Suited For Danger - Book 2 - Chapter 1

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Two teenage boys, working for a super secret R&D lab learn that sometimes accidents happen...continued.

Transformers
(sort of)

Book Two, Chapter One

By Catherine Linda Michel

 


Reintroducing our cast of characters. Donnie/Donna, Jerry, Donnie's best friend. Martin and Janet, Donnie's parents. Fred and Annie, Jerry's parents. Claire, Jerry's younger sister. Debbie, Donnie's girlfriend. Cindy, Jerry's girlfriend. Paul, a private eye. And introducing two new characters, P.I.'s Terry and Pete, Paul's friends/associates. Dr. Fine. Inventer/reverse engineer of the suits.

From last time: “I settled into Jerry's embrace, realizing that what I was gonna do next was gonna change my life more than anything ever had, but knowing that I had to do it. I let out a long sigh, accessed that portion of the HUD…….and flipped that little switch.”

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, suddenly, a window opened in my HUD, asking if I was sure I wanted to do this! I must have jumped just a bit, because Jerry said,

“What's up, Don..na? Damn that's going to be tough to get used to.”

Again I was presented with a choice. I could continue and activate the changes, or I could 'abort' as it were, and go back to the way things were.

“Jer.” I responded. “This thing is asking me if I want to continue. We all know I gotta do this thing, right? I mean, there's no real alternative is there?”

“Donna.” He replied. “This choice is completely up to you. You know that I'm gonna back your play, no matter which way you decide to go, but you're right. There doesn't seem to be any other logical choice. It's gonna be easier on you if you go ahead and accept, I think. If you try to go on the way things are, you're gonna go loony tunes on us, and we need you sane and ready to fight whatever forces we come up against.”

I thought about it again, for a couple of minutes and then, sighing resignedly, I mentally clicked 'yes/accept.”

Instantly my mind was filled with images and behaviors, knowledge of many, many things, and somehow, a feeling of 'rightness.' Almost as if I was being told that my actions were exactly what was needed.

All of a sudden, how to 'do' makeup, how to behave as a female, gestures, attitudes, even phraseology and word choices were, seemingly downloaded into my brain at a rate of speed so fast, that I couldn't make heads nor tails of them. I knew somehow that as I needed these things, they would be instantly available to me, eventually becoming 'second nature.'

There was a pause after all this stuff went thundering into my brain, and I thought it was done. Then, without warning again, another window popped up and it had, as a heading, design parameters, recharging alternatives and upgrading instructions, as well as a way to remove the suit without special equipment!

I literally jumped about three feet in the air yelling,

“GODDAMN YOU, DR. FINE!!!!!”

That sonofabitch had led everyone to believe that these things couldn't be removed without special equipment, knowing that the instructions were in them all along!! He'd deceived, connived and downright lied to everyone, and to me and Jerry the most!

“Donna! Dude..ette! What's wrong? Did something go wrong in the download or something?”

I heard Jerry's voice, although his words didn't make much of an impression on me. I was too damn mad to hear anything said to me just then. I knew, however, that ranting and raving was going to do no good at this point in time. I also knew that there would be a reckoning between Dr. Fine, and me and I guaranteed myself that it wouldn't be a pleasant thing for him.

I stood there, breathing heavily, trying to get my temper under control and, when I finally could think somewhat clearly again, I turned to Jerry and said;

“Sit down, Jerry. I got something to tell you and you have a choice to make.”

“What is it, Donna? Are you okay? You gotta tell me what's going on here! You know that I worry about you and I'm gonna stand by you all the way through this, no matter what it takes or how long it takes, right?”

“I know, I know all that Jerry and you know that I appreciate all that, more than I can say, but this is a blockbuster, at least for you, and I gotta make sure I say it right.”

Jerry sat back down and looked at with a worried look on his face, but he stayed quiet for a change.

“Okay, here goes.” I began. “You know that the download I just did was to help me adjust and learn stuff so I could be comfortable in this skin, right?”

“Right. You told me all that before, but....”

“Just sit tight for a few minutes Jerry. This is gonna blow your mind and probably piss you off. I know it pissed me off!

Taking a deep breath, I continued.

“Along with all that stuff, there was another download that started after the first one finished. It told me how to recharge the suits without plugging in, in an emergency, how the suits are designed, and how to remove the damn things without special equipment!”

Jerry jumped up again, saying;

“You mean you can get outta that suit now?”

“No.” I replied sadly. “I'm stuck for the rest of my life, but you aren't! I know how to take that thing off you! You can go back to yourself! I don't know why that bastard, Fine, did this in this way, but you can bet your ass I'm gonna find out when he's fit to talk to again!”

Jerry goggled at me, not believing what I'd just told him.

“Dude...ette! You mean I can take this thing off? I'm not stuck in it? Holy crap, man....I mean woman...I mean...oh hell, you know what I mean! I can be ME again! I can see my girlfriend again! I can....I can.....oh shit. Donna. You're still stuck and always will be. If I get outta this thing, you'll be alone, right?”

“Yeah, Jerry.” I sighed. “No matter what, I'm stuck like this for, well, what looks like forever to me. Listen. It's not so bad. I mean, I'm alive. I have powers no other human has ever had, and I'm good looking to boot. Okay, yes, I'm now a girl, but I'm getting used to it, well, I think I'm getting used to it, and with the extra help of the new info that Dr. Fine so thoughtfully included in the suit, I have a much better idea of how to be just what I appear to be.”

I tried to say more, but I suddenly dissolved into a mass of tears and shakes! I was crying so hard and so loudly that Jerry didn't know what to do. I couldn't even think. All I could do was cry. It was as if everything that had happened to me since this whole crazy damn adventure began, finally got to me, all at once.

Jerry tried to comfort me, but I couldn't even hear what he was saying. All I knew right then was that everything I'd ever hoped for was gone. Marriage to my girlfriend, having kids with her, building a life together with her...all gone. Instead I was left with a life of uncertainty. A life that would last far longer than anyone I knew or would know, and I'd have to live it as a woman.

After a few minutes, I sort of wound down and was merely sniffing and very tired. Jerry, not knowing what else to do, bent down and picked me up, cradling me in his arms, and began to carry me back to the cabins. I thought about trying to stop him from carrying me like some helpless female, but it dawned on me that, that was just what I appeared to be, and Jerry was, no doubt, just reacting to what he saw, not thinking about who was really inside that so feminine exterior. I just relaxed in his arms and allowed him to carry me.

When we arrived back at the cabin sites, we were greeted by my parents, Jim, Penny and Paul. They were concerned because we had been gone so long, but when they saw Jerry carrying me, they burst out in a babble of conversation, each one trying to outshout the other. Finally Mom, remember Mom? Mom simply out screeched everyone else and took over in her own inimitable fashion.

“WHAT IS ALL THIS ABOUT?” She screamed.

She was so loud that everyone else just shut up and turned to look at her, wondering no doubt, how such a small woman could generate such incredible volume.

Jerry started to explain, but I stopped him and disengaged myself from his arms. When I was standing on my own two feet again, I straightened out my clothing, composed myself and gave everyone an abridged version of the recent events.

I told them that I now knew how to free Jerry from his imprisoning suit, how we could recharge them using sunlight and an improvised solar collector array, even use thermal energy to recharge if we could find a way to adapt the heat to electricity. I also told them that I had resigned myself to my life as it now was, and that I was okay with it.

