Part 6

Earth Takes a Stand

Chapter Six: Out with the old, out with the new.

by Anonymous

As the morning sun rose over Hawaii, Laura and Chris were getting worried about Fairchild. It had been a long time since either had heard from her. They weren't even sure where to start looking, because not only did her power of supersonic flight mean she could be anywhere in the world, or off it for that matter, but she could have been captured by either the Arions or Bob, as they were still calling him. It didn't matter who she was captured by either, since they didn't know where either was hiding.

Their only lead was the fact that Aurora was last headed for the particle physics lab to check out some possible Arion activity. It was all they had to go on. They left a note for Fairchild on a refrigerator magnet in case she came back while they were out, and Laura leapt skyward with Chris in tow.

They reached the particle physics lab and were greeted by several police officers who had cordoned off the area with barricades and yellow Police Line - Do Not Cross streamers. There had been one hell of a battle here. There were three Kintzi lying motionless on the ground, one in almost a shallow grave, the front doors had been ripped off their hinges, a parking barrier had been smashed in half, two of the car-things were laying smashed on the ground, and the charred remains of a car were still smoldering in the parking lot. Everywhere grass was singed and chunks of sod were torn up and several trees were broken in half.

Before they could start to put the pieces together, a man in black asked them to join him some distance from the police. He flashed them a badge proving he was with the Military Black Ops lead by Katrina. He spoke in a Joe Friday monotone, probably to complete his image. "Yesterday there was a battle here, obviously. We know the Arions were involved and probably Aurora. By the looks of things we think that armored human, excuse me, Terran, was here too. The Arions don't generally stage this kind of frontal assault so this had to have been important to them. There's nothing missing from inside, except the technician on duty from last night. We're presuming he was vaporized by Arion heat vision. We need to know everything you know about this."

Laura spoke up. "We think Bob, that's what we're calling the armored guy, gets his weapons from this lab. If the Arions think so too, that's got to be why they attacked."

Then Chris motioned toward the wreckage of the PCHs. "We've seen the cars on legs before too, so now I'm sure he gets his weapons from this lab. Who's the missing technician?"

Struggling with Steve Iwikos' last name, the Black Ops agent lost his monotone. "Steve Iwi... no it's eewic, shoot, I've got it written down somewhere..." He started searching through his black suit's dozen pockets.

Chris interrupted, "Don't bother, I know who you're talking about. He's the guy we talked to a couple times here, he always sounded like he was hiding something. Anyway, Aurora's missing. Do you know where she is?"

"We were hoping you did. We have a number of questions for her."

Laura jumped in here. "Okay, we've told you what we know. What can you tell us?"

"Not much you don't already know. Except about the metal the armor's made out of. It's called a carbo-metalic compound, an experimental metal developed to house fusion reactions."

"Fusion?" Chris's jaw dropped. "I didn't know anything could house a fusion reaction!"

"Well, this almost can. Almost. The metal is actually a new kind of compound made from specially treated steel and a number of organic compounds we can synthesize. The result is an almost living metal. When it's first made it's a thick syrup that can be poured into a mold. Then we 'feed' it. As it 'matures' it gets harder than any other kind of metal we've ever been able to make. It didn't quite work because it can't stand up to the heat of the fusion reactor for more than a few weeks at a time, plus it needs to be fed every once in a while or it flakes apart and sort of 'dies.' We have no idea how he got a hold of the compound, we thought all the remaining samples had been accounted for."

"Great, enough bad news, how do we stop it?" Laura questioned.

"Well, like I said you can starve it and it will die and flake apart in about a week and a half. Or you could toss it into a fusion reactor for a month. One more thing: even if you manage to damage it, it's ridiculously easy to fix. Just spread some more of the liquid 'immature' form over the damaged spot and wait for it to harden. You can't even tell it was ever scratched."

"So, if it's too late to ask where he got the actual carbo-metal," Started Chris, "Then the question at hand is where is he getting the food for it?"

