Chapter Six

Miriam sighed, and for the hundredth time (no, make that the thousandth) she thought, Next time, I'm taking Velorian Air, no matter what Co'ra'na says about the Prime Directive.

Miriam had just spent fourteen hours in a jet from France to New York City, glancing out at the Twin Towers Monument on her way in. Carrie and Co. had gotten themselves involved in an incident only about a year after ther Towers collapsed, Miri remembered from the "velorian dot org" website. Earth never ceased to amaze her. The watermelon was just the beginning. Since then, Miri had discovered chocolate!

The Hershey Trust company was going to have a record-breaking year, at the rate Miriam was going... Her executive assistant looked on her with absolute envy: how could a woman eat that much junk food, and still weigh 60, 65 kilograms tops?

It wasn't fair to them, but Miriam didn't care. Besides, she didn't really eat that much chocolate. It left her mouth rather dry. The French wine, pate, and bread (pan, they called it) helped. In short, Miriam had become an eating machine. The strange thing was, it made Miriam even more radiant than before. Sure, she was drop-dead gorgeous -- the kind of woman your average guy dreams of taking to bed just once in his long, lonely life -- but the food was having two effects on her. One, it was better than that paste they served back home -- richer and tastier, except the fast food with all the grease -- and two, she was for the first time in decades happy about herself.

That alone will make a lady ten times sexier than she was before. Thankfully for all of humanity, sex was the furthest thing from Miriam's mind just then.

Running a business was hard! Miriam was the president of Anti-Cancer, France -- a division of ACR Incorporated, Carrie's company. Carrie had just called her and a few other senior executives to New York to discuss a new drug (again, based on Velorian technology, but the locals didn't need to know that) to cure Lou Gehrig's disease. Gehrig had apparently been a "baseball player" once (she didn't yet know what baseball was, only that it was a major sport in L'Etats-Unis and Japan). Unfortunately, Miriam had her own problems to deal with: the greenhouses weren't being properly maintained, and the unions were demanding a new contract. The European Union had given her an easy time of government so far -- but if work stopped, she'd be under the microscope soon. ACF and ACR, Inc. could barely afford that kind of scrutiny.

Plus, "Trina's" cover had been blown, spectacularly. Co'ra'na had chewed her out just as thoroughly as the local police chief had. Miriam didn't feel sorry for her at all.

As for why Carrie was so excited about this drug, well, she said it could lead to her taking control of her company again. So what if their real home planet had had the cure for 450 years? Earth hadn't, and this was an Earth-based business. It stretched the borders of the Prime Directive, but Miriam sympathized. Gehrig's disease was horrible.

She finally got out of the International Arrivals terminal and saw a man holding a sign with the ACR logo. Her driver, obviously. Smaller cars ran on hydrogen fuel cells, but limousines still ran on petrol. They still stank, too. Gas itself was hideously expensive -- which was why limos still used it. Higher price, more exclusivity, more demand.

"Breath mint, madame?" the driver asked as he carried her bags on the cart. She nodded, and an assistant handed her one. She looked at it (peppermint didn't agree with her), held it in her hand and kept walking.

Then she thought about what she'd eaten on the plane: seafood. She exhaled lightly, sniffed with her sensitive nose, and reluctantly agreed: her breath was atrocious. As she sat down in the limo, she unwrapped it and popped it in her mouth. The door closed normally, and clicked: locked. The tinted windows meant no one could see the inside of the vehicle.

Miriam grimaced. "Yuck. What the hell is in this thing?" She hadn't bothered to lick it, she just bit down on it. Whether it had been a steel bar or a Tootsie Roll wouldn't have mattered -- it cracked instantly and let its contents onto her tongue. She chewed the fragments.

"Cocaine," a minor flunky sitting a few seats away said matter-of-factly.

"WHAT???" She'd been on Earth long enough to know what that was!

"Miri'am Zor'El," the flunky went on, letting a slight gloat enter his voice, pronouncing her name correctly -- as a Velorian would. Better than even a Prime would. The alarm on her face grew. "Oh, I wouldn't try to leave right now: there are a hundred cameras on this limo as we speak. As it stands now, we could lock you in prison for the next ten years." Miri'am knew fully well that couldn't happen -- she'd go through the walls or the bars of any prison, even one made of pure gold, without much difficulty, so she kept her mouth shut. "But we both know you'd escape in ten seconds or less, so that'd be pointless. So, we brought along some videotape. Just enough to hang you. Now you could kill me, but I am an FBI agent. And humans don't really respect cop killers."

