"I hope I've satisfied you as to the impervious nature of my skull," he said, tapping his temple with a grin. "It would be really bad form for the Pope and leader of the free world to be vulnerable to any kind of brainwashing, so I've been fitted with implants that preclude any tampering with my consciousness. Jared's been telling me about Genevieve's apparent demise at the hands of the Xenobian. What do you suppose is the goal of these imposters?"
I knew the answer to that, unfortunately, and shuddered as I recalled the inimical cold of the alien mind I'd invaded back at Jared's mansion and the compulsion that had been planted into Jared's brain, while the silent servant moved around the room, handing out small glasses filled with a colorless liquid that smelled like - to be completely honest it smelled like Old Beaver. Way to make a guy feel at home!
"That's easy." I took a healthy drink of the spirit that filled my glass and felt a little better for the heat that spread through my veins. It wasn't Old Beaver, but it certainly hit the spot. "They want to eradicate humanity completely. They want the Earth for themselves."
In the beginning was the word, and the word was hangover.
Other words followed, most of them profane and not worthy of repetition here. I moaned softly, quite certain that my brain had shrunk overnight to the size and consistency of a pickled walnut.
Somewhere since hooking up with Jared, it seemed I'd lost the art of surviving drink. I tried to remember the way that a couple of bottles of Old Beaver had made me feel, and this was just not anything like that. This made me want to get down on my knees and pray.
"Oh, God, Kill me now," I croaked. Sure, I wasn't on my knees, but that was because I couldn't feel my knees and started to doubt that I still had any.
I was pulled out of my incipient funk by the soft footfalls of some ministering angel. I hadn't yet found the bit of brain that would allow me to open my eyes, and I was half convinced that if I were to actually do so I'd bleed to death, but I recognized the scent of coffee, and reached a shaky hand out, to have a cup placed into it. It was a small cup, but I wouldn't complain - or at least not until I'd imbibed the healing liquid. Raising it to my lips, I took a sip and opened my eyes as if electrocuted. The jolt contained within that small receptacle needed to be bottled and sold to all hangover sufferers everywhere.
It was gone too soon, and a second one presented, along with a glass of something fizzy that I was assured by the young man who had aroused me from my agony would get rid of all lingering traces of hangover and make me want to live again.
I sipped the corpse reviver, expecting it to be disgusting, and was pleasantly surprised when the tangy citrus burst on my tongue. I drained it and handed the empty glass back to the ministering angel and turned my attention to the second cup of bottled lightning he'd given to me. Once it was a memory, I felt almost human.
"Thanks, man," I croaked. "You have to teach me how to make this stuff" I waved my cup around as I eulogised. "It's important."
He was the strong, silent type, I guess, because he merely bowed a little and then collected his crockery and turned to go. I frowned and reached out with my admittedly addled brain to probe his mind. He was easy to read and I sifted through thoughts and memories until I'd made sure that he was no threat. Then I rose from my bed of pain and went in search of a hot shower and a plateful of grease to complete my cure.
When I arrived in the breakfast room, Jared was just stumbling in as well, and we seemed to be a matched pair. I grinned at him and noted that his eyeballs vaguely resembled a pair of poached eggs floating in a sea of ketchup. He'd obviously got even less tolerance for the demon drink than I did, and I made a note to myself to mock him mercilessly once this was all over. I'd trained on Old Beaver of course, and my liver was probably of a size and consistency suitable for soling a pair of boots. For now, I was content to go to him and take his hand while making for the buffet on which assorted breakfast foods awaited. What? I can be merciful!
Of Chad, there was no sign.
We ate, and one of the servants told us that Papa was conducting his business and would join us later in the day. He told us that a guide would be sent to show us the sights once we'd eaten. I was on my third cup of the blissful nectar which I'd learned was called espresso, when Chad stumbled in. He was an interesting shade of green, and both Jared and I winced in sympathy.
"Good night, wasn't it?" Jared said, grinning - by now the effects of food and medication were having their effect and he looked almost human once more. Chad just winced and reached for coffee with shaking hands.
Jared had gone back to the buffet for a second - or maybe it was a third helping of the assorted proteins on offer. I was just sitting back, enjoying the buzz that my fifth coffee had given me, and Chad was slowly regaining what in him passed for a more natural color, and picking at the toast he'd decided would best soak up any residual alcohol, when the door opened and one of the heralds came in, accompanied by a cheerful looking man with a salt and pepper beard and smiling brown eyes.
