slyly. “She’s WONDER WOMAN??” She nodded in reply. “I KNEW there was SOMETHING about her at the club that night!” He threw up his hands. “Was EVERYONE at that table a heroine?” “Well...actually...” “Oh, me GOD...” It was too much for her, seeing that woebegone look on his face. She broke into gales of laughter, while Jason looked stricken with the bright light of Truth. Her laughter continued for some time. When she settled down, she said, “I’m sorry, Jason...but the look on your FACE...” “Just...tell me one thing.” She took a deep breath, calming herself. “Yes, Jason?” “Is EVERYONE on this planet a super-powered...” And she was off again, laughing so hard her sides ached.

For Want of a Nail...Part Ten

Jason sighed and lay back on the hay. “Well, I had to ask...” Star Girl felt much better now. The tension was gone, and after tonight, they would find a way to get home. “Jason...can I ask you a question?” “Fire away.” “How do you feel about me?” THAT got his attention. He sat up with surprise. “Well...” he said after a long moment, then paused again. “You’re stalling,” Star Girl prodded. “All right...where do I begin? Well...” “You said that already,” Star Girl added. She didn’t know why, but she LOVED watching him squirm... Jason took a deep breath, then said, “All right. Star Girl, I think I love you.” Now it was HER turn to be surprised. “I’m serious, Jamie. I can’t say it was love at first sight, but I had strong feelings for you ever since our lunch date. I haven’t had feelings like that for anyone, not since Claire...I’ve dated other women, but I never felt as strongly for them as I do about you.” Star Girl was pleased to hear this, but there was still a part of her that remained guarded against him. “This is...sudden,” she replied slowly. Jason smiled apologetically. “Well, I didn’t know if you were that interested in me.” Star Girl looked at him for a long moment. She was aware of her own weakened state. She was no weakling, but would he try something, as bound as she was? “So...where do we go from here, Jason Thorn?” He touched the back of her hand with his, looking intently into her eyes. “I think...we had better get some sleep,” he said finally, and lay back down again next to her. She nodded, but her face masked the emotions within her. There were so many things he could have said or done, but he chose not to press it. Was he truly interested, or was it something to boost her ego? She lay down next to him, thoughts circulating in her mind, and she found he was already slipping away into sleep, his hand still touching hers. She relaxed slightly, then closed her eyes. She awoke later that night. She did not know why she awoke, but she was suddenly awake and aware. She realized that his body had moved closer to hers, his warmth adding to hers in the slight chill of the night. She looked out through the window and saw the lights of Metropolis, far away. She marveled at the circumstances that had brought her here tonight. She shifted slightly, feeling his chest against her back, his right arm draped over her waist, his quiet breaths against her neck. Even though the suit was not as comfortable as her night-clothing, the effect was... Her breath quickened perceptibly as she found that his presence, so close to her, was arousing her. As she breathed, his fingertips rose and fell as they rested against her hip, a light, short caress. His warm breath at her neck seemed to awaken her completely, her hair stirring with each movement of air. His chest at her back was tantalizing as well, for she could feel the cloth of his shirt rubbing against the bare skin of her upper back. She found an uncontrollable desire begin to build in her. She could not hurt him, not with her wrists bound...oh, it was bittersweet, knowing what she could and could not do, but she wanted him. The knowledge of that only increased her desire for him. He loves me, she thought and that was the most arousing of all. The Amazon within her caused her to turn until she was facing him. She gazed upon his peaceful face, then began to slowly, stealthily, undo the buttons on his shirt. Her legs shifted to balance herself, and the hand at her hip dropped to the tender flesh of her inner thigh. It did not move, but the presence of its heat against the skin, caused a quiet moan to build in her throat, and she bit her lip to stifle it. The Amazons of Paradise Island held no great love for men, but even they had to admit there were exceptions to their experience with dominating men. Steve Trevor had been one, Diana had told Jamie. She wanted Jason to be another. She finished with her shirt, her bound hands reaching into the opening to touch his chest. She kept in a sigh of longing as she touched his body. She did not stop, could not stop, not even when his breath began to burr in interrupted sleep. Her head moved close to his, and she moistened her lips. She touched her lips to his, pressing lightly, and a small wave of heat FLOWED through her body. It was then that Jason awoke to the kiss. His eyes widened in surprise, but he did not draw away. Star Girl was thankful for that-if he had pulled away, his words of love would have been half-truths or outright lies. But the kiss only intensified, as he slipped one arm under her and the other moved from the caress of her thigh to enfold her. His lips was soft against hers, not grinding into hers, trying to show dominance...but they were not weak kisses. The moan slipped past her lips, her back arching slightly to press against him. The kiss ended, both pulling away to look at each other, searching, seeking answers they hoped would be there. “Star Girl...Jamie...” he began, and her heart beat faster, her blood growing hot in her veins. “Jamie...” she answered a half-sigh, half-moan of release. She wanted to title, no persona to come between her and him. Star Girl was her title, but she did not wanted to be loved as a public title. She wanted to be loved only as a woman. “Jason...help me.” He was confused for a moment, then understood. He began to search her costume for its