(Note: The text that appears below is a pre-release preview which is taken from a version of the manuscript prior to final proof reading and formatting. As such, it may contain minor errors or typos which will be corrected in the final version of the novel.)
“WHERE THE FUCK IS your girlfriend?” Lori yelled as they both dove behind one of the stone barriers Kipengele had raised in the middle of the street. They just barely made it before the air above them was filled with fire.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Danny said as she checked to make sure neither of them was on fire. Once she was sure they weren’t, she risked a look over the top of the barrier.
She’d been in Pontian six weeks, had been cleared for field duty for four weeks, but this was the first time she’d seen Kipengele in action, and she had to admit, the woman was impressive as hell. Not as impressive as Focus, but Kipengele was holding her own against three of the dragonkin they were fighting, while the rest of the Panthers, as well as the Ironclads and the Myrmidons, were barely holding their own grouped up three against one. Kipengele had three massive blocks of stone floating in the air, using them as shields, and every time one of the dragonkin tried to breathe fire at her, the stream of flame bent and shot straight up into the air. She was using the water drawn from a nearby fire hydrant to put out anything any of the dragonkin set on fire, and had the entire battlefield surrounded by a dome of lightning to keep them contained so the battle couldn’t spread.
As impressive as it was, Kipengele was showing signs of fatigue. Danny could hardly blame her. They’d been at this for two hours, slowly corralling Genetwist’s pack of monsters from all over South Shore. The terrorist for hire had released the dragonkin at a political rally for a candidate for the upcoming Governor’s race, and Danny shuddered to think what would have happened if the Panthers hadn’t been there providing extra security.
“Seriously, though, where is Focus?” Lori asked.
“Last I heard she was trying to find Genetwist’s hideout,” Danny said. They’d been out of comm contact since the lightning shield went up, and honestly, there wasn’t a lot Alpha squad could do. The dragonkin were bulletproof, fireproof, electricity proof, immune to pepper spray, and could take punches from Ironsides and Achilles, and even energy blasts from Yamato.
They needed Focus, but they couldn’t call for her.
“Incoming!” Danny yelled as one of the dragonkin picked up a car and lobbed it at her and Lori’s position. She ducked back down behind the barricade, praying the stone held as she waited for the impact.
It never came.
“You ladies need some help?”
Danny looked up to see Focus floating above them, a huge grin on her face. She glanced over the barricade to see the car suspended in mid-air. She turned back to Focus.
“We’ve got it under control, but if you want to help with the cleanup, by all means.”
Focus winked at her, and let the car drop as she dove into the fray, snatching up dragonkin here and there and throwing them inside a glowing blue bubble in the center of the battlefield. One they couldn’t escape from. Pretty soon, all fifteen of the dragonkin were locked in the translucent cage, and Focus set down next to Kipengele. Danny and Lori scrambled out of cover and moved closer so they could hear the conversation.
“…Sorry it took so long to get here,” Focus said.
“We contained the matter,” Kipengele said. “I’m just glad you were here to end it. Did you find the man responsible?”
“Genetwist is in custody,” Focus said. “Whether he’ll give up his employers is another matter.”
“Msomaji could extract the information,” Kipengele said.
“I’ll ask Carmen, but you know what she’ll say.”
“Telepathic scans aren’t admissible in court,” Kipengele said, disgust evident in her tone. “We could solve the matter ourselves.”
“But then you’d be a criminal, and who would protect your people?” Focus asked. “I don’t want to see that happen.”
“I know, sister, but you know why this happened. It feels like the course of history has reversed itself. The Klan and the Neo-Nazis marching in the streets with the police protecting them. Politicians winning elections on bigotry and hatred. Paid assassins gunning for our leaders. It all feels familiar enough that I’d say you should start with the FBI when you hunt for Genetwist’s employer. It would hardly be the first time they got their hands dirty.”
Danny winced a little at that.
“We will find who did this,” Focus said. “I promise you.”
Kipengele seemed to relax a bit at that. “Thank you, sister.”
“Keep Msomaji handy. Even if human courts won’t accept telepathic evidence, the Dragon Council isn’t quite so narrow minded, and they are not going to be happy about a human cloning dragonkin.”
Kipengele gave Focus a smile that was downright predatory. “Now, that is a good thought,” she said.
“I thought you’d like that,” Focus said.
Kipengele turned away from Focus and Danny thought she was about to call out to the Panthers, but before she did, Danny stepped up.
“Kipengele,” she said.
Kipengele turned towards her, none of the friendliness that had been on her face when she spoke to Focus present as she looked at Danny.
“Thank you,” Danny said.
“What are you thanking me for?” Kipengele asked.
“You saved our lives today,” Danny said. “The barriers you raised. Lori and I would be dead if you hadn’t done that, so thank you. I know that doesn’t mean a lot coming from someone like me, but I promise you, I won’t forget it.”
