The Eternity Gauntlet

Stage One

Eternity hadn’t lasted.




It had started in 1865, thanks to an enterprising group of miners and a promising vein of copper along the distant hills. A few buildings went up: a general store, a blacksmith shop, a saloon complete with bordello rooms upstairs. For a few years industry was good, and the weekly shipments of ore out of Eternity to the smelter in Wit’s End were enough to keep the town in business. They’d had their fair share of shoot-outs and robberies; a bad fire or two, but nothing they couldn’t overcome.




Except when the copper began to trickle down. The vein that had once been so generous eventually faded out after six years, and the shift in economy hurt everyone. The land was too scrub for farming, and too dry for cattle or sheep; eventually even the first founders moved on, leaving the husk of Eternity to stand alone under the desert sun for a century and a half, her creaking timbers and desolate road empty and dry.




Eternity was the perfect location.




Currently the town was surrounded by a high electrified fence along the perimeter of its three acres, accessible only to those with the keypad combination and correct fingerprint scan. Signs warned trespassers, but better testimony to the strength of the current was provided by the bleaching skeletons of former rabbits and birds that dangled sporadically from the wires in the breeze.




A ghost town with a secret.




***   ***   ***




Sara looked down at her handiwork and felt a keen sense of pride. She had skills in esoteric areas, and not many people would have known that she’d mastered Chinese and Celtic and Matthew Walkers so well. Part of it she owed to her mother—all those summers twisting hemp and working it to sellable knickknacks for the tourists—and part of it was her own drive to learn and conquer.




She’d mastered physics and yoga this way; why not knots?




Carefully Sara shifted and rose on her knees, smiling, and ran her hands lightly inside her unbuttoned shirt to caress her bare breasts.




“I’d be very happy to do that for you,” came the slightly irritated voice from under her. “Deliriously happy to oblige in the stroking and fondling department—“




“Mmmmm, yes I’m sure you would, but maybe it would be better if you just supervised at this point, babe. Make sure I’m doing it right . . . nice and slow, oooh, yeah this feels goooood--“ she purred, letting her long hands slide up her body in lingering little strokes, enjoying the sensation, and under that, the wicked sense of power that went with it. Who knew therapy could be so . . . stimulating?




Carefully Sara loosened her straddle around Mr. Peppermint’s waist, widening her knees, and watched with amusement as his gaze shifted from her chest to her hips, and the curly dark tangle between them. The heat in his eyes and the intensity of his stare made her want to wriggle. She felt his stomach tense in a quick surge of arousal, and knew that if she glanced over her shoulder she’d see his shaft thickening and rising.




“You’re doing fine, but I could do a better job,” Mr. Peppermint assured her rapidly, and he tugged a bit on his outstretched arms, the pale muscles flexing, the dark silky hair along his armpits gleaming in the muted sunlight coming through the porthole window. “I could do an excellent job at massaging every lean secret inch of you, Frango . . . toes to nose. With my tongue.”




She laughed, low and lazy, knowing the sound would arouse him further. The master cabin was warm in the mid afternoon, and the sweet susurration of the waves against the hull had a hypnotic effect. Sara shook her head and smiled down at him. “Tempting. Very tempting, but right now this is all about you, Mr. Peppermint.”




“Ah,” came his little grunt of frustration. “I don’t suppose you’d believe me if I told you I’d be just as happy to make it all about you instead, would it?”




“Not a chance, Stud. You’re going to have to lie back and focus exclusively on your very naughty self for a while,” Sara purred at him, making it a point to run her fingers around her stiffening nipples. The little hurt chuff from the man under her was gratifying, and Sara rolled her head languidly, laughing a little.




“This is SO much more fun than paperwork, isn’t it? You, tied up and naked, me playing with myself and just out of reach--such a nice way to spend a Saturday . . .”




The look on Mr. Peppermint’s face was a twisted blend of half-lidded lust and frustration; he rocked his hips up trying to rub between Sara’s thighs but she rose up higher and waggled her tongue at him. “Ah-aaah—no touching. That is, you can’t touch me, but I can touch you. Would you like me to touch you?”




