She held the barbell up with both hands so as to give Ms. Danby a clear shot. Dareen felt her breasts pointing up like cannons at the team as they watched closely. Dr. Vanaver held what looked like a radar gun, wired to a movable console that a couple of the aides were watching.
It was a bra.
Dareen's heart sank, or maybe it skipped a beat in desire and longing as Ms. Danby held it up to her. The nude girl's eyes blinked and got a little wet as she contemplated the beautiful white lace, the soft cups, the stretchy fabric. The cups were not nearly big enough for her -- she judged it perhaps a 36B, mabye it was one of Ms. Danby's own bras -- but how she longed to put it on, to be in some pitifully small way covered, feeling fabric against her skin!
Ms. Danby moved behind her and gingerly held it in front of the huge firm breasts, intending to wrap the bra around and fasten the clasp in the back. Dareen watched closely as the cups drew closer and closer to the mounds that were far too big for them... she held her breath as the fabric touched her nipples.
"No -- NO!" she yelled in warning. Her arms turned to jelly and she lurched backward. Ms. Danby did too. The barbell came crashing down in front of the naked girl and the woman researcher, bouncing twice and rolling to a stop. The bra lay crushed under one of the weights. Dareen looked at it, shaking, slouched, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
Dareen had to hold a little black tablet in her hand which would monitor her "regeneration period". She was still naked; they would wait the two hours or so until she got her powers back and then do some final tests. In the meantime they had gone back to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. Dareen confined herself to a donut and juice, though for some reason all this research had made the team hungry. Except for Colonel Mike, who sat with his coffee and chatted with Dareen about library technology.
"Viruses are a big problem," Dareen said. "With everyone connected all kinds of worms are possible."
"Don't I know it," he said, "that's why our network here is entirely disconnected from any other system. To go online we throw a switch. A long way from those big clunky IBM-card typewriters." Dareen didn't understand that last reference.
"We've got some time. Let's show you the solarium," Colonel Mike said. Apparently he was the only one who was not real busy; the others had things to do.
Dareen followed him as he clip-clopped up the stairs on his prosthetic leg and soon they were in a sort of greenhouse on the top floor. A bright, happy place thanks to the late afternoon sun working its influence through the translucent ceiling. The plants, arranged in neat rows, did not seem too exotic. In fact it was pretty much a vegetable garden. "The only place around here with food that's safe from Roger Moody", the colonel said with a smile. "He doesn't much like veggies."
All day Dareen had been holding in feelings of shame. Colonel Mike seemed like a nice man. She knew it might be a mistake but when he said, "We can't thank you enough for helping us out like this, Dareen," the nude girl saw her chance.
"Can you keep a secret?" she asked, hands at her sides.
"That's what this whole thing is, a secret," he said.
"No, I mean from everyone else."
He looked at her. "That depends on what it is."
She decided to trust him. "I don't like being like this. I don't like being naked."
The colonel raised an eyebrow. "You sure are doing a good job of hiding it."
"I want to be cooperative. I'm a loyal American."
"Why do you think your modesty has to be a secret? You're a Muslim too. It would be odd if a Muslim woman WASN'T shy about being without clothes. That's one of the first things I was wondering."
Such empathy was good to hear. Still... "I don't want to take a chance. I don't want anyone thinking I might use it as an excuse for not helping my country if my powers are needed."
"I think your fears are unfounded."
"I'm an Arab American. Lots of people can misunderstand me."
The colonel paced slowly, his wooden boot knocking gently on the floor, and Dareen followed him. "I know. These days lots of people think Arabs are the enemy. Any Arab. Or anyone who looks like one. You're right to be cautious. And... modest. It shows a kind of humbleness."
"Humbleness is important," Dareen said.
"I know. I learned that the hard way."
The colonel's gaze followed hers. "Avoid rash overconfidence. That's how I lost my leg."
He bent over and lifted his pants leg a few inches to reveal dark shiny wood. "It was in the Mekong Delta. I was an infantryman and we were ordered to pick off some snipers. I was SURE the path was free of mines. But I was overconfident."