I didn't bother to tell them about breaking down in tears, since I knew it would only upset Mom and cause her to go into what I call, “MOM mode,” a state of mind in which nothing mattered but her comforting, babying, and generally embarrassing the hell out of anyone on the receiving end of her 'concern'.

She still tried to cluck around me like a mother hen, but I managed to stave her off by introducing another, yet undiscussed topic.

“Look.” I began. “We can't stay out here forever. We have to come up with some kind of plan for returning to civilization and dealing with those terrorists, or whoever they were. There's also the matter of Jerry's and my girlfriends. They have to be either told, or offered some kind of explanation for why we all just vanished, and all at the same time.”

Just then I heard something that sounded like a vehicle approaching our site! We quickly split up, Jerry and I headed for cover by the road in, while Jim and Penny took charge of my Mom and Dad, hustling them out of sight, safely behind one of the cabins. Paul grabbed a 12 gauge and a handful of shells from one of the cabins and took up a stance where he could see the clearing between the cabins, loading as he ran.

Jerry and I powered the suits up and waited behind some trees, while Jim and Penny cocked their pistols and got ready for a shootout if there was no other way out.

Soon, an SUV appeared, going slowly. It looked a lot like the ones the terrorists had been using and Jerry and I tensed up, ready for a fight. It stopped about 50 feet from the clearing and the driver's door opened. A man in ordinary clothes stepped out slowly, his hands in plain view so anyone could see he wasn't armed.

“Paul!” He yelled. “Are you here? It's Terry and Pete with the kids parents and sister!”

Paul broke from his position of cover and practically ran at the vehicle. Jerry and I tensed, expecting a fight, but Paul stopped, laid the shotgun down on the ground, facing away from the clearing, and rushed the driver of the SUV, greeting him with a 'manly hug.'

“TERRY! You sonofabitch! Where the hell have you guys been? I expected you yesterday or sooner?”

Paul hollered at the rest of us. “Come on out! These guys are okay, and Jerry? They've brought your folks and sister!”

Well, for awhile there it was pandelerium with all the greetings and hugs and questions. Jerry was practically smothered with hugs from his parents and Claire, while Paul, Jim and Penny fired question after question at the two new guys.

When everything settled down, we finally got a rundown on all that had happened. It seems that, when Terry and Pete showed up to pick up Jerry's family, they had been followed, and a short, but vicious, firefight had ensued. Terry and Pete had managed to kill two of the terrorists and disable their vehicle by shooting it's tires out, but they had been forced into hiding by that incident for a day or two until they were sure they hadn't been followed from Jerry's house. Once they were sure they had gotten away, they hightailed it for the meeting spot that Paul had pre-arranged with them, finally arriving just now.

Meanwhile, Jerry and I were helping Jerry's parents get settled and I was being bombarded by what seemed like a thousand questions from Claire, Jerry's sister. She still seemed somewhat intimidated and jealous of me, and I decided that, after everyone was settled in, she and I would have to have a long, private talk.

Things got a little bit crowded with two families, two private security people and three detectives/bodyguards in residence and it was decided that we would have to leave within the next day or two, taking our chances with whoever the hell it was that was after us and the suits. For now though, it was a matter of planning and getting reacquainted. Jerry's family had to be brought up to date on everything and that took quite a bit of time. We also finalized plans to either bring Cindy and Debbie into this, or trying to cook up some story they could believe as to why Jerry and I and both families had mysteriously and suddenly left town. Oh yeah. One other thing. What were we to do with the four extra suits?

I got tired of the planning session somewhere into the third hour and managed to catch Claire's eye, indicating that she should follow me outside. Once outside the cabin, I finally asked her, point blank what her problem with me was.

She sighed and, after a couple of false tries, said;

“You remember when I offered to show you all about being a girl and stuff?”

I nodded my head and she continued.

“Well, you turned me down, nicely, but that kinda hurt my feelings a bit, 'cause I wanted to help and you wouldn't let me. Then I guess I got a little jealous of you. I mean look at you for god's sake! You look like every boy's wet dream and you didn't have to go through all the stuff I had to, growing up! It was just handed to you! You didn't even have to worry about periods and stuff, you just got....gorgeous overnight, and I guess I felt like it was unfair or something. I mean, now I understand a bit more about what happened, since those two guys kinda told us what was happening to you and Jerry. I'm sorry if I acted like a little kid, Donnie....um, do I call you Donna now, or what?”

I felt like crying all over again. In my preoccupation with what had happened to Jerry and me, I had completely overlooked the effect it had on others. I pulled Claire into a hug and apologized to her, saying;

“Oh Claire! I'm so sorry I shut you down like that! I never realized that I was hurting your feelings or ignoring you! I've been so self absorbed and worried about myself and Jerry that I even kinda shut out my parents. Donna will do just fine, and can you forgive me?”

“Of course I can, Donna! You and my brother have been friends like, forever, and I feel like you've always been at our house, or Jerry was at yours. It's almost like I had two brothers, and I kinda felt left out when this all started. My offering to teach you about girl stuff was just a way of getting back in with you and Jerry. It was dumb of me and I'm sorry too. Can you forgive me?”

“I can, easily, Claire.” I promise I won't do that to you, ever again, and if you want to try to teach me all about girl stuff, I'll be pleased and grateful to try to learn from you. After all, I haven't ever been a girl before, so it's all new to me, right?”

Well, we cried together for a bit and, when we ran down, Claire and I talked some more, but I noticed something happening to me, while we were talking. I seemed to be relating to her much more easily than I had ever done before. It was almost like I could feel her feelings, and they engendered reciprocal feelings in me!

While I was trying to figure that out, Jerry stepped outside and hollered at me and Claire to come back in. I mentally tabled those other thoughts, and we headed back inside, where our families and friends/allies were waiting.

Paul seemed to have taken over as spokesperson and he welcomed us back inside, saying;

“We've reached some decisions, but we didn't want to just go ahead with them until we ran them past you, Donna. First of all, what to do with the extra suits. How easy is it, exactly, to get that suit off Jerry?”

“Well, according to the additional info that I got when I made my decision and flicked that little mental switch, all it requires is that Jerry and I have to kinda 'link up' via built in software in the suits themselves. Then we have to visualize Jerry taking it off and I have to assist him. It takes about an hour to completely remove it, because there are some things that have to be carefully disconnected and stuff. Why?”

Well, if these guys we're up against are as bad as you've said they are, and from all appearances they are, we might need the extra suits to tip the balance in our favor. The two older suits can be donned and removed with very little trouble, right?”

“Yeah. It only takes about 15 minutes to put one on and about a half hour to take it off. With the two other newer ones, it takes at least a half hour to put them on, and the full hour, like I said, to get them off again. One thing though. With the two older suits, there's no danger of 'bonding' taking place. However, with the two new ones, 'bonding is a definite possibility! The only reason it hasn't happened to Jerry is that he hasn't experienced the right circumstances that lead to bonding. Who's gonna take those chances?”