"We're looking into it. So far we..." The Black Ops Agent was cut off by a scream from the investigation the police were holding in the background.

"This Kintzi is still aliaaarrrggghh!!!" Four deep slashes in his chest quickly and violently ended the life of a forensic scientist. The badly burned Kintzi leapt to his feet and was off like a bat out of hell, hurdling the barricades in one graceful leap. It was the one that had gotten caught in the first barrage of ion cannon fire from the PCHs.

Before Chris could say "After him!" Laura had scooped him off the ground and they flew after the Kintzi.


Meanwhile, Bacstin was back aboard her old orbiting ship. She had gotten picked up by the private yacht that had seen Raymond and called him a U.F.O. After getting back to the mainland, she realized that she was free. The Arions had to assume she was dead. Betas do not, as a general rule, survive battles they lose. Drawing on her high standing in the Arion military, she snuck aboard her old orbiting ship on a shuttle to pick up a few things before she cut her ties with the Arions. First she needed some guns. Secondly she needed some fake I.D. Thirdly, she needed a base of operations to plan what she was going to do next. Most likely, revenge against the Arions and against Raymond.


In another part of the ship, Kayne was on one knee before the captain of this ship, whose features were concealed under a dark hood and cloak. Beside him was the Arion female who accompanied him in the battle against Aurora and Raymond. "Report." was all he said, in an accent neither Arion nor Terran. The Kintzi were not with the Arions, and he could sense an overwhelming feeling of failure emanating from the two of them.

"We have failed, sir." Kayne responded. He did not lift his eyes. "The Velorian and the armored one found us, and we were caught off guard by the defenses at the lab. I assume full responsibility." It was killing him inside to admit failure, but the captain of this ship was not Arion.

The captain was from a race the Arions had all but exterminated save for him, because he switched sides to save himself. It was expected by his people that the leader of any group assume responsibility for any and all failure, and to show great respect for your superiors. This was so greatly against Arion psychology that very few Primes could stand to work under him, especially since he could not read Arion and needed oral reports.

The darkly cloaked captain glared at Kayne. "Tell me you salvaged your mission by bringing me something useful."

The female Arion responded. "I spoke with the Velorian, she told me that the armored Terran wasn't on her side, they were fighting each other every bit as much as they were fighting us. It was only because he attacked the Velorian that we escaped with our lives!"

She blinked a few times, her knees buckled, and she began to feel lightheaded. Slowly, she began to feel a sharp pain in her head, growing geometrically by the second. She held her head in her hands, fell to her knees, and began to whimper in agony. "Kayne, did your Lieutenant just address me directly?"


Briefly, Bacstin considered joining Aurora but realized that she would just be cannon fodder again. No, it was time to strike out of her own. Searching through some computer records, she found that an outpost in San Fransisco had been destroyed by Raymond. It was easy to find, it happened to be the very reason she was sent to kill Raymond. She also found the records of Kayne's assault on the particle physics lab. She made a copy and took that with her too.


"Sir, I haven't had a chance to explain your ways to her. She didn't know. I need her, please let her go." Again, asking his superior politely was killing him inside, but he didn't want to anger an alien who could feed him incapacitating pain with a glance. He realized the captain didn't pay attention to a word that she said, and he would have to repeat it. "She only wanted to inform you that the armored Terran and the Velorian are not working as a team. This could be useful to us."

The pounding in the Lieutenant's head stopped, and she was able to weakly bring herself to her feet. "I..." She was cut off by a gesture from Kayne.

The captain spoke again. "I will consider this. You have salvaged your mission. If you have nothing else, you may leave."

Kayne stood, bowed, and quickly pushed his Lieutenant out of the room. "We have a lot to talk about." Meeting with the captain always put Kayne into a sour mood, and he needed someone to yell at.

