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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Cosmos Nova - The Enemy Way [Complete]

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Sometime last summer…

The shattered remains of the Gundam Scepter lay around the battlefield. Tanami crested the hill, her overalls covered with dirt from the dust blown by the billowing winds. The beautiful girl gasped in horror, her hands covering her mouth as tears rose in her luminescent green eyes. She’d spent hours working on the Scepter, pouring hours of love into the great machine. But all of her concern was for the pilot, not the sundered mech.

“Conner!” she screamed, throwing her hands to her sides from the force of her scream. “Conner, please!” Her scream became a whisper as her hands crept back up to her face. “Please don’t be dead.”

The cockpit! The thought spurred the girl into motion, her long legs scissoring as she ran down the slope into the newly-created valley. The smoking wreckage of the Mark 5 was scattered around, but her eyes were seeking one specific part…

“There!” she cried as her eyes fell on the desired piece. She snatched her magma-wrench off her belt and began to pry the cockpit open. Under her skillful fingers, the hatch quickly popped open. “Oh, Conner,” she moaned at the sight of her love lying mangled.

Yellow eyes fluttered open. “T-t-tanami?” he rasped.

“Don’t move, Conner!” Tanami cried, her tears falling on Conner like a gentle rain of love

The buzzing of her phone interrupted Karrie’s writing. “Damn it,” she growled, shoving the laptop further down the couch and kicking her feet over it. She’d really been in the grove; Shadows of the Endless Night, the latest installment of her Endless Night fanfiction series, was just reaching its emotional climax.

The glance at the caller id didn’t help her mood: Mom. With a groan, the girl rolled her eyes. “‘Karen, do you have a boyfriend yet?’” she squeaked in a high falsetto. “‘Karen, are you still collecting that stupid anime?’” She punched the connect button with a sharp tap of her thumb. “Hi, Mom.”

“Karen?” The sound of her mother’s voice wiped away all her anger. “Something’s happened. We need you to come home.”

“What’s wrong Mom?” Karrie asked, her fingers tightening around the phone. “Is Dad okay?” Oh, please… not his heart…

“Karen… Sami’s dead.”


“You can’t catch me!” The girl scurried up the rock face, her nut-brown skin scraped and dirty. She wore ragged jean-shorts and a thread-bare hand-me-down Power Puff Girls t-shirt.

“Samantha, wait!” the other girl called. She was just as dirty and brown as Sami, but where the older girl moved with grace and confidence, young Karen moved less certainly. Still, she gamely followed her cousin up the rock face, pulling herself up as rapidly as she dared. Her own t-shirt was an oversized tee that proclaimed her a diva. Like Sami, her shirt had come from the local mission.

The two girls went higher and higher, the world falling away behind them. It was only twenty feet, but to two children less than four feet tall, it was as high as the world. Karen was panting by the time she’d pulled herself up onto the top, but even she had to admit that it was worth the climb. Being on top filled her with an exaltation and sense of success rare in her life. Her house was below them; other buildings dotted the area.

Sami was sitting on the edge, looking out over the sparse beauty of their ancestral land. “You can see all the way to New York,” she told Karen, who believed her because Sami’s eyesight was better than hers and she had no idea how far away New York was from the Four Corners.

“What’s it look like?” young Karen asked.

“It shines in the sun and everyone’s smiling,” Sami said, her gaze faraway. “No one’s hungry, and everyone’s happy. The children play all the time, and adults laugh at least once a day.” Karen knew that wasn’t true, but even at that age, she understood the necessity of dreams. They were free, and that was all most on the Rez could afford.

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She didn’t feel the hot sun, lost in reminiscence. “Karrie!” Her father’s cry jolted Karrie out of her memory, and she turned to see her father approaching her. She’d stopped near the plane so she could collect her bags from the single-engine transport and had lost track of time, staring at the sparse landscape. Joseph Dineh looked tired, but he smiled as he clasped her shoulders before giving her a hug. “How was the flight?”

“Good and against all laws of chance, early,” Karrie said with a laugh, enjoying the unique feel of hugging her father. She’d hugged many people in her life, but there was something special about a father’s hug. It could not be equaled or substituted. “I really dig these private flights. No screaming babies and only one old woman insisting that I need to eat more.” That had been the pilot.

“You do,” Joe told her, drawing back to pinch a cheek. “Your mother’s going to worry about you.”

“Uh huh. She doesn’t need to see my waistline for that,” Karrie sighed, batting away his hand. “I still read her emails, against my better judgment and my psychologist’s recommendation.” This was going to be bad. After what happened to Sami, everyone was going to be on the raw edge of emotional insanity. Karrie was in pretty bad shape herself and her mother was going to be worse. Sami had lived with them for years and Karrie knew that if she considered her cousin to be more like a sister, then her mother considered her to be more like a daughter. A black sheep of a daughter, but that was unimportant right now.

“Just remember she means well,” Joe advised as he steered her toward the bags. Karrie had chosen to fly into Chinle Airport, one of the five owned by the Navajo Nation. ‘Airport’ was a generous word for the single runway. There wasn’t even a place to store the planes.

“I remember,” Karrie sighed. “Trust me, I’ll be as good as I can.”