The herald raised his bugle to his lips, and I thought Chad was going to dive under the table. The man with him forestalled the action with a swift gesture and, "That's okay, Paolo. I'll take it from here."
Chad groaned and let his head drop to the table for a moment, and both Jared and the newcomer chuckled. He reared up and sniffed. "What? You guys never had a hangover in your lives? Laugh on, but when it's your turn, you'll get no sympathy from me."
The newcomer smiled and went over to the buffet where the food that still remained was lying to pick up a small bottle that had been concealed by the warmer. "Take a couple of these, and they'll set you right," he said, offering a couple of capsules.
They seemed to do the trick, because Chad managed to eat his toast and, although he remained a little quiet, he did revert to his regular coloring. The new arrival, who introduced himself as Jeff, said he was a Papal Chaplain. "I was told you'd send for me once you were done eating, but I got tired of waiting and decided to come say hi."
We all seemed to agree that was fine. I launched a needle thin probe at him, not really expecting to see into his mind following my discussion with the Pope the previous evening, but trying anyway. There were vestiges of thoughts, blurred and cloudy, but as I expected I was unable to see past the threshold of his thoughts. Not only that, but I could tell he'd felt the touch and knew it was me from the look he gave me.
"Just making sure, are we?" he asked, and only I could detect the tinge of sarcasm in his words.
"My recent experiences have forced me to check for alien intervention everywhere," I said. "Just ask Jay what happened to him."
"It's okay," said Jeff, after a moment or two. "I understand. Papa updated me this morning. I guess it would be hard for you to take people at face value right now."
Nothing further was said, and as soon as Chad had finished feeding his inner man, or whatever that was, we abandoned the room to the servants and headed out to Jeff's runabout. He took us to view the Sistine Chapel first of all, and the painting that was so famous. It was behind a force-field after the vicious attack by Zoroastrian separatists that had apparently happened a few years earlier. Jeff explained how the damage had been removed and the original painting had been restored using a molecular disintegration system, and we were duly impressed. The painting was magnificent, but in my opinion nothing could top the next one we visited, which was in a little church - it seemed to me as if Rome had at least enough churches to give out one to every citizen - dedicated to St. Ignatius. Standing looking up into it, it seemed to go up forever, fooling the eye even though a simple move to the side revealed that it was an optical illusion. This one also had a force field protecting it, and I was glad to see it. Something that amazing should never be lost.
We saw old buildings, and older ones. There was the Coliseum, and the Forum, an arch that was dedicated to someone whose name I forget.... There were so many that after a while they blurred into each other, and I was relieved when Jeff called a halt and led us into a trattoria to have some refreshments.
Jeff had checked his messages and relayed to us that we would return to the Vatican within the next hour and a half, and that until he got the word to take us back he thought that there was one other place we might find interesting. The place turned out to be the Largo di Torre Argentina, and yet more ancient ruins.
My Antipathy had begun to wear off, and as the time went by I gradually started to become conscious of thoughts around me that were definitely non-human, and they intrigued me sufficiently that I forgot my 'monument fatigue' and began to look around to find the creatures to whom the thoughts belonged. I had no idea what was behind them, but they were crystal clear and predatory. I sent out a soft inquiry and received an immediate response. It was inquisitive, but there was an arrogance about it that amused me. Looking around me, I could see nothing untoward, and the only creatures visible were a couple of birds. I was uneasy around birds, because I was never sure what they were going to do, and I really didn't want one suddenly flying at me. Still, I had seen enough birds in other places that I didn't think that they were capable of such clarity of thought.
I was about to turn back and ask Jeff what kind of creatures inhabited this place, when finally one of them strolled out from behind a pillar. It was coal black and had glowing green eyes. The light shone on its gleaming coat to highlight taut muscles that suggested great strength. It fixed me with a wide eyed stare, and the thought it sent my way demanded to know who I was, and how a servant had learned to speak the language of people.
I told him - I was sure it was male - that I was visiting from space, and that I had always been able to communicate telepathically, but it ignored what I was saying after the first few seconds in favor of bombarding me with more questions. I had beckoned Jeff and asked what the hell this little creature was, and he smirked. "Just a cat, why? We've got a program going to eradicate them from Rome, but the little bastards just don't seem to want to lie down. The Gattare feed them, and they breed like rats."
Just as I was about to answer Jeff and tell him that I could communicate with it, one of the cat's questions made me pause. Why do you associate with the Others?What do you mean, the others?
I asked it, and received a mind picture that seemed to suggest that not only were there humans - servants, he called them, and I was going to have to take that up with him later - but there were those that appeared to be servants, and I was with one right now. The only conclusion I could draw from what he was saying, was that Jeff was not human.
