Absolute Power, Part 1

(by msulliva@asacomp.com, 07 February 1998)

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Notice:  This story has been rated "NC17" for adult language, nudity, strong
sexual content, violence, and explicit smoking.  If you find any of this
objectionable, proceed at your own risk.

Copyright 1998 by G. M. Sullivan.  All rights reserved.  This story may be
copied and distributed for the uncompensated amusement of others only.

Author's note:  This story takes place following the action of "Hybrid Vigor"
and "Eschaton Boulevard" and leads into the events described in "Dying for a
Cigarette" and "Phoenix Ascending."  Yes, it will all come together someday.

Dedication:  For Matt Landry, Tireless, Selfless, and Dedicated to the Cause

"Absolute Power," Part One of Four

1.  Rest Stop 14 Northbound, New Jersey Turnpike, August 7, 1998, 9:10 AM EDT

"John, we have a smoker."

Delambrio looked up from behind the register and thought yes, and we also
have a pain-in-the-ass waitress named Lucy Harker.  Her arms akimbo and
painfully thin form leaning forward like a chicken hawk, Lucy was a harridan
on a mission.

Since the company which ran the Turnpike restaurants (to stretch a term)
bailed out, the state of New Jersey had taken over the facilities, making the
employees civil servants of a sort and the establishments subject to state
regulations.  Harker had learned to play the new system like a violin,
working as little as possible and complaining to Trenton at the slightest
provocation.  Two sexual harassment charges, though dismissed, had made
Delambrio a marked man.  He could not afford to ignore Harker, ever,
especially when she was right.

And right she was, this time.  Past her hovering form, he could see a woman
in a rear booth plainly smoking a cigarette.  Like all state-owned building,
this restaurant was smoke-free.  As Lucy could tell you, use of tobacco on
the premises was punishable by a fine of $500, six months in prison, or

"Did you ask her to put it out?"  Delambrio asked.

"That's not my job.  It's yours."  Harker was right again, of course, but
just once couldn't she do things the easy way?  Of course not.

"All right, I'll take care of it."  Delambrio eased his 250 pound bulk from
behind the register and moved toward the rear of the eatery.  Jesus, he
though, the place is empty, traffic is slow, couldn't she let the matter
slide for a change?  No, that would be too easy.  Rules are rules.

As he neared the booth, Delambrio noticed the infant carrier on the bench
beside the woman, containing a four-month-old baby, not strapped in.  Another
violation, Delambrio supposed; how did Lucy miss that one?  Then he looked at
the woman and froze in place.

She was beautiful.  More than that...she was sexy.  No, she was sex
personified.  Although she was conservatively dressed, he could see she was
soft and round everywhere she should be, as few women were.  Her
honey-colored hair was just the right length, her eyes wide, her lips round
and full...he felt his groin swell instantly and he reddened in
embarrassment, suddenly tongue-tied.

Thick-lashed eyes looked up at him as she raised the cigarette to her lips
and drew heavily.  Her voice was ethereal and deep, wrapped in smoke, as she

"I'm sorry...am I doing something wrong?"

"Uh...no...that is..."

She exhaled the rest of the puff at Delambrio, filling the booth with smoke
and mystery.  "It's all right, I understand," she said, putting the cigarette
out.  He wept inside as she did so, and retreated without a word.  Lucy, back
at the register, smirked at his weakness and her triumph.

I really should stop doing that, Shelly thought.  He's only human.  She
reached over and lovingly stroked Jimmy Jr.'s cheek.

While she couldn't exactly "cloud men's minds," her control over her
physiognomy and ability to recognize thoughts and emotions amounted to the
same thing.  She had "perfected" her appearance to the extent that few males
failed to notice and respond, and a good many females were attracted as
well.  This time, though, she had erred.  Her actions had given a victory,
however small, to exactly those attitudes she wanted most to change.  A
correction was necessary.

Shelly sipped her coffee and smiled at her son.  Five months in the womb, one
out, and he looked like a normal four-month old baby.  Even more than that,
looks deceived...

The waitress, "Lucy" by her name tag, came to the booth and began removing
the remains of a very large meal.  "Will there be anything else, ma'am...?"

Shelly turned her attention to the woman.  Yes, there was a response here to
her beauty.  And a scent...Shelly tuned her senses higher.  This woman was a
smoker.  Carefully concealed behind compulsive washing and cheap cologne, one
who hid her habit from everyone, but a smoker nonetheless.  A golden
opportunity to right a wrong.

"Another half-cup, please..."  When Lucy returned with the pot, Shelly said,
"why don't you sit down with me for a moment?  I see you're not too busy..."