Kipengele stared at her for a moment, then nodded and walked away without another word.
“Same old Kipengele,” Lori said. From anyone else, it might have sounded angry, but Danny could hear something close to affection in Lori’s voice.
“Are you okay?” Focus asked.
Danny turned to her and nodded. “Oh, yeah. The fire breathing was a bit of an adventure, but we did okay.”
Focus smiled, but Danny could see the worry in her eyes. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here faster. It took ages for the IT team to trace the control signal back to its source.”
“You did fine,” Danny said. “Oh, hey. That reminds me.” Danny opened one of the pockets on her tac vest and pulled out a box of Reese’s Pieces. She held it out to Focus, whose eyes lit up. She took the box from Danny and then pulled Danny into a crushingly tight hug.
“Thank you!” Focus said before she let go. She looked down at the box. “How did you know?”
“I saw you eating peanut butter M&Ms out of the vending machine at work, and they’re okay, but everybody knows Reese’s Pieces are better.”
Focus smiled ear to ear as she tucked the box of candy into one of the pouches on the belt of her costume. “Thank you,” she said again.
“Will the Dragon Council really be interested in what happened here?” Danny asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Focus said. “Tarantasio might even wake up from his nap when he hears about this.”
“Who?” Danny asked.
“Tarantasio,” Focus said. “He’s…Well, not a fan of humans, to put it mildly.”
“Are any of the dragons?” Danny asked, curiosity getting the better of her. “Besides Ice Dragon, I mean.”
Focus laughed. “You’d be surprised how many dragons like humans.”
“Well,” Lori said, “we are crunchy, and we do taste good with ketchup.”
Focus grinned as she looked at Lori. “I wouldn’t worry too much about that. The only dragon in Pontian is Jewish, and humans aren’t kosher.”
“What?” Lori asked.
Focus didn’t answer her. She turned back to Danny. “I’ve got to go. I need to get our friends here to containment.”
“Go ahead,” Danny said. “And thanks for the save earlier.”
Focus smiled again. “Always,” she said.
Danny watched as Focus floated up off the ground, the blue bubble full of dragonkin following her. She gave one final wave, then shot off towards the horizon, dragonkin in tow.
“Not your girlfriend my ass,” Lori said.
Danny started to say something but decided against it, because honestly, some days she wasn’t sure, herself.
“Here is your ridiculously expensive beer,” Lori said as she set the bottle of Kasteel Rouge down in front of Danny.
“I can’t help it if some of us have taste,” Danny said. She picked the beer up and took a pull, savoring the cherry flavor.
“Some of us drink real beer,” Lori said.
“Budweiser is not beer,” Danny said.
“Says the girl drinking that fruity Belgian shit.”
“Do I need to order a Guinness just to shut you up?”
“Oh, please. Like that would actually shut me up.”
“A girl can dream.”
Lori smiled and leaned forward. “Speaking of dreams…”
“Oh, here we go.”
“Have you sealed the deal yet?” Lori asked.
Danny groaned and leaned back against the back of the booth’s seat. “I am not sleeping with Focus.”
“Okay,” Lori said.
Danny narrowed her eyes, because it wasn’t like Lori to give up that easily. “That’s it? Just…okay?”
Lori shrugged. “You said you weren’t, and I believe you.”
“Yeah. But can I ask a question?”
“Why the fuck not?” Lori asked.
“Seriously, Danny. I’ve seen puppies that were subtler about their affection than Focus is. Half the time I spend lunch wondering if she’s going to mount you right there at the table.”
“Stop,” Danny said. “I mean, she’s friendly—”
“Friendly? Jesus Christ, Danny. That woman has the biggest fucking lady boner I have ever seen, and it’s pointed straight at your pink parts.”
“Don’t talk about her like that!” Danny growled.
Lori shook her head. “God, you’re just as bad.”
“I’m just trying to be her friend.”
“You brought her candy in the middle of a mission.”
“You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
“You’re my partner,” Lori said. “I go out there and put my life in your hands every day. I need to know what’s going on with you.”
“Why?” Danny asked. “Why is it so important that you know this?”
“Because I don’t want to get eaten by a giant snail because you’re too busy thinking with your ovaries.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Tell me something,” Lori asked. “Has it occurred to you to wonder why the bar directly across from the station is the only bar in town that carries your favorite beer?”
“Not really,” Danny said.
“Well, it did occur to me, so I asked. The manager said Focus came in and asked to have it added to the menu.”
“Maybe she likes it, too.”
“You know, I asked. She’s never set foot in here before or since. Told the manager it was for a friend.”
Danny frowned. She’d never mentioned liking Kasteel Rouge to Focus. At least, not that she could remember.
“It’s weird, right?” Lori asked.
Danny shrugged. “A little.”
“So, you want to tell me what’s going on, or do we have to keep going round and round?”
Danny sighed. “I honestly don’t know,” she said.