fastenings or buttons, his hands moving over her body as they searched, leaving trails of heat. The costume could not keep his heat from sinking into the cloth, past it, and into her sensitive skin. She felt his hands cause her skin to burn beneath the fabric, but she had no intention of guiding him. She enjoyed the search... Then he found it, the zipper at the back. One hand began to massage her neck gently, as the other slowly, very slowly, pulled the zipper down. Jamie moaned again as she felt the bustier loosen, her breasts beginning to swell in anticipation, her nipples growing hard as they moved against the loosening suit. But he did not pull the suit away from her as she expected. “What are you...Ohhhhh...” she breathed as she felt his hands under her suit, gently massaging her back as he kissed her lips, then her cheek, then along the curve of her mouth to her neck, just under her left ear. The massage increased the heat of her body as the strong, sure hands moved over her spine with practiced ease, pressing just enough to make themselves felt. He lightly nipped her left ear and was rewarded with a loud, long moan. Every nerve in her body seemed to be awakened, singing with the pleasure that he brought through her. “Jason...” she moaned, “Don’t...stop...please, don’t...” She felt the tip of his tongue tickle her trapped earlobe, and her chest pressed against him, her hard nipples moving against the cloth of her suit, the skirt moving up as she felt his hand on her thigh. Her body seemed caught in a war with itself, Traditional Amazon against Woman of Passion, fighting not to be dominated or controlled...but she felt anything but helpless. His fingers moved from her thigh to her pelvis, and she fought not to cry out if he touched her womanhood, which was already moist with arousal... but his fingers moved within an inch of it before moving up her body, and she felt saved...and cheated. Give him to me, Athena, she sent in silent prayer to Diana’s goddess. Forgive me, but I want to be a woman first...and an Amazon second... “Jason, don’t tease me...I want you, I want you so much, it could tear me apart...” she managed in a voice thick with wanting. “Patience, Jamie...” he answered, while giving her light, hot kisses along her neck. “Let me worship you...” Those words, whispered huskily, sent a flood of pleasure through her body, and she replied, “Take it off...I want to feel your body against me... WITHIN me...” He smiled, then slowly peeled the bright suit away from her body, releasing her breasts, which were swollen with need, exposing her torso, which was quivering, and pulled it down past the boots, to drape it over a nearby bale of hay. The hay was not nearly as irritating as she feared against her naked body. She felt his kiss again, along her upper chest, a hand wandering down her body, and it paused over her right breast. It rested there, the palm pressing lightly against the nipple, as his mouth moved down her body. She felt his mouth hover over her left breast, and the words she wanted to plead with became a loud gasp as his lips kissed her nipple, taking it into his mouth. He teased it with his tongue, while his right hand began to work on her other breast, his fingers moving over the skin around the nipple, while his palm moved over the stiff tip. Her back arched against him, the slight chill only enhancing the pleasure of his warmth against her. “Oh, goddess...!” she called out in a burst of breath as she felt a tiny knot of pressure tie itself inside her pelvis. “It’s been so long...” she moaned. “For me as well,” Jason replied, his mouth releasing her nipple long enough to speak before moving to the other nipple, his left hand stroking the wet nipple he left behind. It had been only the briefest pause, but it had left her craving more and the ecstasy she felt when he touched her was blessed relief. The heat was overtaking her, the tightness in her pelvis increasing with every touch, every stroke. Then his mouth moved lower along her body, from between her breasts down to her navel. Her taut stomach trembled, whether it was in fear or anticipation she did not know. Her bound hands moved to his face, guiding him to the places she needed him to touch and kiss. It felt as though a storm was building within her, as she felt the light suction in each kiss, traveling along the flat slope of her pelvis. When she felt his breath moving over her sex, she felt a sudden, potent rise of energy. Was it the Amazon in her, knowing what might happen and dreading the loss of power, trying to fight him off? No, she told herself, almost pleading with herself. Please give me this... Then she felt his tongue, like a white-hot flame, touch the folds of her sex, and her back ARCHED as anticipation and need drove her to the brink, making every nerve in her body awaken and feel. She wrapped her legs around his neck and shoulders as her body tightened, then GAVE in a short, powerful release, like a pistol shot. She heard a long, deep, husky cry and was astonished to find it was issuing from her own lips. She had called his name with that cry, and felt the wave of desire roll over her. His mouth was still hovering over her sex, the tongue darting out to taste her, but there would be no more idle capitulation. She pushed him away, her eyes glazed and smoky with lust as she pulled his shirt off of him, nearly yanking his pants down and off of him, tearing at his clothing like a woman possessed...and perhaps she was, for she did not stop until he was as naked as she. Her eyes fell to his member and she took it in her hands, feeling its heat enclosed in her fingers. She spread her legs over his shoulders, her womanhood poised over his waiting mouth. She paused for a long moment, relishing the position of power, then took his length into her mouth as her hips descended. When she felt the tip of his shaft brush against the back of her mouth, there was a second of discomfort as she tried not to breathe in through her mouth, but through her nose. As she felt his tongue touch her clitoris, her