"Oh, I..."  Lucy's knees bent almost involuntarily and she found herself
sitting beside Shelly.  "...shouldn't."

"Of course you should.  You need a break.  A break, and..."  Shelly lifted
her pack of cigarettes.

"No thanks, I don't...I mean..."

"You mean it's against the rules.  And you don't want anyone to know.  You're
afraid...someone would disapprove.  Your relatives.  Your father...?"

"Are you a psychic?" Lucy asked in wonder.

"No...not exactly.  Your father...is dead.  He wanted you to enjoy life,
Lucy.  Are you?"

"No...I mean..."

"Here, you need this."  Shelly withdrew two cigarettes from the pack and
placed them between her too-full, pink lips.  With a click of her lighter,
both were lit.  She withdrew one and placed it between Lucy's thin lips,
exhaling a thick cloud around both women as she did so.  Lucy did not
resist.  "Just enjoy it and relax," said Shelly.  "This is a special

Lucy brought the cigarette to her mouth and began a puff.  As she drew and
inhaled, every part of her seemed to relax, become softer.  Years dropped
from her age.  Perhaps it was an illusion at this point, but her lips seem to
grow full and moist around the cigarette, the sharp shadows under her high
cheekbones faded, and even her dirty-blond hair seemed to be struggling to
escape its tight waitress' bun.

Lucy lowered the cigarette, still inhaling the smoke into her deepest
recesses.  The tip of her tongue teased her upper lip.  She was reluctant to
let the nourishing vapors escape.  When she finally did, smoke cascaded from
lips and nostrils in shocking volume, taking her by surprise.  Shelly smiled,
thinking that Lucy was not used to such "demonstrative" smoking, even in

"Wow," Lucy said, the remnants of her puff escaping with her words. "These
are special all right!  Wherever did you get..."

"Hush, Lucy, and just enjoy it."  Shelly's supply of the Rara Coelensis
Jacksonii-blend Premiums was limited, but she judged this convert worth the
expenditure.  One less tight-ass in the world...

They smoked together in silence, the booth almost obscured in a white fog.
This activity drew some stares from the few other occupied tables, but no one
rose to complain.  A young woman sitting alone across the room decided to
join in the fun and lit her own cigarette.

Delambrio watched this scene in amazement and glee from his station by the
register.  He reached for the drawer containing his "State Employee
Insubordination Forms," but then reconsidered.  Lucy would loosen up after
this, or else he would have the incident to hold over her head.  Either way,
things would get better.

2.  Near Nahum's Bluff, Utah, August 7, 7:15 AM MDT

Her head hurt.  As she awoke, she reached a hand up to feel for a lump or cut
but found none.  Nevertheless, it hurt.

As always, her memories were vague.  Ever since the hospital, the needles,
nothing had been really clear.  There had been a small town, a
girl...Darleen!  Yes, Darleen, who had held her, loved her.  There had been
others too.  The bad men, the men in black, men who wanted to hurt her, take
her back to the place of the needles.  But she had escaped again.  She had
always escaped.  She always would.  She was never going back.

She pulled herself from the shadows of the narrow gully and gazed at the
empty, flat, desert landscape.  There was nothing to see.  No road, no town,
no people, nothing.  No MIBs, certainly.  She was safe.

She could stay here and be safe always.  But that was no good.  She couldn't
live alone in a wilderness.  She needed people.  People who would help her.
People who would protect her and love her.  There had been people like that,
and there would be again.  She would find them, somewhere.

She would need to slow down a little, though.  She was getting low on food.

Hitching her heavy pack higher on her shoulders, Mary Lou Demming headed

3.  Hilltop, North Carolina, August 7, 10:29 AM EDT

"I am so delighted to meet you, Dr. Engleman.  We get few such charming
visitors in this out-of-the-way location.  And you say you worked with Dr.
Ryan?"  Horace Smithson, elderly chairman and CEO of Osborn-Simthson Tobacco,
was clearly entranced with his lovely and highly educated companion.

"Rebecca, please, Mr. Smithson.  And yes, we did post-doctoral work together
at UNC, oh...I really don't want to say when."  She giggled charmingly,
looking not at all like a woman with a string of degrees longer than a
gorilla's arm.  She appeared no more than 35, with curly auburn hair, a
turned-up nose, and a figure that had never absorbed an excess twinkie.

Gazing at this vision sitting on the other side of his bare-topped "show"
desk, Smithson felt 50 years dropping from his age.  "Please, call me Horace,
Mr. Smithson is...well, dead.  A terrible tragedy, Dr. Ryan's death.  Really
a great loss to the world.  He, and all his latest research, destroyed..."