“You’ll be good,” her father said with a quiet confidence in her. She cringed at that, because she knew she wasn’t going to be capable of it, and she was going to let him down. The young Navajo was quiet as she helped him with the bags, throwing them into the back of the truck. Then they hopped into the cab and headed deeper into the desert.

Karrie watched the dry land flow by, taking her home. Joe didn’t say much. He was a man of measured words, speaking only when he had something to say. His daughter understood and didn’t try to make idle conversation. Besides, she didn’t feel like talking much. She stared out the window, chewing on a pigtail and remembering.

The sun was directly overhead when Joe pulled onto the long road that led to the house. As the truck crested a hill, Karrie could see her family’s house, along with the car shop her father used to run and dozens vehicles parked all over. There were a number of horses tied to the corral fence. People were everywhere. “Father? How many people are here?”

“Most of your mother’s clan,” Joe said with admirable restraint. He was of Water-Flows-Together Clan and for the Salt People; they didn’t always get along with the Bitter Water Clan. But her parents were devoted to one another and had gotten married anyway; Joe and Ally had an agreement to tolerate their in-laws with grace. “And the Many Goats Clan.” Sami had been of Bitter Water and for the Many Goats.

Karrie sunk into the seat. She’d known that the Bitter Waters would be here, she just hadn’t realized the fact yet. There were a lot of aunts and uncles in that group of people that she made a point of avoiding, for the same reason she sometimes ignored calls from her mother. “Father?” she asked softly.


“Are they here because of how Sami died?” Karrie asked timidly. She hadn’t said anything yet because she hadn’t wanted to talk about it.

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Her father looked even older for a moment. “Yes,” he admitted. “But there’s also the boys.”

Sami’s kids. Karrie hadn’t asked about them. At four and three, it broke her heart a little to know that they probably wouldn’t even remember her well. “Who’s talking about taking them?”

“Probably Enita and Donny,” Joe told her, naming some of her cousins. Karrie nodded. They were fond of the boys; it made sense. She hoped that Child Protective Services allowed the boys to stay with them. Otherwise, they’d likely be placed off the Reservation. “Nothing’s decided.”

Her father parked behind someone’s truck, just pulling up on the yard in front of the house. Several of her cousins were lounging in front of the house, smoking. They waved to her and Joe and went back to their pipes and talk. Karrie and Joe grabbed her bags; her father led the way into the house as Karrie took a fortifying breath before darting in after him.

The house was packed. It was ten times hotter inside than out, but people preferred the shade and access to the fans desperately trying to cool the air. It was dark; the lights were off to preserve power and try to help keep it cool. Despite the cause of the family gathering, no one was weeping or showing too much grief. Openly grieving could interrupt Sami’s progress to the next life. And though Sami’s parents were Christian, they still followed some of the old traditions. It was a fine, strange line that her people walked.

With her bags stowed in her old room, Karrie went to the kitchen for something to drink. After living in wet Virginia, she’d forgotten how dry it could be out here. Many of her female relatives were in the kitchen, forming a gauntlet of the worst kind. Within seconds, the talk started – all in Navajo, of course.

“Karen, have you been getting outside enough?” Aunt Tina asked, frowning with concern. “You’re so pale.”

“Karrie, have you eaten anything since you left?” Aunt Etina asked, pinching Karrie’s hip.

“You haven’t taken up with any Bilagaana boys have you?” And Aunt Sarah, full of tact as always.

Karrie answered the questions as best she could, which wasn’t well enough. By the time she’d fled to the back porch with a cold Coke, she’d been hounded about all those topics and more. More of her peers were out here, the cousins that ranged from a few years older to those barely old enough to drive. Their conversation around the fire pit – currently banked and waiting for dark – was strange and tense, and Karrie felt her shoulders knot up as she approached.

“-do anything, they’ll just do this again.” Tom was talking with the intensity of a preacher as he stared around the gathered group. His long hair clung to his shoulders and neck as he talked and his dark eyes were full of anger. He was older than Karrie by a few months and not of the cousins she knew well.

“Tom, c’mon, we don’t know who did this,” Ed said, pressing a water bottle to the back of his neck.

“Sure we do,” Tom replied acidly. “Jerrod Goldsmith and Brent Holcomb. We know they did this. They cornered Dezzie Tso last year. If her brother hadn’t come along, she’d have ended up just like Sami.” His voice fell silent as Tom saw her. “Karen,” he said, but there was an accusation in his eyes.

“What’s going on here?” she asked tersely.

“Karen Dineh,” Tom spat and the name wasn’t nice. “Where were you? Off in DC while Sami was killed. Why are you working for the white man when your people need you?”

“Lay off, Tommy,” Karrie snapped, remembering he hated that nickname. “Stuff your self-righteous tone. Look, I can tell what you want to do.” She took a deep breath. “I want in.” She so wanted a piece of the people who’d hurt Sami, but more than that, she wanted a chance to guide the vengeance. It wouldn’t help anyone if her male cousins went off on a hunting spree and got caught. She wanted them to get away with it.

“Now you want to help,” Tom scoffed. “Go back to the kitchen, Karrie. Or better yet, go back to the white man’s world. Send guilt money to make yourself feel better. You’ve been gone too long if you think this is woman’s business.”

The urge to show him what she could do was strong in her, but Karrie swallowed the urge. “Fine. Get caught, idiots.” She spun on her heel and walked away, heading for the shed.