'Well, we sort of drew straws and Jim and Penny drew the two newer suits. Me and Terry drew the two older ones. We're gonna need you and Jerry to help us get acclimated to the suits and show us how to use them, okay? Now we aren't gonna climb into those things yet, but if things look like they're going downhill, we'll use them as last resorts. Hopefully we can plan far enough ahead so we have the time to get into them before a situation goes south on us.”

I looked at Jim and Penny.

“Is it too much to hope that Jim is gonna take the female suit?” and I giggled. I giggled! While I was getting embarrassed about giggling, Jim said;

“Let me tell you something Donna. Since this whole thing began, I've been impressed by the way you've handled what has to be the weirdest situation I've ever heard of. Yeah you've had your moments when you needed a verbal ass kicking, but for the most part, you have impressed the hell out of me, kid. If you think I should join you, I will! Naturally I'd prefer to wear the male suit, but I'll wear the other one if you ask me to.”

Tears came quickly to me now, it seemed, because when Jim said that, I just started to cry! How marvelous was it that a guy like Jim would make that kind of sacrifice for a kid like me? I was so blown away that, for a minute I couldn't talk, but I smiled through my tears and looked at Jim like he was the most wonderful guy I'd ever met. Then I just hugged him and said;

“Jim, that's the sweetest thing anyone has ever offered to do for me, and as much as I'd like some company in weirdness, I think I'd prefer you to use the male suit. That is, if Penny is okay with that. I mean, she might have been looking forward to seeing how it is to be a guy, you know?”

Penny spoke up right then, also giggling.

“You know Jim, it could a very interesting experience for us both! Are you sure you wouldn't mind using the 'girl suit'?”

Well, that broke some of the tension that had been building up in all of us, and we all had a good laugh at Jim's expense, but I think he knew we were laughing with him, not at him. After all the laughter died down, and Jim managed to lose some of the redness in his face, we continued with the 'briefing'.

“Okay.” Paul continued. “Jim will use the male suit and Penny will use the female one. Terry? You wanna match me for who gets which of the other ones?”

“Naw.” Terry said. “You seem to be the guy in charge here, so you go ahead and take the guy suit. I'll make the supreme sacrifice and use the gal one. Besides, it ain't like it's permanent, right? But look, just who are these assholes we're up against? Anybody got any ideas on that?”

We all kinda looked at one another, but nobody seemed to have a clue about the identity of whatever organization had sent those bad guys after us.

“What if they were, like, some kinda 'Men In Black' kinda guys?” ventured Claire. “I mean, like, oh my GOD, you know that the government hides all sorts of stuff, right? So suppose these guys were, like, told to get the suits from Dr. Fine, but then they, like, found out that, like, Donnie and Jerry still had two of 'em, right? So then, they tried to kill Don and Jer, but got their butts handed to 'em and now they're, like, looking to kill or kidnap all of us, ya know?”

“I suppose that is a possibility,” said Paul, “but I don't know how they could be so 'out in the open' as it were, about what they were doing and how they were doing it. It seems to me that if they were a government agency, they'd be a bit more discreet, you know?”

“Well, whoever they are, we are gonna have to deal with them, one way or another.” I replied. “They sure aren't gonna let us off the hook, especially now that we hurt them bad the last time we ran into 'em.”

“You're dead right about that Donna.” said Jim. “I've never heard of anything like that operation you and Jerry interrupted, and the attempted kidnapping of me and Penny was way too 'out in the open', I'd think, for a government bunch. It seems more likely to me that they're a privately funded group, after the technology the suits represent.”

Well. We kicked that subject around for an hour or more, but, lacking any real information, we never arrived at any kind of real idea of who they might be. Then we tackled the subject of my and Jerry's girlfriends.

“I know that Debbie would freak right out if I approached her with this story.” I said, with a snort of amusement. I doubt that she would even try to understand, and I know she'd never agree to stay with me. Not with me looking like this!

“Cindy, on the other hand,” I continued, “would probably believe Jerry, especially if he got outta that suit and showed up looking like his old self. Problem is, though.....if Jerry showed up looking like his old self, those guys are gonna obviously be looking for any of us, and that'd leave not only Jerry, but Cindy vulnerable, as well. That doesn't sit well with me.”

Jerry spoke up, saying;

“I agree with you, Donna. Actually, I think it might be best if we just get word to the girls, telling them that we took off for a summer trip. Later we could, maybe, write or something and tell them that we found jobs somewhere far away from home and won't be back. I know it sounds kinda cruel and cold, but I really don't wanna involve Cindy or Debbie in this thing if we can avoid it, and this might be the best way to keep them out of it. Who knows what those bastards might do if they found out about the girls, right?”

“That's smart thinking, Jerry.” Said Paul. “I agree that your girlfriends should be kept as far out of this whole mess as is humanly possible. We have more than enough people to keep an eye on as it is. In fact, that's one other thing I think we need to address. Pete? How about you take the parents and Claire somewhere and keep them safe until we figure some of this stuff out. Maybe at that place you have out in Colorado?”

“Yeah, I could do that, Paul, but are they willing to go?” Pete replied. I mean, these are their kids we're talking about here and, from what you've told me, this is some seriously dangerous shit!”

Well, about that time, Mom spoke up. I thought, 'oboy! Here we go!'

“Now just one darned minute here!” She began. “ Yes, these are our kids we're talking about here and I, for one, am not going to have my son...I mean daughter, running around getting shot at, for goodness sake! She was working up a great head of steam and I was bracing myself for the onslaught when Dad....DAD broke in!!

“JANET!” He bellowed. I've kept silent through all these years, knowing that when you got started and had made up your mind about something, you'd simply refuse to hear anything to the contrary or your thoughts and ideas, but this time, I have to speak up! Donna and Jerry have gotten themselves into one hell of a mess, but most of it is not their fault! However, they can't just run away from it. They have to face it, and as much as I hate that idea, it's what I would do under the same circumstances. We can't trust any of the authorities or even the government to give us any help in this because we simply don't know who the hell is involved and who isn't!

Mom was absolutely goggling at Dad, but he plowed straight on, not giving her a chance to get started again.

“Donna and Jerry have some great help in Paul, Terry and Pete, and I think their plan of getting us to safety is a good one. They've got enough to worry about without having to keep us from harm as well. Of course I'm worried about the kids, but with those suits at their disposal, they are much better equipped to handle trouble!”

Jerry's Dad, Fred, chimed in as well.

“This is the damnedest situation I've ever heard of, and I don't mind telling you all that I'm scared shitless for our kids, and for us! However, having said that, I have to agree with Martin. The kids and Paul and his friends are much better qualified to get to the bottom of this without us to worry about. My vote goes for us going with Pete here, to someplace safe until this all gets settled. I know that we'll be giving up a lot. Jobs, incomes, friends and all that, but our lives are worth more than all of that, don't you all think?”

All of the parents seemed to agree, even Mom, although her agreement was grudging, at best. She still looked a little shocked that Dad would stand up to her! Claire wasn't so sure, but she also knew that we'd be better off if we didn't have to worry about her safety. She didn't want to leave me and Jerry so soon after finding us again, but she knew it was for the best.

“Okay.” I said. That pretty much settles most of what we had to get settled. There is one other thing though. Have we heard anything about, or from, that sadist, Dr. Fine? If anyone would know who the hell is after us, I'd think he would.”

Paul spoke up again.