“Yesssss. I would like that very much,” Mr. Peppermint managed in an almost civilized voice. Sara ran one hand down her front, a wide palmed caress and raked her fingers through the fur between her legs, then continued forward, her palm sliding over Mr. Peppermint’s stomach and chest, up his throat and to his mouth and nose.




He licked her hand, and she DID wriggle because his tongue was hot. He closed his eyes and tried to lick again, but Sara pulled her hand back and reached up, into the breast pocket of her shirt. When he looked at her pleadingly, she held up the little bottle and smirked. “Cocoa butter lubricant. Edible too—“




One long groan escaped him and Sara carefully scooted herself back down his torso, being careful not to snag his bobbing erection. Settling herself astride his lower thighs (endearingly bow-legged and powerful) she carefully poured some of the oil in her palms and rubbed them together to warm it.




Then she started on him.




***   ***   ***




Grissom was going out of his mind, purely and simply. All worries and concerns about Eternity and the Shop dissolved away under the slick talented strokes of Miss Chocolate’s long fingers. The teasing dance of those digits along the insides of this thighs and along his legs was torture enough, but the fact that she only lightly brushed his cock was the worst sort of evil.




He told her so, in fairly earthy language, astonished at his own capacity for cursing; had anyone else heard him threatening and pleading this way, his monologue studded with four-letter words, he’d have denied it to his dying breath.




But Miss Chocolate had a way of bringing out the raw side of him at times, coaxing and teasing him in vile and delicious ways. At the moment she had him in her fist and was bending down, gently blowing a cool breath on the head of his cock.




“Damn it!”




“Do you want me to stop?” she asked innocently. Or as innocently as a semi-naked woman with a smirk could look. Grissom growled and thrust his hips up, trying for a little more friction; a tiny bit more stroke into her hand. She obliged by tightening her fingers around his thick shaft and he grunted with pleasure.




“No, just ohh, like that . . . like that . . .” came his grateful gasp. Miss Chocolate obliged for a lovely few moments, the slickness of the cocoa oil making lovely lewd sounds in the quiet cabin. Grissom felt the heat roll down his stomach, his focus straining . . . straining . . . .




She stopped, releasing his erection and running her hands over his hips, rubbing her palms on them and humming. Grissom fought the urge to howl as his cock bobbed a bit, throbbing and flushed, a glistening maroon against the dark crinkly nest of pubic hair.




“When I get free I’m going to abso-fucking-lutely kill you, Miss C—“ he groaned. She pretended to pout and wrapped both hands back around his turgid shaft, stroking it very slowly and making him shudder under the bliss of pressure and glide.




“Just for that, I’m going to go extra slow. Too bad, because I’m getting really turned on here. I really, really would love to suck this bad boy, but if you’re going to be mean--“




Grissom eyed her grimly, trying to focus, but losing concentration as his hips betrayed him and began to rock in counter rhythm to the caress of Miss Chocolate’s slick palms. “Frango . . . I—I don’t know how much more--“




“Mmm, me either. Let’s play nice—“ she murmured, and shifted herself. Very carefully Miss Chocolate dropped on all fours over him and crawled up his body, angling herself so that the hot ridge of Grissom’s cock slid along the juicy cleft of her sex. He wasn’t in her, no; the sensitive underside of his shaft rested between her wet petals, and his thrusts slid along the valley of her pussy.




Miss Chocolate lightly nibbled his neck and began rocking against him, her breath hot along his sensitive skin. Grissom panted. No friction, just smooth searing strokes now, the weight of her body pressing down, and the thrilling little stiffness of her bud against his prick . . . slick and hot and building . . .




He strained against his bonds, trapped and achingly hard now, wanting to grab her perfect ass and thrust harder, but unable to. She pushed back, hips arching to increase the pressure, her hard nipples rubbing on his chest. “Ohhhyeaaaaahhh, love to plaaayyy—“




“Fuuckk—“ Grissom hoarsely panted, lost in the sensation of Miss Chocolate riding him this way, this sex but not fucking, so good and evil at the same time--the pressure building up in his balls was urgent now, hot and inevitable . . .




“C-Comingggg—“ Miss Chocolate gasped, her fingers under his shoulders digging in as she dropped her head and flexed hard against him. Grissom felt her body tense and the sudden wetness of her climax against his shaft set him off in a series of hard, bucking thrusts that nearly bounced her off of him with their intensity, the heated jets of his semen gushing between their bodies.