“Karrie. Karrie!” Ed Tso called out to her and Karrie turned as her cousin ambled to a stop. “Hi. You’re back.” His expression was vaguely adoring. “I’d hoped you’d come back.”

“I wish I wasn’t back because Sami’s dead,” Karrie said softly.

“Look, ignore what Tom said. He’s… dumb.” Ed was so eager to speak he was almost stuttering over his words. “I know that you are here for a reason. I was hoping you’d come home. He doesn’t believe in you like I do.”

Oh hell. “My reason is to bury Sami. I’m just Karrie.” It was people like Ed that had made it so hard to be here anyway. “Ed, I’m not the Coyote. I’m not any god. I’m just me.”

“You are. I know you are.”

“Ed.” Karrie turned to face her cousin, making her voice hard. “I’m not the Coyote. I’m not coming home. I’m here because some asshole killed my cousin, then I go back to DC. I’m not a god, I’m not a savior. So just… leave me alone. I’m not interested in being your Big Voice in the Sky.”

She left him standing there, his face downcast, looking like he’d been slapped. There was more than one way to kill someone and Karrie knew she’d just murdered some of Ed’s hope. It made her dislike herself. She didn’t want to think about it as she pushed open the door to the shed. Once it had been her father’s car shop. When he’d gone to work with her for the Army, they’d used the shed as their workshop. Now it was mostly empty, with only a few tools and a lot of dust left. It was cooler in here than outside, thanks to the high ceilings and no people. Karrie found an old folding chair and set it up just inside the doorway, where the wind could blow and she could watch the house. Opening her Coke, she stretched her legs out in front of her and sighed.

For a long time, she was blissfully alone, with only the soft rasp of the wind filling the air. Karrie wasn’t really thinking or doing anything; instead she just sat, lost in memories of the past. She and Sami had played in here as kids, hiding among the cars her father was working on, or ‘helping’ him effect repairs.

And of course, the day that CPS had come…

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“Karrie! Hurry up!” Samantha Dineh had called, urging her cousin to greater speed. Karrie’s legs propelled her as fast as they could as she followed Sami, always a step behind. Being a year old and a foot taller gave her eleven-year-old cousin a definite advantage over Karrie when it came to sprinting. Already, Sami was showing off the leggy beauty she would blossom into, while Karrie still had a child’s body.

Sami paused at the doors and the two ran into the shed together. Joe wasn’t there; he was down at the house, talking to the white woman and the sheriff. Sami had overheard them talking about taking the Dineh children away. But they had a plan; Karrie was going to hide until they were gone. Sami would tell them she ran another way, and bring her food for a few days so that no one would catch her at the house. Eventually, CPS would give up on nabbing her. It was a perfect plan.

The two crouched behind a broken Jeep, their hands clasped tightly. “I won’t let them take you away, Karrie,” Sami promised with all the sincerity of childhood. “We’ll get you out to the gulch and build you a shelter up in that box canyon.”

“Okay,” Karrie said, scared. She was scared of the white people in the car, because she’d heard the adults whisper about CPS stealing Navajo children and making them white. She was scared being alone in the desert at night too. But the thought of leaving the reservation and her family filled her with a greater terror than the dangers of the wilderness. She wishes she was brave like Sami. Her cousin was glaring out from their hiding place fiercely, ready for anything.

“Alright, this way,” she said, tugging on Karrie’s hand and darting for the back door. Before they’d gotten outside, Sheriff Dawson was there, his arms reaching out for Karrie.

Sami let go of Karrie and threw herself forward. “Karrie, run!” Karrie ran, while behind her, Sami bit the sheriff, buying her freedom-


Her phone rang suddenly, jarring her out of her reverie, playing Sexy and I Know It. Sitting up, Karrie dug it out. She really wasn’t ready to talk to anyone, but that ringtone was only assigned to one person. She smiled, though she didn’t feel it, as she opened the phone. “Hey, Rob. Is the lab burning down yet?”

His lazy drawl filled her ear. “Naw... Well, not all of it. Just the fixable parts.”

Karrie forced a smile and a chipper tone of voice. “Slacker. I'd figured you'd be standing in cinders by now.”

“It's the new Halon fire suppression system Horst installed. He's a regular party-pooper,” Rob said with that fake sadness that she so enjoyed. He paused and added, “I was just, uh, calling to see how you're holding up.”

So sweetly awkward. Normally, Karrie would be upset at Rob being like this, but today she just accepted it. She wanted the comfort. That was also why he got the truth instead of a bland dismissal along the lines of ‘I’ll be alright’. The native woman took a deep breath and said, “Alright, sorta. All the men are trying to be calm. The women are mothering me and all the young women. The boy cousins my age are planning raids off the Rez and scared the female cousins my age to death with their talk. So... yeah. I always forget what it's like here, when I'm in DC.”

“Wow.” The joviality was gone. “I got from Horst that it was bereavement leave…” There was another pause. “I just... Well, if you need anything, or just want to vent... You know.”

Karrie blinked at the surprise in his voice; it took her a nanosecond to figure the cause of it, though. “It... ah, I guess Horst couldn't mention that my cousin didn't die of natural causes. Sorry, I guess I thought he'd just tell everyone that. I should have thought otherwise.”

“Ahh...” Rob said, sounding less confused. “Now the 'raids off the rez' talk makes sense. Local hicks did something?”