teeth closed lightly on him as her mouth rose and fell, lightly scraping the sensitive flesh as prickles of sensation coursed up her body. Jason wasted no time, and as she brought him closer and closer to his climax, he buried his mouth in the folds of her pussy, fingers spreading it wide, his tongue finding the small, erect nub, his lips closing around it, sucking it lightly into his mouth... He had barely enough time to pull back and whisper raggedly, “Oh... Jamie, I’m going to cum...” and then he could hold back no longer, fountaining in her mouth, bathing the back of her throat in orgasm. She instinctively swallowed, gulping as the salty, musky taste of her filled her senses, crowding out all reason. Her hips began to buck as his climax fed the fuel of her climax, and when she felt his teeth close lightly on her inflamed clit, her mouth enveloped him completely and a loud, “HmmmMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmm!” could be heard as her climax-cry was muffled. Jason was barely able to keep up as her juices flowed out of her, lapping them up as fast as they came. Jamie released him, gasping for breath, the taste of him still on her lips. “Jason...” she growled, “I want you within me...and I shall have it!” Jason moved to stand up, but placed a hand on her as she turned to position herself on her hands and knees. He guided her up to her feet, his eyes roaming her body, but always returning to her eyes. She felt the wood of the barn at her back, and noticed that he had been backing her up against the wall. What was he... Then he bent slightly, his hands at her hips, and then he lifted her legs off the floor, her legs wrapping around his hips for support, her boots locking at the ankles. Then she felt his length against her sex, brushing against her clitoris as it entered her. Before she could react, he was entering her... Sudden weakness stole over her body, making her shudder as the sudden shift of power dropped her body around his shaft, the involuntary thrust burying his member inside her. “Oh, goddess!” she breathed. “I can’t...hold on...” “Yesss...you can...” Jason panted. Hold on to me...” With the strength she had left she was able to catch herself, holding to him. Then he drew nearly out of her, to thrust in again, her body supported only by the wall, his hands gripping her upper legs, and the force of his thrusts. This was what she had feared, the feeling of powerlessness upon being penetrated...losing her Amazonian strength was bad enough, but... No! she commanded herself. It is not like before! It is...it is different! It is different because...because I WANT HIM! It was over, just like that. Her strength returned to her in the blink of an eye. Her relaxed hips tightened as her inner walls closed around his manhood, holding it tight in her velvet grip, increasing the delicious friction of each plunge. She found the strength to speak, but her words came out as low growls...”Yessss...yess, Jason, that’s it...give it to me...give it to me, I WANT IT...!” Even as the pace of his long, hard thrusts increased, her own thighs were clamping around his waist, flexing and relaxing, thrusting against his body, hips meeting hips in concert. Words became lost, they could only cry out in their unchained lusts, chants of love becoming high, keening animal cries, like the alley cats near her place that called to each other in the night and then caterwauled in animal joining-yowling, shrieking, screaming in their frenzied coupling... The force of their shared orgasm broke through the wall of the barn, their bodies falling into the soft grass behind the barn, the force of their landing driving his manhood deep into her, their bodies bathed with sweat as they writhed against each other drawing out the heartstopping climax for as long as they could... And then, it was over...and they were no longer animals rutting in the veil of darkness, but Jamie and Jason again, bodies against each other, her arms around his body as his arms encircled her straining body, his length still buried within her. Every muscle in her body seemed to stand out in sharp relief as her body tensed and relaxed, tensed and relaxed. They stayed that way, entangled in each other, neither willing to let go just yet. Jason whispered entreaties of love in her ear as she gasped in short breaths, trying to catch her breath. “Do you think...anyone heard us...out here?” Jamie breathed, a silly smile plastered on her face. “I dunno...but if...there’s anything...about an...escaped pair of tigers...in the morning paper...” he managed, and then they were both giggling like idiots. After being bombarded by government spooks, captured, narrowly surviving an extreme auto accident, and consummating their night by screwing like two tigers, life seemed very fine indeed...

Chapter Eleven Jamie and Jason woke up in each other’s arms, at roughly the same instant. “Good morning, sunshine,” Jason whispered. “And a...warm ‘good morning’ to you, too, lover,” Jamie replied a wide smile on her face. She began to shift her arms and felt resistance...and she frowned as she remembered the ‘SuperCuffs.’ “Uhm, Jason, you may have to scoot...no, not up, move DOWN...yes, now let me get my...Jason! That tickles, can’t you...a little lower, and...don’t you even THINK about doing anything THERE, we have to...OH! Mmm, now Jason, we really shouldn’t be...uhmmmmm, now...Jason, we really, ohh, shouldn’t...a little to the left and OMMMMmmmmmm, yes, that’s...that’s very nice, ohhhhhhhhMMMmmm, very nice indeed...oh, sweet Athena, how do you do thaa.....AHH! Yes, there, THERE! Suck it...oh, is that EVER so...what are you DOING, that feels like...OOOOh-h-h-h-h-h, YES! Yes, that’s so good...if I didn’t think...you were older...than you looked, I’d wonder...how you knew how to do THISSSSssss! Whoa...I...I...what are you OH GODDESS! I’m almost...yes, yes, YES, nibble it! Take it...I’m going to...no, don’t stop! Don’t you dare stop now, not when AAAIIIYYEEEEEEEEAAAHHHHH!!AHH! AHH! AHHhhhhhhhmmmmmmm...Ja...Jason...you’re the devil, you know that?