“I've been listening to the news and also have been in contact with some friends, and I haven't heard word one about him or his condition. I have to assume he's still in a coma, but I agree with Donna. I think we have to get to him and hope we can get some information out of him, somehow. We run the risk of a confrontation with the terrorists or whoever they are, if we go back there though. I think it's a risk worth taking.”

“You know,” I mused. “There might be a way to help bring him out of his coma, if these suits can do more than we know. I mean, they can heal us, so why couldn't they help heal somebody else? I'm gonna search the database in this one tonight and see if there's anything that'll help. Hell, maybe we could stuff Dr. Fine into one of the newer suits and let it heal him, or regenerate him, or something.”

I briefly chuckled at the thought of Dr. Fine, stuck in one of these suits....particularly the female one. Now wouldn't that be some kinda poetic justice?

Well, we decided that we'd decided enough for one night. Jerry's parents and Claire were pretty wiped out from their journey here, and the rest of us were pretty tired anyway, so we called it a night at that point.

Paul, Terry, Jim and Pete stayed up a bit longer, checking weapons and ammo and stuff for readiness at a moment's notice. We had quite a cache, thanks to our fight with the bad guys at the lab, including automatic machine pistols, and various handguns, as well as the shotguns and personal weapons brought in by their respective owners.

Cabin assignments got changed due to the increased number of residents, but it all worked out and we retired for the evening......well, all except me. I sat down in a quiet area and accessed the HUD for any info on healing/regeneration, etc. What I found was very interesting and possibly promising.

Apparently, under the right circumstances, the suits could heal or help regenerate someone other than the wearer, but it required skin to skin contact and several hours of it. It also wasn't real specific on what it could help and what it couldn't, regarding coma recovery.

I had also been wondering about the way I was suddenly able to relate to Claire and her feelings and the giggling I'd been doing! Folks, I've never giggled in my life, yet all of a sudden, it seemed like the thing to do under certain circumstances, and that was scaring me a little bit.

Well, it turned out that the female behavior modifications built into the suit were to blame for all of that, and more. For example, I now knew how to 'do' hair and makeup even though I'd never done either before in my life. I could access all that kind of information with just a thought, as well as knowing how to dance backwards in heels, and how to act on dates! Dates? Yeah. Like that's gonna ever happen! Man! When I finally get my hands on that miserable Dr. Fine, it's gonna take more people than there are to pull me off of him!

I mean, I guess all this girl stuff would be okay for someone who wanted to be one, as if that could ever happen, but for someone who never wanted it and was forced, by circumstances to become female, it was just one more reminder of how much my life had changed and how much I'd lost.

Anyway, having located the best info I could, I decided to hit the bed and recharge the suit. I headed back inside and got ready for bed, plugged in, and was out cold, almost before my head hit the pillow. We had a huge day ahead of us tomorrow, and I wanted to be fully rested and charged up, as it were. I could pass along what I'd found out in the morning.

When I awoke, I could hear people moving around, and I looked out the window, noticing that it was full day outside. I checked the HUD and it told me that the suit was fully charged, so I got up, unplugged, and hit the shower. Yeah, I knew I didn't have to bathe since the suit takes care of stuff like that, somehow, but I felt like I needed the feeling of the water rushing over me.

I got the temperature adjusted just right in the shower and jumped in...then I jumped right back out! My mind was refusing to accept delivery on the sudden knowledge that the needlelike spray from the shower, hurt my nipples! That had never happened before, and it scared the crap out of me!

The bathroom door suddenly burst open and Mom was standing there, a wild look in her eyes!

“What's wrong?” she screamed. “Are you okay? I heard you scream!”

I was just standing there, trying to make sense out of what had happened and Mom grabbed me, shook me and asked me again if I was okay. It finally registered on me that someone else was in the bathroom other than myself, and I turned to face Mom and suddenly began to cry! I didn't have a clue what the hell was happening to me and, for the first time since all this began, I was scared!

Mom quickly took me in her arms and hugged me tightly, while simultaneously kicking the bathroom door shut. She just held me and let me cry myself out before asking me what had happened again.

In a shaky voice I told her, feeling ashamed, but wanting to know what was going on.

Mom actually started to laugh! She started out giggling, and then broke into full laughter!

“Mom!” I pleaded. “Don't laugh at me! I'm scared right now and I need to know what the hell is going on with me!”

She stopped laughing and slapped me right across my face!

“Don't you curse at me, young man!” She barked. “I thought something horrible had happened and you were in danger or had hurt yourself somehow! So I rush in here, only to have you tell me something that every woman since time began knows. Hot water, in a needle spray, hurts their breasts! I laughed because I never expected to have to tell you things like that, but it seems I'm going to have to do just that.”

Then she grabbed me again and held me, saying;

“Honey. I wasn't laughing at you so much as I was laughing at the silliness of this whole thing! What happened to you in the shower was just the capper for this lunacy and I finally just lost it, I guess. I'm so sorry. Can you forgive your foolish old Mom?”

Well, that certainly was information that I'd never heard before and had never even anticipated having a need for stuff like that. It struck me that I'd better check the HUD and see if there was some way to turn down the sensitivity um, up front. It didn't make sense to have anything be that sensitive on this suit.

I told Mom that, of course I would forgive her, but only if she'd forgive me for cussing in front of her. That was something you just didn't do where my Mom was concerned. I started to get back into the shower, adjusting the spray to something less...intense, when Mom stopped me, saying;

“Donna, honey? You do know about, um, your private area, I assume? That it, too, will be very sensitive when you wash?”

I could actually feel myself turning red from embarrassment.

“Mom!!! Jeeze! I don't wanna hear that kinda stuff.....but it seems like I'm gonna have to hear it, huh?”

“Donna.” Mom said. “I don't know what kind of information that...thing put into your head, but it's obvious that there are still some gaps. Who better than your old Mom to set you straight on this kind of 'stuff?' Hmm? Now you go ahead and get your shower taken care of, although you must remind me to clue you into the pleasures of a nice, long bubblebath. Why sweetie, it's one of the nicest things a woman can do for herself! So warm, and fragrant with bath oils and lots of soft, foamy bubbles....”

No doubt she would have gone on and on like that for God knows how long, if someone hadn't called from outside the bathroom.

“Hey! Is everything okay in there? Anyone need any help?”

The door started to open and I quickly called back.

“Everything is fine in here. Stay out! I'm not dressed!”

The door closed again, and I breathed a sigh of relief. At least I now knew what had happened and what to expect. I'd also learned that my Mom, ditsy as she could be, was a pretty nice old gal, with a lot of love and understanding in her. I hugged her and promised that we'd have a long talk when all this was over, and gently urged her to the door.

“Go ahead on out, Mom. I'm okay now. That just shocked me, hitting me all of a sudden, like it did...and Mom? Just in case I haven't said it lately? I really appreciate all you and Dad have done for me all my life, and how well you're both taking this madness. I don't think I could be doing anywhere near as well with the changes I've gone through, if I didn't know that you and Dad love me and will stick with me. I love you Mom.”

Her eyes kinda got a soft, kinda misty look to them, and she hugged me again.

“Donna. We told you when this first started, but I guess you needed to hear it more. Your Father and I love you and will be on your side, no matter what happens. You've always made us proud to be your parents and that hasn't changed, even with as crazy and strange this whole situation has gotten. Whatever happens honey, know that your Dad and I will always be here for you.”

