Things had finally calmed down, days later after the last Maelstrom "attack," but the days were kept constantly busy. Knowing a full-slate was ahead one morning, I woke up a little earlier than usual, just for the sake of getting some meditation time in. I let myself breathe deeply, cross-legged on the floor, waiting to be submerged in the waters. Before I knew it, familiar currents were carrying me off towards Meredith, who I'd felt was in a similar posture wherever she was. The closer I got, the more aroused I became, besieged with thoughts of her; kissing, teasing, vigorous sex flooded my thoughts along the whole journey, up until the time I arrived in-front of her, naked and deep in concentration.
Our surroundings resembled the top of the clean bed of our motel room, but hazier and less-defined outside of our immediate space, similar to our booth at the diner under cloudy conditions. I would've marveled at how she managed that trick in our other significant place, if it weren't for the invisible sexual energy practically radiating from my body, the kind Meredith managed to absorb, as if the focus of her deep meditation. It wasn't easy for her to maintain simply meditating, feeding on my seduced essence, fighting succubus temptations to push me over and take me. I didn't make it easier, watching her breathe deeply, her toned, feminine muscles, the way her breasts, and especially perky nipples rhythmically rose and fell, the way she couldn't help but bite her lip.
The vicious cycle threatening to cross a tipping point and interrupt our reflective postures surprisingly didn't go any further, a strong intention keeping the urges at bay. The close, meditative proximity made our connection stronger, energies and thoughts circulating between us, sharing feelings, thoughts, and memories. Through accessing information gleamed from my light espionage, Meredith used it to delve deeper into herself, inching closer to something long forgotten. A memory, frozen in-time like an old, faded photo, revealed what looked like a younger, teenage version of Meredith, happy and care-free, surrounded by others who seemed less important. Strong feelings attached to this memory felt she was rediscovering a loved one, an older version that was never in-doubt. I happened to wonder at witnessing this memory why she was given the name Judith, a thought suspended with feeling my crossed legs being pulled at, Meredith pulling me to having her legs wrapped around me. Vigorous lips and hands generously guiding mine to her breasts rewarded me for helping her unlock more of herself.
We held each other tight at some point as I whispered her name into her ear again, happy to have helped rediscover more. A soft touch below the waist made me aware of my straining arousal again. Softness turned to insistence, pushing me past the point of no return, as the other hand playfully pushed me away, off the bed, out of the motel, out of the waters, back to my room at Epsilon, as I came hard all over myself. After mentally screeching her name, the abrupt transition and coming alone irked me a little, but a hot, ghostly kiss on my cheek put a dumb grin on my face, only lightly cursing as I cleaned myself off. I couldn't help but grin wider, feeling my earlobe pulled and a hot whisper, "Have a fun day, Byron."
I underestimated how busy a day it was, as an early meeting with Dr. Parker again was subverted with an anti-Hierarch protest going on at the building we'd met before. His department making his university one of the leading colleges for Hierarch sciences brought all kinds of crazies and bigots around, and that day they were all clustered into one big group. It got bad enough that by the time we arrived, security and local cops were clashing with the demonstrators, and we were advised to meet elsewhere.
Inconspicuously meeting in a conference room in the foreign studies building, Dr. Parker, Mickey, and his other assistants met with McGraw and I. "Forgive the unpleasantries, and the neanderthals outside; it's just in the nature of some to unduly disrupt," Dr. Parker opened the discussion with. "Some people just love stirring shit up," I commented flatly, some of the commotion outside still audible. "Anyway, we should get on with it before they suspend classes today." "Seems like they should've done that already," I briefly glanced at Mickey and his peers, giving Mickey a second-longer look of concern that he brushed off.
"Good works wait for no one," Parker said proudly, making Mickey and someone else roll their eyes at his probably-repeated tenet. "And you don't want to wait for this information. It seems my earlier estimations were on the conservative side; Data from other sources points to Megarchs as a manufactured creation, stemming from a process easier to replicate than we thought."
That made McGraw nearly turn pale. "How easy?"
"Easy as in if this kind of sensitive information gets widespread attention, you'll have organizations with even moderate money and any motive making their own. In our search to understand and find ways of stopping them, we found how recklessly easy it is to make them."
"But if they're easy to make, why aren't we seeing more besides Maelstrom?" I queried, still in stark disbelief of Parker's claim.
"That brings us to the good news; the short life-span of these Megarchs."
That caught and kept my attention rapt.