Taking advantage of a poor, defenseless Amazon like that...QUIT SNIGGERING!” An hour later, a thoroughly disheveled Jason Thorn was dressed and thumbing a ride to the nearest pay phone. He was finally picked up by two men named Meyer and McGee, who were nice enough to drop him off near a gas station 11 miles away. He found a quarter, and dialed the number Jamie (who was Star Girl again in her slightly-wrinkled costume) had given him. It rang twice, then a mechanical-sounding voice answered, “This is a private number. No one is able to take your call, so leave your name, number, the time you called, and a short message.” Jason waited patiently for the tone, then said, “Hi, this is Jason Thorn, and Star Girl and I are...” “WHERE?!?!?” Jason pulled the reciever away from his ear, but the damage had been done-his ear was ringing louder than the phone. He waited until the sense-less noises died down, then switched ears. “Can you keep that down to a low roar, please?” “Where is Star Girl? Are you holding her ransom?” Jason stared at the phone. “In order, roughly 60-65 miles west of Metropolis on Route 15...and NO, I’m NOT holding her ransom,” he replied, a note of tired resignation in his voice. A long pause. Then the phone crackled, “Where are you now?” “I’m at a...wait, it’s a Texarco station. It’s at the 325th mile marker.” “Someone will pick you up,” the voice said, and then the phone hung up in his ear. He eyed the phone, then hung it back on the cradle and sat down on a nearby bench to wait. He was considering putting the whole conversation up to an attack of PMS, but then he looked back over the situation and realized that his assump-tion was off-base. He and Star Girl had disappeared from the club, and now he was calling the very next day...not Star Girl, but him. He said wryly, “When you ASSUME, Thorn, you make an ASS out of U and ME.” Five minutes later, a long, sleek craft was spotted flying towards him. He got up, stretched, and watched it land in front of him, about 15 feet away. A few seconds after it landed, two women stepped out. One wore a white outfit with a sunburst design on the front, and the other...well, the other seemed to be made of silver, with a blued-steel outfit that left little little to the imagination. “Jason Thorn, I am Solaria. This is SuperConductor. Where is Star Girl?” Jason pointed. “That direction, about 11 miles or so as the crow flies.” “Then you will show us...as the crow flies.” Solaria indicated their craft. Jason shrugged, then walked in, the two heroines tailing him. Star Girl wished she hadn’t drifted off again into sleep before Jason left. She was having a hard time putting her costume back on with those SuperCuffs. She had finally pulled the zipper up completely when she heard a sound from outside. She looked and saw one of the Squad transports settling near the barn. She breathed a sigh of relief as she saw SuperConductor step out, then Jason came out with Solaria behind him. “Star Girl?” Solaria called out. “In here!” Star Girl returned, opening the barn door. Both women turned...and stared. Her hair was a tangle of brown hair and hay, one thin stick of hay sticking up through the tiara she wore. Her skin had the glow of excellent health, but there were tell-tale...spots of residue along her exposed thighs. She wore a set of high-tech restraints on her wrists. Then they turned to Jason, their eyes dark and stormy. Without being aware of it, Jason backed up a step. “What did you do to her?” Solaria intoned, her words promising unspeakable retribution. Jason held up his hands and said, “I think that’s a little PERSONAL, don’t you think? Besides, a gentleman never speaks of such things.” Solaria was balling her fists when Star Girl realized her current state...and what Solaria might have been thinking. “Solaria, NO! It wasn’t what you think it is!” Solaria turned, eyeing Star Girl with careful appraisal. “It LOOKS like you and he...did...” SuperConductor, with blissful ignorance, tried to assist Solaria, going through her dictionary and offering, “Played hide-the-salami? Banged the gong slowly? Burrowed the weasel?” Star Girl GLARED at SuperConductor. “Enough! Well, if rudely put... but he did NOT take advantage of me! I...I seduced him!” Ever SuperConductor’s eyes widened at that. “But...what about the handcuffs?” Solaria asked, turning back to look at Jason. “Let me explain...” he began. “...and after we got to the barn, we...well, we