“That's the theory,” Karrie told him. She hesitated, trying to decide how much to say; only half the truth came out. “My cousin was into drugs and some other things. Her death might have been related to that rather than some Bilagaana getting ugly.” The young woman wanted to add in the part that Sami was turning tricks, but her voice failed her.

Rob had moved on to the practical – just like a guy, trying to fix the problem. “The local authorities need any prodding to do their jobs, or are they already on it?”

Karrie smiled a little. “On it. Sheriff Whitehorse is looking into it closely. I just hope that some of my family doesn’t go off and do something dumb.”

“Yeah. It's kind of easy for dumb things to happen...” His voice trailed off as if he was weighing something. “ Look, I'm not saying you will, but if you want someone in a flashy suit to turn up and wave a flag around then Yours Truly is available, k?”

The offer warmed her heart even if she was sure it was a bad idea. “I... thank you Rob. I know that running out here and smiling at people all Rob-like is generally useful, but... I don't know if you'd help or not. Some of my cousins are ready to lynch any white man they see and my aunts will have a collective fit over you smiling at their daughters.”

“Jeez... Well, I'd have to say I'd choose the lynching over the aunts." He chuckled. “Okay, Karrie. I'll keep my superpants here in DC and try to keep Horst from cutting the doughnut budget.”

“Thanks Rob. I don't know what I'd do if I lost my rapid-sugar-deployment method.” She tried to be upbeat, but when it as decided that Rob wouldn’t come, she was disappointed that he wouldn’t be here. It was a bad idea for him to be here, but she felt alone. God, am I really losing touch with my people? She thought it wouldn’t happen to her, but right now, she didn’t want to be out here alone. She felt like an alien on the reservation.

“Hey... I'm still here if you want to rant at someone, too. It's all part of the Rob service.” She hadn’t been able to hide her feelings, because now he sounded more concerned than before.

“I know.” Karrie managed a smile, and even sound like she was smiling. “I half-want you here, because then my aunts would have something else to talk about besides how pale I am or skinny. But it's okay.

I'm a big girl, and it’s just my family.”

“Well, I wasn't gonna say anything about you being a big girl, but maybe Horst should cut the doughnut budget a little...”

The gentle jibe was what she needed, and Karrie was grinning as she snapped, “Maybe I should cut you a little, white man.”

“Oh sure, now she's all threatening with the stabbity sharp things.” Rob sounded wounded. “Navajo women haven't changed much in the last two hundred years, have they?”

“Nope,” Karrie said with a grin before she considered her words. “That's why you white guys can't resist us.” The description of the way that Sami had been found ricocheted through her mind. She drew in a sharp intake of breath. “Wow, am I glad you're the only one who heard that.”

Rob didn’t know, so all he said was, “A little truth is a dangerous thing.” He was smiling, and Karrie didn’t feel like explaining. She didn’t feel like stealing his smile.

Below, a familiar SUV had pulled up; Sheriff Whitehorse was here. “Yeah,” she said, distracted. “Hey, the sheriff just pulled up. I'm gonna see what he knows, ok? But thanks for calling. I appreciate it, a lot.” She managed to drag her eyes away from the sheriff dismounting from his car long enough to sound truly sincere.

“No problem,” Rob told her. “I'd better get back to perverting the laws of science.”

Karrie laughed a little. “Wait, I thought you perverted the laws of decency! I don't know who you are anymore!” She added a fake little sob after her words. Whitehorse disappeared into the house.

“I do both. I'm a multi-tasker as well as a cunning linguist! Now go and bug the sheriff and let me work, woman.” Rob sounded pleased that he’d cheered her up – no surprise that he could. Since almost the moment they’d met, they’d gotten each other’s humor.

“Alright, fine! Oh, and no messing with the expresso-bomb. I just got the settings right!” she commanded. At the back door, Whitehorse exited and was peering around. Karrie’s gut tightened a little in anticipation; she wasn’t sure what but something was happening.

Unaware of what her trepidation, Rob announced, “Great! I'll get the Director to test it later.”

Karrie hesitated, torn between telling him ‘no’ again – which was as good as daring him to do it – and getting him off the phone. Whitehorse made the decision for her; he turned and headed for the shed, raising a hand to wave to her. “Take pictures if you do! Bye!”

“Bye!” Rob said, and then she disconnected, stepping out to greet the sheriff.

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“Sheriff Whitehorse,” Karrie said in greeting as he joined her in the shade. “How are you doing?”

The sheriff was only a couple of decades older than Karrie, and his dark hair shone with health and sweat when he took off his hand and applied a handkerchief to his forehead and neck. “Ms. Dineh. I am well. How are you?”

“As well as can be,” she admitted softly. He nodded. The answer was to be expected. “Any leads?” she asked quietly.

“No.” He glanced sideways at her. “I came to talk to you about that, actually.”

“Me?” Karrie said, then realized what he meant. “Wait, you want my help?”

“I know I ask a lot,” he told her sincerely, “and that this is unusual. But you’re DSA, and you’re smart. You know how to keep your silence, too. I won’t have you do anything other than look over the evidence and see what you think.”

Vengeance. The word roared through her like a bellowed demand from a living creature; Karrie hid it from the sheriff. “I think that I’m too closely related for this, Sheriff. Won’t that compromise the case?”