"You, Beta!" An authoritative voice sounded from behind Bacstin. "Do you have clearance to access these records?" It was Kayne. He was looking much better than the digitized photos showed him in the records. Arion healing powers were impressive indeed. After looking over her clearance, he started to walk off. Suddenly, it occurred to him that he thought Bacstin was the only Beta on this ship with that kind of clearance, and she was dead. By the time he looked back, the Beta was gone though, and he had more important things to worry about.


Chris and Laura had almost lost the Kintzi twice, and this time they thought they really lost him. He ducked into a forest preserve, and just like an animalistic predator, managed to disappear into the trees.

They caught a glimpse of him as he darted from the forest to a narrow alley. They rushed in the direction of the alley, but again, there was no trace of him. A natural predator, he didn't have to be seen if he didn't want to be. A scream from a few alleys down lead them to a homeless man, scared out of his wits. The Kintzi must have come this way. "Damn!" Laura was getting frustrated. "How can we follow him if we can't even see him?"

Laura was holding Chris in front of her, a hand under each arm, and her impressive chest pressed a bit into his back. All in all, a very comfortable position. "Well, he's headed roughly North. Let's try to head him off, get to a place he has to get out in the open." On the surface, a good idea. They waited almost an hour before giving up.

"Any more bright ideas, Chris?"


Bacstin reached the San Fransisco base without a hitch. No one knew she was alive. She had supplies, she had a base of operations, and no one would ever come back to repair the place. That wasn't the Arion mentality. The base had been destroyed, it was ineffective. There was no point in repairing the ineffective.

Almost destroyed, Bacstin smiled. The computer mainframe was actually still running, and she thought she could get a terminal or two back in working order. There was a very nice room off to the West that would serve well as a bedroom. She would just have to call an electrician to install a phone and rewire a little, but it was worth the risk if just one person knew where this place was, especially since he could never guess its significance. Her fake I.D. could get her a job easily, and she spoke fluent English and Japanese. She grinned wide, it couldn't have gone more smoothly.

Suddenly, Bacstin realized that she owed Raymond everything. First of all, he had killed Garritan, her commanding officer. Secondly, he made it easy to fake her own death. Thirdly, his destruction of this base gave her a place to live. Forget revenge! He did her the biggest favors of her life!

A knock at the door made her gasp for air. Why would anyone be looking here? There was nothing the Arions valued left, and no one else besides Raymond even knew it existed, her mind raced with a thousand possibilities, all bad. She grabbed a large recoil-surpressed electromagnetic mass driver cannon and ducked behind some rubble.


The Kintzi raced through northern Los Angeles as fast as he could. He had to be sure that he lost Laura and Chris before he headed to his destination. He ducked through alley after alley, pausing periodically to listen with his enhanced hearing or sniff the air for honey and wildflowers. Finally convinced that he lost them, he broke into his fastest run and headed for a base he knew was nearby. From there he could contact the Arions and... tell them that he ran from a fight? It was true that he was badly hurt, and it was just him against a Velorian and an enhanced Terran, but the Kintzi do not run from a fight! He had lost all respect among the Kintzi by running. There was no turning back now, as he realized what he did. He saved his own life, true, but at the cost of his status and pride.

Thinking he was going to turn himself in to the other Kintzi and at least try to die with dignity and ceremony, he approached the base anyway. To his horror, he saw that it was decimated! It looked like someone had attacked completely by surprise, with all guns blazing and determined to rip the place to pieces with his bare hands if necessary. But no one ever told the Kintzi anything. This could have happened years ago for all he knew. But didn't he hear about operations being run from this base recently?

Hoping for the best, he knocked on the door. There was no answer. Trying the knob, he found it unlocked. Immediately upon opening the door, a familiar scent filled his nostrils. "Bacstin?"


Raymond, at the same time, was regaining consciousness from his impact with the moon. He knew it was unavoidable as soon as he felt himself pulled into the curved trajectory that told him he and Aurora were caught in the moon's gravitational pull. Weak as it is, it was enough to cause a nasty crash at the speeds they were going.