"Yes, a terrible loss."  Somehow, even when Rebecca said "terrible loss,"
nothing seemed terrible at all.  "Mr. Smithson...Horace...do you mind if I

"Mind? Here?  Of course not!  Let me offer you one of our select Premiums..."

Rebecca accepted a cigarette from the mahogany box and a light from
Smithson's trembling hand.  Taking a deceptively brief puff, she leaned back
in the leather chair and performed an expert French inhale.  Smiling
brilliantly, her "thank you" was carried on white clouds and the rest of her
exhale shrouded her side of the desk.

"Now, then," said Smithson, holding his composure with difficulty, "how may I
be of service?"

Rebecca treated him to another perfect smile as twin streams of smoke exited
heavily from her nostrils.  "Well, Horace, Dr. Ryan and I were working in
some similar areas at the time of his death.  I understand that little of his
work was saved from the fire?"

"Little?  More like nothing," Smithson grunted.  This remained a puzzlement
and disappointment to him.  "And not just from the fire.  Computer records
were erased, notebooks vanished, and none of that was stored in the lab where
the fire occurred.  It was as if...." He paused.  "The FBI has been over
everything, repeatedly, in the last six months.  They have come up empty, at
least as far as they've told me."

"Dr. Ryan was a secretive man," said Rebecca, wrapped in her fog.  "I know
from experience.  I was wondering..."

"You'd like a tour?  Of course. The area has been cleared by both the FBI and
the BEST team."  By federal law, all breach-of-containment accidents in a P4
lab were investigated by a biological emergency search team operating out of
USAMRIID at Fort Detrick, Maryland.  "I don't have any special knowledge of
the area, so if you don't mind I will have our security director, Mr. Peters,
escort you."  He pushed a button on a phone bristling with them, and Peters
entered the sumptuous office.

"Mr. Peters, please meet Dr. Rebecca Engleman."

At 52, Dane Peters was a man whose federal and military experience
over-qualified him for any private security job.  With his resemblance to
John Saxon, he also looked the part.  He was, at need, a master of
intimidation.  When his eyes met Rebecca's, though, he was not the one doing
the intimidating.

"Rebecca, please do stop by again before you leave," Smithson said, almost
drooling.  "Mr. Peters, I would like you to give her free access to the lab,
Dr. Ryan's office and quarters, and provide her with any needed computer

Ordinarily, this would have gotten an argument from Peters, even coming from
the CEO.  He had resigned posts rather than obey such orders in the past.
This time, though, he barely heard Smithson speaking.  His eyes were locked
with Rebecca's.  It was not just her beauty that stunned him.  He was not so
unprofessional.  There was something else...something like a prophecy coming
to pass.

4.  Mile Marker 33 Northbound, New Jersey Turnpike, August 7, 10:45 AM EDT

Shelly spotted the man lying beside the road as she drove north.  An ordinary
motorist would have been very unlikely to see him; he was 60 yards off the
road, near the chain-link fence enclosing the road's right-of-way, almost
covered by heavy undergrowth.  She pulled her car to the shoulder and

Shelly had developed a caution and suspicion that would have shocked and
depressed her former self.  Six months of constant traveling in a zigzag
path, always alert for possible pursuit which she never spotted, giving birth
alone in a seedy motel outside Baltimore ( a process she knew would be
relatively painless and easy), had hardened her to a life alone and
friendless.  She had after all committed several serious crimes; fleeing the
scene of a possible murder to which she was a material witness, releasing a
potent plant pathogen into the environment, and many others she was sure.

Jimmy Jr. muttered something sleepily from his car seat in the rear.  "Wha,

"Nothing, dear, go back to sleep."  She took a last, contemplative puff on a
cigarette and let the smoke fill the car.  She sensed a turning point here in
her odyssey, a journey that had no clear goal or end-point.  Would she allow
suspicion and fear to rule her every action, or was she ready to take some
chances?  She certainly had back at the restaurant!  If she couldn't handle a
little risk with all her advantages, what good was this life she had chosen
for herself?

Shelly got out of her car (the third she had driven since leaving North
Carolina) and crossed the gully separating the road from the fence.  She
moved much more clumsily and slowly than she needed to, hoping a trooper
would stop and allow her to leave the matter to proper authority.  None did,
and she eventually reached the fallen man.  He was alive and conscious.