became quite intimate. That’s how it happened,” Jason finished. By this time, SuperConductor was busily checking out the cuffs. She had already determined that a spoken word was used to undo the cuffs and was running through every letter combination. Solaria’s eyes kept moving from Jason to Star Girl and back again. Finally, she said, “Well, Star Girl, this is certainly not what I expected.” “It came as something as a surprise to me, as well,” Star Girl admitted. “I found the code word,” SuperConductor interjected suddenly. “But I do not understand the word.” Jason frowned, peering at the computer screen of SuperConductor’s technical kit. Then his eyes bugged out. “You GOTTA be KIDDING me!” “What, what is it?” Star Girl asked. Solaria looked, and suddenly, inexplicably, started to laugh. “Well,” she managed, “it’s not a word you’d hear in idle conversation...!” “Spit it out, already!” exploded Star Girl. Jason tilted his head, smirked, then said, “Superkalifragilisticexpi- alidocious.” The SuperCuffs bleeped, then loosened, dropping off of Star Girl’s wrists. Star Girl’s mouth dropped open as her Amazonian strength returned to her in a hot flood of energy. Jason was trying to hide his merriment, covering his mouth in an attempt to maintain a gentlemanly decorum. However, Solaria was making no such attempt, almost rolling on the ground, convulsing in loud gasps of laughter. SuperConductor looked at Jason and Solaria with a look of confusion, as if to say, ‘Oh, Prime Builder, what is THIS all about?’ In the end, Star Girl’s laughter joined the other two. After the laughter stopped, and Star Girl was able to arrange her hair and clothing, Solaria filled her in on what had happened after the explosion at the comedy club. It had been a mob situation, as those who heard the detonation of the grenade bolted for the exits, nearly trampling those who hadn’t heard any of the ruckus. Luckily, the fire doors were up to safety standards, being both visible and easily opened, spilling the people out into the parking lot. The police had arrived a few minutes later, but by that time, Pam and Max had already made off with Star Girl and Jason-by the time the firemen broke into the back area, the dressing room was empty. The manager had mentioned sending Star Girl back there, and “that’s when WE got involved,” Solaria said. She, Lynx, and Mystery had combed the area for clues. There were far too many scents for Lynx to pick up on, but tire tracks leading from the back of the club had been collected. One sour note had been the remains of the tiny tracking device in the beeper; it had been found in the room under a charred carpet, a clear sign someone had found it and discarded it. “So, when Jason called, we thought maybe he had captured you, taken you to some remote place, and was holding you hostage,” Solaria said, then smiled apologetically to Jason. “Sorry.” “Forget it. It WAS a strange situation,” Jason admitted. “Did they match the tires to the Winnebago on the road?” Star Girl asked. “Couldn’t...by the time anyone found the vehicle, the tires had all been melted into puddles of rubber. But based on where the tracks were, it’s a safe bet that they would have matched up,” Solaria replied. “What about General Steele?” Jason asked suddenly. All eyes looked to him. “I mean, I doubt he’s going to admit to sending those two yahoos after me. That would call too much attention to himself and his pet project. But I don’t think he’ll just give up.” SuperConductor put in, “There’s a 91.25% chance Jason Thorn is right on his assumption.” “Speaking OF the project, where IS that suit, anyway?” Star Girl asked suddenly. Jason turned to look at her. After a few seconds, he said, “Well, if we can keep it discreet...I’ll show you where I put it. It’s back in Metro-polis.” Five seconds later, Jason was fighting vertigo. The Star Craft was designed to carry two, and Star Girl volunteered (graciously...a little TOO graciously) to carry Jason. After a short time, though, Star Girl began to perform barrel rolls, split-S turns, and other maneuvers normally performed by combat pilots. I shoulda known she wasn’t going to forgive me for that OHHHHhhhh god oh god oh god, I’m gonna blow my cookies any minute now... “Star Girl, are you TRYING to make me throw up?!?” “Jason, I don’t know what you are talking about...” He held it in long enough for them to land, and fought to keep his last meal firmly in his stomach.