His head was pounding. He had padded and reinforced the hell out of the armor, knowing that it would have to stand up to this kind of abuse in a fight with the aliens. That meant that he would get knocked around a lot, being inside the armor and all. Still, the incredible speeds that they were traveling were enough to knock him out on impact.

He glanced at the unconscious Aurora. Then he glanced at the warning light in his suit. He was dangerously low on oxygen! The suit had reserves for several hours, because he knew that eventually he would wind up in space or underwater. It was also pressurized and sealed, both to protect him against the crushing ocean depths or the entirely opposite effect of hard vacuum, and to keep him from being affected by the Velorian pheromones.

He had to get back to Earth, and fast. He had very little air left. There was no time to try to kill Aurora, she was much tougher than the Arions. It had taken the entire journey to the moon just to render her unconscious in his death grip! Besides, he couldn't risk waking her up. His main engines provided pure thrust, so they would work in a vacuum. He hoped his engines could reach the moon's escape velocity, and took off.

Raymond knew he was going to run out of air before he reached Earth's atmosphere. That was unavoidable. He began to intentionally hyperventilate, so he could infuse as much oxygen as possible into his bloodstream before going unconscious again. He could only hope that the recharging oxygen tanks would wake him up when he was in the atmosphere. Crashing into the moon was one thing, because it was at a low angle and one sixth the pull of the Earth. Crashing into the Earth would surely kill him.

Raymond felt his heart race and his hands start to go numb as he hyperventilated. Thank you Lisa for that tip! Hyperventilating might actually save his life, if everything else worked the way he needed it to. The armor broke free of the moon's gravitational pull and he headed toward Earth. He knew that the aliens were trans-atmospheric and a fight could easily bring him to this height, but he never really believed that he would ever actually get to see Earth from orbit!

It seemed to take forever as his engines propelled him ever faster toward the blue globe in the distance. It's incredible size made it look so much closer than it really was. This trip would certainly put a few things into perspective for him. He glanced back at the moon, and realized that he was still very much closer to it than Earth. The distance was, no pun intended, astronomical. He began to doubt that he could survive the trip home without suffocating. He was running out of air too quickly.

An eternity later, he was halfway between the Earth and the moon. He made one last mid-course correction to ensure that he would spend as little time as possible in orbit before entering the atmosphere. He felt his consciousness begin to leave him. He was still a long way off from passing out, but he felt the first twinge of real panic as he wondered if he would make it or not.

Damn! All this for nothing! The suit, the PCHs, the weapons Steve made for him, all his grand plans and wonderful inventions, and all he did was kill a few Arions. In the long run that meant nothing. If he didn't kill them Aurora would have. The worst part was he still had weapons he hadn't used yet, some he hadn't even finished or installed yet! His grand design was all hinged on whether or not he woke up in time on the moon to make it back to Earth before he ran out of air. So much for being the great equalizer in the battle for Earth. So much for trying to make a difference, the little guy who stood up and fought back. It could all end in the next few minutes and there really was nothing he could do but passively wait and see if he had enough air.


Laura and Chris got back to the particle physics lab and gave everyone the bad news. They lost the Kintzi. In the big picture, one Kintzi wasn't important though, they all had bigger fish to fry.

While they were gone, the Black Ops agent had tried calling Mrs. Iwikos again, now that Laura and Chris had confirmed that her husband Steve had something to do with this whole thing. He was folding up his cell phone as they approached him. "Bad news. There's no answer at the Iwikos residence. We have a few officers in the lab looking for some clues as to where they might have gone. I need to ask you a favor, Laura. You can get to the Iwikos house faster than our squad cars could. We need to you carry Officer Brok and Detective Whitely to the Iwikos house. They know the way. We need to get there while they might still be around, we can't afford to lose Steve. He's a key witness in this whole fiasco."

