So a bit more action-oriented this time. If you haven’t noticed the flow of the story seems to be (roughly) sex chapter > action chapter. It’s not an entirely conscious decision, the sex chapters are usually also heavy story chapters dealing with the fallout(s) of the action chapters, this cycle will probably remain for the next chapter as there will be a lot of ramifications after this one. Also, I think the structure of this story overall will fall into “seasons” in the television sense or “arcs” in the comic book sense — after we’re all wrapped up with this adventure, there’ll be a short break and then a continuation a bit later on introducing new characters, new plot lines, and a radical shake up of the JtL status-quo. 😀
TL;DR version: Sorry there’s no sex this chapter, maybe expect some next time. 😛
The greenhouse was hot and sticky, the air was close and it didn’t help that it was my first time wearing my new uniform. Because of the risk level and it being my first mission, I was assigned a prototype of the first draft of my eventual uniform — I can assure you that all those qualifiers didn’t make me feel too comfortable about the uniform’s ability to adequately protect me. Worse still, it showed off my body in a way that I wasn’t sure I was altogether ready for. The groin was heavy and roomy enough to accommodate a small family of penises, but somehow every time I moved it rubbed against me in a way that was just the slightest bit titillating. The main body of the uniform was a single suit made from a blend of protective and impact dampening fibers that also offered premium breathability so that I wouldn’t roast alive during the action. The colors — off-white and a light pastel green — were inoffensive, and the belt along my waist would eventually be home to a number of combat ready pheromone-boosters, tasers, and other useful gadgets. Eventually. Right now though the belt was empty which didn’t make me feel terribly safe.
Devon waved away my concerns as he re-checked the water pressure coming out of the hoses along the greenhouse wall. He also made sure that all of the glass looking into the greenhouse were completely blacked out: we didn’t want nosy civilians uploading photos of our fight to blogs and such. “The quartet have so far been close-range fighters. Zash and I will keep ’em off you and Thumb, and well —” He gestured around himself. “— she’s kind of in her element here, so I’m assuming you’ll be pretty safe.”
Akma and Zashir were riding in the van with the captive. Owen was back at headquarters broadcasting the signal that would presumably entice the other members of the quartet to follow. Devon and I were sent along ahead to secure the perimeter and make sure that everything was good to go. I wasn’t even entirely sure what I was supposed to be doing, but Devon made up for my lack of expertise. He noted what some of the more robust species of plants were and texted the information to Akma so that she could…prepare somehow? I’ll admit, I still don’t 100% understand her plant-whispering, but it definitely sees results.
I had never been to the Capital City Botanical Gardens, nor the elaborate greenhouse it housed and to be honest I found it a little creepy. Maybe I’d seen too many movies about carnivorous venus fly traps and creeping vines with horrific sentience. It didn’t help that I flashed back to Thumb and I losing control of our combined power. Hopefully we wouldn’t be desperate enough to have to try that again.
After going over everything for the third time, Devon collapsed into a folding chair and started tying his hair back. It was a little difficult not to be awkward around him considering the fact that I’d seriously lusted after him less than twenty-four hours before, but my nervousness about the impending mission trumped any weirdness about wanting my teammate’s cock.
“So what is it like, actual combat? What does it feel like?” I asked.
“Well, if you don’t piss yourself or puke all over yourself, you’ll be fine. It’s scary at first for everyone. Everyone has stories about their first time and how bad they were. Thing is, if you survive, and we’ll make sure you do, you start to feel yourself improving.
“Think back to our session with Shugo: follow your instincts, listen to Zash, and keep your head clear. If you overthink, you can’t act and getting from one moment to the next is the most important thing you can do. Don’t let fear of fucking up paralyze you, Nick. We chose you. Europa fucking Evers greenlit your presence here. Not many people can put that on their resumé.”
I don’t know if it was the triumphant speech I was expecting, but it helped to quell the worse of the fluttering in my stomach. I don’t think I could have asked for much more.