“Do you think it has something to do with that mind meld the first day?” Lori asked.
“No,” Danny said.
“You sound awfully sure of that.”
“She asked for me by name before the ‘mind meld’.”
“Good point,” Lori said. “So, what are you going to do?”
“Nothing,” Danny said.
“Lori…” Danny sighed. “Look, it’s not hurting anything, okay. She’s lonely. She wants a friend, and for whatever reason, she’s picked me. I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“Friend? Danny, that girl does not want you as a friend. She’s probably sitting at home shopping for engagement rings as we speak.”
“No, she’s not.”
“Look, Danny, I get it, okay. Beautiful girl suddenly starts paying a lot of attention to you. She sits with you at lunch, she brings you presents—”
“She didn’t get me any presents!”
“Oh, yeah, then what about the fruit she brings you every day at lunch? Or the way she just shows up with your favorite coffee? Or that she brought you your favorite truffles from Godiva on your birthday? Something strange is going on with her, and you, my friend, are tits deep in it. Don’t you want to know what the hell it is?”
Danny shook her head. “Just leave it alone, okay?” she said before taking another sip of her beer. The look on Lori’s face told her that the conversation wasn’t over, and if she were honest with herself, she knew Lori was right. Something very strange was going on. The thing was, she didn’t want to know what it was, because Lori was right. She liked the attention. She liked it a lot. And she had a feeling that when she found out what was going on, everything was going to change, and she wasn’t sure it would be for the better.
Danny was turning over the conversation she’d had with Lori at the bar the night before in her head. More than anything, she wished she could go back and duct tape Lori’s mouth shut so they never had the conversation, because now that they had, what Danny thought of as her cop brain was turning the ‘problem’ over and over in her head as she made her way from the locker room to the briefing room for morning roll call. She’d known it was weird for Focus to have just sort of latched on to her the moment she joined the team. It was even weirder that Focus had asked for her by name.
The thing was, Danny liked the way Focus was treating her. It made her feel special, which wasn’t something she had a lot of experience with. She’d never had much luck with girls. She’d dated a girl named Helen in high school, who’d summarily dumped her the night before graduation because she ‘wasn’t really looking to do the long-distance thing.’ Then, in college, she’d dated Claire. That had ended when she’d come home from class early and found Claire fucking a member of the girls’ basketball team. Then there’d been FBI Special Agent Amber Williams, who’d made Claire and Helen look like wonderful girlfriends by comparison. So, yeah. Danny had been enjoying having a pretty lady not only pay attention to her, but actually treat her really, really well.
But now, all she could do is think about all the things that were out of place. The fact that Focus had asked for her by name. The emotions that she’d felt when her and Focus’ minds had touched. The way it had felt like Focus had been waiting for her, specifically. The little gifts. Every day at lunch some exotic fruit Focus was sure Danny would like. Papaya, soursop, pawpaw, roasted breadfruit dipped in fresh coconut milk, passion fruit, dragon fruit. Then there was the coffee and the chocolate, and the fact that she seemed to love to just sit and talk. The way she smiled at Danny like Danny had hung the moon.
None of it made sense.
“Danny, wait up!”
Danny turned around to see Focus rushing down the hall towards her, carrying a small plastic food container and smiling that smile that always made Danny’s heart flutter.
“Morning,” Danny said.
Focus’ smile got a little wider as she held out the container. “I brought you a little something.”
Danny took the container and peeked inside. There was a huge slice of some kind of cake. It looked a bit like cheesecake, but it was topped with chocolate and the cheese layer was a light brown color.
“It’s peanut butter cheesecake with chocolate ganache icing,” Focus said.
Danny closed the container and looked up at Focus.
“I wanted to thank you for yesterday,” Focus said.
“It was just some candy,” Danny said.
“Yeah, but I burn through a lot of calories when I use my powers, so it helps,” she said.
“Well, I’m happy to be of service.” She glanced down at the container. “But what is it with you and peanut butter? Peanut butter noodles, peanut butter candy, peanut butter cake. And don’t think I haven’t seen you sneaking peanut butter ice cream when no one was looking.”
“Why, Deputy Marshal Martin, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you liked looking at me,” Focus said.
Danny nearly swallowed her tongue. Not only was it the single most flirty thing Focus had ever said to her, but the tone, the look on her face…Focus was definitely flirting with her. Focus, her favorite Superhero, the woman she’d had a crush on since she was five years old, the gay icon, one of the most powerful women in the world, was flirting with her.
God, she needed to say something. What should she say? What should she do? Oh, God, she was way too gay for this. Or too stupid for this. God, why did she have to be such a disaster around women? Why couldn’t she be cool? Why couldn’t she have confidence and swagger, and she really needed to say something before Focus decided she didn’t like the flirting.
Except, by some miracle, Focus seemed to understand. She reached out and rested a hand on one of Danny’s and her smile softened.
