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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Cosmos Nova - [CN] Nerds, UNITE!

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Some things are too painful for words; the stigma of those terrible things linger in the mind long after they are gone. This trauma in particular echoes through the subconscious until there’s only a memory of the pain. But even as it fades, the year turns and it has returned, fresh and strong.

It was the Annual DSA Science Convention. In theory, gathering scientists from around the world wasn’t so bad. But the people who thought it was a good idea were 1) masochists or 2) not there. The problem was summed up nicely by a Cal Tech professor who formulated a theory that every scientist had a certain level of smug. Most levels of smug were undistinguishable to the human senses, but if you brought them together in a small space, the smug actually increased exponentially. And the Annual Science Convention always had a lot of scientists there.

Physicists tried to impress biologists who lorded their knowledge over chemists who snubbed the physicists. The astronomers kept to themselves while the engineers tried to be friendly to everyone and were largely only tolerated. The in-betweeners – the biophysicists, chemical engineers and their ilk – drifted between the islands of people, seeking to find their place among ‘purer’ scientists.

Karrie Dineh wove through the room, trying not to openly laugh at people. To her, this ridiculous one-man-up-ship existed solely for her entertainment. She was pondering spiking the punch – that could only improve the party in her point of view – as she eased through the crowd. That was looking more and more like a very real possibility if she remained this bored. Being a mechanical engineer – technically, though she didn’t have a degree even – meant she wasn’t very popular. Well, she was popular in that she was kinda attractive, but no one wanted to talk to her. It was really annoying.

Bored and annoyed were two very dangerous combinations for Coyote.

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"Nuh-uh."

The flat refusal was somewhat muffled, and Sandra Birchowski repressed the urge to sigh as she watch the pair of flipflop-garbed feet hovering above the large piece of lab machinery, several tools floating around their ankles like satellites. The person she was speaking to was currently head down in said piece of machinery, a doohickey that the DSA liason had no clue about. Science wasn't really her field - management of people was, but how did you manage someone who could out-think you whilst floating upside down and tinkering with the laws of nature... or something.

"I'm workin' here." the muffled voice continued. "And the DSA Convention is full of douchebags and more importantly is a major sausage-fest. Sandy, I'd rather spend a week in PR strategy meetings with Director Horst. And trust me, sharing space with his unique brand of body odor and sense of humor failure is no picnic."

"What are you working on?" Sandra asked. "And why are you working on it? I thought Coyote was the gadget-girl."

"Karrie's the big mad-genius, yeah." The voice's owner floated upwards and turned rightside up, revealing youthful features still locked in a faint frown of concentration as he looked down at the machine. "This is something I'm theory-testing on a small scale. If it works, then we might have a way of tracking quantum-wave signatures over a certain level of concentration." He grinned and tossed the wrench in his hand up to join the other floating tools idly orbiting his head.

"That's great." Sandra said brightly. "You could talk to some of the other scie-"

"Not goin'." Rob "Telluris" Lehnsherr said breezily as he drifted down to the floor. "Coyote likes to go, because she's crazy. I'm not crazy." he finished, jerking a thumb towards his chest which, perhaps unfortunately, was clad in a grey t-shirt with the words "Warning: Heavy Physics at work." printed on the front above a red arrow that pointed downwards. "Also, Coyote doesn't get mobbed cuz she's low profile. The only reason Horst wants me to go-"

"The only reason Director Horst wants you to go is because you are a scientist, and you are a public hero known to work for the Department of Superhuman Affairs, and so - God above in his heaven aid us - you are the best choice to send." The forty-something, balding man with a sour expression and a faintly harassed look about him said as he came into the workshop.

"Director!" Rob said with a bright smile as he crossed over to a computer workstation and began entering a series of calculations with commendable speed. "We were just talking about you. I was saying how that whole 'I hate my fellow man' scowl you do is such a motivator. You're like Patton crossed with 50 Cent, only with way more sex appeal-"

"Save it, Lehnsherr." Director Horst levelled a finger at the nova like it was a loaded gun. "You're going to the convention. You're going because I'm telling you to go. And this time-" he stepped forward threateningly, though without much impact on Rob, who was nodding amiably whilst tapping away at the keyboard "-you won't insult the Chinese representative, you won't take the Dean of Stanford's daughter flying at supersonic speeds, and you absolutely will not drop hints that we're about to discover practical methods of time trav- What are you doing over there?" Terence Horst demanded in a frustrated, indeed somewhat petulant tone.