"I'm starting to feel like a taxi service, except I don't get tipped." Laura took the two officers in her arms and sped off.

"And Chris, we could really use a pair of arms like yours to help move some concrete parking barriers." Chris and Laura were actually more than happy to help out. At least they were doing something to help Fairchild, they didn't have any leads and really had no idea where to start looking for her. Keeping busy helped make it seem like they were doing something productive and kept their minds off the worst case scenarios they kept creating.


"Bacstin?" The Kintzi repeated. "Is it really you?"

Bacstin got up from behind her hiding place. "Tabral? Wow, what are you doing here? You scared the shit out of me! I haven't seen you in about a year!" The two exchanged a quick embrace, and Bacstin scratched Tabral behind his ears, which he enjoyed immensely.

"Mmm... you haven't lost your touch, Bacstin. You know just where that special spot is... oh yeah, that's the one..." Tabral nuzzled up into Bacstin's shoulder.

"Ha ha! You look about ready to cum all over the floor!" Bacstin stopped scratching. "Now come on, what are you doing here? This place is derelict."

"I could ask you the same thing. Aren't you supposed to be dead? The armored Terran shot down your jet!"

"I ejected. It was horrible, I couldn't do anything about it. He grabbed onto the plane and started tearing it apart. My gun was worthless. That's why I got these this time!" Bacstin grinned with pride as she held up two enormous and powerful looking rifles. "Anyway, the military thinks I'm dead too, and I'd like to keep it that way. A girl gets sick of being treated like..."

"Like a Beta?"

"Yeah. That's it exactly. I'm going to use this place to plan my next move. I don't know what I'm going to do yet. What's your story?"

"I was part of an attack on the particle physics lab outside of Los Angeles. We, well, lost. Aurora and the armored Terran both showed up, and the lab had some defenses we didn't know about. I was left for dead."

"Then that makes two of us. Why don't you stay here? I can get a job somewhere close by, we can stay here, there's enough salvageable equipment to get by on until we figure out what we're going to do next." She paused. "And we can catch up on old times."

"I'd like that. It beats the alternative." He turned toward the piles of junk on the floor. "You want to start clearing away this junk?"

Bacstin combed her fingers through Tabral's fur and held him closely from behind. "Later," she whispered. "We have a lot of catching up to do." Tabral began to purr. They were both so suddenly alone, and needed a friend.


Laura and the two police officers went over the Iwikos house with a fine-tooth comb. They had missed the departure of Steve and Jennifer, and were looking for a some kind of lead as to where they went. Laura struck jackpot.

"Hey, look at this spiral notebook. It looks like someone wrote on a page and tore it off. You can make out impressions on the top page."

"Good eyes, Laura!" Detective Whitely would have missed the tiny impressions in the paper, despite his years of experience. They were just too faint. "We'll get this back to the forensics lab. It might be an address or directions."

Just then Officer Brok came into the living room. "Looks like they left in a hurry all right. There's clothing all over the bedroom, looks like they packed what they could in about three minutes and took off. The rest of the house looks untouched."

Detective Whitely had one last look around to make sure he didn't miss anything obvious. "Well that's all we can do here now. Laura, could you give us a lift to the station? We're supposed to meet that Black Ops guy there. Hey Brok, he never did give us his name, did he?"

Moments later, they were at the station. "This is great. Just great. Steve Iwikos, no criminal record, never even got a speeding ticket. Went to some college in Nevada I never heard of. Got picked up almost immediately after graduation by the particle physics lab. That's all we can find out about him. We got anything on that notebook yet, Brok?"

"Jackpot! It's an address, house belonging to one Ms. Lisa Jenkott. Biochemical Engineer, graduated from the same university Iwikos did."

"Gotcha. Looks like we're gunna get some answers!"