He nodded. “I’ve cleared it with the Attorney General,” the taller Navajo said. “She said so long as we don’t let you on any crime scenes, and so long as we don’t think your perceptions are racially motivated.” He grinned faintly. “She also knows that Sami’s a second or third cousin.” The unspoken addition to that comment was that the Attorney General was non-Navajo and wouldn’t understand what that meant.

“And what happens if I point the finger at some local white boys?” Karrie asked pointedly, tilting her chin up.

“So long as you have the evidence, you’re fine,” Whitehorse told her. “I need hard evidence, Ms. Dineh. Will you help?”

Karrie was quiet. In her mind, Sami was in the sun, eleven and laughing and alive. In the world, Sami was a prostitute and druggie and dead. That voice roared in her again. “Yeah. I’ll help.”


Karrie came in that afternoon to the Navajo Nation Police office in Chinle. She stopped at the Burger King in town to get a cold drink. By the time she’d pulled into the station, she’d drunk half of it and given herself brain-freeze. Grumbling under her breath, she walked into the station, sighing as the air conditioning settled on her skin. The deputy behind the desk nodded to her, and after getting her name and checking her DSA ID, took her to an interrogation room. “Here, you go, Ms. Dineh. Lemme know if you need anything.”

“Thank you, Deputy,” she told him, smiling at a little. “Do you have some cold water?”

He grinned at her. “Yes ma’am,” he said and turned away. Suddenly, he spun back, “Oh, Ms. Dineh? Sheriff Whitehorse took some pictures out of the file. He said you didn’t see to see ‘em, right?”

Karrie swallowed. “I understand.” She waited until the deputy had brought her the water before she went into the room. A single table sat in the room, and on it a single folder, notepad and three pens. Karrie swallowed hard before taking a seat at the table. She knew was in the folder – the evidence. Papers. Forms. Pictures. Her cousin’s death, disseminated down to facts and numbers and dry things so they wouldn’t be Sami anymore.

I can’t do this.

Karrie grasped the edge of the folder and flipped back the cover. It was forms and something eased in her. With a sigh, she picked up the first one and started to read. The first was a description of the crime scene. It was very clean, using nice, technical words for murder. Karrie still had to stop occasionally and take a breath. The report had been sanitized but she knew in her heart that she was reading about the way her cousin had died. Strangled during sex; fifty dollars had been stuffed in her mouth. In an SVU episode, the description would have prompted and angry john remark from someone.

The next report was the coroner’s. Karrie read the first few entries and then skipped it. She didn’t understand the medical terms and it was far too detailed. Karrie didn’t need to know the exact length and depth of each cut or the amount of swelling around the hematomas. She read the interviews thoroughly, along with the assigned detectives’ notes. And that left the pictures.

They were under the interviews, and Karrie steeled herself before turning over the last page. The first picture was sedate: it was an exterior shot of the Hogan where Sami had been found. Karrie studied it closely and found nothing helpful. She turned it over and found a shot from outside the Hogan, but looking into the doorway. There was a hint of something beyond that door.

Karrie’s hands shook as she grasped the edge of the photo and flipped it over. The next was an image from the doorway into the hogan. Sami’s body was laid out in grizzly detail on the glossy paper and Karrie swallowed hard. The genius pressed her hands to the table to stabilize herself as the world swam around her. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to study the picture more closely.

Sami was lying in the middle of the hogan, her body laid out like the Vitruvian Man, her arms and legs splayed wide. Someone had laid a towel over Sami’s breasts, and another one over her groin. It didn’t help. Karrie’s fingers shook as she touched Sami’s long, dark hair-


“We’re going to get into trouble,” Karrie whispered.

“Shut up,” Sami whispered back. “Just sit still.” Karrie felt her cousin move behind her, heard the hiss of the metal rubbing.

“I don’t want to,” Karrie whined softly. Her fingers wrapped around her braids.

“You’ll like it,” Sami whispered to her. “You’ll look great.” The scissors snipped and Karrie’s braid was now hanging from her hand, not her head.

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Karrie found herself smiling. Sami had been wrong; Karrie had hated the haircut. The smile didn’t last long and with effort, Karrie returned to her contemplation of the picture. A railroad tie was under Sami’s arms, lifting her shoulders. Her head hung off the end, and she stared up at the camera, her expression slack. It had been hanging the wrong way, and the muscles were going limp upside down. It was making Sami’s face slowly turn into something monstrous.

See the clues… not her. Karrie picked up the magnifying glass and started to go over each aspect of the picture. She bent over the picture, trying to treat it like a puzzle instead of pictures of death. She swept slowly back and forth over the image, her eyes studying every part of it. She noticed the sand art around the body immediately; she’d seen so many sand paintings in various ceremonies that it just hopped out at her. Karrie noted that and moved on, scanning the rest of the picture. There were markings on the body but they were indistinct in this picture.

Setting that image aside, Karrie was grimly pleased to see that the next pictures were close ups of the sand paintings. That pleasure was short-lived, because they were not traditional images of her people. Karrie’s skin crawled as she saw that they’d been used to create images of death and evil. “Jesus,” she whispered. She wasn’t a religious woman, but all her life, she’d loved these images. To see them used like this deeply disturbed her.