"Chatting with a fan." Rob said without looking away from the screen. "Apparently she's a freshman in a sorority at UCLA and they've told her to get someone famous to come to their next party as a hazing thing. She's cute, too." He tilted the screen so the Director could see a young attractive redhead wearing a smile and a bikini. "That one was taken at Spring Break. Hot, huh?" Rob waggled his eyebrows at Horst. "The things she says she'll do to me... Well, I'd blush if I had blood to spare."

"There is a blazer, slacks and tie in your closet." The Director grated through clenched teeth as Sandra tried not to laugh. "You will wear them. You will be polite. You will be personable. You will leave the assembled scientists with a sense that the DSA is an organisation with gravity and purpose. Or by goddamned thunder I'll make Mech get a PhD and send him next year!" He turned on his heel and stormed out. Telluris looked at Sandra and grinned. It was not a reassuring sight.

"You know what he just said?" he asked, pointing at the doorway the Director had just stormed through. "That, Sandy, was not a smart thing for him to say. Now my spirit of scientific enquiry is tickled..."

* * * * * *

So it transpired that Rob was wandering through the crowd of world-class scientists, mostly baseline but some nova, wearing his blazer, his slacks, and his tie. Of course, he was also still wearing his flipflops. And though he'd changed out the t-shirt, it was swapped for a faded radioactive-green one with red lettering inviting the reader to 'Let's you and me play mad scientist: Lay me on your slab and I'll flip your switch.'

After all, Rob mused over a glass of punch. It's not like I disobeyed orders... "Hey there, Doctor Cheng." he said with a grin at the Chinese delegate, who managed to smile with strained false politeness in return. Telluris tried not to laugh and continued through the crowd, shaking hands from time to time.

All in all, I'd rather be surrounded by drunk co-eds...

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“Rob. Rob!” A familiar voice hissed at his side just before Rob felt a work-calloused hand slip around his arm. Guess I’ll have to settle for a Coyote. “Rob, ooh-emm-gee, I didn’t think you were coming!”

“Director-” he started to explain, but in her excitement, Coyote rolled right on past what he might have said.

“Guess what I’ve spent the last fifteen minutes doing?” she asked. Her brown eyes, normally hidden behind goggles or a welding mask, were wide with excitement as she peered up at him. Her tousled brown hair wasn’t in her normal pigtails but instead fell around her face in soft waves as she practically vibrated with excitement. She was actually bouncing up and down on the toes of her brown boots a bit, making her peach blouse and black skirt bounce too. “Guess-guess-guess!”

“Hmm, Mech fanfic?” he guessed. It was, to be fair, a very safe bet to make.

“No!” she snapped, batting him lightly on the arm. “Be serious!”

“Insulting the Chinese delegate?” he asked, giving her a bemused smile. Clearly, someone had been the butt of a joke; it was just a matter of learning who. “Taking the Dean of Stanford’s daughter for a spin in your tank? Dropping hints that we’re about to discover practical methods of time travel?”

“Oh, come on, that was so what you did last year!” Coyote said, looking a little more annoyed now. “Though the tank thing – not a bad idea. Oh, and speaking of the daughter of the Dean, you’re married.”

“What?!” Rob asked, wondering what he’d done to become the butt of one of her jokes. He hadn’t teased her about her fanficcing for close to a week – mostly because she hadn’t put a new one up in that time. He checked. Regularly. It took work to keep fresh blackmail material on the girl, nevermind that she supplied it so freely.

“And I did speak with the Chinese delegate. He now thinks I believe I’m a literal reincarnation of Coyote,” Karrie giggled. “You know, old Chinese guys are even more gullible than old white guys.” It was a good thing that Karrie was an unparalleled genius; it was the only reason she still had a job.

“Forget the Chinese delegate. When did I get married?” Rob asked, becoming a little concerned.

“Oh, right!” Her hand dove into her massive purse and rooted around for something as she said, “This summer. Lovely small ceremony up in Arches National Park, just family and friends. One of my cousins, lovely woman named Felicia. Here, quick, put this one before she sees.” Karrie grabbed his left hand and jammed something onto his ring finger. He felt it catch and then widen to accommodate his finger. “Private ceremony because you value your privacy and you got Licia in the family way and did right by her. She’s a sweet girl though, will be a good mother, nice wide birthing hips. Got all that?”