"Oh, one more thing. About Steve's car... looks like it was used for parts for those scrap-heap things we found at the physics lab. He must've taken a cab or something."


Raymond eyes slowly opened. He felt like he was spinning. Where was he? What was he doing? As he became more lucid he realized he was in his armor. He vaguely recalled a fight earlier. He realized that he felt weightless. Ever so slowly, his brain began to process the images he eyes were receiving.

"Shit!!" Suddenly everything slammed back into place in his mind. He was plummeting to Earth at an incredible rate of speed and if he didn't do something fast he was going to crash into a city below him. His wings unfurled and his engines kicked in again, and he pulled up as sharply as he dared to without suffering from blackout.

He made it! He actually made it back to earth! His oxygen tanks were refilling and he was breathing through the air filter. Now he only had to figure out where he was. The city below him seemed modern enough. He zoomed in on the landscape beneath him until he could make out the Lincoln Memorial. Of all the places he could have turned up, at least he knew where he was. He was on the other side of the country, but it could have been much, much worse. At least in a few hours he could be back in Los Angeles.

He wondered how Steve was doing. He told him to go to Lisa's place until this blew over. Steve's life was very much in danger. His involvement was obvious by now, and he didn't have any life-saving armor to help him out. Lisa! That's right, he had to get back home soon, Lisa had finished synthesizing the pheromones that the Velorians emitted! He needed them for his next weapon.

Shortly, a very perplexed convenience store owner was visited by an eight foot suit of armor demanding a road map of the United States. So who was he to argue? The guy had a machine gun.


Aurora was slowly regaining consciousness. She had been in the cold vacuum of space for some time now, and took a deep breath. To her surprise, she found she could! She got up with a start, and a quick glance confirmed that she was not on the moon any longer! She looked down, and found herself, bound hand and foot in gold chains, in a steel cell. Listening hard, she could hear the unmistakable drone of starship engines. She was doubtless in one of their orbiting ships. Why wasn't she dead? She strained as hard as she could against her chains, but as expected she couldn't break free. Her heat vision wasn't working either.

"Hey look, the bitch is awake." One of her Beta guards motioned to her other guard, who immediately snapped to attention. "Relax, she's helpless." He put his rifle down to add to the effect. "Hot little number, isn't she?"

"Hey, don't get her mad now."

"Why, what's she gunna do, break out? Heh, not like that she ain't."

"I'd just feel better if they killed her when they found her."

"I dunno, the cap'n insists on some execution for her. Probably wants to fuck 'er first. I would." He grinned.

Aurora was getting tired of being spoken about in third person. She was thirsty, and bruised, and going to die if she didn't find a way out. She looked around and saw three walls, bars, and a ventilation duct too small for her shoulders, much less her breasts. That and a fluorescent light on the ceiling. Not even a chair or a bed. Or a vtoilet.

The more confident guard tapped a communications link on the wall next to the cell. "Sir, the Velorian is awake now. She's not going anywhere though, the bonds are holding."

"I'll be there in a few minutes." The voice through the speaker sounded so clear you'd swear he was in the next room. Aurora recognized the voice. It was Kayne.


Back on Earth, Raymond was unlocking his front door. It was almost 9 P.M. He hid his armor outside of the city some time ago so he could come home without attracting attention. Ever since he first put it on, he felt so weak and vulnerable without it. It must have been having one hell of a psychological affect on him too, because he felt tired all the time when he took it off. It was getting to the point where he would really rather just leave it on all the time.

He opened the door and saw Lisa sitting on the couch talking to his girlfriend, Joy. Joy almost leapt up from her seat and gave him a big hug. "Hi Ray!" She was the only one who every called him Ray. He was Raymond to everyone else.

"Ouch!" Raymond pulled away from her touch. "After a fight with the aliens my skin is sensitive for a while." He kissed her. "I'll be okay in a few minutes. You'll never believe where I just was." He grinned.