“Jason, you look positively GREEN...” Star Girl smirked. Jason made a point of snagging the SuperCuffs after the Star Craft landed. Jason rolled up the storage shed door, and pointed into it. “I put it in there.” He indicated a large pile of junk computers, a smorgasbord of motherboards, junked monitors with smashed CRTs, and keyboards with keys missing. The three super-women peered inside. “There’s a lot of junk in here,” Solaria said with a sour face. “Exactly. Even though the building is secure,” Jason began, while digging through the morass of metal and fiberglass computer parts, “I always kept thinking about some red-and-blue-suited yahoo with X-ray vision, so I mixed the parts of the suit with a bunch of other electronics.” “So...how do you know what parts comprise the suit?” SuperConductor asked. Jason reached in, grabbed the black helmet, and showed it to the other woman. They could see it was tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, the kind used to bind boxes together on loading pallets. “I wrapped them. Thick enough to stay separate, thin enough to escape casual detection.” He began pulling other parts out of the pile, laying them aside. Five minutes later, all the components were arranged in a small representation of the body, laid out in biological arrangement. “That’s the suit,” Jason said. Star Girl thought it didn’t look like very much. It wasn’t a ‘hard’ suit-it looked as though the parts were made of inch-thick latex, with a few mechanical modules in the legs and arms that housed either weapons or pro-pulsion units (or both), a large module that seemed similar in shape to a heavy-duty backpack, and the streamlined helmet with opaque faceplate. The ‘skin’ of the suit seemed ribbed (Jason said one of the techs had called it “the Condom”) but that was due to the thin fiber-optic cables that were woven into the pliable armor, to ferry information to and from the modules. Solaria said doubtfully, “It looks a little like a telemetry suit.” “Well, that was the basis for the computer system inside the suit. It can transfer any impulse at the speed of light to any part of the suit. They said it made it more responsive than the human body itself, so it didn’t hinder the wearer.” Jason spoke with the confidence of one who had studied the subject extensively. “What does it run on?” SuperConductor asked. “That.” Jason pointed to the upper section of the backpack. “A small and very potent nuclear-powered engine. The core’s a centimeter thick, but it is supposed to power the suit for up to 10 man-years of use.” He shrugged.“ I don’t understand that part. Science seems to have been pushed past the level I knew before.” “Probably stolen from the alien technology they had stored at Area 51, I’ll wager,” Solaria said idly. Jason looked HARD at her. “Pull the other one...” he replied. Solaria shot him a look. “It’s true.” Jason shook his head. “Where I come from, it’s just a rumor...even though we had a few movies and TV shows about it...wait, you said HAD. What happened to it?” “Oh, the aliens came and claimed it,” Star Girl said nonchalantly. “Claimed it...” Jason said neutrally. “Didn’t you know about the treaty?” “Okay, let’s just pack this up and go, okay? I think I better be sitting down and relaxed before I hear any more, or my brain’s going to explode,” Jason said in exasperation.

Chapter Twelve Jason was silent as they packed up the equipment and proceeded to the Star Squad HQ. Star Girl was using her own propulsion, but she looked at him from time to time, wondering what he was thinking about. Was he considering Steele’s next move? Or was it something else entirely? When they arrived, Jason asked, “Well...what happens now?” Solaria thought for a moment, then said, “It would probably be best if you stayed here, incognito, while we figure out what to do next. General Steele cannot be tied directly to this armor, so the idea of going public is not currently feasible. Maybe if we studied the available information, as well as the suit, we might come up with something.” “I agree,” Mystery said, nodding. “Star, would you find an available room for Mr. Thorn to stay in?” Star Girl looked up, then nodded. “Follow me, Jason.” She walked towards the house, Jason following after, leaving Mystery, Solaria, and Super-Conductor to deal with the armor. Star Girl showed the guest room to Jason, then apologized for leaving him alone, but she began to feel self-conscious about her disheveled appearance. Jason nodded, feeling the need to clean himself up as well. She gave him a hug that made his ribs creak, then gave him a light kiss before pulling away. Jason smiled as she left, and then started to undress. “Jason,” he said aloud, “what have you gotten yourself into?” “TROUBLE,” came a voice from behind him. Jason froze. That did NOT sound like Jamie... he thought, and slowly turned, his jeans still pooled around his knees. Wonder Woman was standing in front of him, near the sliding glass door to the backyard, wearing her traditional costume, tiara, boots...and a serious face. Jason let the silence linger for a good long moment, then said, “Am I the ONLY male in this building?” “Levity, Mr. Thorn, is not appreciated,” Wonder Woman said sternly, her face stony and imperious. “I am here because of your dalliance with Jamie and...do put some clothes on.” Jason looked down, then up at Wonder Woman. “I have to get cleaned up. My ‘dalliance’ left me pretty rumpled.” He began to undress again, pulling off his jeans. “Do you expect me to be impressed by your manhood?” Wonder Woman asked, looking darkly at him. “I expect you to turn around, unless you like watching men shower. I am not sure about the protocol of Amazons, but I had hoped that uninvited guests could expect to be relegated to waiting while their unwitting hosts cleaned themselves up. I’m a much better conversationalist when I’m clean.” With that, Jason walked into the bathroom and closed the door. To his surprise, he didn’t hear another word out of her until he was stepping out of the shower, a towel around