“Thanks, Devon. It means —”
“Oh, it looks like we’re early. Should we come back after the inspirational speeches?” asked a voice I didn’t recognize.
My skin broke into a cold sweat as I turned to face the new person in the room. Devon stood up faster than I would have thought possible, his hands already in combat position and a sphere of water floated near each one. I think we were both expecting one of the quartet, possibly the sword-twin who had escaped, but neither of us knew what to do with the person who was standing in front of us.
She was tall, darker skinned and her smile was perfectly white. She wore leather boots and drop-crotch military styled pants over her slim, somewhat masculine frame. It looked almost like a model had wandered into the greenhouse while searching for a runway. Or it would have if it weren’t for the scales running down her left side. They matched her skin perfectly and rippled in response to even the slightest motion.
“The greenhouse is closed, friend,” Devon said. His voice was without warmth.
She looked around theatrically and her scales shimmered as she did, catching the light just right. “Closed? That blows, I thought this was a private party. And look! I brought my dancing shoes.”
Maybe it was years of combat training, but Devon, or I guess I should say Stream, was already moving before I realized anything was happening. He dived in my direction just as I noticed the woman was taking a deep breath, rearing back…
Stream was off the ground and hurtling in my direction. He tackled me out of the way just as the unknown woman belched forth a gout of what looked like molten fire. It scorched a dark path in the ground where I had been standing a moment before and ate several inches into the dirt floor before it started cooling. She wiped her mouth and hiccuped daintily.
“Something I ate must have disagreed with me,” she commented.
Stream was already standing up, he didn’t bother calling his regular water spheres this time. As he got back into his combat stance, he drew a long, thin whip-like thread of water from some hidden nearby source. He brought it near him, maneuvering it with a mixture of hand motions and sheer intuition. It curled up around him like a living snake.
“Get out of here, Wet. This is out of your league. Warn the others if you can, something’s not right.”
“Why don’t you stay, newbie? Haven’t you ever been curious about what it looks like when grown-ups fight?” She said to me. She turned to her left, and added, “Vic, why don’t you entertain our friend? Make sure he doesn’t get too bored.”
Another woman, whom I hadn’t noticed, stepped out from behind a large plant. She was wreathed in smoke and I could barely make out her shape. She started toward me and Stream tried to step into her path, but the fire-breather spat another length of liquid flame in his direction and he had to draw up a wall of water at a moment’s notice to counter it. The steam that the flame and water produced burned his arms and sent him back a few steps.
“Ah, ah,” she chided. “I’m your dance-partner, Dev. Can I call you, Dev?”
Stream ignored her. “Stay calm, Wet. The rest of them will be here soon, just stay calm. We’ll be ok.”
The second woman, the smoking apparition that she was, said nothing. She just kept walking toward me. Stream kept looking at her and at me, sneaking glances while trying to keep his opponent in his sights.
Despite what Stream had said to me just a few minutes prior, I was paralyzed. I couldn’t even think of the first thing to do. I thought, no, I knew that I was going to die in that greenhouse.
Ironically it was that thought that released me from the fear. If I was going to die, I wasn’t going to die useless.
I concentrated in the smoke-woman’s direction and sent a hard burst of lethargy her way. The concentration of human pheromones already in the air gave me an extra push and I should have been able to knock her off her feet, but the smoke around her seemed to diffuse my ability. She kept coming as if nothing had happened.
“Oh fuck,” I muttered.
I was definitely wishing they had packed me a taser (with restricted voltage) or a gun (the SLA doesn’t actually advocate the use of firearms interestingly enough) or a tank (definitely no tanks).
“You won’t be able to get into my head. Sorry,” the smoke-woman said as she continued her approach. She reached into the smoke around her and pulled a section of it free like you might pull off a piece of cotton candy. She formed it into a desired shape with both hands until it looked like a spear. I had no doubt that if she put that thing into me it wouldn’t feel very nice.
I tried pushing her again, pushing through the smoke, but force alone wasn’t having much effect.
“Get the fuck out of here,” Stream shouted again, and this time I got it loud and clear.