“Breathe, Danny,” she said.
Danny took a deep breath and let it out slowly as Focus rubbed her thumb over the back of Danny’s hand.
“It’s comfort food,” Focus said.
“Peanut butter. It’s comfort food.”
“Oh. Lots of peanut butter sandwiches as a kid?”
“Sort of. Keep a secret?”
“On my home planet, we had a tuber called Izambane. It was a little mealy on its own, but if you mixed it with Umnquno oil, you got something that had a taste and texture pretty much exactly like peanut butter. It’s the first food I found on this planet that tasted anything like the food from home, and every time I eat it, it makes me feel connected to the place I came from.”
“Why did you leave?” Danny asked.
Focus’s smile got a little wider. “That’s a story for another time,” she said. “We’ve got a briefing to get to.”
Focus took her hand away, and for just a moment, Danny felt like a piece of her was missing, but the feeling faded as she took another breath, and she followed Focus to the briefing room.
“What are you reading?” Lori asked.
Danny looked up from her eBook reader and saw Lori with her cell phone in hand, her thumbs moving quickly as she played whatever game it was that usually occupied her attention. She thought about it for a couple of seconds, whether she actually wanted to let Lori know her reading habits, and decided that no, she definitely did not want to put up with the incessant teasing that would come if she admitted that her library consisted almost entirely of lesbian romance novels.
“Porn,” Danny said. A handful of the other members of Alpha squad chuckled or snorted. Lori looked up at her for a second, then shook her head and went back to her game. Danny just smiled and went back to her book.
It had been a week since what Danny had come to think of as the cheesecake incident, and her cop brain was still nagging her about Focus, still asking questions, but she was deliberately ignoring it and going out of her way to find other things to occupy her mind. Every time her cop brain pointed out something odd or weird, Danny just tried that much harder to convince herself it didn’t matter.
She knew she was being stupid. Lori was right. She should be trying to figure out what was going on, but she honestly didn’t want to. She liked Focus. She liked her a lot. She liked when Focus paid attention to her. The flirting had continued, but only when they were alone, which meant not often. She and Lori spent most of their time at work together, but Focus seemed to have a talent for catching Danny in those rare moments when she was alone, and those moments were always the highlight of Danny’s day.
Which was why she was so irritated that Alpha squad was in the hot seat today. The hot seat wasn’t a particularly bad job. They basically sat in a room with their gear next to them their whole shift and did fuck all while they waited for a call. There was a bathroom right off the ready room, and they could order delivery from the cafeteria. Hell, even the furniture was comfortable.
The only complaint was, she had to spend the whole day in a room with eleven other people, so there was zero chance Focus would stop by. Zero chance of any flirting, or of seeing that smile she was quickly becoming addicted to. Zero chance of feeling her heart flutter when Focus touched her. Zero chance she would finally be brave enough to ask Focus out.
Zero chance she would hear some secret from Focus’ past that she was duty bound to report to high ups but would carry to her grave. Focus was an alien. Her homeworld was called Umhlaba. She’d been on Earth for 219 years.
She probably knew more about Focus than anyone else in the Marshals, but she was missing the important things. She didn’t know her name. She didn’t know why she’d left her homeworld. Didn’t know why she’d come to Earth. Didn’t know why she was a Superhero. It was like Focus was teasing her with peeks behind the curtain, and Danny didn’t know why. All she knew is that she wanted to tear the curtain aside and see everything.
The room turned red, and Danny was halfway to her feet before she even realized the alarm was going off. She drew her AR pistol from the holster attached to the chair and dropped it into the speed holster on her leg in a practiced motion, then pulled on her tac vest, clipping it to her web belt, then zipping it up. She grabbed her helmet and her rifle as she filed out the door with the rest of the team and headed for the three waiting SUVs.
She slid into the passenger’s seat and took Lori’s rifle as Lori got behind the wheel.
“We have a tier two threat level incident at the Federal Reserve Bank. Focus is on route. You will follow and provide assistance,” Perez said over comms.
“Do we have an ID on the hostile?” Danny asked.
“Target is known Supervillain, codename Gammawave.”
“Shit,” Lori said, and Danny couldn’t help but agree.
By the time they reached the bank, Focus and Gammawave were already fighting, and from what Danny could see as she and Lori hunkered down behind their SUV, it was brutal. Gammawave was a radiokenetic, which meant he could control the electromagnetic spectrum. The thing was, unlike most radiokenetics, he could control the entire spectrum. Everything from ultra-low frequency radio waves all the way up into hard gamma. And he loved playing with hard gamma.
Focus was conjuring force-fields to block the blasts of radiation he was throwing at her and the cops, while hitting him with blasts of pure kinetic energy that he couldn’t redirect. The cops were mostly hiding, trying to avoid getting cooked by the radiation, while Gammawave’s gang were loading money into an armored car.
“We need to end this before someone gets killed,” Danny said.