Dareen felt so small-minded, making a point of her mere discomfort at being naked. This man had sacrificed so much more for his country than she ever would. It put things into perspective.
After they walked a bit further she said, "Humility, modesty, those are basic values in Islam. Not that I'm into the traditional female role. But," she continued, using a phrase in a book she read once, "some kinds of religious tradition are heavily protected against change."
"It's a rough time for liberals all over, these days," Colonel Mike said. He seemed about to turn back when Dareen stopped him. One more thing to say, very important, she just had to report it. But only if...
"Can you keep another secret? There's another person who was affected by the lightning that night," she said. The colonel listened, motionless. "I didn't know then, but I've met her since. A young girl, she's only eighteen. But she doesn't have super powers. It's almost the opposite. She's got an allergy to clothes that's getting worse and worse."
The colonel thought for a moment. "I wonder... Like most energy forms, the laja rays could be composed of a strong force and a weak force. Maybe she is surrounded by the weak force."
"Her family is from the Dominican Republic but they overstayed their visa. It's not their fault."
"And... you're afraid if we call her in, her family will be detained."
"Yes. And I think she would be very frightened by all this. She's just a kid."
The colonel thought for a moment. "I have to say, your fears are reasonable... So what do you want me to do?"
She looked down dejectedly, rubbing the floor with her big toe. She had already said too much. They were going to get Lourdes in here for sure.
What the colonel said was a relief. "You haven't told me her name. Keep it that way. I'll just make sure that we enter into our calculations the possibility that there might be a corresponding weak force. By being naked you've already braved so much for the service of your country."
He looked at his watch. "I've got to get going. Major Coverly has some more tests for you."
As they were heading back, Dareen said, "Can you find a way to make the -- regeneration time " -- adopting their word for it -- "less than two hours?"
She didn't really expect an answer, it was just a sudden wild hope. "I wish I could," Colonel Mike said understandingly. "It would make all this easier for you. But we're not nearly at that point yet.
Dareen also wanted to ask, "Can you cure Lourdes's problem?" but knew that she would get the same answer. Her bare shoulders slumped. "Excuse me, can I pray here?"
The colonel thought for a moment. "Five times a day, is it?"
She was glad that he had bothered to know something about Islam. "Well... you were testing so I couldn't do the morning and noon prayers."
"Oh sorry. Well, Mecca is..." the colonel thought and then pointed across the solarium, "that way."
"I'll see you back in the meeting room."
After she watched him limp away, Dareen went to a corner of the greenhouse and prostrated herself on the bare tile floor. No sajjada, of course. As she bent down, feeling her butt cheeks separate, feeling the heavy breasts touching the floor, she had a simple prayer. "Allah... I am your servant... I hope I am serving you thus... please give me strength..."
There was another battery of psychological tests with Major Coverly. Soon thereafter Dareen's powers regenerated. The rest of the testing was outdoors, as the team watched the naked superwoman run down a dirt road at 120 miles an hour, pick up car-sized boulders and toss them like frisbees, and read newsprint at distances up to 300 feet. They could go longer, but it seemed pointless. They just could not get to the limit of her powers so that they could measure where that limit was. In the last test, they tried clothing her with a belt made out of soft pine twigs. As soon as it closed around her tiny waist, she shook and dropped the big rock she had been holding. It was then that the sun set. Time to close up shop.
Going back in the helicopter it was just her and the colonel and the pilot. Dareen gave the colonel the number to Sherry's apartment. He said they would contact her. Then they were back in that first meeting room. The basket of clothes was there, having been rearranged. Dareen clutched the clothes to her breasts. The colonel smiled and left. With great thanks to Allah Dareen put on her bra, her full-cut panties, the hose, the blouse, the blazer, the long skirt... ahhhhh... and the shoes... ahhhhh...
And then, just as she was about to leave, she was overcome by tears. She clutched herself, feeling the clothes tightly on her, wishing she had the further covering of a burka and veil, trying to blot out the whole day of running around naked and being tested and poked and probed and stared at.