Constance Verity Saves the World
It was date night, and Constance Verity was wrestling an alligator woman in her underwear. How the alligator woman ended up wearing Connie’s underwear was a mystery she never solved.
Connie herself currently wore a towel, rolling around on the floor with her opponent. She’d wrestled people and alligators, but not a combination of both at once. It was trickier than she expected. Several times, Connie had the alligator woman locked down, only for the woman to use her tail for leverage or almost bite Connie’s face off, forcing a withdrawal.
She did not have time for this. Byron would be there in a few minutes. He would be on time. He was always on time. Usually early. It was one of the things she admired about him, but it also meant she couldn’t spend all night subduing her opponent.
She hadn’t even picked out her outfit yet.
Connie wrapped her legs around the alligator woman, choked her out with a full nelson. It took precious minutes
for the alligator woman to lose consciousness. The moment she went limp, Connie rolled her over, grabbed some rope she kept in her sock drawer, and hogtied the intruder. In Connie’s life, it often paid to have some spare rope lying around.
The alligator woman rolled around on the floor. She growled and hissed and snapped her toothy jaws.
Six minutes to get ready.
Connie made a call. She didn’t wait for the person on the other end to say anything.
“I’ve got an alligator woman in my apartment, and I need her picked up now.”
There was a pause.
“Who is this?” asked Agent Ellington.
“You know damn well who this is,” said Connie.
“I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake,” said Ellington. “I am a government liaison. Not your personal valet.”
Connie adjusted her towel, checked herself in the mirror. There weren’t any fresh scrapes or bruises, aside from a small scratch on her shoulder. “I’m calling in a favor.”
“We don’t owe you any favors.”
“Don’t you? Two weeks ago, I kept the supervolcano under Yellowstone from erupting.”
“So, that’s a pretty big favor.”
“Constance, you do things of that nature all the time. Are we supposed to keep a running tally?”
“Isn’t that your job?”
Ellington sighed. “Yes, I suppose it is. But I don’t work for you.”
Five minutes and counting.
“I don’t ask for much,” said Connie. “But I have a date tonight, and after dinner, we’ll be coming back here. If we end up in my bedroom with an alligator woman bound at the foot of my bed, it’ll probably ruin the mood.”
“He might be into it.”
“Is Agent Harrison ever coming back?” asked Connie.
“Now you’re just trying to hurt my feelings,” replied Ellington. “All right, Constance. One pickup. But this isn’t going to become a regular thing.”
“Great. Wait twenty minutes and then let yourself in. And, Ellington, thanks.”
Connie ended the call. Four minutes. She grabbed something easy out of her closet. She’d never been a high-fashion kind of lady. When many little girls were planning their wedding, she’d been exploring the seventh dimension and escaping robots. Comfort was preferred over style in such situations. She was able to get dressed in twenty seconds flat, a skill she’d picked up along the way.
She brushed her teeth and ran a comb through her hair. She’d been toying with the idea of makeup, but that was another thing she didn’t have much experience with. She could disarm fourteen kinds of bombs, but she still tended to overdo the rouge.
Three minutes. Plenty of time.
The alligator woman rolled to one side, bumping into a
chest of drawers, knocking a lamp off the top. Connie’s reflexes sprang into action. She caught the lamp, set it down safely.
“If you don’t stop squirming around, I’m going to have to knock you out again,” she said.
The alligator woman growled.
“Have it your way, but I’m unfamiliar with your physiology, so don’t complain to me if you wake up with a killer headache.”
Connie knelt down and pressed her thumb on the alligator woman’s throat. The press itself was less important than the channeling of inner chi to stifle the flow of vitality. The woman passed out.
There was a knock on the door.
Byron was early. Connie hopped over the woman and shut the bedroom door behind her.
He wore a gray suit. He must’ve come straight from work. His necktie was crooked. He couldn’t get it right to save his life. It was one of the things she found endearing about him. One of many things.
He leaned in and kissed her. He ran his finger across a scrape on her forehead. One several days old.
“Trouble in the Congo?” he asked.
“Antarctica,” she corrected. “And nothing I couldn’t handle.” She took his hand and pulled him out of the apartment.