“Agreed,” Lori said.
“I have an idea,” Danny said.
“What is it?”
“I like this idea,” Lori said. “Gammawave?”
“The armored car,” Danny said. “If they can’t get away with the loot, maybe they’ll just make a run for it.”
“I like this idea less, but Perez will love it. You grab the launcher. I’ll get clearance.”
Danny ran to the back of the SUV and grabbed one of the M136 rocket launchers, then rushed back to where Lori was.
“Yes, ma’am,” Lori said. She turned to Danny. “We’re a go.”
Danny pulled the safety pin and shouldered the weapon, quickly working through the firing procedure and taking aim at the engine block of the armored car Gammawave’s gang was loading.
“Ready,” Danny said.
“Fire in the hole!” Lori yelled, and Danny pulled the trigger. The rocket sailed across the distance and slammed into the armored car, blowing a hole through the entire engine.
“Yes!” Lori shouted.
Gammawave screamed and turned away from Focus, zeroing in on Danny and Lori, and Danny could see what was about to happen, clear as day. She dropped the launcher and shoved Lori away from her, just as Gammawave cut loose. The beam of gamma waves hit the Suburban first, which probably saved Danny’s life, at least in the short term, but the energy that bled through was still enough to knock her back several feet, and when she hit the ground, it felt like she had the worst sunburn of her life.
“Danny!” someone screamed. Maybe several someones. She wasn’t sure. There was too much pain. Everywhere her clothes touched her skin, it felt like fire. Her lungs burned and her eyes stung and God, she wanted it to stop.
She coughed and her mouth filled with blood. She tried to roll over, to clear her mouth, but there was too much pain and she started to choke on the blood.
“Easy,” someone said, and she felt herself pushed on her side. She coughed again, and the blood spilled out of her mouth.
“Get out of the way,” someone said. A hand touched her, and she wanted to pull away from the pain it caused, but then she felt a cool sensation, like ice spreading out from the touch. It was comforting, but it was heavy, dragging her down into darkness and sleep.
The first thing she was aware of was the sound of beeping. Regular, steady beeping. The second was the feel of someone holding her hand. It took time and effort for her to pry her eyes open, but she found herself in a dimly lit room, and she slowly looked around, only to find Lori sitting next to her, holding her hand. It took a second to realize it in the dim light, but Lori’s eyes were closed.
“Hey,” she said, her voice coming out dry and rough. It was enough to wake Lori up, though. She jumped slightly and looked down at her.
“You’re awake!” Lori said.
“Water,” Danny croaked.
Lori let go of her hand and grabbed a large travel mug filled with ice water. She uncapped the straw and held it so Danny could get it in her mouth. Danny took a long drink, sighing in relief as the water washed away the dryness in her mouth. She kept drinking, and it felt like she must have drained half the mug, but when she finally let go and Lori set it back on the table, she could barely see any change in the water level.
“Where am I?”
“You’re at the station,” Lori said. “We’re better equipped than any of the local hospitals.”
“What happened?” Danny asked.
“What do you remember?”
“Fight with Gammawave,” Danny said. “I got hit.”
“Hit my ass,” Lori said. “You got your stupid ass killed is what you did.”
“I’m feeling pretty spry for a dead girl.”
“You took three times the lethal dose of gamma, you idiot.”
“But I’m still here.”
“Yeah. Thanks to your girlfriend,” Lori said.
“Focus,” Lori said. “She did something. Fixed you up. I don’t know. All I know is that by the time we got you back to the base, you were mostly fine. Your electrolytes are off, you’re dehydrated as hell, and they’ve put enough iodine in you to run a salt factory for a year, but no one can figure out how you’re not dead.”
“Where is she?” Danny asked.
“She’s in a kill debrief,” Lori said.
“What?” Danny asked. That didn’t make any sense. Focus had one of the lowest kill counts of any active heroes. She was known for it. In thirty-two years, she’d only killed six hostiles, and three of those were modified animals.
“When Gammawave hit you, she put him down.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Lori said. “Just rest, and we’ll see about getting you home.”
“Lori, how did she do it?”
“I didn’t see it,” Lori said.
“But you know.”
Lori turned away. “Yeah,” she said. “I know.”
“What did she do?”
“She picked the armored car up and dropped it on him,” Lori said.
“Yeah. The forensics team was still picking him out of the wreckage, last I heard.”
“Has she ever lost a Marshal before?”
“A few times,” Lori said. “Thirty-two years, shit happens, you know.”
“Did she react like that?”
“I don’t know,” Lori said. “Last time she lost a Marshal was 2010, I think. Before my time.”
“I should go see her.”
“No,” Lori said. “Look, Danny, right now, Perez doesn’t want you anywhere near her. And honestly, I think that’s for the best.”