"While making one is easy, maintaining a powerful, complicated balance like that artificially is something no one has yet to master. By reported estimates, from test tube to a sustained, multi-powered being, no megarch has ever survived outside of a laboratory, maybe with the exception of Maelstrom.
"Her creators are either very skilled, or very lucky. And as delicate a balance as it takes, such luck may not last forever."
That last sentence weighed heavy on me, and all the technical explanation beyond that became a blur, concerned more with the emotional factor, the prospect of losing someone I'd grown very attached to, no matter how sudden. Panic nearly set in me as it finally occurred to me that Maelstrom could be just as privy to this information as if she was sitting there with us, but I couldn't feel any indication of her there. Only a tinge of something cold and calculating running up my spine was present, and I couldn't confirm or deny if that was just me.
I tried to stay nonchalant for the rest of the meeting, but Mickey definitely noticed the change in me, and commented on that as he escorted us off-campus after the meeting, out of earshot of McGraw.
"Worried about her?" he asked rather directly.
"More like relieved that I might not have to face her down the line." I tried feigning relief, trying to say the most logical thing. Unfortunately he wasn't buying it.
"What are the odds of Parker being right on this?" was my neutral follow-up.
"Just reading the same data myself...it's most-likely yes. But none of it explains why she has lasted as long as she has. Maybe she's luckier than he thinks."
"Guess we'll see. But I'd rather not see any more megarchs like her while I'm involved."
"She is one of a kind, isn't she?" Mickey let his coy, less-than-subtle question be the last word, concluding his escorting duty around the edge of the main campus. McGraw had been a bit ahead and gotten the car ready to drive back to Epsilon.
"Dr. Kasdien should be happy to hear about this." McGraw commented in the driver's seat.
"A measure of exclusivity in finding out about these megarchs, and his overall love of relevant data, yeah."
"He tends to keep his interests pretty simple, staying laser-focused on a few things and keeping everything else to the side."
"Like emotions and empathy?"
McGraw paused before laughing, as if he had to make sure Kasdien wasn't around to slight him. "He's been that way since I've known him. Great thinking process for a scientist."
"Deficient for a medical doctor," I spoke plainly. "Guess he leaves the bedside manner to you."
"And maybe delivering bad news," he said absently.
"Bad news like what?"
"No bad news now, but between you and me..." he literally hesitated before speaking his mind, speaking volumes of how fearful Kasdien's subordinates could be of him. "If there was a way to sustain Megarchs within Epsilon down the line, I think he'd lobby for and expect you all to sign up to become them. Or become obsolete."
"And you'd rather not see that happen?"
McGraw looked at me, surprised I'd want to hear more about his dissection from his boss's ideals.
"There's nothing obsolete about Hierarchs to me. I went to school specifically studying evolution, wonder what humans would become next; you guys are miracles I never expected to see in my lifetime. Megarchs feel like an attempt to shoot ahead of what we still don't even fully understand, and it's no wonder it often fails. Meddling in evolution to this degree deserves failure."
As dry and research-focused as I often regarded him, respect for him increased considerably, wishing he was in-charge with that kind of ethos.
For the first time, I'd enjoyed an exchange with McGraw so much, I nearly forgot to ask him to take a short detour to Radio's hospital for another visit, something he was happy to do.
"Jesus Christ, I'm missing too much," Javier commented, trying to do physical therapy exercises in bed, frustrated by the flood of current events I'd updated him on.
"Trust me, it's safer to take everything in from the outside."
"Not if more Megarchs appear and start wrecking stuff on a bigger level than Maelstrom. We're lucky she's just been toying with us so far. If she or someone like her decides to get serious..."
"I know," I said aloud, belying how I knew too much from a confidential level.
"I'm gonna try pleading for some kind of semi-field work."
"If I can't be out on the field, maybe I can be close to it, from a wheelchair or something. At least one skill of mine makes me invaluable out there, disabilities or not."
I laughed at his assertion, and then got worried as he stayed serious.
"They're gonna say no, and with good reason. You as a whole is what's invaluable, all your skills. A soldier with all of your traits combined is hard to beat, even for Megarchs I think, which is why all this therapy to get you back to 100% is worth it."
"And I'm really past the point of signs of a full recovery. What if there is no feasible 100% to get back to?" Javier raised his voice. I can tell he wanted to shout that, but he kept his composure, and what months of slower-than-molasses recovering did to a restless soul finally came to the surface. Knowing that I was a party to that predicament felt like a deserved stab to the chest that I never let show on my face.