Well, we both started to cry but somehow, I didn't mind this time. It actually felt..good, somehow, and when we both ran down, Mom left the bathroom, closing the door behind her. I eventually did get my shower, but I was thinking about that bubblebath Mom had talked about. 'I'm gonna have to try that sometime.” I thought to myself.

When I was finally dried off and clothed, I went into the main room and found the everybody already up and there, waiting. Apparently some further decisions had been made, so I just greeted everyone and then sat down, waiting to hear what I'd missed.

Paul began, saying;

“Welcome back to the world of the living Donna. We've all decided that there's no sense in waiting any longer to get started. Both your parents and Jerry's, along with Claire, will be leaving today with Pete. We aren't going to reveal the location of Pete's place, just in case something happens. What you don't know, you can't tell, right? Pete? Are you all set? Is there anything else you think you might need?”

“Nope, Paul. I got everything either in the SUV or at my place. Whatever else comes up, we can pick up on the way there. I figure we'll be about three days on the road, but I got 'safe houses' damn near everywhere, as you know, so we won't have to depend on hotels or motels. Much safer that way. Donna? You and Jerry better get your goodbyes out of the way now. I want ta get goin' before it gets too much later. I wanna be on the road within the hour.”

Jeeze! Jerry's folks had just gotten there and were gonna be leaving so soon? Still, I knew that it was probably for the best. I knew that I wanted my folks safe and well hidden until some stuff got settled, and I know that Jerry felt the same way about his family.

Well, we did our goodbye things, and I'm not gonna bore you with the details of that, other than to say it wasn't without tears and regrets and all that emotional stuff, but we all knew it was for the best. When that big SUV pulled out of the parking area we watched until it was out of sight, waving all the time. Jerry and I took a few minutes alone before we turned and walked back inside. Somewhere along the way, my hand found it's way into Jerry's...and it didn't feel all that bad to me.

Once we got inside though, it was all business. Paul, Jim, Penny and Terry began laying out different plans of action, all designed to accomplish one thing....getting us out of the situation. Additionally, we had to find out who the 'bad guys' were, and either end their threat, or go into permanent hiding. That last didn't sound good to me though, as I wanted to get back out there and just be, you know? I really missed the interaction between kids our own age and, even though I was gonna be on the opposite side of the gender fence, I still hungered to just hang out with friends, and I knew that Jerry felt the same way.

Crazy as it might sound, we decided on the boldest plan of action of all the ones we had discussed! We had to get back and try to get Dr. Fine up and about, even if it meant going up against those 'bad guys' again. At least we now knew that they were out there and could plan for if or when they hit again.

I clued Jerry, and the others in on the regeneration capabilities of the suits, although the two older ones would only work for the wearers. The rest of the morning was spent getting everyone into their respective suits and getting them used to them and what they could and couldn't do. We had plugged them all in the night before, so each suit had a full charge.

As I had expected, Terry was decidedly uncomfortable in the female suit, but he also immediately recognized the value of being much faster, stronger and practically bulletproof against anything but armor piercing ammo. We all had our laughs, including Terry, as his attempts to become used to looking, sounding and moving like a pretty woman. Remember, the female suits made their wearer move and sound naturally feminine.

Anyway, when all that was done, we packed up and closed the cabins down. We left them as we'd fond them as much as possible. We tossed all the perishable food we couldn't use, trusting that the local wildlife would soon find, and dispose of it, blocked the fridge doors open, snapped off all the circuit breakers and turned the water off. We loaded the vehicles with the weapons, ammo, and assorted other stuff and prepared to take our leave of our little safe haven. I felt kinda sad and a little bit worried about leaving a safe place, but it had to be done. Jerry and I, along with our families, could not live the rest of our lives on the run and in hiding.

We found out, quite by accident, that Jim's and Penny's families had been picked up by another friend of Paul's and Terry's, and were also on their way to Pete's place. That meant that all the 'innocents' were safely stashed away, out of the reach of the 'bad guys.'

The only two remaining were Debbie and Cindy who weren't directly involved and would probably be safe enough where they were, since they knew nothing about where we were or what had happened to us. When this was all over though, I knew that they deserved an explanation. Just how much we could tell them was up for grabs, since a lot of it, nobody would believe and some of it was just as well off being secret. Still, I promised myself that Debbie would know what had happened to me and why we couldn't be boyfriend/girlfriend ever again. I also promised myself that these bad guys, whoever they were, were gonna pay big time for everything they'd put us through.

One other issue came up as we prepared to leave. What to do with the “Beast”. Now that I understood the gravity of the situation, I saw the sense of being as covert as we possibly could, and the “Beast” was anything but stealthy. A 1960 Cadillac Sedan DeVille was probably the least stealthy vehicle on the road. As much as I hated to do it, as much as I loved that car, I loved my life more and there was no way I was gonna risk screwing things up by showing up in a highly recognizable car like that. We found a place to park it, put it up on blocks, poured some sta-bil(tm) in the gas tank, and covered it up with tarps, leaves, tree branches and other stuff, trying to make it look like just another pile of vegetation. Once all this was over, I was coming back for my baby, and I wanted her ready to go when I got back.

We paired off in the two remaining SUVs, me, Penny, and Paul in one, Jerry, Terry and Jim in the other, and headed out.

I won't bore you with the journey back, other than to say that nothing of any great importance happened. In fact, it was downright boring! It took us a couple of days to get back home, and we were glad to be back, although it could have been under better circumstances.

Since the older suits didn't look like the newer ones, although they were still perfectly human looking, Jim and Penny were the likely two to go 'undercover' as it were. They became out info gatherers while Paul, Terry, Jerry and I holed up in two different motels just outside of town. We though it best to split up like that since two identical sets of twins checking in at the same time might draw suspicion. Paul and Terry had visited several electronics stores on the way back and we had police scanners, CB radios, and pre-paid cell phones, as well as our own laptop computers, plus the communication capabilities of the suits themselves. We spent the first day, monitoring the various police, fire, and other frequencies, just to see if there was any talk at all about what had happened at the lab. Curiously, there had been NO mention of anything untoward happening there in all the time we had been in hiding.

There was no talk on the scanners either, and careful, cautious questioning of the people at the motels turned nothing up either! It was as if nothing had ever gone wrong out there at the lab!

I was slowly getting used to some different stuff as well. It seemed as if the new software I'd accessed was slowly changing me, making me more feminine and more aware of males! I found myself idly wondering how good Jerry or Paul would look, naked! It scared me at first, but that also seemed to pass quickly, replaced by wonderment at the amazing technology these suits represented.

The next day promised to be the same as the first and Jerry and I were slowly going stir crazy. Here we were, back in our own hometown, and we couldn't take the chance of being recognized by the bad guys, if they were still around! Finally, that evening, I couldn't take it any more. I felt more useless than a screen door in a submarine, just sitting in that damned room!

“Paul!” I shouted. “I can't take this crap anymore. I gotta get outta here for awhile. Maybe Jerry and I could get out, do some shopping, or get something other than pizza to eat? We'll be careful, and remember, Jerry and I are the only ones who have actually had run-ins with these people, so we know what to look for. I promise that, if anything happens, we'll stay out of it and call for backup. Please?”

