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Annamarie Mellencamp, now assigned the name of AnnamrieEcho586B, is a courier for the resistance movement called Nemesis. But when she is sent to stay in a safe house, she encounters Martin, one of the resistance leaders, and finds herself taking part in riskier assignments.
However, Martin is also her former lover, and they had gone for years not knowing if the other was alive. But their romance is rekindled, including Annamarie's passion for being spanked, and when she discovers that Martin possesses the prototype of a virtual reality training device known as Eclipse, she is faced with the opportunity to take her punishment fantasies to a new level.
It was a departure from her usual role. For five years she had primarily smuggled supplies, food and medication from one safe house to another around the New York Sector. When doing so, she would be driven by another member of Nemesis and would serve as an observer during her movements, looking out for Dominion security personnel, or evidence that they were being followed.
Sometimes she would help Nemesis members change their appearance, and she had become quite adept with makeup and helping select wigs and hats to help transform one’s appearance. And when those in the movement felt that there was no electronic communications that were safe, she would simply communicate messages verbally.
In any case, for the past five years her entire life had been Nemesis. Although the address would change every so many months, her only home was the current Nemesis safe house to which she was assigned. Her only family, that she could be in contact with, were her Nemesis comrades. She may not have even known their last names from the days when they had last names, but they were her sole companions.
Of course, she made it a point to never become highly attached to any of them. The safe houses and Nemesis cells were highly insulated from each other for security reasons. If she made a friend, she knew that the relationship would last for just a few months, the length of the friendship depending upon where each was in the cycle of safe house rotations.
Most of all, she avoided allowing herself to be outwardly attracted to any of the men, and the men greatly outnumbered the women actively involved in the Nemesis movement. Although she could at times not totally avoid feelings of attraction, she was realistic in knowing that there was no future in such a relationship.
For one thing, she had no inclination to become involved in meaningless, short-term sexual romps. In addition, working in a resistance movement against a power as ruthless as the Dominion did not lend itself to attachments. She had enjoyed one significant and intimate relationship in her life, and that was disrupted by the need for them to each move on to work in resistance. At age thirty, she really saw little prospect for any change in that part of her life.
It was simply not unusual for one of the Nemesis members to suddenly disappear while on an assignment. And it was also not uncommon for the others to never find out the fate of the missing person. She had to give up her one real love because of the takeover by the Dominion. She had heard that he had died, and was convinced at times that the rumor was true, before entering into another bout of denial. She did not want to go through something like that again.
To a certain degree, she saw her participation in Nemesis as part fatalism and part acceptance of reality. She could not see herself settling down with anyone for a lifetime under the conditions of surveillance and personal manipulation imposed by the Dominion. There was too much uncertainty, and too much danger in any case.
Men and women who worked in Nemesis sometimes seemed to vaporize from the face of the earth. And when a Nemesis member would not return, the safe house would have to be abandoned; and everyone staying and working there would be dispersed to another, in case the Dominion security forces were able to obtain enough information from torture to provide them with a trail back to the safe house and that particular cell.
The assignment on this night was different. As her overseer had gained more confidence in her, she had been given more important, and therefore more perilous assignments. It was not that she never displayed fear or trepidation. What impressed her overseer, and others in the leadership, was the fact she was able to swallow hard and move on in spite of the fear and anxiety. And to some in the leadership, it was the presence of her fear, and her recognition of it, that assured them that she would not be likely to slip up out of overconfidence or arrogance.
Too many in the Nemesis movement had been lost because they had, for some reason, equated brutality and ruthlessness with ignorance. She was not inclined to see the world that way. She assumed that Dominion officials and enforcers were put into their positions of responsibility because of their intelligence and cunning, warped in purpose as they may be.
To someone not initiated in the ways of Nemesis, her assignment on that evening may have been mistaken for being a simple delivery. But the importance of the assignment lay in what would happen in the future as a result of that simple delivery. She was just not aware of the details.
Of course, she had never before been assigned to deliver something to anyone like the man she was expected to meet at her point of rendezvous. She was also not necessarily schooled in the ways of those who occupied the seedy portion of the city where she was walking.
It would have been her preference to have been dropped off closer to her destination, but the driver knew that dropping off someone dressed in the manner she was currently clothed could have drawn attention, so she was left to walk three blocks and cope with the crude remarks, offers, solicitations and whistles that came along with her appearance on that evening.