"Thank god you...please, help me."  His voice was fogged with pain and

Shelly's enhanced intelligence assayed the scene in a glance.  He was in his
early 30s, lean and fit, dressed in old clothes and wearing a backpack.  A
crude, hand-lettered sign lay nearby; it read "New York."  Even in its
distress, his face showed a refinement and intelligence that did not fit the
costume or role of hitchhiker.  The man's foot and lower leg were wedged
between two large rocks, and some blood stained his jeans.  His ankle was
badly swollen, stretching his pants and hiking boot.  No charade here; the
injury was very real.  He looked otherwise unhurt.

She bent low to speak to his face.  "Try to keep still.  You were climbing
the fence...?"

"Yeah." He grinned weakly.  "The don't like pedestrians on this road.  I

"And caught your ankle.  Does it hurt much?"  She kept the questions dumb for
the moment.

"Not too bad."  He grimaced.  "Look..."

"I don't have a car phone.  I'll wait by the highway, try to flag down some


Alarms were sounding in her head.  The accident may be real, but the victim
was not who he seemed to be.  She looked around for watchers, expecting many,
finding none.  Her car was still alone by the Turnpike, the traffic flow
light.  A solo act?  It was a gutsy move, considering what she could do.  And
"they" might well know.  Mary Lou was unaccounted-for, and Dane Peters had
seen some things.

She wished telepathy and x-ray eyes had been part of the deal.  He could have
anything in that heavy pack.  Oh, the hell with it, she thought.  He's in
real pain and could well be here a long time if she didn't act.  She wasn't
ready to ignore suffering to protect herself.  She thought of Jimmy an
instant too late as she reached over and pushed a 600 pound rock easily

5.  Hilltop, North Carolina, August 7, 11:02 AM EDT

Peters preceded Rebecca into the dim, cramped room.  "This was Dr. Ryan's..."

"Private office, and the entrance to his quarters is behind the bookcase.
There's a concealed button under the desk that opens it," completed Rebecca.

Peters whirled, reached past Rebecca, and flicked the door shut.  Sliding
under his glare, she moved behind the desk and sat in the battered chair.  A
wry smile curled her lips as she fetched a pack of Premium 100s from her

"Sit down, Peters," she said.

Peters' anger softened but his puzzlement remained as he obeyed.  "How..." he

"You know how.  Light me, please."  Rebecca leaned forward with a long
all-white cigarette between her lips, gently held in her small, white teeth.

Forcing an unfelt calm, Peters fished out a lighter and obliged.  Rebecca
leaned back and pulled deeply, consuming over a third of the cigarette.  When
she tipped her head and released the exhale, the room looked as if someone
had been smoking heavily there for hours.  "Ah, that's better," she said,
regarding the smoky room.  "Just as I remember it."  The remnants of the
enormous puff exited with her words.

"It's not possible," said Peters.  "CD and makeup can only do so much..."

"Again, you know better.  Further, you know this is not a disguise.  I AM who
I appear to be.  I WAS Dr. James M. Ryan.  You saw what happened to my
'burns,' back then.  This is only a more refined example of the same effect.
I told you at the time I would return eventually, and that you wouldn't know
me when I came.  Does anyone else suspect I survived the fire?"

Peters was a man who rarely displayed any soft emotion, but his eyes were
bright as he regarded his former boss.  "Gee, Doc..." he caught himself and
was suddenly all business.  "No one suspects here.  They KNOW you're dead.  I
was beginning to know it myself, if you understand me.  The cadaver from
storage we burned to replace you passed the local ME...after all it was
pretty well incinerated.  I don't know what the FBI and BEST made of it when
they had it exhumed, but they haven't been back and I haven't been arrested."

Rebecca took a last puff, covering the desk with exhaled smoke.  "I lent some
of my own tissue to that cadaver, and I doubt they'd examine it thoroughly
enough to detect the fraud.  Especially since they'd be looking for active
pathogens, confirming ID perhaps, but as an afterthought.  Anything's
possible, though."  She lit another cigarette, luxuriating in the habit in
her familiar demesnes.  "You know, I never thanked you properly before.
There was no time..."

Peters could not restrain a smile.  "You could sure thank me better now,
Doc..."  He was in a state of dislocation, talking to a beautiful woman who
was also an old male friend.

"Cut the crap, Peters.  All the parts work.  I might get pregnant, and I
don't need the aggravation right now."  she laughed, expelling smoke, happy
to be bantering again with the old warrior.  "There's a couple of things I
need to do here, then I'll be going."

"Going?"  Peters was clearly disappointed.  "Where?"

