Booklist names
"Touched by an Alien"
one of the Top 10 adult SF/F novels of 2010!

Touched by an Alien
Available NOW from DAW Books

What gets me is that in all the comic books and movies and even novels, whenever someone gets super powers, there’s at least an eighty percent likelihood they’ll use said powers for good.

It’s always some man or woman of science looking for a cure for the world’s ills who gets hit with the gamma rays, or an outcast kid who happens to have a wise oldster around to show him the right ropes as soon as the mutation hits. The few bad guys who turn super powered always have some fatal flaw that renders them easy pickings for the good guys, who also manage to outnumber the baddies every time it matters.

In real life, of course, it never works that way. At all.

In real life, there are no superheroes.

Of course, this doesn’t mean there are no super-powered beings.

But never fear -- I’m on it.


Yeah, it doesn’t sound all that comforting to me, either.


Chapter 1

My first super-being was an accident. Literally and figuratively.

I was walking from the courthouse to the parking garage. Jury duty was over, I’d been released early, right after the lunch break, so I was free to go back to work and try to catch up on my missed half a day.

The parking garage was across the street, so I had to wait for the light. As I stood there hoping I wouldn’t sunburn, I witnessed a small fender-bender. One slow-moving car rear-ended another right in front of the courthouse, about fifty feet away from me.

The drivers got out -- man from the front car, woman from the rear -- and he started yelling at her immediately. At first I figured he was raging because he’d been hit and the start of summer in Arizona always makes everyone here a little crazy, but I could hear him, and it dawned on me that this was his wife.

She was apologizing, but he wasn’t having any of it, so she got mad, too. Their fight escalated into shouting in a matter of moments. This was a full-on domestic dispute, the kind the cops rightly want nothing to do with.

The light changed and I wondered if I should just head across the street to avoid getting involved with these two when it happened. The man’s rage went supernova and all of the sudden he sprouted wings out of his back.

I’m not talking little wings, either. They were huge, easily six and a half feet high and I guessed the span as double. They had feathers, but they were odd-looking, which, I know, you’d figure would be a given in the first place. But they didn’t look like bird feathers -- they gleamed, and not with blood. There was a viscous substance on them, and as I watched, the man turned toward his horrified, screaming wife, and shot blades out of the feathers that lined the wings’ edges.

She was cut to ribbons in a matter of seconds, and he turned toward the courthouse and let more blades fly. The main Pueblo Caliente courthouse, a nine-story building with mostly glass walls, was built a few years ago and was really very modern and attractive, doing its best to pretend the city hadn’t once been a pioneer cow town.

I flinched as the projectiles hit, glass shattered and flew everywhere -- the courthouse went from sleek to rubble in a matter of moments. I could hear screams -- the people coming out of the courthouse, those near the windows in the first few floors, anyone in his path, maybe more -- were all being cut down, possibly murdered by this man. I couldn’t guess how far the projectiles went -- for all I knew, they were going deep into the building.

I don’t know why I didn’t try to run or hide. In hindsight, I could say maybe I just knew it would be futile. But at the time, that wasn’t what I was thinking. I was scared, but more, I was angry and I just wanted to stop him. He wasn’t slowing the attack at all, and I realized he was enjoying it, enjoying the power, the fear, the death.

His back was still to me, and I could see a spot, right between where his shoulder blades had been and wings now were. Something was there, pulsing, almost like a human heart, but it didn’t look like a heart. It resembled a small jellyfish, really.

I tried to think of what I could use to stop this monster -- it wasn’t like they equipped marketing managers with Uzis. I didn’t take my eyes off of the pulsing thing on the man’s back as I dug through my purse and my fingers found my weapon -- my heavy, expensive Mont Blanc pen. It had been a gift from my father when I’d gotten a promotion at work. I doubted this was what he’d hoped I’d use it for, but I wasn’t holding any other options.

I dropped my purse, kicked off my heels, and ran, straight for his back. He was moving closer to the courthouse but was still less than a hundred feet away from me and back in school I’d been on the track team. I was a sprinter and a hurdler, and some things don’t leave you, even if you haven’t done them for a while.

Because he was a little taller than me, I knew I needed to be airborne when I hit him. I judged it and leaped at the last possible moment. My pen slammed into that jellyfish-like thing on his back just as he started to turn. I could see his eyes -- they were wide, glowed red, and looked no longer human.