“This ring is fake,” Rob pointed out. “The gold is flaking off. This will turn my skin green and not in a cool way.”

“Big white baby.” Karrie straightened the lapels of his jacket and tugged his tie straight. “Look, she wouldn’t leave me alone about you. ‘Is Rob coming? Will Rob be here? Rob Rob Rob.’ And the marriage thing just popped out. Play along, it’ll be fun!”

“You realize, that’s the way you’d be about Mech,” he pointed out, an eyebrow rising.

“Don’t be stupid, Rob.” Karrie peered up at him with an air of exasperation. “If Mech got married, I’d know about it before his bride did. And then I’d kill her and dissolve her body in lye before the wedding day.” The sad part was that Rob wasn’t sure she was joking about that last bit.

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"Well, there's that I guess." Rob deadpanned to cover up his inner twinge of nervousness at just how close to the truth Karrie's statement may have been. "I've already told Conner to place any dates he has under round-the-clock protection and keep them away from any electrical appliances, just to be safe."

"Shh. Here she comes." Karrie said, eyes dancing with humor as Lisa-Anne Dumont, the aforementioned daughter of Stanford's Dean and herself studying for her PhD in Applied Physics, appeared like a suspicious blonde genie from the crowd. As she saw Rob her eyes brightened, then automatically tracked down to his ring finger, narrowed, and then went back up to his face in a mixture of heartbreak and speculation. Lisa-Ann was pretty, smart, ambitious, in her mid-twenties and, ever since Rob had taken her flying last year, had looked forward to tracking him down again this year, which was partly why he hadn't wanted to come. The Director had forbidden him from flying her around again, and the woman was a lot more fun (and hornier than a rabbit) when she was breathless and scared half out of her mind.

"Rob!" she acted surprised and delighted as she gave him a hug. "I thought you weren't coming."

"I get that a lot." he said, glancing at Coyote before smiling ingenuously at the SoCal girl. "I like to be fashionably late."

"I hear someone got married." she hinted, smiling brightly even as her eyes dissected him like laser beams. Or tried to, anyway. Rob was pretty laser-proof.

"Oh, someone did." he nodded, taking a sip of the punch and frowning slightly before glancing at Coyote, who tried to look innocent. "Has Karrie been carrying tales again?" And spiking the punch. Fruit ethanol, probably.

"Oh, she mentioned it." Lisa-Ann said. "So... tell me about her! Is she here?" Blue eyes scanned the room like jealous bride-seeking radar.

"Licia? Oh god no." Rob gave a hearty patrician laugh. "She's back on the ol' homestead, barefoot and in the kitchen." He leaned close. "Between you and me, she doesn't really get physics. It scares her. I blame her daddy for calling it 'white mans black magic'. It's hard to believe she's Karrie's cousin."

Lisa-Ann's face froze in a pleasant smile even as her eyes went wide.

"Yup." Rob drawled. "She's a pretty little thing, cooks like an angel and can sing birds out of the trees. Totally devoted to me, of course." he stated gravely. "But she's best off with her family around her, what with my work taking me all over. When the kid comes she'll move to Washington with me."

"Kid?!" Lisa-Ann blurted.

"Oh yes." Rob nodded. "It was the right thing to do, marrying her. Least I could do, after our whirlwind romance. Turns out that nova reproductive capabilities are a little too robust for birth control pills." He gave a shamefaced smile and shook his head. "Had to do the decent thing. No way around it. Still, she's got nice wide birthing hips - guess that's a family trait, huh Karrie - and she'll do just fine, the doctor's say. Sweet girl. Real sweet. Makes great blueberry and banana pancakes."

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“Well, it was marry her or be arrested,” Karrie picked up the story with a wicked grin. Rob had been expecting this; he’d seen her smile go hard at his own little barbs.

“Arrested?” Lisa-Ann squeaked nervously.

“Oh, yeah by Navajo law if a man is caught fucking another man’s sheep, then the sheep’s owner can make him marry his ugliest daughter,” Coyote said guilelessly. Rob choked on his sip of punch at her words as Lisa-Ann stared at her in horror. “Oh, no, no… Rob wasn’t doing anything to the sheep. It was all an innocent mistake. You know his special suit, to keep the forces of his powers from stripping him naked? Well, he was trying a new suit I was designing for him, long story short, it didn’t work. So he’s found naked among the sheep and his new father-in-law-to-be assumed the worst. I interceded of course, or tried, but as Rob said this was man’s work.”