Unfortunately, Jeff caught the thought just as it dawned on me, and his expression changed from amused contempt to utter hatred. He sent a searing blast of that hatred at me, and was in the act of pulling out a small burner gun when the cat was suddenly in the air and clinging to his face, which of course meant that, instead of drilling a new hole in my sacred person, Jeff was spraying white hot beams of plasma indiscriminately around the place. That was fine until he cut through a lintel and brought a stone archway crashing down within inches from where we were.
I was still paralyzed by the rapid progression of events, but Jared, true movie hero that he is, leaped into action, and between him and Chad the gun was removed from Jeff's grip, and he was immobilized. Once I told the others what was going on, Chad swiftly restrained him in a tangler field that Jared just happened to have picked up before leaving for the Vatican. After I finished hyperventilating, I turned to look for my other savior, only to find him nonchalantly licking himself as if nothing much had happened. It seemed that as far as he was concerned, everything could be handled by the servants.
We were trying to decide whether it was safe to go back to the Vatican, or if not, what the alternatives might be, when - of course - someone started shooting at us. It occurred to me as I was diving for cover yet again that if I could collect all the projectiles and energy that had been flung my way, I could create a small nova.
I say someone, by which I mean a bunch of someones. Three flyers zoomed past us, systematically strafing the place. Projectiles zinged off ancient stone, and my new ally made an extremely unimpressed noise as he fled to a space beneath a fallen stone that would provide him with shelter. I was very impressed with his speed and agility, but I was pretty damned swift to copy him and dive under cover of my own. Of course, trapped in the tangler field as he was, the one person unable to follow suit was Jeff, and unfortunately he paid the price as with the next pass he was well and truly sprayed with those projectiles, and my suspicions were that the Pope would need to appoint a new chaplain.
There was a brief lull as the would-be assassins presumably pondered their next scheme, and we took that to mean that we should get out of there as fast as humanly possible. We ran for Jeff's flier, and allowed Chad to man the controls. Chad is all about speed, and he had us off the ground and on our way back to the dock in no time. We were about to land when I discovered that we had a stowaway. The cat had come with us. I shrugged. That was okay with me. If he hadn't clawed the nose off Jeff's face when he did, I'd have been Bolognese. Besides, I had an inkling that he could finger the aliens somehow, in a way that I couldn't. That, I was sure, would be a really useful talent to have on tap. I sent him a general thought of approval and welcome, since his thoughts weren't really words, but more like impressions, emotions. There was a pause where he looked at me with wide, feral eyes, and then without warning he jumped into my lap, settled himself and commenced washing portions of his anatomy I've always wished I could reach with my tongue. I sat perfectly still, recalling the way this small creature had dealt with Jeff, just a few minutes earlier.
"Man, I wish I could do that." Chad sounded wistful as he glanced over his shoulder and took in the scene as the animal continued serenely washing his genitals.
"You know, I bet if you ask him nicely he might let you," murmured Jared, making me laugh, and Chad make a sound somewhere between a choke and a gag.
"Dude, that's so gross!" As we came in to the Vatican dock, I could see that another flyer had landed, sleek and silver with flames painted along the sides, and Jared tensed when he noticed it.
I looked at him, one eyebrow raised in delicate inquiry, and he shrugged. "Looks like Genevieve's runabout to me," he said.
The cat had remained relaxed and unimpressed, but as Chad lowered us to the pad and pressed the button that slid open the door, he raised his head and looked around. I could feel his cautious concern, and then his growing unease, and it made me come out in sympathy. I could feel my hackles rise, and Cat was making a subsonic growling sound that made my skin itch. I shifted closer to Jared as Chad exited the flyer to make sure that the way was clear. He put an arm around my shoulders and from his tense expression I could tell he was feeling the same way I was.
We clambered out onto the pad, and I felt really exposed as we made our way over to the door that would lead us into the garden outside of our rooms. Chad ghosted in front of us, soundless, unobtrusive, and completely opaque to any thoughts.
The cat had jumped down to the ground when I'd stood up, and he prowled beside Chad, arrogant and menacing. We followed behind, certainly less arrogant and definitely more timid. Okay, so I've never been a hero, and Jay had already done his heroic thing once that afternoon. I didn't think it was a good idea to start expecting it of him all the time. He'd explained the wonders of CGI to me already.