The rest of the pictures were more close-ups of various things. Karrie was doing fine until she came to the image of the drawings on her cousin’s body. She stared at them for a second before she realized they weren’t drawn on her. They were cut into her skin.

Karrie stared for a moment, then shoved herself from the desk. She barely made it to the trashcan, dropping to her knees and emptying her stomach into the bin. Thankfully, there wasn’t much, and soon Karrie was sitting up, wiping her mouth, nose and eyes as she struggled to regain her equilibrium. “Ow,” she mumbled as she stared at the liquid in the can.

The beast inside of her was roaring again. Karrie felt the urge to break down in tears, but the woman restrained herself somehow. No crying. Not on the Rez, she reminded herself. Shivering, she pushed herself back up onto her feet and went back to the table. The pictures were still there, and Karrie forced herself to start again.

Three hours after she’d started, Karrie closed the file and pushed it away. Carefully, she pulled the notepad over to her and started to write her thoughts. She did it twice, once for the Sheriff and one copy for herself. The one she made for herself also included a few notes from the file. Her copy went into her bags and the sheriff’s was tucked into the folder. Then she left the station – she needed to think.


The rock she and Sami had conquered so long ago became Karrie’s thinking spot. It was twilight as she parked, skirting the house to head out back to the massive rock. What had been a daunting challenge for her as a child was easy as an adult. Karrie pulled herself up on the rock and paused, blinking. Someone had taken chalk to the rock, covering the top with decoration. In the dim light, she couldn’t make out much. She flipped open her phone and looked over them. They were just doodles and with a shrug, she flipped the phone shut and laid on her back, staring at the cloudless sky. It was already a bruised purple and the first of the stars were coming out. Karrie watched them, her brain working.

She was no detective, but these were just clues, right? Just pieces of a puzzle that Karrie needed to put together. They were all there, and they pointed at something. Karrie’s mind ground through them.

First, the mixture of religious symbols meant something. They were not from any system, though the Navajo beliefs were predominate. The fact that Sami had been in a hogan, the traditional Navajo dwelling; the sand paintings and some of the imagery – all of that was Navajo. But the rest had been a mishmash of other religions, some of it not inherently religious. The report had included some research done by a local expert. They had detailed all of the religious aspects, but none of it made sense. The going theory was that the killer had been completely insane. There hadn’t been much forensics left; someone had cleaned the body before staging it.

Religious symbols. Staged body. Meaningless symbols. No, symbols are never meaningless. They mean something. The body on the tie – crucifixion above, legs wide below, sexualized. Punishment, salvation, sacrifice, sex.

The thoughts tumbled through her brain like rocks in a tumbler.

The sand painting. Creation and destruction. The body looking east. The hogan. The heart of our home. Summoning the gods. But not for healing. And not our gods. And not destroyed, as it should have been after the ceremony. It was meant to be found.

She was meant to be found. Found for what? Staged after death. She was going to be found.

He’s insane. Those symbols have no meaning for the sane. They make no sense to us. What do they say to him? No… what is he saying to us? To the gods? He’s talking to them. Not to us. What is he saying? He’s speaking to the gods. What is he saying? Which god or gods? What does he want?

Karrie pressed a hand to her forehead, staring at the sky. Her phone rang suddenly, making her jump. She glanced at the caller id and sighed when she saw Mom. “Hey,” she softly in answer.

“Karen, where are you?” Her mother sounded worried and Karrie realized with a start that it was dark and after Sami, her parents would be worried.

“Out back on the rock,” Karrie told her, and in the pause between her answer and her mother’s reply, Karrie heard something. Her instincts told her she wasn’t alone.

“Can you come home?” Her mother didn’t say please but Karrie could hear it in her voice.

“Yeah, I’ll be right there,” she said softly. “If you want, send Dad out and I’ll meet him halfway.”

“I will, Karen.” Karrie heard her mother talk to her father briefly before coming back to the line. “He’ll be right out there.”

“Okay, Mom.” She rose and peered down, over the edge. There was no way she could climb down without hanging up. If she wasn’t alone, if they were going to attack her, then they’d make their move now, before her father got here. Keep her on the phone. “Hey Mom?”


“Do you have some dinner made?”

“Of course!” Her mother always had food ready to eat, and when she was upset, she cooked even more.

“What do you have?” Below her, she saw her father leave the house, flashlight in his hand.

“What do you want? I can whip up whatever you want.” Karrie smiled. That was so like her mother to have a fridge full of food and offer to make something else. Of course, there had been a time when her family hadn’t always had food available in the house. “I have some fresh corn.”

Karrie said, “Yeah, that sounds great. How about a baked potato?”

“What else? I know your appetite.” Her mother sounded happier. Karrie restrained a laugh. If I want to cheer her up, I should just let her feed me. She’d love feeding Rob. Her labmate could put away anything with gusto, which was the highest compliment you could pay Ally Dineh. “I could cook some steaks on the grill.”

“Nothing too much,” Karrie said, warmed by her mother’s concern and love. Thank god I’m a nova though, or I’d be as fat as I was in high school. “Ham sandwiches would be fine.”

“I wanted to cook those steaks anyway.” Her tone said that Ally had decided that she was cooking the steaks. By then her father was close enough, so Karrie agreed and let her mother hang up. Then she climbed down and joined her father.

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Her grandmother told her about the sand paintings, her old voice saying, “It’s how we talk to the gods. We call them to come to our hogan and ask for their blessings – their magic. If we do the paintings right, they grant us healing.”