I didn't bother bullshitting him with words I couldn't guarantee, or with showing guilt to make him apologize for things that were my fault; we spent long moments in silence, with me silently supporting and helping with his recovery. That seemed to cheer him up, a reminder of him being wanted back in the fold. We kept that up until a doctor at the doorway got my attention, bringing the official physical therapist to replace me as I was pulled aside to talk outside Radio's room.
"Are you one of Javier's friends?"
"Yes, I'm Byron," I introduced myself, wondering how I'd missed one of Radio's doctors in all of my visits.
"Nice to meet you; I'm Dr. Ways, a specialist brought in for Radio's care." She stood out from most of Radio's doctors; she was a younger woman, lithe and a gorgeous face, blonde with hair up in a stylish, short do. Nothing stood out more than the sunglasses she wore indoors for some reason. "Maybe some kind of light sensitivity," I guessed. We shook hands, and I was ushered further into the corridor, towards an office Dr. Ways seemed to maintain along with a younger brunette assistant wearing pigtails, and some strange eye makeup around one eye, standing out even past her eyeglasses.
"What do you specialize in, Dr. Ways?"
"Your friend's physical long-term care."
"I hope you can help convince him that he will be back to normal in no time."
"That might be an issue, unfortunately."
Those words began dashing the hope that was already eroding from earlier. I waited for this specialist to elaborate on her words, ignoring the peripheral sense of seeing things not there, like a crystal ball near the brunette's hands.
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Mr. Marquez's recovery should have been progressing faster than this; the fact that he's not leads my expertise to come to early conclusions that it may not get better than this in the near future."
"But, h-his doctors were sure he was on his way to full recovery."
"They gave an early estimate, and called me once things looked to be stalling. I am certainly not here to write his chances off altogether, but reaching the desired point won't be as easy as we'd hoped. For all we know, the issue could be in his head," something in her voice gave a weird, inexplicable impression of smiling, despite her stoicism. "That's why I'm glad he has friends like you who will be able to see him through whatever comes, if nothing else, and might be helpful to give incentive to fight for a whole recovery."
"The problem could be just in his head?"
"Most issues we have start in our heads, and just filter out into our bodies. I hope someday that whatever compels these glasses worn most places can be done away with, and I can see without issue."
Her fingers slowly reached the bands of her glasses, lowering them so I could get a glimpse of the most magnetic green eyes I'd ever seen. My attention was so rapt to them, a lot of Dr. Ways' words went over my head. Some of them went deep into my head, emphasizing "seeing," and being "without issue." That seemed to be true as I couldn't look away, and had virtually no issue with that, until a hot force from the back of my mind formed and met whatever in-roads were made by Dr. Ways' swift influence. I could feel the powers contending against one another, then settling into a weird melding of energies. Words were being spoken, voices sounding like the specialist, and Meredith. What was said, I couldn't make out as my mind was muddled, feeling like nothing more than a conduit. The tone of the words sounded like negotiations and calm threats expressed towards one another.
Some understanding was reached, as the specialist's influence left me willingly, and Meredith's heat kept me a conscious passenger in my own body. I felt myself saying goodbye to Radio and exiting the hospital, coming to once I'd made it to outside of the entrance, where McGraw was waiting for me.
"Everything go okay?" he asked.
I gave an empty affirmation that it was, wondering why I had nothing of more substance to say.
"Got a call from the field; they asked me to drop you off at a reconnaissance mission on the way back."
"Reconnaissance for what?"
"They said 'tracking a convoy,' I assume it's finding a route of where Hierguild is taking more imprisoned Hierarchs. Knowing the routes should help stop things at the source."
"We hope," I sighed, not looking forward to more work after everything happening before. "I don't suppose there's no gear for me in the trunk, meaning we'd have to drive to Epsilon to get it and the mission would be over by then?"
"They keep gear in every vehicle. Sorry," McGraw said, taking note but not taking joy in how tiring the day had been for me, and continued to be.
From a ridge overlooking a long stretch of highway, I made it to where Copula and the B&B twins were observing traffic. I made enough noise that they could hear my approach, not trying to startle them in panic, not knowing another force was ready to startle me from behind. A sharp intake of breath was all I uttered feeling Meredith's hot energies behind me, and fortunately none of my teammates bothered look back as I made that noise. Feeling her close to my back, I took a spot a bit away from them, trying to look down at the road with binoculars, unsuccessfully avoiding her presence.
"Busy day for both of us, it seems," she sighed in my ear.
"Apparently so," I spoke back in my head, daring not ask what made her day so busy.