“But… you said she was pretty…” Lisa-Ann looked like she didn’t want to believe, but frankly, Coyote was a great liar. Rob might have believed her had he not known the truth.

“Oh, Licia is. Dora was the one he was supposed to marry. No teeth, hair like tar-covered straw and a squint,” Karrie rattled off. “Oh, and she lost some fingers to a horse.”

“A horse?!” the SoCal girl squeaked.

“Oh, yeah, they’ll snicker-snack your fingers right off if you’re not careful,” the native woman said, her voice as enthusiastic as if she were talking about her favorite restaurant.

“So… how’d you end up married to Licia?” Lisa-Ann asked Rob, but Karrie cut him off.

“Mud-wrestling contest,” Karrie said, nodding. “Well, Licia won, but there was no way Donny was marrying his pretty daughter to a sheep-fucker, right? Sorry, Rob… accused sheep-fucker. But Rob was won over by her bravery and the way she was willing to slam her sister’s face into mud for the right to have him that he wooed her anyway. Only he wooed a little too well, right? But I think it’s turned out for the best. We’ll have a right-pretty half-breed baby running around the Rez soon, and Rob gets great pancakes. Win-win, right?”

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Lisa-Ann fled. It was a restrained rout, a careful withdrawal from the field, but it was fleeing nonetheless.

"Uh - Well this has been... I should really circulate, um, say hi to your wife for- you know what, just have a nice day." she managed to get out before turning and disappearing into the crowd at speed. Karrie glanced up at Rob, who was peering over the crowd as best as he was able.

"She gone yet?"

"Made it to the door in ten seconds. Leaving tire-tracks. Nice turn of speed there." Rob reported, then made a sad face. Karrie wondered if perhaps her joke had gone too far, then Rob turned to her and said plaintively "And I was going to ask if she wanted to come to the baby shower."

Both novas snickered, then started laughing. It wasn't raucous, 'moo-hoo-haa-haa' laughing - though it should have been - but rather somewhere between giggling uncontrollably and belly-laughs. It made those nearby glare suspiciously, wondering if they were perhaps the butt of some joke. Of course, they weren't - yet.

"Sheep-fucker?" Rob said under his breath as the laughter wound down.

"White mans black magic?" Coyote retorted, grinning at him. "And don't get me started about the family trait of birthing hips."

"So I like to mix a little truth into my lies." Rob deadpanned, swaying just enough that Karrie's foot didn't connect with his shin. "Don't worry, I'm sure Conner likes his women broad-beamed. How long do you think we've got until she realises that's all bullshit?" he asked conversationally as though Coyote hadn't just tried to kick him.

"Broad-beamed?!" the words were nearly a squeak of outrage. "You're gonna suffer for that... Oh, about an hour or two, and then she'll feel dumb and won't come back till next year, and then she'll likely think you're a total bastard - which you are! - and not talk to you ever again."

"Good, so we've got some time then." Rob handed Karrie back her ring... which was definitely heavier than it had been before, and definitely less fake gold and more actual 24-carat solid gold. "There you go - a memento of good times at the DSA science fair. Now lets go and see if there's any real scientists here- Ooh, there's one!" As Karrie stared at the gold ring in her hand, Rob took her other arm and propelled her with him into a crowd of men wearing blazers and suit-jackets.

"Mr Lehnsherr!" One man intoned jovially, his Russian accent practically making his black-bearded face and bearlike build a stereotype. Some white hairs streaking through the black and his lined face hinted at his age, though his vigor was that of a much younger man as he embraced Rob. "A pleasure to see you again as always."

"Sergei Tibanovitch." Rob grinned, letting go of Karrie's arm so as to submit to the rib-crushing hug, but he managed to get a hand up before the man go lunge for his cheek. "No kissing!" The Russian laughed and let him go, stepping back slightly so as to read the lettering on Rob's shirt.

"Stick me on your slab and I'll flip your switch? Hah!" The Russian physicist laughed and clapped Rob on the shoulder. "Always these shirts of yours cheer me up."

"I'll send you some." Rob shrugged, smiling.

"Good! Moscow Institute is a bleak place sometimes."