Lisa spoke up from her seat on the couch. "I hope this is good, you're late you know. And we know about the fight at the physics lab, Steve told me all about it. That was hours ago."

"Yeah, I had to let her in, Ray. I hope you don't mind." Joy added. Her voice was very sweet and a little high pitched, people who didn't know her usually assumed she was a ditz.

"Thank you both for your concern." He commented sarcastically. "Well let me start by saying you probably saved my life today, Lisa. I was fighting with Aurora after the battle and without going into details, we wound up crashing... get this... on the moon." He got the reaction he wanted from the both of them. "Lisa, we talked about the possibility of me winding up in space at some point and you told me about hyperventilating. It worked like a charm. I nearly ran out of air on the way back and passed out. I just barely got my consciousness back in time to avoid crashing into Washington D.C. Oh, and I left Aurora on the moon. I don't know what happened to her. The important thing is I don't think I've ever been that close to dying. Thank you, Lisa. I owe you my life."

Concern spread over Lisa's face. "I told you this might happen. You can't keep doing this, Raymond. You're going to get yourself killed. It's not worth it!"

"It's not worth risking my life to save hundreds of others? You know what these aliens can do, Lisa. You know they can kill with a glance! Just by looking at you! I can't let them run around unchecked like this. I can make a difference and I have to."

"You have people who care about you, it's not fair to us. And think about poor Steve and his wife, they're staying at my place right now because they helped you. You put their lives in danger!"

"Their lives were already in danger! Look, Lisa, I have to do this. I'm saving lives. I'm doing some good in this world. The armor... oh, Lisa, tell me you brought the pheromones!"

"That's one more thing, Raymond. These stupid chemicals. I can't believe how strong they are. I can't concentrate on work. I nearly raped an intern when I started working with them. I'm in danger of losing my job because of this. So here's your fucking weapon!" Lisa slammed a small vile of clear liquid on the coffee table. She started crying. "I can't believe you'd do this to us. What if we lose you! What if the aliens find out who you are and we're helping you? God, you're hurting everyone you know!"

Lisa and Raymond had been best friends ever since grade school. They'd known each other for a better percentage of their lives than most people ever do. They knew each other inside and out, but lately Lisa felt like she was losing Raymond. Ever since he became obsessed with these aliens, he'd changed. No, it was before that. When he'd started the Tai Chi, and she didn't like it at all.

"Lisa..." Raymond put his hands on her shoulders. "Look at the big picture here. You're helping to save the whole planet. Do you know anyone else who can do that? It's a chance to work for a greater good."

"Oh what would you know about greater good? You and your yin-yang and your meditating, I told you I was against you leaving the Church. Now look where it led you. I told you nothing good can come out of something that evil. Just take your damn chemicals if you still want them and leave me out of the rest of this."

Raymond had left the Baptist Church years ago, and Lisa wouldn't let him forget it. His desk job was putting stress on his back and neck and cramping him up. He joined Tai-Chi for the exercise and later got involved in the teachings and the fighting style. Shortly afterward he left the Church and turned to meditation as his only religion. It was the first wedge that ever came between Lisa and him, and now this deal was driving it further.

"Lisa, I don't want to argue with you. There's good and evil in everything. I can use the good in those pheromones to help me. But I don't want to argue." He wiped the tears from her eyes. "I need to go make some coffee. I feel so drained. I need the caffeine to wake me up." He got up and went to the kitchen.

"Lisa?" Joy started. Her usual perky mood was gone. "Lisa I know you care about Ray, but you have to let him do what he thinks is right. He'll be okay, he's got the armor. Nothing can hurt him in the armor."

"Oh bullshit. He almost died today." She buried her head in Joy's shoulder. "Why is he doing this?"

Joy lifted her chin. "Because he thinks he has to."

"Fine, let him play superhero! Let him get himself killed! I don't care anymore!"

Joy hugged her close for a moment, and before she knew it, she found herself kissing Lisa.