"You mind telling me what that was at the hospital earlier?"
"That? Just some hussy Hierarch trying to hypnotize you. Obviously she didn't see the sign of ownership on her way in. Insistent, inquisitive little thing, but I set her straight. Maybe you need a tattoo on your forehead - 'Property of Maelstrom.'"
"Hey..." I began protesting, interrupted by giggles, genuinely worried by a prospect she proved I couldn't stop.
"Felt like she was more than trying, and like she wanted something from me." "And maybe got it," I didn't say in any capacity.
"Too bad for her. Her power lacks passion anyway, which I seemed to be great at inspiring. Remember that run-in I told you about with your teammates without you? I didn't happen to mention that one of them found themselves reacting rather...passionately to being taken. I'm willing to bet that the effect still lingers heavily. Can you guess which one?"
I kept my physical self watchful of the road, my mind helplessly running through the scenario Meredith described before. Every encounter in that engagement between Epsilon agents and Maelstrom made me think of faces and reactions, all the while hearing suggestive words "warmer, warmer, warmer, hotter." She got to burning before Copula interrupted my thoughts with a tap on the shoulder.
"Hey, while we're waiting for this convoy, mind talking for a second?"
"Normally, I wouldn't bring this up at all...but you've been broadcasting things a bit heavily, whether you know it or not."
"W-what? What are you talking about?"
"You thinking about Maelstrom," she made sure she was out of earshot of the twins, and removing the com from her ear before saying anything.
"Wait, you think I'm-"
"I'm psychic, Byron. I know what you think, and who you think about." She cut off his denials altogether, leaving him stunned in how to respond in fear of expressing whatever else she might know.
"It wasn't my intention to do this; I try to respect everyone's privacy when it comes to their thoughts. But like I said, you've been giving it off, like a reactor gives off heat, so much so that I'm surprised non-psychics haven't noticed."
"I'm sorry, Rita. I-"
"And more than how hot you're giving it off, it's what you're choosing to imagine that worries me. You and her. No one in our unit is going to tell you you're not allowed to feel attracted to her; hell, maybe part of her in your head has made you stronger somehow. But since we still have to fight her, toning it down on yourself would be something to consider. I trust you Byron, and I don't plan on telling the others about this, but I can't lie and say I don't think it could make you a liability to us on the field if you keep it up like this."
Oh how much I could've told her how little of an idea she had, literally surface-level assessments on why what she felt was so strong. Feeling Meredith literally pull back her energies as to not arouse suspicion, I went on the defensive.
"I trust you too, Rita, and am sorry I've been putting out...thank kind of energy. But I don't think I'm too attached to any one thought. I leave attachment entirely up to you anyway."
"Excuse me?" Rita was totally taken aback by the dig on her powers.
"Look Rita, I do appreciate you're coming in confidence with this to me. But as you do that, I suddenly felt like taking stock of what I've got left for myself, and the answer is really not much. I don't have freedom, I don't have control, I don't have comfort, and I have a lot less privacy than I thought. I never thought I'd be sane while lacking those things, but here I am; doesn't make it any easier to deal with. And even if you have a point about imagining sleeping with the enemy, if it gets to the point where I can't even have fantasies before those get snuffed out for whatever reason..."
I let myself speak silently, but sharply towards one the friendliest co-worker I had next to Radio, the one that made excellent points, shaking her to the core with facts I tried not to think about, lest they compiled into one big complaint that would've turned to anger, if other negative emotions didn't reach the surface too. Somewhere inside, I felt even Meredith was shocked by my words, and I felt slight relief as she noted that none of my complaints applied to her, deep down. She was certainly right about inspiring passion, I let myself smile inwardly.
She remained stunned and nearly hurt; both of did, enough so that we didn't notice the twins being hit with tranquilizer darts from behind until they were down. My wounding words made Copula's reaction time slow enough that one tranq dart kept her from flexing anything, psychically or mentally.
A random burst of Hier-half working to my advantage for once got me to dash out of the way of more darts fired at me from Hierguild goons. I got a few of them, using one as a human shield before tossing them around and using their own guns against them. Before I could get the last one, an opaque spray from out of nowhere hit me in the face. I coughed hard, trying to fight the substance that hit my face. Even my Hier-half couldn't breathe hard enough against the strong chloroform substance choking consciousness out of me. My last sights was to Toxic walking up to me, a sadistic grin on his face, and a raised boot over my head, dropping me directly into unconsciousness, and a hazardous future ahead.