"South, but more on that later.  There are some specimens I need which were
stored in those very well-concealed fireproof vaults under the lab.  Unless
BEST dynamited the place, I doubt they found them."

"They didn't, and I sure didn't fuck with those vaults.  But the computer was

"I know, and that's not a problem.  I haven't forgotten anything."

Peters took out a cigarette of his own.

"Don't light that."  Peters stopped, surprised at Rebecca's words.  "I need
you to help me find someone, someone who is in trouble and needs help very
badly.  It would be easier if you were one of us, but as I will tell you it's
not free of risks.  Nevertheless, I offer it now, to you.

"How would you like to join a very exclusive club?"  Rebecca extended her own

6.  Mile Marker 33 Northbound, New Jersey Turnpike, August 7, 11:15 AM EDT

His left arm around her shoulder and her right around his waist, Shelly
supported the hitcher as they finally approached the car.  It has been a
grueling half-hour stumbling over the uneven terrain, as Shelly tried to
conceal her unnatural strength and dexterity from the stranger.  She doubted
she'd been entirely successful.  He was heavier than his lean frame suggested
and was barely able to assist in his own walking.  In her former life she
would long since have given up trying to move him.

With her free hand she opened the passenger door and slid him into the seat,
definitely displaying too much strength in the process.  Her frayed patience
was at an end.  She sped around to the driver's door and joined him and her
son in the now-sweltering car.

Shelly gunned the engine and engaged the air-conditioner, more for her
passenger's sake than her own, but she did not put the vehicle in gear.
Instead she turned to look at her charge.

He was a very handsome man, with wavy, wheat-colored, short hair, a face that
would not disgrace the movies, and the body of an athlete or perhaps a
dancer.  Even in his disability, he displayed a grace of movement that
suggested long training in...something.  Using his hands, he shifted his bad
leg into a more comfortable position, then faced her.

"I really owe you, Mrs...."  He had noticed the baby in the back seat.

"Shelly will do.  And you are...?"

"Adam, Adam Dhalgren.  Really, thanks..."

"From New York?"

"Yeah...I'm supposed to be at my folks-"

"Cut the shit."

"Pardon me?"  Dhalgren's eyes narrowed.  Shelly said nothing, but retrieved a
conventional pack of Premium 100s from her purse and lit one.  She inhaled
hungrily and blasted a nostril exhale at his lap.  The smoke swirled in the
closed car.

"I said cut it.  Let's have a real introduction."

Dhalgren hesitated only a moment.  "All right, let's both let our masks slip
a bit and start again."

"You first."

"Fair enough.  Adam Dhalgren, special agent, FBI, AIC Search Team Alpha.
Freeze, asshole, you're under arrest!"

Exhaling another torrent, she snapped a glance at the agent.  He was grinning
pleasantly, hands at his side, as unthreatening in demeanor as his words were

"You have the right to remain silent, but I'd much prefer some friendly
conversation.  Your turn."

"I'm Shelly Aronson, fugitive and mutant, as I'm sure you already know."

"I do," he laughed delightedly.  "And well said.  The baby...?"

"James Marcus Ryan, Jr.  Mine."

"So you knew Dr. Ryan before your foray as an 'undercover' reporter?"

"No...let's just say we mutants breed quickly."  Smoke leaked thickly with
her words as she extinguished the rapidly depleted cigarette.  "That's part
of the menace."

"And daddy?  Is he nearby?"

"No, he's dead."

"Bzzzt!  At least he wasn't buried in the grave that featured his headstone.
A clever fraud, but we have the best forensic lab there is.  Did he come to
grief later?  If so, I am sorry...truly.  He was obviously a great man."

This was not going well.  Honesty was giving much more information to this
strange G-Man than she was receiving.  "I have no idea."  She must be
cagier.  She paused to retrieve and light another cigarette.  She had known
that James was not dead when she examined his "corpse" in the lab.  His
silence had told her that she must proceed on her own.  That hadn't stopped
her from grieving for two weeks, though.  It was an abandonment much like
death.  And he didn't know she bore his son, not from her lips.

She exhaled smoke into the windshield.  He made a show of reaching for his
backpack which was wedged behind him.  "Could I, uh, have one of yours?"

Shelly passed the pack.  She noted his disappointment at her quick
compliance, but helped himself to a cigarette.  "Should I crack a window, or
are you trying to 'smoke me out?'"

"I don't alter my preferences for a hitcher, " she said.  "Leave the window
alone.  It's hot out."

"Anything you say, ma'am.  Aren't you worried about the kid?"

"The 'kid' won't suffer.  Worry about yourself."

End of Part One.

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