Paul seemed to think about it for a few minutes and then he said;

“Okay, but you listen to me. I want Jim and Penny to be near you both in case something does happen, get me? As quiet as things are, it seems unnatural to me. There should be some talk about a firefight at the lab! You and Jerry get 4 hours out of this hole. No more, and I want you in constant communication with me and Terry. If you two kids can abide by that, go ahead, but be damned careful, okay? It might just draw someone or something out of the woodwork if the two of you are spotted.”

“You got a deal Paul!” I said, excited at the opportunity to get out of that room and see some old favorite places and faces again, even if none of those faces would ever recognize me or Jerry. Still, I couldn't sit still in that room for one more minute.

Well, Jerry and I wandered around for a couple of hours, doing some minor clothes shopping, got some fast food at the Golden starches, and just generally enjoyed walking around to places we both had known since birth. We even took a chance and visited the local teen hangouts and saw some of our old friends, but Debbie and Cindy were nowhere around, at least they weren't while we were there.

I wanted to go check out our old homes, so we grabbed a cab and headed that way. It seemed odd to see my old house just sitting there, seemingly abandoned, with newspapers scattered all over the lawn, and mail spilling out of the mailbox. I thought about grabbing the mail, but then I thought better of it. If anyone was watching our houses, they'd surely see someone grabbing the mail. 'Maybe.” I thought to myself. 'I could sneak back under cover of darkness and get it?'

Well, nothing happened. Jerry and I wandered all over downtown and no one even gave us a second glance. Well.....nobody gave Jerry a second glance. I, on the other hand, was more than aware of being 'ogled' by damn near every guy we went by! It was a very strange feeling, being the center of attention of every guy we went past, but I found myself kind of being proud of the way I looked and the fact that I could be considered pretty enough to merit that kind of attention! I was beginning to accept that I was gonna be a woman, the rest of my life. At least I was a strong, capable, good looking one.

Both of us got some new clothes, and a couple of handheld video games to help keep us occupied while we waited for something to happen, and headed back to the motel. We were almost back there when Jim called on the suit com system.

“Hey everybody! I think I'm onto something here. I'm on a hilltop, out near the old lab and the building looks weird, like something is missing, or changed. The outline of the building is different somehow!”

Penny chimed in about that time, saying;

“Yeah, and I'm over by the police station, and there's something odd here as well! there are a couple of 'out of place' looking, black SUVs in the back lot with heavily shaded windows. I can't see anything through them, and the plates don't look right either. I think we're gonna have to do some covert, nighttime surveillance of both places. What do you think, Paul?”

“Damn!” Paul spat. “This could be bad! If these guys have somehow gotten influence, or worse, control of the cops, we could be in for a much rougher time. I'm gonna get hold of a friend of mine in the State Police and get an emergency backup plan in place with them, just in case. Jim, you stay where you are. Penny? If you can keep a watch on the cop shop, without being spotted, do it. Otherwise, hightail it back here and we'll work something else out. We might have to go on the offensive if something doesn't break in the next 12 hours.”

Jim and Penny replied in the affirmative and we settled back in to wait....again! Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, we didn't have long to wait. Jim came back on the com saying;

“Hey gang! It looks like something is going on out here! A couple of big rigs have pulled in and backed up to the loading docks! I can't tell what they're doing there, but there is also one of those black SUVs back there with them! I can also see a guy with what looks like a machine pistol, although he's keeping it pretty well hidden. Maybe Donna and Jerry oughtta hotfoot it out here while Paul and Terry keep a close eye on Penny. What do you think, Paul?”

“You might be onto something there, Jim.” Paul sent back. “I'll get the kids on their way out to you. Terry? You on?”

“You bet chief!” Want me to join Penny over by the police station and you stay where you are, to monitor everything?”

“Sounds like a plan, Terry. I'll get the kids on their way. You head out and back Penny. I'll monitor things, but I'm going to head over to the hospital to check on Dr. Fine.”

“Okay Paul. You watch your butt over there though. There's gotta be a watch, set on this Dr. Fine guy and they'll be looking hard at anyone mentioning his name.”

“Will do Terry. Everybody! Time to get smart and on top of your games! I don't want anybody getting hurt. If things get sticky, make your way back to the motel and we'll go from there. Secondary fallback location will be the local 'lover's lane'. Everyone copy?”

We all heard and understood. Things could get ugly real fast and having a secondary fallback spot was a smart move. Especially one that was outside of town.

Jerry and I went out the back door of the motel and headed toward the lab. We jogged until we were out sight from town, then turned on the speed, arriving about ten minutes after we had left the motel. Jim gave us his position on the com, and we found him easily, staying low so as to avoid being spotted.

We all put the coms on standby and talked quietly. Jim brought us up to date on what, if anything, he'd seen going on, but there wasn't anything to report. I was getting impatient and i told him and Jerry that I was gonna try getting closer. They tried to tell me to stay put, but my temper was getting the better of me and I was anxious to begin settling account with these jerks in the black SUVs!

I did the classic low crawl until I was within about 20 feet of the parking lot the loading dock was located in, without seeing or hearing anything. I was just about to try getting closer when I heard voices coming out the back doors of the lab building! I accessed the HUD and brought up the hearing assists.

One guy was saying to another one;

“This'll be the last load going outta here. I'm glad we can shake the dust from this stinking little town from our boots, I can tell you!”

The other guy answered, saying;

“Ah, it hasn't been that bad. Easy work for some big bucks, although I'm glad we didn't run into those two wearing those damned suits! I wonder what happened to them anyway, and what they did with the other suits they took from Jimmy's crew?”

“Hell if I know!” Said the first guy. “Jimmy caught 12 different kinds of hell from the boss for letting them get away and losing those suits though. I still don't know what the hell they want with those suits, but for what they're paying, I don't really care, either.”

They both lit up cigarettes and continued talking.

Guy number one said;

“Think they'll miss us if we take this smoke break?”

“Nah!” Said guy number two. “Everything is loaded up and ready to go. All they're doing is planning stuff that we wouldn't be allowed to know about anyway. Just drive your truck, take it where they tell you to, and pick up your pay. It never pays to get too nosy about stuff like this.”

“What do you think all that stuff is anyway? It all looks like something from Star Trek or something!”

“Hey! I just told you! I don't know and I don't wanna know. I'm just gonna do what I told you to do! Drive my truck and get paid!

While they were occupied and not paying attention, I had snuck closer and closer. I was just about under one of the trucks when I heard the warehouse door start to open! I quickly moved completely under the truck, hoping the noise of the door opening would cover any noise I might make.

I heard;

“Hey you two! You ready to get outta here? We got about ten minutes left before we head out to the plant. You got the routes down for sure? I don't want either of you yahoos getting lost.”

“Yeah, yeah. We got the routes down! We ain't gonna screw up a simple driving job!” Guy number one threw his cigarette away, irritatedly. “We get paid when the trucks are unloaded at the plant, right?”

“Oh don't worry about that. You'll get your pay. This ain't no cheapskate outfit, and this stuff is way to valuable. Do this right and you two will get a lot more work from us. Screw it up....well, you won't be able to drive a wheelchair, much less a semi. Get it?”

