"A tournament? What's the point? Aren't we all on the same team, here?" That was Melissa, always the first to speak her mind.
"Think of it as a test, Trainee Eshkenazi." Mr. Sandow didn't even look up from his tablet, flipping through data as he sat on the locker room bench. "It's not about winning or losing, it's about how you play the game."
Melissa rolled her eyes, but Roland stepped up as well, still breathing hard from the long morning training, looming large over the seated coach, his face and thick dreadlocks dripping with sweat. "C'mon, boss. Melissa's right. We're supposed to be a team. When the next Incursion hits, we need to be a tight unit of Strikers, ready to hit the ground running. All this does is put us at each other's throats."
Takeshi finished chugging his water, and nodded agreement from where he sat off to the side. "If you're expecting us to go all-out on this, we risk injuring each other. This is a bad idea, sir."
Mr. Sandow just shrugged indifferently, but he looked up. "Anyone else care to venture an opinion?"
D.J. stood there at ramrod attention, as usual. "SIR! I AM READY TO WIN THIS TOURNAMENT, SIR!"
Chang-Ying chimed in with a resigned mutter. "Sir, I have zero opinion, sir. Just do what you're going to do and make your decisions, already." She punctuated her statement by pouring a water bottle over her own sweat-drenched head. "It's what you always do anyway, right?"
Mr. Sandow gave a small grunt, and then turned to me. "Trainee Halloway, care to share your thoughts?" Great. And sure enough, the rest of the squad turns to look in my direction. Again.
"Is my opinion necessary, sir?" I opened my locker, and pulled out a towel, avoiding his eyes.
"In this case, yes. Your full thoughts on this matter, Trainee Halloway. That's an order. I know you've got an opinion, and I know you've given it more thought than the rest of this lazy bunch." Goddamnit, Sandow.
"Oh great, another wise lecture from the teacher's pet." Takeshi tossed his bottle into a garbage can on the far side of the room, a perfect throw, as usual. "Sir, would you like me to give Harrison a pedicure while he enlightens us?"
"Shut your trap, Trainee Wakamoto. And keep your shoes on, because you just earned ten laps to finish before you can break for lunch." Sandow scratched at his greying beard, and held out a hand towards me. "Well, Trainee Halloway?"
I held Sandow's gaze for a moment, wishing I could throw him through the locker room's concrete wall -- but no, we needed the old bastard. "You called this a game, a test. And that it wasn't about winning or losing, but how we played." I wiped my face down, the over-starched towel feeling like sandpaper against my forehead. "You weren't spouting old sports cliches. You meant it literally. How we conduct ourselves in this tournament is information you need, isn't it."
I could practically see the light bulb pop into being over Melissa's head. "Oh! OH! This is about our color assignments, right?" Yeah, that had been where I was going with it as well. Melissa was a hell of a lot smarter than me, when she bothered to stop and think.
Sandow nodded. "Very good. Yes." He turned around and looked in turn towards each one of us. "You six are here because you've been selected as finalists for this year's Striker task force...."
"Goddamn, Sandow, we know all this already. We've been at this for months..."
"Shut UP, Trainee Wakamoto. Fifteen laps. Do not interrupt me unless life hangs in the balance. I will not tolerate rudeness." The old bastard coughed into his hand. "Over the years, the continuous stream of Dimensional Incursions has necessitated a response, and next year, that response will be you -- assuming that these Incursions keep coming."
Roland snorted. "Like we'd be so lucky that the Seattle incursion that Task Force HammerStrike is fighting right now would just happen to be the last one."
"Get your shoes back on, Trainee Eastman, you just earned five laps to keep Trainee Wakamoto company. What did I just say about interrupting?" Sandow's eyebrow twitched, and Melissa and I exchanged a quick look and a nod. That was one of his tells that he was super-pissed, so I buttoned my lip tight. Melissa tried to signal Chang-Ying to keep her mouth shut as well, but the shorter woman just rolled her eyes indifferently.
Sure enough, Sandow started pacing the locker room, another bad sign. "We have found a method that works. The act of another invading force breaking the dimensional barriers for an Incursion generates Dimensional-Flux energy, energy that we have learned to harness and use in our defense. There's typically enough energy to infuse a small response team of approximately half a dozen individuals, giving them superhuman capability. Those given the Infusions are the only ones able to consistently harm those invaders." Sandow tossed his tablet aside, his pacing growing more agitated. "Instead of allowing the Infusions to manifest in random individuals near the Incursion site, who may or may not have the combat training and mental fortitude to fight a war..."