When he could breathe again, countless minutes later, Grissom turned his head to face the woman draped over him like a limp towel. She reached up and wiped away the perspiration from his forehead, then pulled herself up to kiss him deeply.




Grissom gave into her tongue, and sighed when Miss Chocolate pulled away. “I thought it was all about me,” he ever so gently accused through a smile.




She laughed, and licked his chin. “Sorry. Playing with the Peppermint stick made me horny as hell, and since you were tied up, I figured you wouldn’t mind--“




“--You,” he sighed happily, “Can play with my Peppermint stick anytime.”




***   ***   ***




Michael  J. Keppler AKA Mike TeeVee, electronics expert and gadgeteer for the Candy Shop drove up along the dusty road leading to Eternity. He had Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor playing through the radio of the dilapidated truck; the richness of the music a sharp contrast to the appearance of the vehicle. As the overlapping crescendos of music rolled out, the truck reached the locked gates. Slowing, Mike turned and parked, abruptly shutting off the engine.




The music disappeared too, and for a moment the only sound was the hot, dry wind gusting over the dry land and whistling through the fence. Mike closed his eyes and concentrated; faintly under the whistle he heard the hum of the fence itself.




A deadly little noise.




He climbed out slowly, stretching stiffness out of his long limbs, and reached back for the tool box that had been resting on the passenger seat. Mike shifted from his left to his right, and closed the truck door, the slam of it loud in the solitude. He looked around, letting his sharp gaze take in everything from his shoes to the horizon, sweeping in a complete circle.




Nobody else was anywhere near; the highway was ten miles back from the overgrown, rutted road leading to Eternity, and the mirage-inducing shimmer of mid-day heat made his entire line of vision dance slightly. He wiped his forehead with his arm and trudged to the gate, anxious to be out of the sun. As he approached the gate, he fished in his breast pocket for the passkey; a plain black plastic card with no embossing or design element of any kind on it.




Mike lifted the protective hood that covered the card reader and swiped it through in one swift motion, then flipped it over and swiped it again. The reader hummed for a moment, then the tiny screen on the top of it lit up in bright green. A low, mechanical voice spoke up. “Wel-come back to Eternity, Nonpareil.”




The gates unhitched and rolled open smoothly; Mike stepped through and looked down Main Street as memories flashed through his mind in a quick rush of remembered images and sensations. For a long moment he stood rooted, blinking as he took in the weather-beaten buildings and rutted road before him.  The hot, dry wind brought the scent of dried grass and sun baked dirt, and finally he shifted, amused at his sense of frustrated pride.




Eternity. His masterpiece.




All too clearly he could remember the last conversation with Miss Lollipop, her beautiful voice spinning out the truth, harsh and hard.




You’re an obsessive/compulsive, Michael. The drive of your disorder is now fixating on Eternity, and it’s getting in the way of your real work. For your own health I’m sending you out of state and away from the Gauntlet for a while.”




“But it’s nearly perfect; I’ve just got a little more tweaking to do here and there. Nothing big; just minor adjustments—“




“Michael, you haven’t slept in two days, nor shaved in a week. All you’ve ingested is coffee, and you’ve going to crash, very hard and very soon. As your doctor, I’m ordering you out to D.C.”




“H-How long?”




“Until you regain some perspective. That will be up to you.”




He’d been in D.C. ever since, coming back once a year to run a full diagnostic and do maintenance on his creation, and each time it was getting easier to look at her as the tool she was. A cunning, intricate beautiful tool, but when you got right down to it, The Eternity Gauntlet was just another diagnostic device.




With guns.




And flamethrowers.




And  trapdoors and moveable walls and gas vents and any number of unexpected tricks to throw an agent’s concentration off. Theoretically none of them were supposed to hurt the Runner, but then again, the intensity level was generally kept on the lowest level for first timers, and boosted up for more experienced agents.




And Mr. Peppermint . . . well, he was a very experienced agent.




Mike walked up Main Street, the toolbox dangling from his hand, and smiled.