So we made our way into the little, walled garden, and from there, once we'd established that the way was clear, we crossed to the doorway that would lead us back to the safety of our rooms. A small bird was bathing in the fountain that decorated the center of the garden, and as it shook silvery drops from its wings, I saw the cat gather himself, crouch ready to pounce and was about to go in for the kill when Chad spotted him and put a halt to his scheme by yelling. As the bird flew off, the cat looked at me reproachfully. "What? It wasn't me. It was him!"
I got the kind of response to that would've blistered my ears if it had been vocalized. Such language from a creature so small!
We passed through the door as quickly as we possibly could and found ourselves back in our rooms. It was still quiet. There were no servants visible, and to me that was odd. For every minute I'd spent in the Vatican there had been at least one servant visible at any time, ready to leap to attention and carry out our every whim. I looked around, frowning.
"Does it seem too quiet to you?" Jared's voice sounded loud in the silence of the room, and I jumped as he voiced exactly what I'd been thinking.
"I was gonna say that." I reflected that while one of us thinking along those lines might be an suspicion, two of us seemed pretty much like a confirmation, and when Chad chimed in to ask where everyone was, it suddenly became a movement, and we decided in a body that this was not only not good, but it was also bad - very bad indeed.
Just how bad it was became apparent very shortly. We were gathered in a huddle as we tried to decide on a plan of action, when the door to the sleeping quarters opened and in walked Genevieve, followed by Matthew. She gestured, and Jared stopped short, apparently frozen. I turned to try and protect him, but I could feel compulsions swirling around me, and could tell that he'd been unable to fight them off. I fought, but I could feel that it was a losing battle, and I croaked "Chad," hoping that his implants would protect him enough to be able to do something, and by something I meant anything at all.
Chad didn't disappoint. He went all kung fu on their asses and got in a good few blows before Matt, who had stood back and allowed Genevieve to take the brunt of his attack, finally waved his hand and Chad went hurtling into a wall, from whence he slid down to lie crumpled on the floor.
Of the cat, there was no sign.
Genevieve - I'll call it that, even though I knew for a fact that the real Genevieve had bitten the dust up on Bel Aire - smirked, and I swore that I could see red hate inside its eyes. "It looks like you're becoming a real nuisance," it told me. "You've got just enough skill to be dangerous, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to do something about you. We can't have the cattle alerted to our plans, so out you go. I'm not sure why or how you've succeeded in avoiding all our previous attempts to do away with you, and now I suppose I must deal with you directly. A woman's work is never done." It sighed for effect, and that made me want to bitch-slap the evil fucker. Sadly, I couldn't spare a hand just then, fighting off the Vulcan mind-meld as I was. I made a note to do it later, if there was a later. Somehow I doubted that there would be any later.
The barrage of compulsion strengthened, grew, until I was clawing to hold onto my consciousness, knowing that once I'd let go, I would be gone, and there would only be a simulacrum walking around - a zombie, obeying the unspoken commands of the enemy of all that was human.
I wondered where the cat had gone. I grieved momentarily that I'd never had the chance to really tell Jared that I loved him. I rifled through my catalogue of expressions, and decided that the one I should use to give myself a send off needed to be number 45, the 'Oh, fuck!'.
There was prickling at my consciousness, and I felt many tiny minds bolstering mine, pushing back, and wondered just what was happening. I had little time to reflect on it any further, because the battering force suddenly halted abruptly, and I heard a commotion behind me.
"You will stop your attempts to harm my guests, Genevieve."
I shook myself free of the compulsion and turned to find out what was happening, my movement so suddenly my stomach didn't come with me, and I felt like vomiting. The thought of my final defence of the human race possibly being a technicolor yawn made me giggle. Sometimes I just have no respect for tragedy. Sue me!
So I turned, didn't throw up, although it took valiant effort, and was rewarded with the sight of Papa in his full regalia, shepherd's crook, and fancy hat and everything. He looked imposing, and I really hoped he had the clout to back up his play. Somewhere behind him there lurked what felt like a thousand little minds, and they were all hostile to the aliens.
So Papa had asserted himself and told the thing masquerading as his daughter to quit it. It was a valiant attempt, and for theatricality it got a ten out of ten. For effectiveness it scored maybe a two, because Genevieve and Matt exchanged knowing smirks and then Genevieve turned back to the Pope and told him not to be so fucking silly. She launched into an explanation of why Papa should just give in and let the lunatics take over the asylum, but I wasn't really listening. I was trying to commune with Cat and all his little friends.