When she crossed another intersection and began walking down the block of her destination, she reached to her chest as if she was stifling a cough, when in reality she had turned on a small receiver. As instructed, she had not turned it on any sooner than necessary so that she could minimize the opportunity for her to be surveilled electronically.
No sooner had she turned on the device, than she heard a quiet tone alerting her that she had made contact. Then she heard a sound.
The voice in the tiny ear bud told her that she was approaching the right car, the luxurious and large black Magna among several electric Magnas that had silently pulled up along the section of Park Avenue that had become notorious as a haven for prostitution, illegal by law but ignored by the Dominion officials who preferred to spend their time and energy crushing dissent.
She was about to encounter one of the men who was a significant member of that same Dominion. Now he was only fifty feet away, awaiting her. Her breathing became rapid and shallow as she approached the designated car.
For a man of such power and cunning, the driver of the car had one significant flaw in his acumen that made the exchange more dangerous: his predictability. He was arrogant and stubborn in his ways, his routine all too well known. He would arrive at roughly the same time whenever he visited the dingy district, pulling up in front of the same bar and looking for a woman of his favorite type and style: medium height, curvaceous, long blonde hair and dressed in snug black leather or latex. He was familiar to the women who worked that section of Park Avenue, and any who did not match his preferred type did not even bother to approach his car. He was known to be generous in terms of payment, but quite demanding in bed.
Neither the man in the car nor the woman approaching looked out of place, and that was to her advantage and safety. It was not atypical for privileged officials of The Dominion to want to seek carnal thrills beyond the lovely and specially selected playthings provided for them along with their high-rise dwellings. Even though they were granted the privilege of being assigned a new plaything at their whim, some of the men of power and prestige in the Dominion sought out an added thrill from uncertainty and risk to offset their otherwise bland but indulgent existence.
Her heart racing, she strolled up to the passenger side of the car, struck a casual pose and pretended to be looking into the mirror of a compact she withdrew from her purse. As if on cue, the passenger side window glided down and a round, ruddy face beneath a balding head appeared. “How much for a trip around the world?”
She leaned down and rested her forearms on the car door after hearing the correct sentence. She recalled the reply she had rehearsed many times: “That depends. You have condoms worthy of a girl like me?”
He shook his head slowly, and then tugged at his earlobe, the final confirmation that she had encountered the right person. She reached her hand into her purse, “I think that I may have a few.”
It was not just a pack of condoms that she retrieved. What she retrieved was a pack of condoms containing a microchip holding data on members of the Dominion who were sympathetic to her movement. She continued talking, and then laughed as if she had just heard a joke, reached in and patted the man on the back, her signal to her overseer watching from afar that the delivery had been made. Her heart in her throat, she began to walk slowly away, occasionally turning to scan other cars parked along the street as if she were looking for a client.
She tried to walk a fine line, attempting to look and act like a prostitute without actually finding herself engaged in a serious proposition from any of the scoundrels walking or standing on the street, or pulled up along the sidewalk with car windows lowered. She had almost made it to the end of the block where she would then walk away from Park Avenue and head for her new but unfamiliar place of residence, when she heard a shout that was unquestionably directed toward her.
She had anticipated the possibility of that happening, so as she had planned, she simply walked toward the car with a bit of a stagger, and when the driver leaned over to try to engage her, she acted as if she were somewhere else and obviously under the influence of something.
In anger and disappointment, the prospective client shouted a curse at her and then waved her away. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the window of the car going back up as she staggered to her right and set out to walk down the side street.
Across the street, an electronic billboard displayed a hologram of the Sector Administrator MarshallDelta2475A reminding citizens to “�keep your Sector orderly and clean. Report any littering or vandalism to your District Precinct�”
When she came to the end of the first block, she again turned a corner onto a less crowded and more dimly lighted street. Forty yards down the block, her pace became more rapid. She looked around to see that she was for all practical purposes alone, and there appeared to be no buildings along this side street where there were likely to be surveillance cameras. But to be safe, she stepped beneath a rusting fire escape, pulled off the blonde wig and stuffed it inside a jacket pocket.
Fifty yards further down the side street, she stopped at a sewer grate, bent down and retied a shoelace. She also quickly pulled the wig from her jacket pocket and stuffed it down between the metal bars. After another fifty yards, she had arrived at a residential area, and she pressed a small button on her belt and whispered that she was one hundred yards away.
