It was lucky that the computer did not have speakers. Even so Cokey gasped and then groaned at the small and blurry video of a naked and apparently drugged woman being manhandled by a man in a monster suit. The video was scarcely thirty seconds long, but by the time it had finished playing Cokey's horror had shifted gears. Instead of being horrified by porno on her boss's website she had become horrified by porno that seemed, impossibly, to depict an actual alien having sex with a woman. The video was small and grainy, true, but Cokey had seen a lot of porn by sheer virtue of her affinity for computers and knew that porno movies lacked anything even close to the special effects capability she had just witnessed.
With a weird sinking sensation in her stomach she dragged the file to the trashcan and closed Internet Explorer. She stared at the desktop of what Dale had called "eight octas of cirrus clouds" and tried to calm herself. She was shaking and she felt sick.
Dale continued to bang away on his keyboard, blissfully unaware of what had just happened.
Two topless handmaidens with bronzed skin and oiled chests were gently massaging herbal liniments into Raylene's shoulders and back when the call came. She had been expecting it for several hours and had specifically called on her handmaidens to make Tara jealous. It was not a cruel thing to do. It was intended as a joking stab at Tara's occasionally bright flares of passion over their vague relationship. It was also intended as a repayment for the frustration Tara's mission in California had turned into. Raylene was expecting bad news.
The plasma screen flickered to life automatically with a flashing computer code that identified Tara as the caller and prompted to make the connection live. Raylene propped herself up on her elbows and pressed the answer button on the controller.
Tara looked disheveled, and not in the cute post-combat manner she had hours earlier. She had cleaned up and was wearing a simple field uniform, the flamboyant dye washed out making her hair almost silver blonde. She had pulled it up in a tight bun run through with gold hair pins and had apparently eschewed her makeup for a fine coating of desert grit that framed where a pair of dust goggles had sat over her eyes. She looked very tired and Raylene felt a strange mixture of motherly instinct and deep attraction.
She wanted to ravish her and then tuck her into bed for a good night's sleep. She suppressed the urge to say as much. After all, Tara was her subordinate, and she was disappointing her.
"Ma'am." Tara saluted.
"Your report?" Raylene folded her arms and rested her chin on her wrist.
"We have completed our survey of the area. The secondary atmospheric anomaly we detected shortly after ground fall of the...target…cannot be traced. Our sweep has come up just as empty."
"What is your conclusion, then? Was the anomaly just that, or was it guided by our second visitor?"
"I feel certain the latter case is the truth ma'am. We picked up less than a second of its trajectory profile before it went off our sensor net and the techs have analyzed it completely. They projected its course and gave me exacting coordinates on its end point. There was absolutely nothing there, which means it changed course after we lost sight of it."
"This is not good Tara," Raylene pursed her lips.
"I realize that ma'am."
"Do you realize that if this thing, whatever it is, saw what happened to your first…target…then it may report back to our mutual friends exactly what happened? If that were to happen it would have catastrophic consequences for us all."
"I realize that ma'am." Tara wiped dust from her eyes with the back of her arm.
"Do you realize that I am currently dealing with an operation to reinsert a new President Clark, a messy press cleanup in Guatemala, and the search for this Linus Guthry character?"
"I do realize that ma'am."
"Do you realize how fucking adorable you look right now?"
Tara laughed, the tension broken momentarily.
"I don't know, I feel like shit."
"Get some rest kitty cat," Raylene winked. "Put your teams on going over that whole site again. Every rock, every cactus. Turn them over and tear them apart. I want them searching for the smallest speck of reentry debris. As for you, get your ass back here once you've had some sleep. I want you at the tip of the spear on Linus Guthry."
"What have you found out?"
"Nothing directly yet, but our friends at the NSA have whispered to me that ECHELON is turning up some interesting video clips as of late. We're not sure what they are exactly, but if they're legit and we can trace them to their source we may have Linus Guthry. I'll send you the clip I have. Parental discretion is advised."
"I'll see you soon you naughty little minx." Raylene turned off the screen without waiting for a reply.
She groaned and rolled over onto her herb-warmed back.
"Okay, time to do the front." Raylene closed her eyes and spread her legs as the handmaidens set to work.
After years of being misunderstood, I had hoped we finally had "our" story. I was wrong.
He had a yellow inflatable tube around his waist, the kind with a comical duck head. There was a tiny fish in one of his hands, and a trident in the other. In the background a squirrel wearing shades was water skiing.
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