"All particle physics labs are. It's the sense that the world's being taken apart and we might not be able to put it together again. Anyway, this is Karrie Dineh, the star go-to-gal of the DSA applied science labs. The Director says "here's some limes and coils of rubber tubing, build me a bomb" and Karrie builds him an espresso machine. Mainly because he doesn't deserve a bomb." Rob smiled as he presented Karrie forward. "He should probably lay off the espresso too, mind. Karrie, this is Doctor Sergei Gruschenko, head of the Moscow Institute's physics department and the main reason we wanted to win the Cold War - before he could invent a death ray. I did some work with him as part of a joint U.S/Russian high-energy project."

"Is it Miss or Mrs?" Dr Gruschenko asked with a smile, courteously taking her hand. "I hope it is the former, so I am not too late."

"He's about forty years too late." Rob stage-whispered to Karrie. "Shame on you, Sergei! You're happily married with grandkids."

"Hush, Robert. I am talking to the lady." Sergei intoned soberly, then winked at Karrie.

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At one corner of the convention center lobby, a corner the was clear because the man known alternately as Darklighter, Director Schmidt, Professor Schmidt, Professor S (If you are or were a grad student of his), or just Hans ... had forseen it would be a good place to drop his warp gate. The team from Abwher Bereich 7 filed through, rolling their luggage carts with them.

DSA Convention ... very few people liked going to this thing, but he was hoping to run into some friends he hadn't seen for some time. Plus he was bringing assistants who brought swag. Very handsome and pretty assistants to capture the attention. Free swag for a hiring spree, as the new reactor array had just got funding and AB7 needed dozens of new top flight people. So, free tablet computers, free tickets to Edielwiess for the 'Exotic Nuclear Energy Career Fair', samples of a new chewing gum - real dental care, low dose daily vitamins, and four transition flavors in one. To think, the chemistry for that gum had come largely from a raided terrorist nerve agent project. Delicious though, and a shelf life of yes.

"Helga, Bert, you are both free to enjoy the conference after you make your daily quota. Understand that this time you also receive finders fees for any of the critical fields. Sarah, look for the fellows from Caltech, the nuclear-electro-chemistry group and tell them that they should come by the hotel tonight like we planned. I reserved the Astoria suite, keys are waiting for you. Show them a good time but keep it under twenty thousand for the trip or you will be the ones explaining expenses to accounting next week instead of Jurgen."

He had become more of a beurocrat than a researcher these days, but at least he had the money for good help. Its amazing what a few billion Euros and unprecedented progress on military dream projects that had sat idle for a decade could achieve.

As the AB7 group broke their scrum, Darklighter heard - with incredibly sensitive ears - that the notorious Doctor Timothy Jones was about to enter the adjacent corridor - and he was drunk. No doubt he would want to speak, so the prudent thing to do was head the other way ... and leave a distraction "Oh, Helga ... be a dear and say hello to Doctor Jones. Tell him he should come by our suite at the Hilton tonight."

"Director, don't you mean the suite at the .." she said, but DL added a wink and quickly replied "The Hilton, my dear. Tell him there is a VIP meeting at the Hilton. For select guests only."

She nodded, and that was that. With any luck, that man - along with any other crazies - could be avoided this time around.

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She hated it when Rob did stuff like that. Karrie’s hand closed around the ring, feeling its heft and solidity in her grasp. The young genius couldn’t have said why she hated it, except that she could have easily explained it. She wouldn’t look at why it bothered her when Rob was unexpectedly nice to her. Sweet, even. No, her annoyance was really all for the fact that Rob had ruined her prop. She’d had to drop six dollars in that vending machine to get that ring! Where was she going to get another one that would fit any finger and looked, at first glance, real? The answer was not: anywhere they sold cheap jewelry for six-year-old girls. The answer was: Rob shouldn’t have messed up her prop! It was the principle of the matter.

Karrie was still in a pugnacious, frivolous mood – there were few things she loved more than making some idiot look dumb – when Rob introduced Sergei but she restrained herself. First, Sergei appeared to have a great sense of humor, which always checked her because people who could laugh at others, and most importantly themselves, didn’t need her to poke them. Second, he had Rob’s stamp of approval, which was pretty powerful stuff. Aside from an appalling lack of taste when it came to anime and women, Rob had never let her down with a recommendation. “It is Miss, but I’m afraid my heart is spoken for,” Karrie said with a smile as the physicist moued disappointment.

“Ach, Rob is a lucky man, yes?” the big Russian sighed.

“Rob?!” Karrie laughed, her eyes going wide. “You think… oh, no… no, no! No, it’s not Rob. I mean, I already have to see his scraggly little bit of facial hair most of the day at work; if we were dating, I’d have to look at it all the time.”