The area consisted of homes that may have never been classified as mansions, but in the earlier years of the 21st century would have perhaps been called “stately.” Now many were in disrepair; some were boarded up and abandoned, and there were even some that were boarded up and occupied.
A few of the residences had once belonged to people who had been found to be active in Nemesis and were imprisoned or executed. Others had changed hands so often that even local records would have trouble identifying the true owner. It was one of the latter types of dwellings that she was looking for.
She had seen no pictures of the house she sought, which would have risked a security breach. For that matter, she had really not been given much of a description for the same reason. She had been given a house number, and in that section of the city those were not always distinct and readily visible from the street or sidewalk.
Street lighting was intermittent and random, with at least half of the fixtures out of order. Only a portion of the homes she walked by appeared to be occupied, and just a fraction of those had enough light for her to be able to distinguish house numbers mounted on the fa�ade, a porch railing or above one of the few remaining old mailboxes from the days when letters were actually delivered to the homes.
All the while she walked, her hand was hovering over the top of her open purse, a small handgun at the ready. She did not fear Dominion security that night as much as the distinct possibility of being mugged or assaulted in that neighborhood. For three blocks she had not actually seen another person, but would occasionally hear voices in the distance, sometimes engaged in angry exchanges.
She had counted the blocks as she walked in the event that no house numbers at all would be visible to her, so she knew that she was nearing her goal. She finally saw a painted address, and determined that her destination was three buildings away.
Once more she reached to her chest, and pressed a button three times. She waited for several seconds, and then heard a low soft tone in response.
She came to the designated house and walked past it at first. She heard and saw nothing, then glancing at her watch, she slowly turned around and strolled back toward the decrepit looking dwelling. There were no lights on inside, and no outside lights. Still, she was able to make out three black metal numbers on the front porch post that confirmed she was at her next temporary home.
She understood that this safe house would be different, in that there would be only one occupant beside her. Nemesis had certain places for members to go into hiding for a while after an assignment, and that was to be the case here. She took a deep breath and hoped that whomever she would be living with for the next while was tolerable.
She walked unhurriedly around to the back door, staying in the shadows as much as possible. Slowly, the door was pushed open, although all she could see in the darkness was the hand and arm of her assumed comrade. She quickly rushed inside, holding her breath to learn if her overseers had decided that she would live for another assignment, or if she were to be dispatched to break any chain of evidence. She had often reminded herself that working for a noble cause did not ensure the nobility of its advocates on an individual basis.
Suddenly a flashlight blinded her, and she could feel the barrel of a weapon pressed against her left temple. Finally the light clicked off, and she was taken roughly by the left arm and guided into what seemed to be a large closet. Once inside, she heard the pull of a light chain, and the closet was immediately bathed in blinding brilliance. As her eyes adjusted, she could see that she was face to face with someone wearing a ski mask.
Whoever was holding her in at least temporary custody was definitely a man, less than six feet tall, but revealing a well-developed and muscular chest beneath a snug shirt, framed by two brawny arms.
Her companion in the closet released her arm and tucked the gun into his waistband. The hand that had held the gun on her reached up, grabbed the bottom of the mask and pulled it off. Peering at the familiar figure in front of her, she lowered her head, closed her eyes, placed her hand on her mouth and moaned while shaking her head, “Martin�” That was when her vision turned blurry and she collapsed to the floor.
* * *
She awoke two hours later on a hard floor, and hovering over her was a visage she had not seen in some time. As her eyes focused, a look of shock and panic appeared on her face. Her first impulse was to try to scramble away from him, but a firm, though gentle, hand on her shoulder held her in place.
The man shook his head and smiled. “Sorry about the gun� I just had to make sure you were who you were supposed to be.”
The expression on her face was not one of a smile or a frown, but rather confusion. “I was told you were dead. I heard that four years ago, and I thought�”
He closed his eyes and nodded. “And I understand that you did the same. And I’m sure we both did that for the same reason.”
The shock and dizziness overwhelmed her once more, and she fell back on the floor in another faint. Martin walked to a battered sofa nearby, picked up a small pillow and put it beneath her head.
A few minutes later, her eyes began to flutter open and when she realized she was not dreaming, she placed her fingertips to her mouth to keep from crying out. He placed his hand on her forehead and began to run his fingers through her hair. “I had somewhat the same reaction when I was told who was coming to stay with me. I never thought I’d see you again, if you were alive that is.”
He helped her to sit up slowly, her mind still reeling in shock, affection and anger. He assisted her to sit up on the nearby sofa, as she still wondered if her mind and eyes were playing tricks on her.