Somehow, the cats of Rome had rallied behind their leader, and although I remember reading that the term 'herding cats' was an analogy for achieving the impossible, it didn't seem so impossible right now. I didn't know how many there were, and neither did Cat. He merely informed me when I asked him that they were 'many', and they weren't about to see their gattare and all the other humans who could be coerced into feeding them bite the dust when there was something they could do about it. I read in their hive mind a determination to die rather than ever give in.
When I returned my attention to the proceedings at hand, Genevieve was laughing, while Papa intoned what I was later told were the last rites offered by the Catholic Church prior to death. It seems as incongruous now as it did then, but Papa continued, the Latin rolling sweetly from his tongue, while Genevieve first smiled, then frowned.
"What are you doing?" she asked finally.
Papa didn't miss a beat. He carried on reciting his litany until finally, with an 'Amen' which is about the only part of any service I could recognise. Then he walked up to Genevieve and offered her something small that he pushed into her mouth. "Humor me, please," he said, and then, no word of a lie, he took a small dagger and drove it into her solar plexus, aiming it upwards to pierce her heart in a manner that just screamed of lots of practice!
She looked surprised as she died. She thrashed about in a way that most humans wouldn't have done with such a wound, but I understand that the metal of Papa's blade was made from silver, and later analysis showed that it had been coated with cyanide, which apparently didn't do the invaders any good at all. I guess he was making sure. Still, at the end of it, she lay dead, looking perfectly charming in the white gauzy outfit she'd chosen for her conquering hero finale.
Matt seemed a little stunned at her demise, although it only seemed to be for a moment or two before he recovered himself. The cats had begun to make an unearthly yowling sound as Genevieve was vanquished, but it subsided as Matt drew himself up to his full height. I vowed to go beat myself with a large paddle for ever finding him attractive. He was beautifully made, his body was perfect, and his face was almost too beautiful to be true, but I knew that somehow I should have realized that he was poison. I could predict that there was a self administered punishment involving a wire brush in my future, and I was okay with that.
Matt looked down at the remains of his ally on the floor, and I could see contempt in his eyes as he poked her with his foot. He waved a manicured hand, and Papa landed on the floor next to Chad. "It's too late, Earthlings," he said.
"Earthlings?" Chad had apparently regained consciousness, although he looked groggy and there was blood on his temple. "Dude, that's so 1950's! You should probably update your script a little." He didn't offer any violence at that point, but I knew Chad. He had a whole bunch of combat opportunities squirreled away in his fuzzy little head. He'd given me the whole 'art of fighting without fighting' spiel so many times I could very likely recite it off by heart if sufficiently lubricated.
"You have no idea of the kinds of things we can do to you, Earthling," said Matt. "But there's no way you can win, so why should we even bother? We've been preparing the way for the invasion for many years now. Genevieve believed you would be a threat, but I don't think so. I'd like to watch your horror and then your submission when the final invasion happens. There are so many of our drones among you now that we can't possibly lose. See." He gestured towards Jared, who remained blank-eyed and paused while we both turned to see what he was talking about. I gritted my teeth at the thoughts of the last time I'd had to break him out of Genevieve's programming.
Maybe we needed to get that Alaina girl over to work on Jared in the same way she worked on Chad. Maybe I could get Jared back. Maybe.
All I really wanted just then was rest and to have Jared, MY Jared and not the new, improved disciple Jared, back with me. Then, I thought I'd be able to sleep.Drones?
I thought to the Cat. Do you know what this guy is talking about?
Unfortunately he did.
The mental image I received was that of a whole host of human zombies, functioning normally until the signal came from Matt or others like him to revert to the state Jared was currently in, mindless except if directed to perform an act. Horrified, I wondered how many years this invasion had been brewing, and how nobody had ever noticed it was happening until now.
It dawned on me that our trade with the Xenobians had given this other, yet unknown race the perfect opportunity to infiltrate our earth. The Xenobian habit of allowing their psyche's to be placed into cold storage while in the employ of whoever would give them the money to become free citizens of Xeno had been increasingly emulated by the poor of earth. This I'd seen more and more frequently up on Bel Aire, when some bloated plutocrat bag of dicks would come up for the season and parade their posse of pretty but docile playthings as if it made them something special. Half my work had entailed getting the evidence of infidelity for wives who had passed their sell-by date and wanted their payoff from these assholes before being replaced by this year's model.
Now I think about it, I was pretty much a reptile myself, battening off the fat of the land and thinking myself better than they were, when I'd been condoning what suddenly seemed to me to be tantamount to rape.