Sergei laughed at that while Rob shot her an annoyed look. Karrie just mouthed broad-beamed at him, giving him a smile that wouldn’t melt butter. “So who is the lucky one?” Sergei asked. “I must know the man that could succeed where Rob’s facial hair could not!”

Karrie hesitated just a second to find the right words to say and Rob leapt into the breach. “Conner Fontenot,” he said, delighting in the blush that immediately inflamed his lab-mate’s face.

“This is the Mech?” Sergei asked, pulling lightly on his beard. “I see. Yes, I understand how Rob’s hair cannot match that one. I did not know he was dating.”

“Mech doesn’t know yet,” Karrie said through tight lips that still managed to smile. “I’ll get around to telling him soon, though.”

Sergei laughed again. “Yes, I like that you know what you want.” He nudged Rob’s arm. “You should settle, too.”

“I’m trying to help him do that,” Karrie said with an unpleasant grin. “But so far, his goatee-soul-patch-thing has scared all the good ones off.” She reached up and caught his chin in her fingers; said goatee-thing rasped over her fingers. “I keep telling him to cut it off, but he doesn’t listen to me.” Her expression conveyed the patient tolerance that women around the world held for silly boys.

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"That's the great thing about being single and not settling." Rob said airily as his hand closed over Karrie's and steered it away from his face. "I don't have to listen. It's the primary perk in a life filled with loneliness and meaningless one-night stands."

"Pfff. Spare us the sob story." Karrie snorted as she recovered her hand from Rob's gentle grasp. "You can't move two feet on those college campuses you like to visit without picking up five phone numbers, at least one of which is written on underwear." Sergei was grinning as he watched the two of them, whatever thoughts he had hiding behind the twinkling dark eyes and the fierce beard.

"It's public relations work." the handsome nova responded with a smirk. "I give those numbers to the Director for recruitment. I think he appreciates them when I drop them on his desk."

"Even the underwear?" Sergei had to ask.

"Even the underwear." Rob nodded soberly. "Maybe even especially the underwear. Karrie, now, she likes to write her number on other people's underwear too. Well I say 'other people', but I mean Co-mmmph!"

"Excuse us, Professor." Karrie dimpled at the amused older man as she grabbed Rob's arm, her other hand still over his mouth. "There are lots of people for us to meet still. We'll have to catch up in the lounge for drinks when it quietens down." Rob rolled his eyes over her hand at Sergei as he was practically dragged away.

"You're going to pay for that, white man." Karrie hissed through her smile as she steered Rob around various knots of people. Rob didn't make it easy, now and then extending his hand and trying to speak through her palm as he saw, or pretended to see, a familiar face. They fetched up by the buffet table, where Rob made a noise that sounded like pleased exclamation and tried to eat some shrimp canapes... through her hand. Coyote let go and wiped the backs of her fingers on Rob's blazer.

"Mmmf. These are good." Rob told her, grabbing the platter and offering her one. "I'm hungry. You hungry?"

"You're gonna be- Oooh, wait." Coyote spotted some young handsome grad students moving through the throng with some trolleys of equipment. "Rob! Swag!"

"Shwag?" Rob asked around a mouthful of puff pastry, head swivelling to spot what Karrie was looking at. He swallowed. "Oh hey, I recognise him. It's Director Schmidt from AB7."

"Are they a band?" Coyote asked automatically, grinning. Of course she knew who Hans Schmidt was. Nova brain-cases tried to keep up with who was who in their world.

"He's cool people, according to Sarah. That's Sarah over there." Rob said, pointing to the statuesque blonde grad student wearing a skirt that was just a touch on the short side and a flattering sweater over knee-high boots. "We met a few months ago at a thing in New York, and-"

"Spare me the carnal reminiscing." Karrie scowled at him.

"I wasn't going to reminisce, carnally or otherwise." Rob scowled back. "She told me that the Prof is looking for bright young things to come and work for him, now he's gotten new funding." He grinned at her. "Wanna go over and say 'hi'?"

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Of course I want to say ‘hi’,” Karrie said, her scowl disappearing as she grinned at Rob. “I’d love to meet Dr. Schmidt. I hear he’s as smart as I am. I must learn if this is true. But first…” She dug into her purse and pulled out a handful of things; Rob watched as she hastily applied lip gloss, then wound her hair into a loose bun and jabbed two black hair sticks into it. A pair of glasses were slipped over her face as she popped open a button on her blouse. “How do I look?” she asked, staring up at Rob.