“Why?” Danny asked. “If she’s that upset because I got hurt—”
“Exactly,” Lori said. “Look, the truth is, if it had been anyone other than Focus out there, Perez probably would have given the kill order instead of clearing us for the rocket launcher. Gammawave had killed way too many cops and Marshals for us to fuck around with him. But it was Focus out there, and for her to kill him without a kill order in place…People are scared, Danny.”
Danny lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. She understood. She did. Bright costumes and silly names aside, metahumans were terrifying. The idea of someone as powerful as Focus going off the reservation had to make a lot of people nervous, but Danny couldn’t see it. All she could see when she thought of Focus was the woman who sat with her at lunch, talking and laughing about food and music and movies and TV shows. The woman who brought her fruit and chocolate and cheesecake. The woman who flirted with her when they were alone and touched her so gently.
She felt something touch her, but she didn’t open her eyes. The touch wasn’t physical. She wasn’t quite sure how she knew that, but she did, and she leaned into it almost instinctively. For just a moment, she felt a whirlwind of emotions. Terror, guilt, rage, grief, despair, but also relief. So much relief. Longing, too. Then the emotions were gone, and just the touch remained, like a caress, before it disappeared as well. She knew it was Focus. It felt too much like what had happened that first day to be anyone else, and she knew what she needed to do.
She opened her eyes and looked over at Lori. “Get the doctor,” she said. “I want to get out of here.”
Danny sat on her couch, working on her third jug of Pedialyte as she watched Tommy Lee Jones chase Harrison Ford across the country. She’d seen the movie more times than she could count, practically had it memorized, which made it good background noise when she mostly just wanted to turn her brain off. The doctors had let her go home, but she was on a week of medical leave, and she already hated it. She never really did well with enforced down time. She didn’t even feel that bad. A bit like she was on the tail end of a massive hangover, but the Pedialyte and the aspirin were taking care of that. She just wanted to go back to work in the morning.
She jumped a bit when her phone rang, startled by the unexpected noise. She reached out and picked it up and sighed when she saw her mom’s number. She really wasn’t up to another round of nagging about her job, but then, it was her mom. She couldn’t exactly decline the call. She swiped to accept and lifted the phone to her ear.
“Oh, thank God! You are alive.”
“Um…Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You tell me,” her mom said.
“Mom, you’re the one calling me.”
“It’s all over the internet. A Marshal got killed during a bank robbery this afternoon, and one of those Superheroes went nuts and started killing the bank robbers.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Danny sighed. “Mom, that’s not what happened.”
“There’s a video,” her mom said.
“Yeah. And does the video show the Marshal getting loaded into an ambulance, or a hearse?”
“The video doesn’t go on that long. It just shows the Marshal getting hit with some kind of laser beam, and then Focus picking up an armored car and dropping it on top of the person who fired the beam.”
“Well, I promise you, the Marshal is fine.”
“How do you know? Were you there?”
Danny closed her eyes and tilted her head back, resting it on the back of the couch. “Because I’m the Marshal, Mom.”
“I’m the Marshal that got hit,” she said.
“Are you okay?” her mom asked. “No. Of course not! You got shot! I knew this would happen. I’ll be on the next flight out. Which hospital are you in? Who’s your doctor?”
“Mom, slow down,” Danny said. “I’m not in the hospital. I’m in my house. I’m sitting on my couch. The Suburban I was hiding behind took most of the blast. I’m a little banged up from getting thrown around, and I got a bit of a burn from the heat of the explosion. Aside from that, I’m fine.”
“Fine? They said you were coughing up blood.”
“They also said I was dead. And yeah, I did cough up some blood. I bit my cheek when I hit the ground. But the doctors would not have let me go if there was anything wrong with me.”
“I’m still coming out there.”
“Mom, no,” Danny said. “I’m fine. Honestly. I’ve taken worse hits in the field. I know the video probably looks bad, but I’m fine. I swear.”
“Are you sure?” her mom asked, and Danny could hear the fear in her voice, so she took a deep breath, and told as much of the truth as she dared.
“It was close, but I got lucky, and my team took care of me once I was down. I’m sorry I didn’t call you and tell you, but I spent most of the afternoon getting poked and prodded by the doctors to make sure I was well enough to come home, and I’m fine. I don’t even have a concussion.”
“What about that Focus? Did she really go nuts like they’re saying?”
“No, Mom,” Danny said. “I don’t know exactly what happened because I was a bit out of it from the blast. From what my partner told me, Focus saw me go down, and decided to end the threat. Gammawave was a known killer. Focus does her best to avoid killing. If you look up her numbers, this is only her seventh kill in thirty-two years of active service. She didn’t go crazy, Mom.”
“I know, Mom. I’m sorry I scared you.”
“This is why I hate your job so much.”
“Not because I’m a fascist with my jackboot on the neck of the oppressed?”