It's amazing the kind of epiphanies that are brought on when you think you're about to die. I was thinking hard, but I couldn't see a way out. Jay was still in his trance. Chad was still on the ground and from the way his eyes were counter rotating I guessed that he was pretty much a broken reed in terms of rescue. Papa was totally out of it, and from the awkward angle his head was lying, I suspected that he'd said his last Hail Mary. I was on my own.
When Matt finally broke the silence into which we'd fallen, it was to issue an instruction. "Jared?" he said. Jay focused on him, and seemed to acquire a sense of purpose once more. "Kill him."
I reached out to Jay, trying my best to worm my way past the compulsion Genevieve had placed in his brain. If I'd had time I might have succeeded in getting past it to where the real Jared was confined, but I had around two seconds before six foot six of improbably gorgeous, incredibly well muscled boyfriend did something unpleasantly fatal to me.
The solution to my problems came to me in a flash, and I knew what I should do.
I turned tail and ran like a rat.
Cat had remained in the shadows during the grand showdown, and I didn't see him, but I sensed him keeping pace with me as I fled for home and mother. From time to time I would catch sight of something small and nimble, and I knew that he had companions who had accompanied him. Jared was after me, but he wasn't up to full speed, due I guess to the compulsion warring with his real feelings, and I gained maybe thirty yards on him. The place was a maze of corridors all leading God knows where, and I'm sure that even God had occasionally gotten lost in the place, so I welcomed the sudden image of the direction to run in. Along a corridor and down to a gallery that led to a staircase, and down again, through a door and into a dimly lit place that smelled old, earthy. It made me snicker to realize that I was actually in the Catacombs.
It seemed to have done the trick, because Jared didn't suddenly burst through the door calling for braiiiinnnzzz, and for the next few minutes I huffed and panted until I got my breath back and then started to plan out a cardio regime to enable me to outrun any future possessed boyfriends there might be. With my luck there were bound to be a couple waiting to chase me down and rend me limb from limb. I have all the fun!
Cat appeared, sliding like liquid from a patch of shadow, and behind him came others, more and more of them, black, white, orange and brown, until I was surrounded by a sea of tiny predators, half seen in the gloom, save for luminous eyes that glinted as they fixed me with their unnerving stare.
"Kill the head, and the body will soon die." The thought was clear, and it seemed to me that Cat was pretty darned good at English when he wanted to be. The amusement that radiated from him as I had that thought seemed to confirm it to me, and I grumbled bad words under my breath.
"Okay. You're the boss. How do we kill the head?" I wasn't being snarky. I really wanted to know. Cat gave a purring growl that indicated that he was thinking. "I can't invade his mind. I tried to do it up on Astra Major, but I slid off like a greased weasel when I tried to latch onto his consciousness."
"Sometimes, the old fashioned way is best." There was a chorus of squeaks and chirrups from his army of followers. "Follow us. We will show you."
He sounded so positive that I just nodded and fell in as the army of furry assassins began to move out. I was lost, but the cats weren't. They poured like a river of angry flesh along corridors that seemed suspiciously empty and into the little courtyard that was the entrance to our rooms.
They made way for me as I approached the door and pushed it open cautiously, and I was pretty much convinced that if they'd been any good with doorknobs I'd still have been left in the rear, so determined were they to show me their superiority. I didn't mind. He who fights and runs away, and all that. Anyone who wants to show me their superiority is welcome, and sometimes I'll even believe it. In this case I believed it fervently.
As the door was opened, they surged through it and into the room where Papa's body still lay alongside the simulacrum of his daughter. Spotting the ornamental crook Papa had wielded when he was giving Genevieve the last rites, I picked it up, thinking that if push came to shove it would make a weapon of sorts and to hell with religious niceties. Of Chad there was no sign, and the cats streamed past the two bodies to pile against the door on the far side which led to the bedrooms we had been using. It was in the room I'd slept in the previous night that we found both Matt and Chad.
Matt had Chad in a headlock that threatened to break his neck if he made the slightest attempt to get away, and Matt looked faintly disdainful as he surveyed the mass of furious felinity that was rapidly surrounding him.
"Really?" he said. "Animals?"
"Takes one to know one," I snarled. I'd been aiming for insult, but that was the best I could do on the spur of the moment.
He didn't answer me, but he did tighten his grip on Chad's head, adjusting it a little so the poor man had to stand on his tippy toes in order to remain unstrangled, if there is such a word. I was afraid that I would lose Chad, and that made me angry. Hell, if I'd gotten any angrier at that point I think my shoes would've burst into flame. Create a diversion,
I thought, and with that I strode forward and walloped Chad on his ass with the hook. Matt goggled at me, so confused that he loosened his grip, giving my trusty ninja sidekick the opportunity he needed to break free, dislocating Matt's shoulder as he did so.