I waited for a good moment to sneak out from under the truck and hide in the nearby underbrush, but these guys didn't seem to be in any hurry to go back inside. If they started to pull out and I was still under the truck, I'd either be spotted, or maybe even run over! Now I knew that the suits were tough and probably could withstand the weight of a tractor trailer, but I wasn't anxious to test that out!

I heard them move down from the dock towards the fronts of the trucks and I frantically looked around underneath the trailer I was under, for any handholds I could hang onto.

My com unit sounded off.

“Donna! Donna! What's happening down there? Are you okay?”

“NO!, I'm not okay! It looks like these trucks are gonna move out and I gotta find a place under here to hang onto! They said something about a 'plant' that they were going to. Maybe I can latch on under here and ride with them. I could probably take these three guys out, but if I do, we'll lose a chance to see where they're going.”

I finally found a place where I could lock the suit's grapnels to and I did so as quietly as I could. I wasn't worried about coming loose during the trip. Only about being discovered. Then, the game would be on, and I didn't want that.

My com sounded off again.

“Donna!” We're coming down there to get you out!”

“NO!, I whispered fiercely! “This is too good a chance to pass up and I'm not gonna! You guys get back to the vehicles and follow far enough behind so you don't get spotted! I'll try to give you directions and landmarks as we pass them, but do NOT come down here!”

The guys got into their trucks, after checking their tires with that big metal bar all truckers all carry for that purpose. They started the engines and let them warm up for a minute. I heard another voice saying;

“Okay. You two take off. We got about 6 hours to the plant and I don't want either of you stopping for anything, you got it? If you get a cop on your tail, let us know over your CB and we'll take care of it, but do NOT stop! Do this right and I'll see you both get a bonus. We'll be about two miles behind you. Keep us informed if anything happens. Now get outta here!”

The trucks engines revved up and then we started to move. I made certain my position was secure and then I relayed what I'd heard to our whole team.

“Okay Donna, we copy. We'll stay a mile or so behind the SUVs, but if you get in a spot, you holler and we'll be there faster than you can say help, okay? For God's sake, be careful! Don't try to take these guys on, alone! Right now, Paul is at the hospital, but he hasn't seen or found Dr. Fine yet. Penny says there's some action going on at the police station. Seems like the SUVs are getting ready to move out, but there's no sign of any of the cops.”

“Okay Jerry, I gotcha. Don't worry. I'm no hero..ine. I just wanna know where these guys are going and what's there. When we get there I'll stay hidden for as long as I can, but if they find me, I'll make 'em all wish their Mommas never met their Daddies! Looks like we're moving out., I'll keep you informed. Right now we're turning right out of the lot, onto the main highway, going north, copy?”

“We hear ya Donna.” Jerry replied. “Hang in there! We'll be right behind you! You know...for a girl, you got one big set of balls! Be careful, okay? We've come too far for me to lose you now.”

I played it up a bit to yank Jerry's chain.

“Awww, Jerry! That's so sweet of you to say! I love you too, sweetie.”

For a minute there was silence. Then;

“Very funny Donna! Ha ha! Quit screwin' around willya? This is some dangerous shit!”

“Oh. And getting shot at wasn't? C'mon Jerry. I know what I'm doing here. Just you guys don't lose me, hear me?”

“Don't worry about us, Donna. You just watch your own butt, okay?”

“Well, I'd rather you watched it honey.” I purred. “But you're a bit too far away for that right now. Maybe later? Toodles! Oh, by the way? We're up to highway speed so get your asses moving!”

Jerry acknowledged and then there was silence except for the humming of the truck tires on the highway. I'd chosen a good spot, with plenty of clearance and away from the tires, so I just hung on, knowing the suit's strength wouldn't fail me.

Every so often I'd check in with the guys, giving them a landmark we'd passed, or a turn we'd made, but for the most part, it was a pretty boring ride. Boring! Just a few months ago I'd have thought this kind of stunt was suicidal! Now, I seemed to accept it as part of the price of being different.

About an hour or so later, I noticed we were slowing down, and I activated the com, saying;

“Hey! Guys! We're slowing down. We just passed the Quicktime Diner and we're turning let, off the highway onto a gravel road. There's no sign, but I think it's the old Bremmer road. If we pass that old barn.....yep, we just did. It's the old Bremmer road for sure. Hey! I think I know where we're going! There's an old factory out here about two miles from the highway, remember Jerry? It's where that quarry is where we used to take the girls.”

“Yeah! Yeah! I remember that, Donna. Hey! We know that place pretty well. I think we can get up in there without being seen. Jim! Turn here and follow this other road. It leads right up to that old factory but it's shorter than the Bremmer road. Big trucks can't take it because it's too narrow, but this SUV can handle it with no problem! Unless I miss my guess, we can probably beat them there and get a good hiding place. We'll be waiting for ya, Donna!”

The trucks slowed a bit, since the gravel road was kinda rough. The Bremmer road led out past the old Bremmer Copper Plant, which had closed down years ago. Eventually it led out into the puckerbrush and just petered out about two miles past the plant. The whole place was overgrown and was hidden by trees from above. The perfect place for a hideout. There was a deep quarry there that was clean and free from bad news wildlife because the sides were so steep. Us kids had rigged ropes and stuff to help us climb back up after diving in from about 20 feet above the water. We'd also cleared a space near the quarry for picnics and a bonfire pit. The cops knew about the place, but left it pretty much alone, only checking it once or twice a night. They knew us kids were out there, but they also knew we weren't doing anything illegal, so they let us have our fun.

Sure enough. About two miles later, the trucks began slowing down and we pulled right into the loading dock area of the old factory. They turned around and backed up to the docks with a small bump, and shut off their engines. I thought it seemed like an awfully short trip for having such valuable cargo on board, but I didn't have time to think more about it just then, because the drivers dismounted and lit smokes, right near the back of the trailer I was handing onto!

A few minutes later, three of those black SUVs pulled in and parked near the trailers. Several men got out and headed into the warehouse and, a few minutes later, I heard the sound of the big doors slowly opening. There was the sound of forklifts and people talking, so I took a chance and keyed the com.

“Jerry. Jim. Are you guys out there?” I whispered.

“Yeah Donna.” came a quick answer from Jerry. “We're over by the quarry with a good view of the plant. You still under the trailer?”

“Yeah. I haven't had a chance to get out from under here and there's too many people walking around to try it right now. I'm okay where I am, unless someone thinks to look underneath, which I don't think they will. They seem pretty confidant that nobody is gonna mess with them. They're unloading whatever was in the trucks right now, so I'm just gonna wait til they're done. When I think I have a good shot at getting outta here without being seen, I'll take it and head your way. If things go haywire, I'll head in the exact opposite direction, away from you two, into the underbrush and trees. Then I'll circle around and get back to you. I think we need to take some chances here and find out what's going on inside though. Do either of you think you can find a place to spy on them?”

“I dunno, Donna. There are, or were, plenty of places where you could see inside, but they might have blocked them. Jim and I'll take a look while we're waiting for you. Be careful.”

“You too.” I replied.

It didn't take too long before both trucks were empty. Once the activity outside died down, I took a chance and slipped out from under the trailer and low crawled toward the quarry. I got there safely, but didn't see Jim or Jerry anywhere. I didn't worry too much though, because I knew they were trying to see inside the old plant.