his waist. She was examining him very carefully, giving Jason the unsettling feeling of being sized up for dinner. “All right, Miss Prince, let’s chat.” He made sure not to take notice of her shock and surprise while finding a robe to cover himself. “How did you...” “Look, why are you here?” Jason asked, tying the belt of the robe. She looked disconcerted, then said, “I am here as an emissary of my people. I am here to instruct you to stay away from Jamie.” Now it was JASON who looked surprised. “Excuse me, my hearing must be going. I could have SWORN I heard you tell me to stay away from Jamie.” “I did say those words, Mr. Thorn.” Jason’s face darkened. “I’m sorry...I didn’t know that you were her mother, and I didn’t know that she was to do whatever you Amazons tell her to do...” He stopped, then eyed Wonder Woman with sudden intensity. “I remem-ber reading Amazons removed their left breast so it wouldn’t interfere with their archery. Is that true?” “Jason Thorn, I don’t see how that has anything to do with...” Jason moved fast for such a big man. Wonder Woman had just enough time to realize he was getting too close to her when he grabbed her golden lariat and looped a length of it around Wonder Woman’s torso. He was not fast enough to trap her arms (she raised them up as the rope tightened) but in the end, it did not matter-as soon as she felt the rope around her, all signs of resistance faded. “I’ll be damned...that actually worked,” Jason said in an awed whisper. “Yess...” Wonder Woman said quietly, in a vague, disconnected voice. “Tell me the truth. Can you get out of this?” he asked, trying to remember the file the government had had on her. “No...not as long as the rope is tight around me,” she replied. Jason didn’t like the sound of her voice. It was curiously flat, unemotional, compliant. He’d been around on the Internet, using it as a source of information (for his comedy sketches as well as info on the world he had landed in) and he’d seen his share of smut while cruising. Some of it involved superheroes and -heroines, and a lot of it usually dealt with the weaker male subjugating the stronger female (through mind control or shackling them to some device used during the Spanish Inquisition) and then engaging in sexual acts that were humiliating to the super-females depicted, and it always showed that they enjoyed it in some twisted way. Such stories made him some-what disgusted...were these people so scared of these super-powered women that they dreamed of tearing them down? No matter the case, Wonder Woman sounded just like one of those dominated women might feel... “Are you going to attack me if I let you go?” Jason asked carefully. “No...only as a last resort. You should not be with her,” she said quietly, dreamily. “I want you to tell me why not,” Jason said firmly. In that quiet, disconnected voice, Wonder Woman told Jason why. Star Girl showered, dried herself off, and put on her normal clothes, becoming Jamie again. The costume had to get cleaned, but it was worth it. Maybe Solaria would show her where those handcuffs were...a night in her own bed, with Jason, had a special appeal... She was smiling when she knocked on Jason’s door. “Jason? Are you decent?” She chuckled at her own joke. “Come on in.” Jamie frowned. Jason sounded...wrong. She opened the door, saw Wonder Woman sitting on the bed, and Jason in one of the chairs, and the look on his face only intensified the unease of her mind. “Diana...? Jason? What...what’s going on? Why are you here, Diana?” Wonder Woman looked to Jamie, and said, “Apparently, I’m breaking you two up.” She did not sound entirely pleased. “Jamie...sit down. We need to talk.” Jason’s voice was quiet. “Jason...Diana...you’re scaring me.” Jamie immediately sat down, fearing the worst. She looked to Wonder Woman, and said, “What are you talking about?” Wonder Woman looked to Jason, who said, “Jamie...we have a problem. Diana here told me a little about Amazons...where they came from, who they are, and...well...” Jason shook his head, then said, “Okay. Remember last night, Jamie? How we...well, you know...” “How we had sex, Jason. Yes, I doubt I shall forget that,” Jamie said defiantly. “Remember why it was possible for us that way? Because of the Super-Cuffs?” Jason kept on. “Yes. You know, I was thinking about the very same thing, just now.” “Well, Wonder Woman...Diana...told me that the first Amazon came to your island to escape the domination of men...and why being tied up or re-strained in certain ways rob Amazons of their strength. Some kind of punish-ment, or reminder, or something like that. In any case, she said that being ....restrained...like that for you might bring a harder price.” “How...how so?” Jamie asked, curious in spite of a growing unease. “Well, Diana said that you weren’t born an Amazon, and that if you were tied up or cuffed for a long enough time, you might...well, you might lose your powers. For good.” He looked to Wonder Woman, who said, “Due to the...unusual circumstances of your origin, Jamie, you might lose your ‘birth-right’ if you were restrained as such by one man more than once. I know not how long it would take, but...” “Well, I didn’t like them very much anyway,” Jamie said defensively. She did not like the direction this conversation was going. “Really?” Jason asked, his voice neutral. “You just said that you wanted to know where they were.” She thought, then remembered. She HAD said something like that, did she not? “This is what scares me, Jamie,” Jason said, his voice stronger now. “You know that if we were...together...without some method of restraining you, you could very well break me in two in a moment of passion. But if you kept using those SuperCuffs, or any other method, just to ensure my safety, you might not hate them so much. You might even...well, you might even get to like using them. I’m not saying you would, but if it’s the only way to be with me...” Jason swallowed. “And as much as I love you, I can’t ask you to give up what you are, what you’ve chosen to be, just to