"Out of the way," I yelled as the cats surged forward again, swarming Matt and taking him down.
What can I say? There were screams then, and blood curdling yowls mingling with agonised shrieks that died away very suddenly. There was blood and ripped pieces of fabric, but when the cats were done, there was very little left of Matt save for bone, and even some of the bone had been cracked to get at the marrow. I may have nightmares about that for the rest of my life.
Chad and I remained frozen to the spot, both horrified and enthralled by the sheer savagery displayed by these miniature furies. "Dude," breathed Chad. "There's thousands of them around Rome. Just imagine what they could do if they wanted to."
Cat was amused again. But then there would be nobody to feed us, and we would have to hunt. That would be bad.
Top marks for job creation schemes, I say. I relayed Cat's message to Chad, and he chuckled, but stopped chuckling abruptly when Hurricane Jared suddenly blew into the room. Matt was dead, but his compulsion remained, and he was going to kill me with his bare hands. Lucky me to have scored a big, strong boyfriend. What was I thinking? I turned, ready to defend myself, however pathetically, since he was between me and the door, and there was no way on earth that I was getting out of there without him grabbing me.
I've often maligned Chad, and it's true that he's as douchy as it's possible to be without being totally unlikeable, but I love him dearly. He's my douchebag, and I'm fortunate to have him.
Right then he moved into blinding action, grace and precision rendering Jared unconscious and allowing us to wrap him in sheets that were somewhat worse for wear following the great cat massacre, with the result that when we were done he was trussed up like a mummy, with only his head sticking out of his bonds. Once he was well and truly immobilised, Chad sat on him for good measure, and I prepared myself to de-program him yet again.
This time it was easier. Either I'd learned the knack of unraveling the intricate compulsions that had been woven into his psyche, or Genevieve had done a really sloppy job of setting them up. It didn't really matter which, although thinking about the drones that Matt had referred to I hoped that it was the former. In any case, when I was done, and Jared regained consciousness, he was back to his normal, adorable self. I may have taken advantage of the situation to nibble his nose a little before I began to unroll him from his prison of bloodstained bedding. It was hard to resist, so I didn't try.
"What...?" He looked adorably confused, and I could understand that. I was pretty confused too, and I'd been there when everything had gone down. I didn't even try to explain. I just rolled my eyes and shrugged my shoulders.
"I'm afraid we're going to need a new Pope," I said, finally. "The last one got broken."
Jay's eyes widened in horror. "You didn't...?"
"I didn't," I said, innocence oozing from every pore as I tried to set him straight. "Matt did it. He used some mental whammy to throw him at the wall, and unfortunately the wall won."
He pondered that for a moment. "So where's Matt?"
I gestured at the sorry heap of bone and gore that still lay behind him. "He had a fight with the cats, and they won."
Turning to look where I was pointing, Jared suddenly developed a most unbecoming green tinge and gagged a little. He might be a big senso hero, but Matt's remains were enough to turn the strongest stomach. "Can we get out of here, please?" he croaked, and, for once both Chad and I were in full agreement.
Passing by the bodies in the dining hall, I laid Papa's crook down beside him and did what I could to make him look less sprawled. He'd been dignified in life, and I felt he deserved to preserve that dignity in death. Then without more ado we headed for our flyer and, to coin a phrase, got the hell out of Dodge.
Safely in the orbit that would drop us down just outside Nuevo Angeles, I began to ponder the knotty problem posed by the drones. Our first task would be for me to screen all of Jared's staff and deprogram them where needed, and in the meantime Jared would get some of his more technically minded friends to develop a way of cleansing multiple minds at once, since there were theoretically millions who had been programmed. It looked like I would have a job for life, and while that didn't entirely please me, someone had to do it, so I guess I had no choice.
There was one thing missing, I thought. "Hey, Jay."
Jay looked round from the pilot's chair. We wouldn't be landing for another twenty minutes, so he really wasn't serving much of a purpose right then. He smiled at me and raised his eyebrows in inquiry.
"When we came down to Earth, you promised me something. I wanna collect." He frowned for a moment before he got it.
"Swimming in the ocean!" He beamed at me. "I definitely promised you that. So we'll grab some lunch when we get home and then I'll take you to the beach. Oh, man, you're gonna love it."
The jury was out on that one, but I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. I'll try anything once. After all, us private dicks know no fear.
