Available December 6, 2011 from DAW Books You’d think after fighting parasitic jellyfish things from space that turn humans into fugly monsters, fending off some killer alligators while dodging mystery explosives, and warding off an alien invasion, I’d be able to handle anything, right?
Um, well, let’s define “handle”.
From what I’ve read and every single freaking person on the planet has told me, pregnancy is a wonderful time in a woman’s life. No one ever mentions the nausea, hypersensitivity, headaches, blurry vision, or exhaustion. Nope, it’s all ducks and bunnies and blue bears and purple dinosaurs.
Of course, the few people whose information actually counts don’t quite agree. There are only a few of them, because there are only a few of us, so far -- those who’ve gone where no other women have gone before -- interspecies procreation. What can I say? I like to be cutting edge.
When you’re married to an alien from Alpha Four of the Alpha Centauri system, there are benefits. Jeff’s smart, funny and drop dead gorgeous. He also has two hearts, which gives him hyper-speed, superhuman strength, and amazing regenerative powers that are particularly pleasant in the bedroom. He’s also the strongest empath on Earth and, most likely, the galaxy. Which means I never have to whine for the tummy and foot rubs and he knows my odd food cravings before I do.
The downside is that human-alien hybrid babies have human genetics dominant for the outside, and A-C genetics dominant for the inside. You try being kicked by a hyper-speeding super-mule for five months straight and then tell me it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
But no worries! Plenty of women continue in their careers while they’re preggers. Oh, sure, I’m dealing with end of the world as we know it stuff, but hey, I take on megalomaniacs and psychopaths for breakfast! Got an entire extended team who’re all at the top of their respective games. What could they possibly throw at us that we haven’t seen before?
I mean, you know, besides what we haven’t seen before? Something tells me I should be worried about this, but pressing duty calls -- it’s time for my nap.
The day started out like all the days had in recent memory -- I was confined to my bed while everyone else got to do fun things like fly jets, kill the random parasitic superbeing that might have passed up the Alpha Centaurion system for a vacation out Earth’s way, or just walk around. Inter-species pregnancy, it was a joy.
Jeff came out of our walk-in closet like always, in his perfectly fitted black Armani suit and white shirt, tightening his tie. This meant nothing, other than he was dressed and ready for action. A-C’s loved their Armani and formality.
He hyper-sped our breakfast trays to the living room area of our living quarters -- what I called his Human Lair -- zoomed back, leaned down, gave me a kiss, and rubbed my tummy. “How’re you feeling, baby?”
“Bored, frustrated, tired, and, oh, did I mention bored?”
I got the standard “good husband chuckle” that I’d gotten really used to these past couple of months. “It won’t be for too much longer.”
The com came to life. “Commander Martini, situation in Paris. Euro Base is requesting you and Commander White, and I quote, immediately if not sooner.”
Jeff went from relaxed to all business immediately. “Got it Gladys. I’ll meet Commander White at the launch area.” He gave me the hairy eyeball. “And you’ll be staying in bed.”
“Commander Martini, reminder that you have a meeting scheduled in less than an hour,” Gladys shared.
“Cancel it,” Jeff snapped.
“Sorry, Commander Martini, I assumed you were already at the launch site, since Euro Base has an emergency.” Gladys could get a lot of sarcasm into what, in other mouths, would be mere statements of fact. “I’m talking to Commander Mother-to-Be Martini.”
“Huh? Oh, me.” Right. Married name. You’d think I’d be used to it. Still wasn’t, almost nine months in. Barely used to thinking of Jeff as Jeff versus Martini, let alone thinking of myself as Kitty Martini versus Kitty Katt. And Gladys knew it, which was why I knew she enjoyed moments like this. “What are we talking about?”
“You have a meeting.” I couldn’t see her, but I felt sure Gladys was rolling her eyes.
“I do? Oh! Right, I do.”
I got a hairier eyeball from Jeff. “Just who do you have a meeting with?”
“The C.I.A. Discussing what we’re going to do while I’m out for maternity leave.”
Jeff growled. “You mean Reynolds is going to be here, in our bedroom, with you, while I’m in Paris?” Jeff had disliked Charles Reynolds even before he’d found out that we’d known each other since ninth grade.