He pulled back. “I was hoping to use the bathroom first.”
“Yeah, sure. No problem.”
She heard the edge in her voice, but hopefully, Byron wouldn’t notice.
“Something wrong?” he asked. Okay, so maybe he would.
She smiled. “No, I’m just hungry.”
She didn’t like lying to him. She didn’t do it often. She didn’t need to. He knew all about the other half of her life, but Byron wasn’t part of that. Just like she didn’t know a lot about his accounting job.
“I know you,” he said. “Something’s wrong.”
“We’ll talk about it at the restaurant,” she replied, although she had no such intention.
“Connie . . .”
She pushed him into the bathroom and checked on the alligator woman—still thankfully unconscious. Byron came out a few minutes later.
“Connie . . .”
“We’ll talk on the way.” She maneuvered him out the door. Once in the hall, she breathed easier.
The alligator woman howled.
“Neighbor got a new dog,” said Connie as she led Byron down the hall.
At dinner, her attempts to change the subject met with resistance.
“All right, Connie. I’m not an idiot,” he said. “What was going on?”
“Nothing,” she replied. “Nothing important, anyway.”
He stabbed his fork into his pasta and shook his head. “I hate when you do that.”
“Hide things from me.”
“Don’t act like you don’t do it,” he said.
“I didn’t think you were interested in that part of my life.”
“Connie, that part of your life is important.”
“Can we not talk about this tonight?” she asked.
“When will we talk about it?”
She reached across the table and took his hand. “Later.”
He squeezed her hand. “All right, but we will talk about it later. You can’t compartmentalize your life.”
Sure, she could. She could do anything.
Back at her place, she checked her bedroom. The alligator woman was gone, but a strange red fog was spilling out from her closet door.
Byron came up behind her and put his arms around her. He kissed her neck.
She shut the bedroom door and led him toward the couch. He didn’t question. They made out for a few minutes until he stopped.
“Okay, something is definitely wrong,” he said. “You’re distracted.”
“What? No. I’m totally into this.” She grabbed his head and planted a deep, passionate kiss on him. His concerns melted away as she ran her hands up his chest and curled her fingers through his hair. She was unbuttoning his shirt when she noticed the wisps of red mist creeping from the edges of her bedroom door. This problem wasn’t going away. Her problems rarely did.
“Do you mind if we call it a night?” she asked.
“Now?” His hands were resting on her ass as she straddled him. “Okay, so you’re definitely distracted.”
She slid off him. “I’m just really beat.”
“We don’t have to do anything,” he said. “We could just cuddle.”
Cuddling sounded great. More than cuddling sounded even better. But worlds were colliding, and she needed to avert that.
She shoved Byron out the front door. He put up surprisingly little resistance, which was helpful but bothered her a little.
“Connie, we need to talk,” he said.
She cringed. They needed to talk.
Across infinite dimensions, endless time, and boundless space, nothing good ever came of needing to talk.
“Sure. Next time. We’ll talk and talk and talk.” She filled the air with words, not leaving him space to reply. “Just next time, all right?”
He opened his mouth.
“Great. Next time.” She shut the door and waited for him to knock.
Again, she was both relieved and disappointed.
Her bedroom door burst open and more fog spilled forth. A massive warrior wearing a loincloth snorted at her. He narrowed his cruel, red eyes and snorted.
“Relationships. Right?” asked Connie.
The warrior threw an axe at her head. She ducked aside and the weapon buried itself in her door. She wrenched it free and swung it over her head. The balance was off, but she could work with it.
Relationships were complicated, but this was easy.
The warrior hurled himself forward, and she rushed to meet him.
• • •
The next day, she met Tia over drinks and shared her aborted date night.
“Wait,” said Tia. “Where did the barbarian come from?”
“Dimensional rift in my closet,” replied Connie. “I thought I’d had them all cleared, but either I missed this one or the clearing needs refreshing. I’ll have to give the place the once-over again.”
“Meanwhile, warriors from other realities will just be stepping through your closet?”
“I closed this one. It should stay closed.”
“How’d Byron take it?”
Connie mumbled something. Even she wasn’t sure what it was.