The clean-up at Jared's estate took several days. His cook turned out to be another one of the aliens, and I for one was grateful that it wasn't as strong as Matt. Turns out that the programming thing was done by stealth rather than on the spur of the moment, and we took it down with Ty, freshly healed and de-programmed, stealing the limelight from Chad for his efficient dispatch of the threat.
Sufficient to say it was a few days before we finally got to go to the beach.
The ocean is a terrifying thing. Even more than the aliens, it menaces., and Ffor a while I hung back, watching it as it seemed to breathe, the constantly restless movement for no apparent reason unnerving to me. I wondered for a brief moment if it was alive. Jared spotted my unease and spent a few minutes reassuring me that it was the wind that made the surface move, but I still felt nervous. I had the feeling that if I stepped into it, it would suck me down and drown me.
In the end, it was Jared's cunning plan that enticed me into the water. He took off his clothes and waded in up to his knees, then turned to me and held out his arms. I tell you, there is no sane person that would turn that down. Call me shallow and easily led if you will, but I found myself stripping down and tentatively making my way towards him until I was nestled in his arms, lips pressed to lips, with the water rising and falling against the skin of my thighs. It felt strange, and I had to think about it for a minute before I decided it wasn't so bad. It helped a lot, of course, being pressed up against Jared's bare skin. I'll put up with a lot when that kind of thing's on offer.
It seemed like the time to make my big declaration, so I peeled my face away from his for a moment, knowing that there was no conscious way I could better the adoring facial expression I was wearing at that moment and thinking that it really didn't matter.
"Jared..." It was a good start, but I stalled, not sure how to proceed, especially since he was nibbling on my neck and squeezing the cheeks of my ass at the same time. It's amazing how that kind of thing interferes with my clarity of thought.
He pressed his dick up against me, and I gulped. I suddenly craved that dick, mouth watering as I considered what it could do to me. "Jared," I tried again, and this time he looked up at me. I took a deep breath. "Back when we were facing down the bad guys, it suddenly occurred to me that I was going to die without ever telling you that I loved you, and that made me sad."
His face lit up suddenly, that dimpled smile of his blooming across his face like the sunrise, and I felt the tug of want tickle up through my gut. "So are you going to tell me?" he asked, squeezing me until I thought I'd break in two.
"You bet your beautiful backside I am! Every fucking day for the rest of my natural life," I mumbled, when I finally got enough breath to say so. "I love you, you big, hairy senso star, you."
There might have been more kisses. I kind of lost track there for a while, because he picked me up and laid me down at the edge of the water, just where the waves began to lick away at the shoreline, and covered me with his body as I clung to him. "I kinda love you too, Shorty!"
"I'm not..." I didn't get the rest of my protest out, because he used his superior strength of lips to shut me up, and that left me gasping for breath and rolling my hips up to feel his cock slide along mine. If he was hard, I was harder, and I'm sure that between the two of us we could have pounded rocks. That would have been very uncomfortable of course, so instead, Jared fumbled for both our dicks at once, cursing the fact that we lacked lube to make the encounter a little filthier, a little more everything
I didn't care. That huge hand wrapped around me, holding my cock, holding his own pressed up tight to mine as we eased the way with great spurts of slippery pre-come. I rolled my hips against him, and he shuddered, slid his hand along the length of us, while his thumb did interesting things to the head of mine that made me hear those damned cupids again. I seriously thought I'd left them up on Minor, but nope! Heavenly chorus swelled while water lapped against my toes and Jared taught me to see God.
I was ready. I'd craved this since before I knew what my dick was for. Sweet, slippery friction drew an answering tingle from the base of my spine. I groaned, and he trembled in answer, gasping as he shot his load. The sight of his face, contorted in the ecstasy of orgasm, made me buck harder into his hand, and suddenly that tingle became a fire, bursting along nerve endings to tighten my balls and send my own release to join his, sticky mess on our bellies.
A wavelet that was a little bigger, a little stronger than the others, rushed up to reach my waist, and it occurred to me that getting clean would be no problem. I had all the water I needed and more, rushing right up my ass. It was salty and made me feel weirdly sticky, but that was okay, because there was the knowledge that I could go back to Jared's place and take a shower to wash away the salt. I thought that I could get used to this planet, as long as I had Jared beside me. I noticed that it had been 48 hours since anyone had shot at me. I could get used to that, too.
What it all boils down to is that as long as I have Jared beside me, I feel confident that I can get used to anything.
Master Post | Part 1 | Part 2| Art | AO3 on its way