Sami lay over the railroad tie and told her, “I wouldn’t talk anymore, so he talked directly.”

A coyote howled then looked at her with eyes full of wisdom. “Who killed Samantha Tso of the Bitter Water Clan and for the Many Goats Clan?” Karrie asked it on impulse.

The coyote laughed and said with Ed’s voice, “You don’t hear your people anymore, Coyote. They scream for you, but you do not answer.”

“It’s how we talk to the gods.”

Babies cried somewhere; they were hers and Karrie dashed through an empty department store, trying to find them. The only thing she found was two coyote pups in a bassinet. The Man With No Name was standing behind her in a barren landscape, but when she turned and looked under the wide brim of his hat, it was Rob. “Rob?”

“Sometimes the dead can be more useful than the living.”


He just looked at her, his eyes full of wisdom. “You have the answer, Karrie.”

Her brown eyes studied him as she stopped her initial question. Instead, her lips curled in a soft smile and she asked, “Do I have the question?”

“That is the issue, isn’t it?” he asked her, the corner of his mouth curling gently.

“What am I missing?”

Rob leaned close and whispered, “Who was he talking to?”

“One of the gods.” His breath was warm on her ear and it smelled of disrupted earth.

“Then why were the words wrong?”

Karrie jerked back from him, staring up at him. “Oh my god,” she whispered as her world turned on its side. With a twitch and a gasp, she woke up, blinking at her ceiling. “Oh my god!” she whispered and threw off her blankets. She had to get back to the station and take another look at those files.


The deputy on charge wasn’t happy to see her at three in the morning. “Those files are locked up in the Sheriff’s office and he won’t be back until the morning,” Deputy Tso told her.

“I need to see them again. I had a dream.” Karrie was aware that she was babbling, but the officer was Navajo so he didn’t laugh at her as some might have.

Instead, he just said, “Ma’am, I need you to understand that even if I would give you the files, I can’t get to them until the morning.”

Karrie took two deep breathes and said, “Alright, I’ll be back in the morning, then.” She left and drove home, parking the truck far enough from the house that she wouldn’t wake up her father. Slowly, she began to walk to the house, avoiding the cluster of trailers and tents that were her visiting relatives. They’d stay for a while and then go home again. Of course, that’s what Karrie was doing, only she had room to stay inside the house.

She was almost back to the door when she heard a noise. Karrie spun as something hit her across her face. Her vision exploded with stars and she hit the ground hard, her right arm under her. As the night closed around her, she saw someone leaning over her.

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Karrie woke up in the darkness as the world shook and rattled around her. In the utter blackness, she groaned, stiffening when it echoed. That sounds like rock. Enclosed rock. Matches what I’m lying on. The shaking, the noise… stone collapsing? She didn’t think that she was in a small space, so she wasn’t in a crypt. She hurt like hell, too. Her head was pounding and the left side of her face felt hot and tight, like it was swollen. The right side of her body hurt and her right wrist was sore and swollen. When she lifted her head, the room swum in unfriendly ways.

Groaning, Karrie rolled into her stomach, and tried to get up. Her first attempt didn’t work and she paused with her forehead pressed against the rock. With her nose right there, she couldn’t miss Ed Tso’s scent on the floor. Shit. Maybe I should have told him I was a god. I will never question Ghostbuster wisdom again.

She needed to get out of here, and needed to see to do that. With a sigh, she shifted herself into a cat and took another look. It was weird being dizzy as a cat.

It was a cave – no, a mine. Debris and crap littered the area; in the utter silence, she heard a sharp beep. Triangular ears swiveling and with a limp, she followed the noise to a machine. It had been wedged up high in the beams where she’d never even see the light or reach it if she could. Well, reach it as a human. As a gorilla, it was easy enough to pull it down, even with one properly working arm. By the dim light of the panel, Karrie could see what it was: a bomb ticking down.

Shifting into human, she said, “Well shit.” Taking a deep breath, she located a piece of metal and carefully peeled back the access panel. It was a fairly standard bomb; rising, she carefully traced the wires leading off of it to several bundles of dynamite spaced through the cavern.

Ed had tried to kill her. That was not acceptable. He was still trying to kill her. The bomb had less than a minute on it.

Disarming the bomb took seconds. But that might not be the only one and Karrie went looking. All she found was a collapsed mineshaft. From the smell of the dynamite, the dust in the air and the fresh-turned earth, it had just come down. Returning to the bomb, she broke it down and looked at her parts. I can blow my way out of the cavern. The calculations for that are easy. But I want some insurance first.

Ten minutes later she had found the intercom system for the mine; ten minutes after that she’d rigged a cell phone out of the intercom by patching the signal through a cable box. Unfortunately, it had no signal. Taking one of the sticks, she devised a way to force the dynamite to burn slowly and give her a steady source of power. Need to move. I don’t know how much air I have left. Or whether is a coal, silver or uranium mine.

That left who to call. She didn’t want to call the sheriff, because Ed’s brother was the same man she’d spoken to this morning – or whenever she’d been at the station. Then there was her family, but she’d been taken near her house; Ed might be there still and might do something dumb. Worse, someone might kill him and Karrie was planning on doing that herself. No, there was one person who she could think of who could help. She only hoped he’d be alone and willing to help her at five in the morning. Or whenever it was.