"Send me five twenty-somethings with Attitudes," Chang-Ying quipped, deliberately ignoring Melissa's knife-across-the-throat-shut-up gesture. "Go-go us."
"Twenty Laps, Trainee Wing! You're not half as funny as you think!" Sandow was turning red.
D.J. jumped to his feet and saluted. "SIR! REQUESTING PERMISSION TO RUN LAPS BEFORE LUNCH, SIR!" I was starting to wonder if something was seriously wrong with D.J.'s brain.
"Permission granted, Trainee Carter, you idiot. Twenty-five laps, and shut the hell up!"
"SIR, YES SIR! SHUTTING UP, SIR!"
Sandow turned to look right at Melissa and me. "Are you two going to interrupt as well? 'Tis the season, it seems."
She and I just shook our heads.
"Smart of you. Now, the lot of you keep those traps shut, so you can learn something." Sandow took a deep breath, and bent down to pick up his tablet. "We have the Infusion process down to a science. You lot were given your basic D-Flux treatment already, but that's only the first half. Now that you're getting used to being superhuman in general, the next step is to determine who gets what role on the team. We typically divide the roles as follows: Leader, Support, Gunner, Tank, Cavalry, and Overclocked -- and the powers that come with those jobs vary accordingly."
He glanced down at his tablet. "The Public Relations team has assigned those roles the colors of Red, White, Black, Blue, Yellow, and Green, respectively. Your typical six-man lineup, nothing flashy this year." He snorted derisively. "Apparently the idiotic decision to put most of Task Force Bright Star in colors like Moss Green, Grey, Sepia, and Salmon Pink two years ago is still a sore spot with the higher-ups."
He set the tablet down on a bench, more carefully this time. "We haven't yet decided which of you are going to get what role. So by having this little round-robin tournament, where each of you is going to get a chance to fight each other one-on-one, our vaunted analysts can come to a final decision, and authorize the next steps of your training."
Takeshi opened his mouth to speak, but then wisely raised his hand instead.
"Yes, Trainee Wakamoto?"
"Sir, my original question still stands." Takeshi reached down to tighten his laces. "Aren't we risking serious injury if we go all-out like this?"
Sandow just grinned. "Did I say that you had to go all-out, Trainee Wakamoto? Thank you for that additional data for our analysts, it's interesting that you would assume that." His grin grew broader as he tapped in a brief notation on his tablet. "But should this combat push the limits of your defensive fields, now is a good time to inform you that your basic D-Flux Infusion has added rapid cellular regeneration to all of your lists of fun little powers. You'll even grow your teeth back if some Incursion Elite smashes your face in. Saves a fortune on dentist bills, you'll find."
"Now if you're done questioning orders and interrupting your elders, four of you have laps to run. Trainees Eshkenazi, Halloway -- you're dismissed. Get dressed into something that doesn't smell like a goat left out in the rain, and get some lunch." He paused with his hand on the doorknob. "Don't skimp on portions, you'll need all the calories you can get for what's planned this afternoon. Now get going!"
D.J. was already halfway down the hallway towards the fieldhouse track, the rest following behind, with Takeshi's grumbling voice echoing back towards where I sat. I kinda liked Takeshi, even if he didn't seem to like me too much. He was by far the best shot in our task force, and could be wickedly funny when he felt like it. A pity that he seemed to rub Mr. Sandow the wrong way, though.
I put those thoughts out of my head as I peeled myself out of my workout clothes -- which if I had my way, they'd be burned instead of laundered. I didn't think it was possible to sweat and stink that much. Grabbing my shower basket and another towel from the clean bin, I headed for the sweet release of scalding hot water jets.
I'd been standing under the main showerhead for a couple of minutes, concentrating on lowering my defensive fields enough to let the delicious heat seep in, when I heard Melissa's voice behind me. "Hey, Harrison? Need me to get your back?"
I'm told that communal showers have been a Striker tradition since the program began. Mixed-gender task forces always performed better in the field for some reason, and the Public Relations team would've insisted on it anyway for marketing purposes. So from the very beginning, all the trainees have slept in the same barracks, dressed in the same locker rooms, and showered in the same open areas, with everyone's everything hanging out for all to see. Nearly everyone in that initial group of thirty was a little nervous about it at first, but within a day or two, we were too busy getting our asses handed to us by intense training sessions to worry about measuring dick length or checking if someone's carpet matched their drapes. It was just bodies, and even as people washed out, leaving us with the final six, we were used to each other by now.