Keying the com I asked;

“Where are you two? I'm at the quarry.”

“We're checking to see if there's a place where we can peek in, Donna. Stand by.”

“Okay. I'm gonna go around the other way from you two. We gotta know what's going on in there.”

“Okay Donna, but be careful.”

“How many times you gonna say that, Jerry? I'm gonna be careful. I don't wanna get caught anymore than you do, okay?”

“Okay Donna. Sorry. I just worry about you, ya know?”

“Well, like I said before Jerry, that's very sweet of you, but let's just assume I'm gonna be careful, to save radio time, okay?”

“Okay Donna.” Came the reply, but it sounded like Jerry was somehow disappointed or something. Oh well, I'd ask him about it later, if and when I had the chance.

Seeing that Jerry and Jim had gone around the left side of the old factory, I went to the right. I figured we'd meet somewhere in the middle unless one of us found a way to peek in, or get in, unobserved.

I was just passing by an old, seemingly unused, door, when it suddenly burst open! A man came running out, looking back the way he'd come! Just as he was about to run me over, a shot rang out and the man dropped, almost at my feet, skidding to a stop about a foot past me!

For a split second, I just stood there, paralyzed by the suddenness of a man's death, then I moved, and my friends when I say I moved, I think I blurred! I was around the corner of the building before I knew it, sliding to a halt and peering back around the corner. I saw another man come out, his pistol at the ready, peering around as if he'd seen something. I didn't dare to move, for fear he'd notice the motion, but just then, my com unit sounded off, and I jumped a little bit!

Well, that tore it! His head swiveled around, followed by his pistol. The com squawked;

“Donna! We heard a shot! Are you okay?”

Shit! Shit! Shit! He'd seen my head move! His gun came up and he snapped off a shot at me, missing by what seemed like millimeters! I had two choices. Run away, which is what my reflexes were trying to get me to do, or rush him, take away the gun, and knock him out, or kill him, which is what my brain was trying to tell me to do. I chose the latter.

With no more thought about it, I rushed straight at him. He tried to get off another shot, but I think he was shocked by the image of a beautiful woman, seemingly running to him, or into his arms. He hesitated just long enough for me to take an awkward left handed swing at him. Fortunately for me, I connected. He went down like he'd been hit with a truck, the gun falling from his now nerveless fingers.

My com sounded off again, sounding more urgent.

“Donna!! Answer me! This is Jerry!! Answer me. Please!!!”

“I'm okay for now Jerry, but stay off the com until I contact you again. A man was just shot and killed, and I took out the guy who did it. I think all hell is about to bust loose, so be on your toes. Whoever's inside that plant has to have heard the shot and they'll be looking for the other guy to come back in. The one who got shot looked like one of the truckers. I'm heading for the woods!”

I took off at a dead run, as fast as I could go. I had just reached the first trees and ducked behind one when I heard a voice call out, behind me.

“Frankie! What happened man? What hit you?”

Frankie wasn't answering and I backed slowly further into the trees, and keyed my com.

“There's another guy out of the factory. He's leaning over the guy I took out. Watch yourselves!”

“Gotcha Donna!” came the reply. “We're just on the south end of the factory, heading for the trees on this end. No action here, yet.”

“Get into the trees and let's try to link up. I got a bad feeling about this whole thing all of a sudden. You two head north and I'll head south. I'm on the east side, you?”

“East side, Donna. We'll meet up with you in a few minutes..”

Using the infrared filter on the suit, I picked out two figures headed my way, dodging from tree to tree. They had to be Jim and Jerry, so I started going toward them. We met in a small stand of beech trees and Jerry grabbed me, hugging me tightly.

“Oh God! You're okay! I was so scared that you might have been hurt again!” he cried.

I pushed at Jerry, trying to break his hug, confused by his reaction, when it dawned on me! Jerry was treating me as he would a woman! I was shocked, yet I sort of understood. When Jerry looked at me, all he could see was this beautiful woman, not his lifelong male buddy. He was reacting the way most men do, trying to protect a woman.

I finally succeeded in backing Jerry off a little bit and, while I wasn't sure how to handle this, I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I gently disengaged from his arms, saying;

“Um, Jer? Don't forget who's really inside here, okay? I know what I look like, but I'm still your pal, Donnie. I really appreciate the concern, but I'm okay and besides, you know that the suit gives me protection better than a bulletproof vest. I'm still getting used to a lot of things, Jerry, and although my feelings and the way I look at some things are changing, they haven't changed that much yet.” Maybe, in the near future they will, but for now, just take it slow and easy, okay? Now, we've got bigger problems to deal with.”

Jim was looking at us both with a look of amusement in his eyes.

“You damn well better not laugh, Jim!” I said through clenched teeth. This,” and I indicated my shape, “is hard enough to deal with without being laughed at!”

Jim's eyes looked down and away from me immediately.

“I wasn't gonna laugh at you, Donna. I was more pleased that maybe you'd started to adjust better to being forced to remain female for the rest of your life. I've been hoping, as have we all, that you'd come to grips with it and accept, maybe even embrace it.”

He continued to look away from me and at the building, I guess trying to convince me that he was watching for bad guys, and maybe that's what he was doing. I tried to get my feelings under control, saving them for a time when I could afford to indulge them.

“Okay.” I said. “We have two choices here. We can cut and run, without ever finding out what's going on here, or we can invade with all guns blazing. We already know that there's nobody but the bad guys in there, and we still have the element of surprise on our side, although that won't last much longer. They're gonna wonder what knocked that guy out. What do you two wanna do? I, for one, am sick of pussyfooting around! I want answers and I want them now!”

“I'm with you Donna!” Jerry chimed in. “We've been chased, shot at, had our lives ruined, and all because of these damned suits! Well, we have them, I say we use them!”

Jim tried to talk us out of doing something he considered foolish, but Jerry and I were beyond reason at that point. We had something to prove to ourselves and we were gonna do it!

“Okay, okay you two!” Jim interjected. I want to get some payback as well, but can't it wait until we find out more? We don't know for sure who's in there. For all we know, they have other hostages or innocents in there! Tell you what. You two stay here while I scout a bit more. If I can satisfy myself that we'll only be hurting bad guys, I'm all for getting it done, but let's have some kind of plan, for crying out loud.”

Jim left us standing there and took off toward the factory, ducking from tree to tree while Jerry and I hid behind a couple of large ones. He went out of our sight for a few minutes and then he called us on the coms.

“Okay you two, here's what I can see. There are about 15 people inside. All of them are either armed or have guns near enough to grab at a moment's notice. A couple of them are trying to tend to the guy Donna knocked out, but it doesn't look like they're having much luck. He might be dead. Most of the people inside are clustered around some equipment that they seem to be trying to set up. There are four guards, one at each of the warehouse doors, and one more kind of covering the other two doors. I say we hit both regular doors and one of the warehouse ones at the same time. I think the suits have enough horsepower to go through that old pull up door. I know they can go through the normal doors like tissue paper. I'll let you two get set at eh regular doors. I'll take the warehouse one. Let me know when you're ready.”

“You got it Jim!” I exulted.

Jerry went to his assigned door and I went to mine. I gave Jerry a thumbs up and he returned it. Then I gave Jim the all ready call.

“Okay! On three! One.....two......THREE!!!!



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