“No. I mean my oldest friend, one of my two best guy friends, and someone I’ve known since I was thirteen is going to be here, discussing work.” The growling continued. I heaved a sigh. “The jealousy chat. It’s been working so well with everyone else. Why do you persist in the Chuckie-jealousy?”
“Because I’m an empath and I can feel exactly how he feels about you.”
“I’m sure he’s past it.”
“I’m sure he’s not.”
“Jeff, really, the jealousy is so hard to take right now.”
“It’s not jealousy. It’s fact. He’s still waiting. Patiently.” The way he said it, I realized he wasn’t kidding.
“Well, I don’t know why. I’m in love with you and have been since pretty much we met.”
“He’s not waiting for you to get tired of me. He’s waiting for me to make another mistake, where it makes more sense for you to leave me and go to him.” His expression made it clear he was reliving old guilt.
“Jeff, you were drugged out of your mind by our enemies. It was well over a year ago. And I was heartbroken and all I wanted was to have it all have been a bad dream and you still love me. Which is what happened. Now, I’d love to continue to have this fight, again, but apparently Paris is calling you. I, on the other hand, get to have a video conference with people at the C.I.A. because, and this time I quote, your husband isn’t being at all cooperative.”
Jeff ran his hand through his hair. “They want things we can’t and shouldn’t give them.”
“No argument. Chuckie agrees with you. He’s trying to keep us from becoming the War Division. Isn’t it nice that the head of the C.I.A.’s Extra-Terrestrial Division is on our side?”
“He’s on your side, I’ll give you that.” Great, we were going to have the Chuckie Argument anyway. “He’s always ready to take care of you, isn’t he?”
“It wasn’t my idea to faint at C.I.A. headquarters.” In the middle of a really high-level discussion about Centaurion Division’s future where I was representing Centaurion’s interests. Right into Chuckie’s arms, as it turned out. And right in front of the people I was supposed to be meeting with today. The fun never stopped.
“Yeah. Reynolds was all over the save on that one.”
“Chuckie caught me just in time, Jeff, and you know it. I’d have cracked my head open if he hadn’t been there.”
“There’s nothing like seeing the man you know still wants to take your wife away from you carrying her unconscious body in his arms to really make you feel good.”
Chuckie had proposed when Jeff and I were in the middle of a bizarre breakup that lasted a few hours but almost caused me to be killed, several times. That event still seemed easier than all the pregnancy stuff I’d been going through in the last few months.
“He was taking me to medical at the Science Center instead of letting a bunch of human doctors get me and take me away to perform horrible tests on me and our baby. Tito said he did the right thing medically, too, bringing me to Dulce.”
Tito Hernandez had been a medical student working three jobs in between cage fights when he’d helped me out in a big way during the fun interplanetary invasion that Jeff’s proposing to me had accidentally started. He was part of both Alpha and Airborne Teams now, and, since he no longer had to work three jobs, had his medical degree. He was functioning as my personal OB/GYN for a variety of reasons.
Jeff grunted, and I was sure we were headed for the next level of the Chuckie Argument, when the com crackled. I was fairly sure Gladys made it do that when she was annoyed. “Commander Martini? Will you ever be joining Commander White, or will he be handling the situation in Paris alone?”
“Fine, fine, be right there,” Jeff snapped. He gave me a good, long kiss. “I love you, baby. You behave.”
“Always. I love you, too. You be careful.”
He disappeared out of the room. Almost two years with Centaurion Division and the hyper-speed was still rather amazing. I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and forced myself to relax.
“Gladys?” Many times I’d found that Gladys hadn’t actually turned the ‘com off.
“Yes, Commander Martini?”
“Could you send the nice A-Cs with the video conferencing equipment down, and please ask someone, anyone, to help me finish getting dressed?” Yeah, I was that pregnant.
“Crew on the way, Doctor Hernandez alerted.”
“Great,” I grumbled. Tito was a wonderful doctor, but he really walked on the strict side of the medical house. “I’d like to know what’s going on in Paris, too, you know.”