“You’re not,” her mom said. “I know you, sweetheart. I know you’re trying your best to do good. But I also know that you’re in danger, every day. I’ve been living with death threats my whole career. It comes with the sort of things I do. But I never wanted you or your sisters to have to deal with that. That’s why I was so happy when Max became a social worker, and Sam got into urban farming. I kept hoping you’d do something nice and safe with your policy degree.”
“I know, Mom. But I’ve got too much of you in me. I want to help make a difference.”
“I’m proud of you,” her mom said. “I know I don’t say it, but I am. And if something had happened to you…”
Danny heard a soft knock on the sliding glass door that led out to her back yard. She looked over, and saw Focus standing there.
“Mom, I’ve got to go,” she said.
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“No, Mom. Someone from work is at the door, and I need to talk to them. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” her mom said.
Danny ended the call and walked over to the sliding glass door. She opened it and took in the sight of Focus out of uniform. Instead of the white, blue, and red suit with the red, black, and blue ray diagram symbol on her chest, Focus was standing there in blue jeans, work boots, a tank top, with a lightweight jacket over top. It was a good look on her.
“Hey,” Focus said.
“Hey,” Danny said.
“Can um…Can I come in?”
Danny nodded and stepped back, letting Focus step inside. Danny slid the door to, then turned around to face Focus. Before she could say anything, or even register what was happening, Focus pulled her into a hug so tight Danny was sure it was going to break a few ribs. It went on and on, until Danny was genuinely starting to struggle for air before Focus let go. She stepped back, resting her hands on Danny’s shoulders, and looking her over slowly. It didn’t take a genius to know Focus was using her powers, and Danny found herself feeling a little shy about that, but finally Focus looked up at her.
“You’re really okay,” she said.
“Yeah,” Danny said. “I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry to bother you at home. I just…I had to know. To see for myself. I don’t think I could survive if I lost you.”
Danny stared at Focus, her words turning over and over in Danny’s cop brain. She knew it wasn’t the time to ask, that Focus was upset, but it was too much, and she had to ask.
“Why me? Why all of this? I know you care about me, but I don’t understand why. It would be one thing if you were attracted to me and we’d been flirting, or even if I could explain it away because of the mental connection that first day, but it’s more than that. You asked for me by name before we ever met. I’ve let it go until now because I like you, because I’ve had a crush on you since I was five years old and it’s flattering and exciting to feel like you like me back. But today, you killed somebody because they hurt me, and I need to know why.”
Focus looked down, and Danny felt a bit like she’d kicked a puppy, but then Focus nodded. “Yeah. That’s…That’s…” She let out a sigh. “Can we sit down?”
“Sure,” Danny said. “Come on.” She led the way over to the couch and took a seat. Focus sat down a little further away than Danny had expected, but she reached out and took one of Danny’s hands in hers.
“Is this okay?” she asked.
Focus took a deep breath and looked up at Danny with an expression on her face like she expected the world to end at any second. “I can’t tell you everything,” she said.
“Why not?” Danny asked.
“Because if I do, it will change things that can’t be changed,” Focus said. “I want to. I want to tell you everything. I’ve wanted to tell you everything since that first day. You can’t understand how hard it is to hold back, when all I want to do is take you in my arms and hold you and tell you everything. To protect you from…To protect you.”
“To protect me from what?”
“I can’t tell you.”
Danny let out a frustrated sigh. “What can you tell me?”
“You asked me once why I left my homeworld,” Focus said. “I can tell you that. I can tell you why I don’t let myself get close to the other Marshals.”
“Okay. Let’s start there.”
“My world died. 240-some odd years ago. I don’t know the exact date because I lost some time along the way.”
“What happened?” Danny asked.
“My people were gifted. What you would call psionic abilities. All of us had them. Some were telekinetic, some could conjure force fields, some could teleport, some could fly at incredible speeds, some could project beams of energy…Some could see the future. Some species out there are just like that. We weren’t the only ones. But we were unique in one way. We could loan our power to each other. It became part of how our culture and society worked. A group of telekinetics would all loan their power to the most skilled person among them so that person, called a Focus, could lift more. Teleporters would loan their power so one of them could carry more, or teleport further. People who could see into the future would loan their power to the most gifted seer, so they could see further and more clearly.
“Being a Focus carried a lot of respect, and so did being a seer. So, when the seer Focuses all started reporting that they were seeing a danger coming, my people listened. Groups of seers started working together to see further, and they all saw the same thing. Our world ending. For months, they all worked to find a solution, a way to save us, but all they did was learn more about how we were going to die.
“A monster was coming. A creature as close to pure, elemental evil as ever existed. We called it Idimoni. The seers explored every possible future and didn’t find any way to save our world. But they did find a way to stop him. Not for good. They couldn’t find a way to kill it. But they could find a way to imprison it for hundreds of billions of years.