So why did my arms suddenly break out in goosebumps in that moment?
It was just bodies, right? Sure, when you're in a whole group of people, and everyone's just doing their business of getting clean, absolutely. This felt different -- and now that I think about it, that was the first moment that Melissa and I had ever been alone together. No trainers, no teammates, no medical team, no PR consultants gibbering about "media gestalts" or whatever buzzwords they were high on that week -- just one man and one woman, with absolutely nothing between their naked bodies but air, water, and arm's reach distance.
I turned my head to look -- dear god almighty, she was beautiful. Green eyes so bright that they seemed to almost glow. A full, sensual mouth, and a nose with a tiny little crook in it that gave her face such a unique character. Her long blonde hair was already slicked back against her skin, and her figure had an almost inhuman perfection to it. Long toned legs, wide hips that looked absolutely fantastic in our team uniforms, strong broad shoulders, and if I'm going to be completely honest here, a pair of firm, lush breasts that lingerie models and adult film stars would've given both kidneys for. She had her flighty moments, but she was a literal certified genius, and we'd bonded as workout partners from day one of the program, each pushing the other to make sure we didn't wash out like most of the others.
But now we were alone, and her bare hand was touching the small of my back as she stood to my left. It's funny -- now that we were both D-Flux infused, most people couldn't hurt us or even directly touch us unless we consciously let down our defensive fields. These same personal force-fields kept out excess heat and cold, and could even take a direct hit from a missile launcher without letting any impact through -- but against other people or objects infused with D-Flux, be it an Incursion Elite or another Striker, those fields were much less effective. It was why the Strikers were the only ones who could consistently hurt the invading Incursion forces, and that was why Melissa was able to touch my bare skin without me deliberately letting my guard down.
Hey, some people think about baseball statistics in order to keep from getting prominent erections at awkward times. I think about the weirder details of inter-dimensional warfare. To each their own.
"You've still got some dirt caked on from when you slid through the mud this morning. I'll get that for you, no way you could reach it." Melissa had already started rubbing a soapy washcloth against my back, not even waiting for a response. And why should she? We'd done something like this at least a dozen times before, back when we were still normal humans -- taping up knees, applying sunscreen, massaging each other's feet after a long march -- I'd never even thought twice about it before, and probably neither had she. "Hey, Harrison? You okay?"
I nodded, looking down so that I wasn't staring at her, "Yeah, I'm good. Thanks, Melissa. I didn't even realize there was still a mess back there."
She scrubbed harder, a low alto chuckle echoing through the huge open shower room. "Oh, I wouldn't call it a mess, Harrison. All those squats we've been doing have paid off -- I haven't seen a butt this fine since my sister and I sneaked backstage at a Wrestling show." She gave one of my backside cheeks a loud slap, and the room abruptly fell silent, save for the sound of running water.
There was a long pause. "Okay, that got awkward fast," Melissa said with a nervous laugh. I looked to my left again; she was blushing, and had resumed a very businesslike scrub on my back. "Sorry about that."
"It's okay," I murmured, trying to will my body into a calmer state. Dimensional Fluctuation energy, or D-Flux for short, was still only half-understood by the most brilliant minds of our time, either breaking the laws of physics, or subject to a different set of rules that we hadn't fully figured out yet. It generally manifested near areas containing dimensional breaches... I looked down, and saw my length standing at half-mast and rising. Goddamn stupid hormones.
"More than okay, from the look of it." I hadn't heard that note in Melissa's voice before -- I looked up, and she was glancing down, right where I'd been looking a moment before. "I mean, I was just goofing around there, but -- you look good, Harrison. Guess all those squats really did help." She reached out, and a fingertip traced along my abs, toying with the small trail of hair that led directly between my legs. "Got a nice six-pack going, too. How did I never notice that before?"
She looked up, and our eyes met. For a long moment, we just stared at each other, neither one of us in any way sure what we were supposed to do next.
I broke the silence first. "Melissa... ah." I looked down at the washcloth still hanging from her hand. "Do you, um, want me to get your back now?"
She visibly swallowed, and blinked several times. "Yeah. We should -- yeah. Thank you." Placing the washcloth in my hand, she turned to face the wall, one hand holding onto a nearby safety hand-rail, the other hand's palm pressed into the tile.