“All of Alpha Team, other than yourself, Doctor Hernandez, and Pontifex White, are in Paris, Commander.”
“As mentioned earlier, Charles Reynolds is going to be here shortly, and I can promise you he’s going to want to know what’s going on. I want to know, too. Save me the time and energy and yourself the whining and get someone down here who can share all the details with me before Chuckie gets here.”
“Commanders Martini and White have asked that we not share situations with Sometime Supreme Commander Reynolds unless absolutely necessary.” Chuckie had had to take over Centaurion Division at the start of Operation Invasion, just before my wedding. Gladys loved reminding everyone of that. I wasn’t sure if it was because she secretly liked Chuckie or just liked to have everyone on edge.
“Gladys, have you ever heard the human term, ‘put a cap in yo ass’?”
“You open new avenues for all of Centaurion Division regularly, Commander. Am sending briefing materials down to you now.”
Great. The so-called light reading. There were many times I wondered if Gladys hated me for some reason, though everyone insisted that she just liked having fun with her job. Since she was the Head of Security, you’d think that would entail being helpful to the Head of Airborne, but that seemed to be mood-based, hers and mine.
A knock sounded and several competent-looking A-Cs whose names I should have known by now but didn’t came in and started setting up the mobile video conferencing equipment I’d become familiar with these past few months. Jeff wouldn’t allow the equipment to remain in our rooms, under the impression that either Chuckie or the C.I.A. would be spying on us. Chuckie wouldn’t do so, but I couldn’t say the same for the rest of the C.I.A., so didn’t argue.
One of them handed me a nice, thick file. I put it on my nightstand. “So, you guys going to stay here while we do the conferencing?”
Two of them, who looked related, nodded. “Yes, ma’am, Commander,” the one who looked older replied. He was also the one who’d given me the file I was now ignoring. “Per how Commander Martini and Mister Reynolds prefer it, we’ll have additional equipment set up in your living area. We’ll be there to maintain it, and in case anything goes wrong.” He indicated who I was now pretty sure was his younger brother in the “we”.
The rest of the A-Cs did a sound and video check, then zipped out of the room. This left me with the two brothers. I decided pretending I knew their names would be both stupid and useless, since, if they were staying, it meant one was an imageer and one was an empath, and the empath would undoubtedly pick up my confusion. Jeff said I broadcast my emotions.
The younger one grinned at me. “I’m Wayne, Commander. This is my older brother, William.”
I looked at him. He was a little bigger than his brother, and per Chuckie’s comments based on keen and alert observation, and my sometime awareness, the empaths tended to run larger in body size than the imageers.
Before I could say anything, Wayne winked at me. “Yes, I’m an empath. William’s an imageer.”
“Nice to meet you two. Officially, I mean. I’m sure I’ve met you many times I don’t remember.” I was sure I had. But every A-C I’d ever met, other than a couple of psychotic megalomaniacs, had been drop-dead gorgeous, and these two were no exception. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but after a while, all that beauty tended to look alike.
They both laughed. “It’s okay, Commander,” William said. “We understand and don’t mind.”
Wayne grinned. “Our younger brother works gate security. I know you’ve seen him. Even though I’m sure you wouldn’t remember him.” Seeing as it was me, this was a safe bet.
William snorted. “We know this because he’s always mentioning it at family dinners. ‘I sent the Commanders to New York today and they said thank you’.” He shook his head. “Kid’s ready to burst with pride every time he spins the dial.”
I found this somewhat endearing. Gladys certainly wasn’t ready to burst with pride any time I asked her for help. It was nice to know someone in Security thought my needs were paramount and appreciated that we were polite. “That’s very sweet.”
Both brothers made gagging noises. I found myself liking them a lot. “Commander White asked us to make sure that we’re recording everything the C.I.A. says in this meeting,” William said. “Are you alright with that, Commander?”
“Let’s see what Mister Reynolds has to say about that.”
“Let’s see if I allow you to have this meeting first.” The tone was almost as annoyed as Jeff managed when speaking about Chuckie, but for a different reason. And it wasn’t coming from my husband. Ah, yes, my Doctor From Hell had arrived.
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