She didn’t look like Karrie. The wicked attitude was subdued, leaving an intelligent gaze full of a quiet curiosity. Her slightly parted lips made her look younger and a little innocent. Sexy librarian was the first thing that crossed his mind, so he said, “Cute” with a wicked grin.

Coyote rolled her eyes. “I meant, do I look like recruiting material, sheep lover,” she snapped at him.

“Sure, I guess,” Rob told her, knowing that a lack of a solid answer would drive her nuts. “And I’m a sheep lover now?”

“Yes, Rob, because when you cry after sex with the sheep, it’s called making love,” Karrie told him with all the seriousness of imparting the Wisdom of the Ages on him. Then she spun and headed for Sarah.

Karrie loved swag, but she’d also seen the really nice stuff getting thrown around. This was like super-swag, and it stank of money. People who put too much emphasis on money were also suitable targets for her mockery. She was going to play with them a little, but as she approached Sarah, she was cut off by a handsome young thing with dark hair, blue eyes, fine build and – unfortunately for him – a small goatee. “Hey, there,” he said, grinning at her. “I’m Bert.”

Bert? Seriously. This is going to be too easy, Karrie thought to herself. He also lost points for trying to sway her with a sexual appeal. She wasn’t going to deny that he had it, but she didn’t really feel the need to fall all over herself over him. “Hi, I’m Karrie Dineh,” Coyote offered, extending her hand. “I just wanted to see what you guys had going on over here. Who are you guys with?”

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Bert was fairly handsome, tall, Germanic in a Nordic way except for black hair, and was probably well spoken in German. His English was definetly passable though, and he had a smart look about him.

"Nice to meet you. We are with AB7, which translates to Research District 7. We do all sorts of things across private industry but mostly we are the technical branch behind the NATO Science and Technology Control Division - STCD. We're the ones who work near the resort in Bavaria."

"First things first, we've brought some gifts. Its mainly to show you what our working conditions are like, and that we have many career options. If you or maybe people you know are looking for good positions in science and technology .... "

Bert handed Coyote a very shiny new tablet computer - though not ruggedized it was an impressive piece of kit. Easily as powerful as the average laptop in a very slim and stylish profile. He also handed her a mini-messenger bag, with all sorts of goodies inside. The bag seemed real leather too ...

"We have a portfolio of patents, both developed and acquired over the last four years. The computer is nothing like what you will find on the shelf until middle of next year. The leather is real, in a sense ... but we cook it from algae. No matter what the field, we can use talented people. Full time is preferred, but even part time is OK. Full timers automatically get their own laboratory though, and the facilities are every bit as cutting edge as one might imagine."

"Plus its fun! Do you like to ski? Or hike in nature? The Bavarian alps are a beautiful place. Germany is a good place to visit too."

-----------------------

Darklighter had successfully dodged Dr. Jones for the moment. It amazed him that the fellow could operate with the level of alcohol in his system, but then again his own senses picked up on it where it might not be in the normal range of perception.

He went up to the 'sweets & refreshments' table and got himself a cup of tea. He wasn't sure about the coffee, and was a bit fussy about quality. Tea was easier when travelling. A brief conversation with Dr. Reginald Wu was a pleasant surprise, even though Reg was heading off to hear a guest speaker at another part of the conference. The two had known each other before his time at Caimbridge, and after Reg went to America they had only had sporadic contact. Good to know he had found a good position with the DSA. Neutrino detector work, very interesting if they could make them more sensitive and smaller. They arranged to meet again later.

Refilling his tea and trying a few 'hush puppy' sugar donuts - very nice - the Director started to circulate again ... networking, networking, networking.

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“Hmm, I see,” Karrie said thoughtfully, gazing down at the computer. “So you guys are hiring and you have all kinds of toys? Interesting. How much personal space would I have?”

“If you mean labs, they are quite spacious,” Bert assured her.

“Would I have room for my rabbit breeding program?” Karrie asked, her eyes gazing up at him with that curious intensity. “I am trying to breed for specific qualities, and that requires many breeding animals and cages. I would need space for all of that.”

“Well, your lab is your lab, and you could buy a house in the area,” Bert said helpful, his teeth gleaming. “May I ask what the goals of your program are?”