***   ***   ***




Up on deck, the tiny hibachi grille sizzled, and the heavenly scent of teriyaki scented smoke drifted up along the mast of the Boston Bohemian. Sara stretched out on the canvas chaise lounge and smiled at Mr. Peppermint, who was expertly basting the pineapple, green pepper and salmon shish kabobs. His shirtsleeves were rolled up, and he was barefoot, the gentle breeze stirring his hair.




Sara flexed her bare toes. “So--now that we’re allll relaxed, talk to me about this Gauntlet thing.”




“Oh so that was your cunning and evil plan—torture my tension away . . .” he murmured, shooting her a look of exasperated affection. “Devious woman.”




“Intrinsic to our natures, and you’re evading the point—if we have to do this thing together, I’d like to know what we’re up against.”




Mr. Peppermint clacked his tongs at her, and hung them on the side of the grille. He came over to the lounge and sat near her feet, his hands clasped and dangling between his knees as he spoke. “When Miss L recruited you, what did she say about the Gauntlet?”




Sara concentrated a moment, trying to dredge up the memory of those early conversations. She pulled her sunglasses up and parked them on top of her head. “Ummm, she said that I’d be evaluated on a yearly basis, and that it would be divided between written tests and physical ones, and that the chief physical one would be a one day stamina/endurance test that I’d be briefed on before I took it.”




“That was it?” Mr. Peppermint demanded, a brief smile crossing his mouth. Sara nodded.




“Pretty much.”




“And you weren’t . . . curious?”




“I was curious—but the whole Candy Shop concept was already so overwhelming that I put it to the back of my mind because it was only a part of everything else . . . “ Sara protested weakly because Mr. Peppermint’s hand was sliding up her bare leg towards the edge of her shorts. He grinned at her reaction.




“Still a little sensitive?”




“Attuned to your touch, which needs to move back into safe zones, buddy,” she warned.




“Ah, but the danger zones are so much more fun—“




“You’re just intrigued because you know I’m not wearing underwear.”




“Ree-ally?” he purred, leaning forward, definitely more interested now. Sara laughed and pressed a hand to the middle of his chest.




“Whoa, whoa—your bobs are burning—“




“My—oh!” Mr. Peppermint shifted and rose, heading back to the hibachi and rescuing dinner.




Once they were settled in on the lounge, plates and napkins in hand, Mr. Peppermint spoke up again as he carefully tugged the food off the skewer. “The Eternity Gauntlet is a sort of obstacle course/shooting gallery/danger room created by a friend of mine. He was recruited into the Candy Shop about two years before I was, and Miss Lollipop put him to work on it early on.”




“He built it?’ Sara asked.




Mr. Peppermint nodded. “Designed and put it together from the underground up. To say Mike is a devious, cunning, brilliantly twisted genius is underestimating the man—the Gauntlet is a crowning achievement, and one of the key tools in keeping agents qualified at the Shop. I’ve run it three times, and each session has been . . . intense.”




His tone had changed, and Sara looked up from nibbling on a chunk of pineapple, concerned.  “Are you worried?”




“I’m not worried; I’m concerned,” he told her softly. Sara wrinkled her nose at him.




“Isn’t that kind of the same thing?”




He smiled at her.




They ate, not talking for a while and simply enjoying the quiet peacefulness of the oncoming night across the marina. Out on the water a few fish jumped, their splashes carrying over the rippling surface of the water. Sara carefully set her plate aside, feeling pleasantly full. She felt Mr. Peppermint’s arm slide around her and pull her closer to him; in response she wrapped an arm around him as well.




He kissed her temple. “This is good. This is very good.”




“Yes,” she agreed.




When the first stars finally peeped through the darkness, Mr. Peppermint spoke again, his voice low and thoughtful. “This is worth fighting for, Sara. It’s why I know we have to do more than just run the Gauntlet, we have to win it.”




Sara turned her head and met his gaze, taking a moment to enjoy his solemn expression. “So we’ll win it. “




Mr. Peppermint cocked his head. “By . . . any means?”




The gleam in his eyes; cunning and cold made her draw in a breath, but she nodded, and tightened her arm around him.




“By every means. Twice the brainpower, double the deviousness, right?”




He cupped her chin and kissed her, hard and hungrily.



                                                                                       Stage Two

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