“They chose a Focus. They chose me. And everyone on my world, every single person, gave me their power. Every last drop, until even their life force was drained. There were over sixteen billion people on my world, and every last one of them poured their power and their life force into me. When it was over, I was the only one left, and when Idimoni came, I fought him. I fought him for years. I fought him across lightyears. I fought him on a hundred worlds. I fought him until I finally managed to trap him inside a black hole.
“When it was over, I slept for almost a decade. Then I came here. I lived among your people for a bit, but I was still tired, so eventually, I went back to sleep. I woke up in the seventies, and I tried to forget, I tried to live a normal life until I couldn’t take it anymore, and I started to help.
“That’s why I reacted the way I did today,” Focus said. “It’s the reason I don’t let myself get close to the other Marshals. I’ve lost so much. My world, my culture, my friends, my family. The idea of losing more is horrific. It scares me, even with the friends I do have, but I try not to get close to people who put themselves on the line every day. Sometimes, I can’t help it. People like Cecile, or Ice Dragon and Airheart have wormed their way in over the years, but I try to be careful. But I couldn’t, not with you. When Gammawave shot you, when I thought for a moment that I’d lost you, all I felt was rage. I’m not proud of what I did, but I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.”
“But why me?” Danny asked. “What makes me so special?”
“I can’t tell you. I knew this would be hard. When I asked for you to be assigned to the unit, I knew it would be hard to keep my distance, but I thought I could do it. I thought it would be like it was before.” Focus froze, and Danny knew immediately that she’d said more than she meant to.
“Before?” Danny asked. “What do you mean, before?”
Focus stood up. “I should go,” she said. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come here tonight. I just…”
“You had to make sure I was okay,” Danny said as she got to her feet. She reached out and took Focus’ hand in hers. “I’m not upset.”
“You’re not?” Focus asked.
“No,” Danny said. “I’m not. I just don’t understand. Every time you look at me, it’s like you’re looking at the most important person in the world, but I don’t even know your name.”
“Ayanda. My name is Ayanda.”
“Ayanda,” Danny said. “It’s beautiful.”
Ayanda reached up and cupped Danny’s face in her hands, and Danny knew what was about to happen. Her heart pounded in her chest, and her stomach fluttered as Ayanda leaned in.
“Can I?” Ayanda asked.
Danny had been kissed before. Of course she had. She was twenty-six years old, and she had three girlfriends under her belt. But she had never been kissed like this. Ayanda kissed her like she was the most precious, most delicate thing on Earth. She was slow and gentle and soft, and at first, their lips barely touched, but Danny leaned into it, seeking more contact. She felt Ayanda’s tongue slide across her lips. She opened them, not just granting access, but begging Ayanda to take it, and when Ayanda’s tongue slipped into her mouth, she wrapped her arms around Ayanda and started backing her towards the couch.
It only took two steps before they fell together, Ayanda on the couch, and Danny straddling her lap. Ayanda’s hands moved away from her face, sliding down and cupping her ass, pulling her close, and Danny felt that same ghostly touch on her mind she’d felt that afternoon. She reached out for it, unsure if she was doing it deliberately or instinctively, but not caring when the connection was made. The wave of emotions that hit her were just as overwhelming as they had been that first day. Need, longing, desire, anticipation, love. So much love. Such deep and overwhelming love. It surrounded her and embraced her and flowed through her. Danny felt tears falling down her face, because how could anyone love her like that?
She pulled back and looked Ayanda in the eyes, and she felt the emotions fade as Ayanda broke the connection between them. She looked away and shook her head.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“You weren’t ready for that,” Ayanda said. She turned and looked at Danny. “I’m normally so strong, so controlled, but God, you make me weak in all the best ways.” She leaned forward, resting her forehead between Danny’s breasts. “I need to go.”
“You could stay,” Danny said.
Ayanda let out a whimper and shook her head. “I can’t. God, I want to, but I can’t.” She sat up straight and looked Danny in the eyes. “I love you. I shouldn’t say it, but you felt it, didn’t you?”
“I love you. I know you don’t understand why, but please, just trust me. I promise you’ll understand soon. Just a couple of weeks, and everything will make sense.”
“Okay,” Danny said. “I’ll trust you.”
“I need to go.”
“I want you to stay.”
“I can’t.” She leaned up and pressed a quick kiss to Danny’s lips. “Just trust me, a little longer.”
“I can do that,” Danny said. She climbed off Ayanda’s lap and watched as Ayanda stood up and turned to look at her.
“Whatever happens, I need you to know that I love you.”
“I do,” Danny said. “When will I see you again?”
“When you come back to work,” Ayanda said.
Danny nodded and stood up. Ayanda took one last look at her and headed for the sliding glass door. Danny followed to lock it after she left, but she needn’t have bothered. Ayanda walked right through the glass as if it were nothing but air, then she turned and gave Danny a smile before she drifted up and vanished into the night sky.
Scatter is available as an eBook and a Trade Paperback from Desert Palm Press and as an Audio Book from Tantor Media.
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