As I drove the pen into his back his mouth opened, but he didn’t make a sound. His eyes, however, went back to human and glazed as I watched them die. Then his body fell forward and mine with it. I scrambled to my feet, covered with ooze from his wings and the exploded jellyfish thing.

The police arrived. After all, many of them had been inside the courthouse. The scene was chaos -- people were screaming, there was glass and blood everywhere, and I could hear sirens in the distance -- but as I stared down at the dead body all I could think about was whether I should retrieve my pen or not.

A man appeared out of nowhere. He was over six feet, big and broad. I didn’t register much else, other than his suit, which I was pretty sure was Armani and looked excellent on him, meaning he probably wasn’t with the police. My eyes were drawn back to my pen, still sticking out of the dead man’s back.

“How did you know what to do?” he asked, without any opening formalities.

“It just seemed…right,” I answered, winning the Lame Reply Award of the hour. “Can I take my pen out?”

He squatted down and examined the body. He pulled the pen out slowly -- I got the impression he was ready to ram it back in if the body gave the slightest indication of coming back to life.

“I saw his eyes. They weren’t normal, and then, as I killed him, they went back to human again. And I saw him die,” I added. I wondered if I was going to have hysterics and realized I wasn’t. I was somewhat relieved.

The man looked up at me. I registered his face now -- rather broad features, strong chin, light-brown eyes, dark, wavy hair. Handsome, definitely. I hated myself for it, but I looked immediately to his left hand. No ring. I looked right back at his face, but he’d noticed and grinned. “Jeff Martini. Single. No current girlfriend. And you are?”

“Wondering if I’m going to be arrested.” I noted several of Pueblo Caliente’s finest bearing down on us with determined attitude.

Martini stood up. “I don’t think so.” He turned around. “Our agency will handle it, gentlemen. Please perform crowd control.”

The cops all stopped, and did what he said, no arguments, no issues. I felt nervous now, much more than I had before.

He turned back to me. “Let’s go.” As he said this, a large, gray limo with tinted windows pulled up across the street. Martini took my arm and led me over.

“I need to get my car,” I protested. “And my shoes.” I hopped from foot to foot. I contemplated standing on top of Martini’s shoes, then figured the brevity of our relationship probably meant I shouldn’t.

“Give me the keys,” he said.

“I don’t think so.” I pulled my arm out of his grasp and managed to find a tiny patch of shade to stand on. “What the hell is going on?”

An older man got out of the back of the limo. He was built like Martini, only at least two decades older. They didn’t look related, but I was pretty sure they were in the same line of work -- whatever that was.

He gave me a long look. “Give Jeffrey your car keys, please. You’re wasting time, ours and yours.”

“Then I get to sleep with the fishes?” I asked with as much sarcasm as I could muster.

He laughed. “We’re not the Mob, we’re an authorized world-government agency. You can stay here and be questioned by the police for the death of that unfortunate, or you can come with us.”

“You’ll tell me what happened? I mean, what really happened?”

“Yes.” He moved aside and indicated the car’s interior. “We’ll also help you get cleaned up, and keep you out of the papers.”

“Why?” I didn’t move toward the limo or to get my purse.

He sighed. “We need agents. Ours is a dangerous job. And it’s a rare thing when a civilian not only has the courage to do what’s needed but also the natural instinct to know where and how to kill a super-being.”

I felt a nudge and, as I looked around, Martini handed me my purse. He had my shoes as well. “Pick-pocketing part of the trade?” I asked as he tossed my car keys to another man who’d appeared out of pretty much nowhere. Same Armani-clad look, maybe a bit smaller in build, but still obviously one of the crew. “I don’t think I fit the agency’s look,” I added as I grabbed my shoes and put them back on.

Martini grinned again. He had great teeth and a great smile. I was already disgusted with myself for looking for a wedding ring and more now that I was paying attention to his looks while I was possibly teetering on the edge of life or death.

“We can use some female intuition,” Martini said. “That’s what it was, right? You didn’t know what was going on, but you knew what to do.”

I shrugged. “I have no idea. Can I have my pen back?”

Martini laughed. “Only if you get into the car with us.” He leaned down. “And only if you tell me your name,” he whispered in my ear.

My knees went weak then. Somehow, this made it all real, not something I’d wake up from in a moment. I felt myself blacking out, felt Martini catch me and lift me into his arms and then…nothing.

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