I stepped behind her, and mechanically scrubbed soap between her shoulder blades, down her back, and to the little dimples above her backside. We stood there silently as I worked, but as I finished rinsing her off, the bar of soap slipped out of my hand, and got underfoot just long enough to throw off my balance. On instinct, I reached out and grabbed the only thing immediately available -- Melissa's hips. For an endless moment, we stood there breathless, our bodies achingly close as I held on directly behind her.
Melissa turned to look over her shoulder, a new look in her emerald eyes as our gaze met. She bent forward, just a little, pressing her soft cheeks against my standing length. She spoke softly, but I could hear every word clearly despite the loud showers. "...I want to," she said.
"Me too," I whispered, and I leaned forward, my lips making contact with her bare shoulder for a brief kiss...
Her back shivered as I kissed her, in spite of the steaming hot water. "You won't believe how wet I am right now, Harrison..."
"Time to find out, then." Before I could talk myself out of it, I pulled back just enough to take aim, and then slid inside Melissa. We both let out a low groan of pleasure, my rod now balls-deep inside her with one push. My hands kept their hold on her hips, and I started a long and easy rhythm. "You... Mmm. You weren't kidding, Melissa."
She looked back at me again, those gorgeous eyes sparkling. "Wish I'd figured this out weeks ago, Harrison. Oh yeah, right there... I would've been sneaking into your bed for this cock every night." She pushed back against me, the sound of our bodies slapping together echoing loudly through the shower room. "I need it harder, Harrison, please, fuck me HARD. My pussy's not some...nnnngh, that's it... some delicate flower — and we don't have much time. I need it deep, handsome. Give me everything you've got."
"Ma'am, yes ma'am!" I couldn't help but laugh as I rammed it into her like a jackhammer, her soaking wet tunnel squeezing me at the end of each deep thrust. Her smile broadened as I sped up, and she started making these hot little yelps and moans, sounds I would hear in my dreams for years to come. "Yes, yes, yes, Mmmmm, more more more, yesssss...." I know I was probably grunting like a bear in heat, but I didn't care — all I knew was that I suddenly needed Melissa more than I needed air and food, and that I never wanted to stop this amazing moment.
I reached underneath to cup one of her breasts, a perfect handful of soft beauty. Her moans took on a new urgency as I gave her a firm squeeze, her nipple rock-hard against my palm. On a whim, my fingers pinched around that firm point, and Melissa bucked hard against me. "FUCK! Do that again! Harrison, I'm so goddamn close..." I obeyed, and the reaction was immediate. "OH GOD!"
Her walls spasmed around my length, and I heard a creak of metal as the steel hand-rail bar against the wall warped under her superhuman grip. "Harrison, don't stop, I want you to come in me, I want to feel you burst..."
I could feel my own climax stirring deep inside, it just needed a little more, just a few thrusts, a few more delicious seconds inside this brilliant goddess... "I'm almost there, Melissa, so good, so tight..."
"You like my tight pussy? My tight wet pussy?"
I grabbed her hips with both hands again, each collision of my hips against her ass ringing like a gunshot in my ears. "Like... isn't a strong enough word... fuuuuuck, so close, so close..."
"YO, HARRY! MISSY! I HOPE YOU LEFT ME SOME HOT WATER, 'CAUSE I'VE GOT A STINK THAT COULD KILL A SKUNK AT TEN PACES!"
Roland's deep bass roared up the track hall, and Melissa and I shot away from each other as if we'd just been fired out of a set of railguns. She grabbed another washcloth and quickly soaped herself up. I did the same, the adrenalin of surprise thankfully killing my raging hard-on like an avalanche of baseball stats. We could hear Roland's heavy footsteps approaching, and I reached out to clasp Melissa's hand. She squeezed it gratefully, and mouthed the words, "I'm sorry." She glanced down at my deflating rod, biting her lip. "You were so close..."
I shook my head, and whispered back, "Next time."
She nodded emphatically, and then turned away as Roland rounded the corner and joined us in the shower. "Roland, how many times do I have to tell you! It's MELISSA, not Missy! My sister's the only one who I ever let call me that, and that was when we were nine. You use my name wrong again, and I'll kick your ass so hard that they'll make an internet meme out of it."
"A tournament? What's the point? Aren't we all on the same team, here?" That was Melissa, always the first to speak her mind.