"Even if the cop is crooked?"

He continued as if he hadn't heard her. "Lie detector tests don't work on you. Neither will hypnosis or any other method. And you might as well give up on the pheromones; I'm wearing nose plugs and the monitor behind you detects them long before they are strong enough to affect me. The air conditioning is also on max power. Killing me won't do you any good, I'm the only one who might be considered dishonest. Even the driver doesn't know what we're discussing, though it's being taped for later review. As far as I'm concerned, you're an illegal alien attempting to enter our country, and we caught you. The cocaine is just in case we need something else to stick to you. But considering what you're capable of, I don't think that's necessary."

Miri'am was getting considerably annoyed by now. "So why don't I just leave?"

"Well, you could... but then your face would be all over the evening news. And the Internet. And every police station in the world. Charged with supporting terrorism and drug trafficking."

Miri'am's brain was ticking over fast: she wasn't a lawyer, wasn't familiar with American law on any of these subjects he was talking about. Was he bluffing? Could she take the chance that he was bluffing?

No, she decided. He went on, not hearing her thoughts, "It's a very small world, Miss, and growing smaller every day." When she didn't respond, he knew he'd won that battle. Especially since the only thing he really had to lose was his life, maybe his career. A victory for the Bureau, if he failed. And if he succeeded... just a routine arrest for investigation. His higher-ups wouldn't even see anything to bitch at him about: a field agent making a judgment call that happened to be wrong. Either way, he won, and he knew it. He hadn't lied to her at all; everything he had said was true. It had to be, or he'd be dead now.

Harold Peters smiled, a few feet from a woman who could destroy whole city blocks in minutes, who couldn't be stopped by any physical force without destroying a bunch of other city blocks. So he picked a different kind of force. It was working.

After several seconds of silence, she asked him flatly, "What do you want?"

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Zorkowski, but your cousin Miriam cleared customs seven hours ago. She was picked up by her company limo, and that's the last we heard of her." The airport representative was as humble as he could be, but Mrs. Zorkowski was just furious. He'd had his job for three years, though, and was well-prepared for irate customers. "Are you sure she didn't check in to her hotel room?"

Of course I'm sure, Carrie thought, I'm standing in the damn lobby! But she didn't say this aloud; it wouldn't help. "I don't know... I'll call over there and find out. Thank you." She hung up on him, enjoying the clanking sound the telephone gave her. She wanted to rip the phone off the wall.

Okay, next step. She called Co'ra'na. "Hello, Cory?"


"Hey, what's up, girlfriend?"

Co'ra'na sat up in her chair. Kara had just given her a code phrase that meant trouble! She responded casually, "Oh, nothing much. What's shaking?"

"Nothing here, honey. Hey, have you heard from Miriam? She was supposed to be here at the hotel like five hours ago." Carrie slipped into that California dialect she'd spent years honing. Even though she was old enough to be a great-grandmother (barely), she still could act like a teenager and get away with it. She had the looks and the body, after all. "You know, I'm getting really worried for her, you know, being my cousin and all."

"Yeah, well, don't sweat it, babe," Cory answered her. "Maybe she found some hot hunk and went after him. You've disappeared yourself a couple times, you know."

Carrie laughed, though they both knew it was just for anyone listening. "Puh-leeze! Girl, even Eric wasn't that hot! And I married him..."

"I don't know, I thought he was kinda cute."

"Oh! As if! That boy is just too much, y'hear? Oh, jeez, look at the time, I gotta go. Later!" Click. Carrie walked for the front door, heels clopping on the marble floor of the hotel. Three minutes later, she was airborne, in a totally different set of clothes, searching.

Cory, for her part, went for the Internet, scanning the news for any headlines of interest. Two hours later, she had found nothing.

Miri'am Zor'El had disappeared, all right. Without a trace. Carrie was right: on this planet, that meant trouble. But what kind? And from whom?