be with me. Because if you did...you wouldn’t be the same person...that I fell in love with.” “Jason...we could work something out.” Jamie’s voice had taken on a desperate tone, almost pleading. “We can...take precautions, or something... we can’t just...we can’t end like this...!” She was having trouble focusing on Jason and Diana by turns, shaking her head softly. “Jamie, look at your left hand,” Jason said quietly. She looked down and saw that her hand had pulled the metal of the left chair arm out of shape, molding it in her hand like clay. When she let go, she could see the imprint of her index finger in the steel, and she realized she’d pressed hard enough to leave a fingerprint. What would it do to Jason’s body, in a passionate embrace, without any bindings to inhibit her strength? The same thing, a rational part of her mind answered, simple yet painful in its logic. No...no, no, no... “Jason...what will become of us?” she asked, trying her best to control her voice. “Jamie...I have to go,” Jason continued. “I can’t see you anymore. A night without without tying you up could break me...and tying you up would break YOU. I won’t be responsible for that.” He wiped at his eyes. “I’ll take the armor with me, go to some other city...” “Jason, please don’t say this, please don’t do this!” Jamie exclaimed, the tears finally beginning to flow...and she knew, almost immediately, that it was tearing at Jason as well. Jason stood up, walking close to her, bending slightly for his eyes to meet hers. “I can’t take this all away from you. I can’t ask you to give up being Star Girl. You need to find someone...stronger, I guess. Someone who can make you happy without having to truss you up like a turkey at some time.” Jason paused, then said in a low whisper, “And you know I’m right about this.” The painful part was...she did know. Jason stood up, then left without a word, leaving Jamie and Wonder Woman alone. Jamie stood up, moved to Wonder Woman, then collapsed in her arms, weeping softly. “It’s not fair...we hardly know each other, and now we will never love that way again,” she sobbed. Wonder Woman nodded, then said, “I had sensed your feelings for him. I had doubts about his feelings for you, before...but now...” she looked at the closed door. “...I know for sure that he does love you. I had not believed that he would love you enough...but he loves you enough not to want to change you, to take away what you truly are. Strange...” Jamie said nothing, could say nothing. Jason was standing in the hallway when Wonder Woman came out. “Go to her, Jason Thorn,” she said in a strong voice. When he passed her, she gripped his shoulder to halt him. “If all men were like you, then there would be no Amazons,” she said soberly. “Then count your blessings,” Jason said shortly. “You think I like doing this? You think I like saying goodbye to the only woman in this mis-begotten world who ever loved me? You think I like ANY of it?!” “No...I suppose not.” ...and yet you do it anyway, she thought. She released Jason, and he went inside. Jamie was lying in the bed, her face hidden in the pillow, when Jason sat down. “Go away,” she said, her voice muffled. “Jamie, I’m sorry.” Jason didn’t know what else to say. “So you’re going to leave? Just like that?” Jamie looked up at him, and was startled by the pain in his eyes, startled enough to fall silent. “Jamie, there’s no ‘just like that’ about anything in this whole mess. But if I stay, what are the odds we’ll end up together like we ended up to-gether in the hayloft? Better than average? Almost certainly? If we stay together, one of us will get hurt...permanently.” Jason talked as if he hated the taste of each word. “Would you be happy giving up Star Girl? It’s either that, or putting me in the hospital...I don’t want to visit the emer-gency room...and I can’t ask you to stop being who you are. I don’t have that right.” “So this is goodbye?” Jamie asked. Jason kissed her forehead lightly. “No. Goodbye’s forever, you know. I’ll stay in touch-I’ll never be too busy or too tired to talk to you. And if you need help, help with anything, say the word, and I’ll return at a dead run to help you. All you need to do is ask.”
She smiled, but the smile came out all crooked. “Kiss me, Jason...as if it was the last time,” she whispered. Jason smiled, remembering the line. It was from CASABLANCA, when the two main characters were in Paris, preparing to escape the Nazis. Jason thought about that, as well as the song could have been written for both of them. ’You must remember this...’ His lips met hers, moist, full, and warm. Jamie was asleep when Jason got into his car a half-hour later. In the end, he elected to take the Shadowbox armor with him. “Maybe I can put it to some good use,” he had told SuperConductor, and she agreed that no one use could use it as well. “What will you do now?” Mystery asked. “I’ll call when I find work. Give my love to Jamie...and thanks for your help.” Solaria, SuperConductor, Mystery, and Lynx waved goodbye as Jason drove away from the HQ and drove to the nearest freeway interchange... ...heading west, and out of Metropolis.

EPILOGUE-Two months later... Jake Blumberg stepped into the small, one-room apartment and smiled. He’d knocked them dead tonight, no doubt about it. The new batch of jokes had gone off without a hitch, with smiles, pauses, and funny faces timed just right. Another few weeks like this, and who knows? Maybe he’d get a shot onCOMEDY RELIEF... He checked the newspaper, the ARIZONA REPUBLIC, and noticed a two-paragraph blurb on the Valley & State section titled, “Shadowy Vigilante Delivers Goods-and No-Goods.” He decided to read it later, looking into the Entertainment section, seeing if there were any new clubs opening... He stopped ruminating about show business when the phone rang. He picked it up and said, “Talk t’ me, it’s your quartah,” in a stiff New Yawk Accent. “Hello, Jason.” The voice was strong, sure, and one he recognized right away. Jake smiled.
“Hi, Jamie. It’s good to hear from you...” THE END