I turned and ran. There were numerous exits to the labyrinthine greenhouse but the two closest were: one on the north side of the greenhouse and the one that was currently blocked off by our assailants to the south. I booked it for the north exit while trying to keep an eye out for the smoke-lady who might be chasing me through the foliage. I almost got to the exit, too. Almost.
I felt a hand reaching around my wrist and suddenly everything went dark. At first I thought I had fainted, maybe blacked out due to exhaustion, but the more I thought about it, the less that made sense. If I had blacked out then how I was still thinking? That wasn’t how it worked, was it? I couldn’t move though and I couldn’t feel the ground below me or much of anything at all beside that hand on my wrist.
“Easy, buddy. We’re just going to stay right here and chill out for a bit, ‘kay?”
A new voice, a man’s voice. Who the fuck were these people? They were clearly not part of the quartet, so how had they found us and why did they seem to know us? The fire-breather had called Stream by his name and the smoke-woman clearly knew that I was trying to push her and how to counteract it. Something was very wrong.
And just like that the hand on my wrist was gone and the lights turned back on. Let me tell you, having all of your senses switch back on after being shut off is not a pleasant experience. It felt like the nothingness lurched and spat me back out.
The first thing I saw were two trees on either side of me sprouting branches rapidly at very sharp angles and a man deftly leaping, twisting, pirouetting, and rolling to avoid them.
‘Akma,’ I thought. Sure enough, she was standing beside me, concentrating hard at stabbing the agile son of a bitch.
“You hurt, Wetspot?” She asked, though her concentration was still on nailing this guy.
“No,” I said. At least I didn’t think I was, but my experience had been too weird to be certain.
“I don’t know who this fucker is, but don’t let him touch you. His touch seems to — FUCK!” she shouted abruptly.
The tumbler had danced out of the range of her ability. The trees had already grown so far out that the additional branches couldn’t support their own weight. The limbs began to slough off. The tumbler wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and cocked his head to the side.
“Whew. That was a workout,” He said. “You’re pretty good, aren’t you?”
“Come back over here and I’ll show you how good I am,” Thumb said.
“What an immodest suggestion. Maybe I’ll take you up on that,” he said, but then he turned to his left abruptly as if someone had spoken to him. Then he nodded. “Turns out we’ll have to postpone that dance, sweetheart. À bientôt.”
I tried to stop him in his tracks, but he was wearing some kind of mask over his mouth and nose. Likely it was interfering with my ability to push him. He fled without incident and that reinforced my idea that whoever these people were, they’d come for us and they had some real intel on what we could do.
Thumb turned to me. “Were these guys waiting for you when you got here?”
“No, they showed up after we’d been here a while. Do you know who they are?”
“I’ve got an idea. But later for that, where’s Stream?”
“He was fighting one of them. This scaled woman who —”
“Belched fire? Mother of fuck,” she said. “Where is he? Where did you leave him?”
I pointed and she ran. I followed.
After a few twists and turns we found Stream lying just a few feet from where I left him. He was conscious, but just barely. His arms were burned and his clothes charred in several spots. His face and neck were shiny pink, like he’d been boiled. There was no sign of the fire-breather or the smoke-woman.
Thumb went to one knee beside him. “You fucking kidding me, Stream? Playing the hero.”
Stream groaned, and smiled. “Playing?”
“Fuck you,” Thumb said, more affectionately than I would have thought possible for a swear word. “How bad is it, Dev?”
He closed his eyes for a moment. “Not too bad.” Then opened them again. “A little bad.”
“She did a number on you…” Thumb said, and pressed down on a little checkered pin above her breast. It flashed a single white LED light and then went dark again. It was a confirmation that her aid request had been routed to the SLA. Someone would be here to help soon. That was another piece of my uniform that they hadn’t thought to add just yet.
“Where’s Zash?” Stream asked.
“Outside. In the van with the captive. He sent me in when you two didn’t meet us at the door.”
“So he’s by himself?” I asked.