“Martin�” Then she halted and simply looked at her former lover with a lingering disbelief. She stood, walked several steps away and sat down the floor once again.
She began to wipe tears from her face. “I mourned you. I tried to tell myself that you really were dead, but deep inside I really didn’t believe it.”
Martin looked down at the floor. “And I was never really certain if you were dead or alive. I just know that I never stopped being in love with you. I can’t tell you how many days that the only thing that kept me going, that made me want to keep living was a possibility of seeing you again. Staying in love with you has often been the only thing I had to keep me from just running away to some other place. But I knew that if I ever fled, I was giving up every little last remote possibility of ever meeting up with you.”
She wiped tears from her eyes once again. “And I never fell out of love with you, either.”
Martin ran his fingers through his hair in exasperation. “You never told me you loved me. I always thought I was just somebody for you to have a good time with. And, I tell you again, you never said you loved me.” He threw his hands up in frustration. “That was what I always wanted to hear you say. You just never did.”
Annamarie closed her eyes and leaned her head against the wall. “Yes I did� I’ve said it every night to a little picture of you I’ve kept in my pocket.” She put her hand to her mouth and shook her head, still coping with her disbelief. “Ever since� I’ve wanted you so badly. Every night when I tried to go to sleep� I just never knew if you would ever take me back. And most of all, I never knew if it would be a good idea even if it would be possible."
�She rubbed the dampness from her face. “I still can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe our paths never crossed.”
“It’s obviously because we have each developed a talent for staying out of sight. That’s why we’re both here tonight, alive and well.”
Annamarie took a deep breath. “I still can’t believe this is real� I can’t believe you’re really here.” Her expression once again was one of confusion. “So you knew it was me coming here?”
“Yes� I must confess, I argued with myself as to whether I should have asked for other arrangements to be made for you. I believe it was that same old concern about safety� I suppose I’m telling you that my desire to see you again got the best of me.”
Annamarie buried her face in her hands. “I don’t know when I may stop shaking. I’m afraid this is some kind of a dream, that you really aren’t here. But I don’t want it to be a dream� I want this to be real.”
Martin looked down and shook his head. “It’s real. We’re really here together. Let’s go upstairs. I always feel safer up there.” He stood, and then helped her to stand, and she followed him up a narrow stairway. Her legs were still unsteady as she trailed behind him until they were inside a bedroom. Motioning toward the floor, as there were no chairs, he peered out the windows around dingy and worn shades. He then took his own place sitting cross-legged.
They sat together on the worn carpet of the sparsely furnished upstairs bedroom; the only illumination was the light from a street lamp that was allowed in beneath a slightly raised rollup window shade. She sat with her back against a dresser, and he with his back against the only bed in the house.
She shook her head with a thin smile he could barely see. “I don’t know how many safe houses we have in the New York Sector� I get told to hide away with the unique and vexing Martin Simpson.”
“Actually, according to the Dominion� I am now MartinBeta247C according to the Dominion official database. What are you now?”
She leaned back and closed her eyes as her black, shoulder length hair gleamed in the minimal light. “I am now AnnamarieEcho586B.”
He shook his head and laughed. “That is just so sad. I always thought that the name Annamarie Mellencamp just rolled off the tongue.”
She playfully kicked at his leg. “Don’t start making references to ‘rolling off ’and tongue. That’s just going to give you ideas.”
He kicked her back softly. “What you mean is, it could bring back memories. Memories that could be too dangerous for us to try to relive.”
She lowered her head as tears begin to form in her eyes once again. “Whatever. I suppose you’re right. Besides, if we fooled around I think I would feel like I was having sex with a ghost.”
Martin looked around at the awkward scene, the two of them sitting on the floor in the room furnished with a single dresser and an unoccupied bed. “Why don’t we get some sleep? We only have this one bed.”
Annamarie laughed softly, then got up from the floor and collapsed onto the obviously aged bed covered with a worn blanket that was tattered and torn. “Are you sure that maybe this is not just all some weird dream?”
Martin got up and took his own place a couple of feet away from her. “You could call it a dream. The last five years have been a nightmare, for that matter.” She looked at him, nodded in agreement and then before she had realized it, reached out to take his hand.
Neither said a word. He reclined next to her, and drew her up against him. The fatigue, tension and shock of the day overwhelmed her, and she quickly drifted off to sleep.