“He freaked?” asked Tia.
“Great. I didn’t think he was the freaking type, from what you’ve told me.”
“I kicked him out before he could see anything,” said Connie. “For his own safety, of course.”
“Of course.” Tia fixed Connie with a quiet stare. “Bet that pissed him off.”
“Maybe a little,” said Connie. “He said we needed to talk.”
“You can’t exactly blame the guy,” said Tia. “You’ve been stringing him along for a while now.”
Connie said, “What the hell does that mean?”
Tia shook her head. “Never mind. You don’t want to know what I think.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No . . . Fine, but don’t take this the wrong way.”
Connie forced a smile. “Why would I?”
“I’m only saying this because I’m your friend, but if you’re going to make this work, you’re going to have to share more of your life with Byron.”
“I share plenty of my life.”
“Then how come I haven’t met him yet?”
“Do you want to meet him?”
“He’s your boyfriend. Yes, I want to meet him.”
“We’ll schedule something, then,” said Connie.
“Saturday,” said Tia. “You can come over to my place. We’ll have dinner. You and Byron, me and Hiro, some other people.”
“They don’t like me.”
“Oh, they like you fine.”
Connie was certain they didn’t. She’d never done anything to them. She’d only exchanged a few words with most of them, but she always sensed an aura of hostility. It must’ve been simply a lifestyle clash. She was an adventurer. They were in the insurance game. Like oil and water, but with the oil also being on fire and wrestling bears and getting in gunfights and stuff that any rational insurance adjustor wisely avoided.
“You’re making excuses,” said Tia.
Connie didn’t like the idea of Byron meeting her ninja ex-boyfriend. She wasn’t too keen on Byron meeting Tia, either. Tia was a normal person, but by virtue of being Connie’s oldest friend, Tia had also accumulated her share of unusual experiences. The thought of the four of them sitting at a table filled Connie with dread.
“It’ll be fun,” said Tia.
“At some point, you’re going to have to decide if you’re serious or not with this guy.”
“I am serious,” said Connie. “Just not serious serious.”
Tia chuckled. “You’re really bad at this normal stuff.”
“Can we not use that word. Normal. Like what I do is abnormal. And I’m not bad at normal stuff. I’m just not great at it. It’s only noteworthy because I’m great at so many things.”
Tia ordered another mai tai. “So, if you’re not serious serious, then what are you?”
“I don’t know. I like Byron. A lot. But sometimes, I think—and I know how terrible this sounds—he’s a bit vulnerable. He’s so normal.”
She sucked a deep breath through her gritted teeth.
“He’s not special.”
Connie’s hands fell to her side, and she stared in exasperation at the ceiling. The kitschy bric-a-brac hanging over her head, especially an old-timey bicycle, irritated her for some reason. Just by being there. Just because it was so obviously there to be kitschy.
“He’s vulnerable,” she said. “So far, I’ve managed to keep him out of the line of fire, but one of these days, he’s bound to end up in the middle of something. You know how I am with . . .” She struggled with a good word, but only one kept popping into her damned brain. “. . . normal guys.”
“I know,” said Tia.
Connie’s normal romantic relationships never ended well. She was usually too busy to be bothered by the breakups, but the guys who were eaten by monsters still haunted her now and then.
“You’re paranoid,” said Tia. “It makes sense. But you’re not the same person you were. You fixed that caretaker thing, didn’t you. You’re not entirely normal, but you’re more normal than you were.”
Since removing most of the magical blessing that had defined Connie’s life, she’d still been drawn into adventures, but it was more in her control now. She could even ignore
them, and they’d sometimes go away on their own. She had something resembling a quieter life now. Quieter than it had ever been before.
“Look at it this way,” said Tia. “If you keep dating Byron, worlds are bound to collide sooner or later. But if there’s one place in this world where nothing weird or exciting is going to happen, with a complete absence of international intrigue and/or fiendish plots, it’ll be at a party with a bunch of insurance adjustors and actuaries.”
“You can’t guarantee that.”
“No, I can’t, since you’ll be there, but you’re my best friend.” Tia grinned. “I have to invite you.”