“Zash is the most capable one of us all. He could — the captive,” Thumb said. “What if they want the captive? Oh god. Nick, stay with Dev. I have to check on Zash.”
Thumb got up and ran for the exit while I stayed next to Stream. He grabbed my arm. “Go with her. This is way too much for any of us to do on our own.”
“Will you be ok?”
“I won’t die, if that’s what you’re asking. Now go catch her!”
I did as I was asked. I chased Thumb through the southern exit of the greenhouse and into the botanical gardens proper. The van was supposed to be parked in a nearby lot so I made my way there and found that hell had already broken loose.
Zash was taking on two of our three assailants by himself and from the looks of it, he’d been at it for a little while. The smoke-woman stood at a distance launched arrows from her smoke bow, arrows that flitted between tangible and intangible as they flew through the air. I saw one cut right across Zash’s collarbone and open a gash there.
The flame-breather was keeping him moving, off balance, by throwing fire into his path so he couldn’t concentrate on the arrows coming his way or stage a proper retreat. There was no cover in the empty lot, not even a car or two to hide behind. There was only the van Zash and Thumb had arrived in (whose scorch marks and half melted right side suggested he’d already tried using it) and Devon’s shitty sedan parked at the far end of the lot. The tumbler was off to the side of these proceedings and kept one hand on the shoulder of the docile captive as he led him away.
Thumb, who had arrived only moments before me, was already getting involved. She had placed a handful of seeds into a crack in the pavement, she was willing them to grow, but the growing was slow. It was a less than ideal place to be growing plants. Of course, I did know a shortcut…
Again the switch from pushing sentient beings to pushing plant-life was jarring, but this time I was expecting it and as I paid more attention to the feeling, I could also sense (though maybe ‘sense’ is the wrong word, it was more like a sudden awareness) Thumb’s influence on them as well. I was careful not to push too hard and not to let the panic take over. The plant she was growing flowered hugely from the concrete at a rapid rate, cracking the blacktop viciously as it went. It was a beautiful, eight foot high and several feet wide piece of work with thick skin that enveloped her like a kind of living armor. It was done, but there was still a considerable distance between Zash and his opponent and Thumb’s plant. I didn’t see how her plant was supposed to help…
…until it started launching thorns. They were long, thin and sharp as razors and there was no way I could have guessed that such a thing was even possible. The fire-breather caught one across her shoulder, but it deflected off of her hard scales which bristled angrily at the assault. The distraction, though momentary, gave Zash an opening: he looked over at the tumbler walking off with his captive and then over at us. His face was as conflicted as I’ve ever seen it before or since. He made his decision and ran toward toward us with everything he had.
Thumb kept up the onslaught, targeting both the fire-breather and the smoke-user, and I pumped a threatening impulse into the plant so that it would continue to generate thorns as quickly as possible. Zash made it to our side unimpeded and without a viable target the two women began to fall back.
I went to our leader’s side to check his injuries. I’m no medic, but he seemed more exhausted than anything.
“You ok?” I asked.
“This was a set-up,” Zash responded, teeth gritted.
“What are we doing here?” Thumb asked without looking back at us. We were hiding behind her giant flower as she tossed off another round of thorns. The villains were steadily moving out of her range.
“Where’s Stream?” Zash asked. “Could he follow them?”
I shook my head. “He’s in worse shape than you. Ak — er, Thumb called for SLA assistance.”
Zash swore in what I’m guessing was arabic. The tone made it fairly obvious he wasn’t pleased by the news. “Keep laying down suppressive fire until they fully retreat, Thumb. We’ll have to lick our wounds and chalk this one up to a loss. Tell me more about Stream, how bad are his wounds? ”
Thumb did as she was told while I explained the situation we’d faced in the greenhouse. In the end Zash knew that agreed that we were in no shape to chase them and they simply walked away with the heart of the mission with which we had been entrusted.
“Heads are going to roll for this,” Zash said eventually. I didn’t know whether he was swearing vengeance or preparing for the fallout of our failure. Either way, I could already hear the distinctive klaxon of SLA clean-up crews speeding to our rescue.