“Yes, I’m trying to make them more aggressive,” Karrie told him absently as she began to play with the computer. Not a bad machine… Not as good as mine, but too nice to throw out as door prizes. These guys are either out of their minds or trying to spend some serious Euros before Interpol finds it.

“Aggressive rabbits?” Bert queried, wondering if perhaps he was misunderstanding her.

“Yes. For far too long, rabbits have been seen as harmless, but they are quite territorial,” Karrie said, nodding as she continued to work the laptop, trying to stress-test it. “Their bites are also vicious. I think that I can breed them to be more willing to attack people, teach them to bond to a yard or house and then we’d have the perfect guard animal. Of course, it will be many generations of selective breeding for me to accomplish it. Oh, and funding. What’s my salary and budget?”

“Your budget depends on ability and project goals,” Bert said, happy to be on familiar ground. “And salary starts at one hundred thousand euros. That’s a lot of rabbits, no?”

“Not as many as you would think, after vet bills,” Karrie replied without missing a beat.

“Is rabbit-breeding your research goal?” Bert asked, a trifle of his unease returning.

“No. Will your group accommodate my religious needs?” Karrie asked, dodging the unasked question.

“By German law, we must,” he told her sincerely. “We cannot accommodate something like Kali cultist or Satanists, though.”

“Ah, Satanists, my favorite kind of Christian,” Karrie said without so much as a smirk.

“They’re… not…” Bert trailed off. “Perhaps you could tell me your religious needs? If I may ask?”

“Yes, since I’d have to leave the reservation, I’ll need dirt shipped from New Mexico to Germany, enough so that I never step foot on non-purified land,” she said, glancing up at him. “Then I’ll need to have a hundred foot radius hogan built from wood and dirt for my religious ceremonies. The doorway must face east, of course. And I must have a shaman there so that I may monthly have a Blessingway performed for me. Then, of course, there is the Holyway, which is a nine-night ceremony. I assume that you’ll allow me full freedom to practice my religion?”

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“With… in… limits?” Bert gave her the standard answer, but he was a little out of his depth with this woman. She appeared innocent enough, even cute, but there was something shark-like about her. He also wondered if she was unbalanced. “I mean, you are there to do a job, and if you spend nine days a month in a ceremony, then that might be… excessive.”

“Are you suggesting that my religion is somehow inferior because it takes more time than a once-a-week ritual that is covertly sanctioned by a country that gives all public officials that day off?” Coyote had pulled herself up to her full height, radiating righteous indignation.

“No no!” Bert was trying to back peddle, his hands rising in front of him. Sarah, who had slowly become aware that something terrible was happening nearby, came over. The pretty blonde was everything that Coyote had once physically wanted to be, before she’d erupted and spent a week living as a coyote. It had changed her perspective, without question; now she didn’t envy blondes as much as hate them. Well, hate was a strong word. They certainly weren’t high on her list of favorite people. “No, I was merely trying to say that with that schedule, perhaps you should be a part-timer.”

“But you said that only full-time employees get the labs, and I need that room.” Coyote managed to add that tidbit before Sarah arrived.

“Hi, I’m Sarah.” The blonde offered a hand, which Coyote shook politely. “You have questions about joining us?”

“Somewhat, but your representative here has stated that my religion will disqualify me from full-time status.” Coyote applied the screws mercilessly.

Sarah looked at Bert, who stammered, “No, she said she wouldn’t have the time for full-time work.”

“No, I said that I was dedicated to my religion, never that it wouldn’t allow me to work full-time. You made an assumption about a religion and biased your own opinion of me.” Karrie was staring very hard at Bert, and the young man felt a sense of unease creep over him. He had the sudden feeling that he was dealing with something very unpleasant.

“Well, then, no problem.” Sarah tried to smooth things over; for a human, she did very well. For a nova like Coyote, it was as smooth as sharkskin. “So, what if your field of interest? And your name, if you don’t mind.”

“Karen. I build things.” Coyote didn’t elaborate further.

“Good, we can use engineers. So can the Euro.” Sarah’s sharp eyes were locked into the shorter woman in front of her, trying to piece out the puzzle. Bert didn’t get rattled like this very easily.

“I’m not sure I like what the Euro does with its novas.” This was all truth, and brown eyes were hard as they looked to Sarah.

“Oh, are you a nova?” Sarah asked.

Coyote just smiled. “Does it matter? Even as a baseline, I should be concerned with what is happening to my fellow novas.”

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