“Yehello, you've reached Rob.” His cheerful voice reminded her it was probably later in the Langley area.

She shoved the piece of the bomb that was serving as the earpiece between her ear and shoulder so she’d have her hands free to keep working on the slow-burn. “Hey, Rob. It's Karrie. I need a favor.” It wasn’t as easy as it sounded and she sounded distracted even to herself.

“No, you can’t use my Facebook to sow terror into the hearts of parents.”

“Damn,” Karrie muttered, too preoccupied to participate at the usual level of banter. “Well, maybe my next one. Say what time is it?”

“Eight. What’s up on the homestead?”

“Oh, good only a couple of hours,” Karrie mumbled, then added, “Uh, homestead's fine, as far as I know. So if I don't call back in a few hours, can you contact Sheriff Whitehorse and let him know I was looking at Ed Tso?”

“Wait, what?” Rob’s tone had shifted from lighthearted to slightly concerned. “What're you up to, Karrie?”

“Right now? Um, trying to keep the phone working until we're done talking, then I'm going to go blow up the mine I'm in. Or rather blow it out.” Karrie was still working out the math on that one.

“Oh-kay. Karrie, why don't we discuss that? Blowing out, or up, or any direction when you're in a mine is a bad move.” Now he was in motion, moving around and rummaging through things.

“I'd love to talk about it,” Karrie sighed, wincing when she burnt a finger on the fuse. “In fact, it'd be way smarter for me to tell you where I am so you can come get me, right? Only I don't know which cave this is, as I was unconscious when I was put here.”

“You using a cell?” Some phone-noises came down the line, then she heard Rob speaking to someone else. “Telluris, clearance 2-1-Gamma. I need a trace on a phone currently calling me. Hustle.” His voice was all business as he said, “Talk to me, Karrie.”

It took a second for her to realize what all this meant. “Wow, I'm glad I knew your number. By the way, this isn't really a phone, I'm boosting an intercom system right now and I think I'm routing it through a cable box – anyway, it's working. How long do I have to talk?”

“Twenty seconds if there's no fancy signal-bouncing shenanigans.” There was a pause and now he was grinning. “Wanna know what I'm wearing right now?”

Karrie blinked. “Not... really? Because I don't have any brain bleach available.”

“Well, lucky for you it's sleek, shiny and resistant to high-speed drag.”

“Aww, your Cher latex dress! I love that costume.” Karrie was grinning despite the way it made her face hurt. “Did you get the eyeliner right?”

“And... we have a winner." He muttered darkly, “Supercomputer my ass. I could calculate faster than that on the john. Ah, there we go, got a GPS location on the cable box."

“So... you're coming to get me? Sweet. I honestly like this plan better.”

“Me too, Crazy Horse. Can't have you blowing up mines - they'll claim you're a terrorist.” A door opened and shut. “So, no blowing things up, out or sideways?”

“No, Dad. Jeez, you never let me have any fun.” Relief filled Karrie and some of her fear left. Rob was coming to save the day. “And I am one step toward being a terrorist, given my brown skin.” She hesitated, some of her pride wanting to prevent her from asking, but she did anyway. “ETA? It's... a little dark in here.” She prayed she didn’t sound like a big baby.

“ETA about 40 minutes.” Now she could hear birds singing. “I'll see if I can shorten that some.”

I totally sounded like a big baby. “Okay.” Karrie took a soft breath before she said, “Rob? Thanks."

“De nada, kiddo.” He sounded concerned under the flippancy and Karrie winced, then winced again because it made her face hurt. “You stay safe, okay?”

The stick was down to a nub, and Karrie said, “Okay. I need to let you go anyway. The dynamite is about to burn out and I'll lose the signal.”

Rob replied, but she couldn’t’ hear the words over the sudden rush of air. Then the fuse went out, and she was alone in the dark again. With a sigh, she shifted until she was sitting against a wall. Relief made her slump, and she closed her eyes.

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Rob narrowed his eyes as he stared at his smartphone's screen, examining the map location the trace had given him as he arrowed through the morning sky at roughly 4 times the speed of sound. It was a forty minute flight. Forty minutes was too slow.

* * * * *

"Director!" the watchroom operator was new to the DSA HQ, or he'd have been a little more professional rather than bursting in like the building was on fire, Horst thought sourly. "Telluris has just left in a hurry after receiving a phone call from Coyote. She's in some kind of trouble, sir."

"You have a recording of that conversation?"

"Yessir." The new kid nodded. "It's flagged for you, sir." Five minutes of listening later, and the Director was storming down to the watchroom himself and looking over the operator's shoulder.

"Monitor his movement and communications, but no interference." Horst told the duty staffers. "Let's see how they do."

"He's headed southwest towards the trace location we gave him, Director. Looks like the Navajo Nation, northwest New Mexico. He's motoring, sir. Pulling about Mach 4.5."

"That's his top speed." Horst nodded.

* * * * *

"Snazzy" Rob told them as he modelled the new suit. "And this'll stay on?"

"Like your own skin." the new girl, Karrie Dineh, told him with a grin. "I gotta say, this was a strange first assignment for me. When they told me to make some clothes that wouldn't come off a guy flying fast, I laughed."

"You'd have been laughing more if you'd seen the results." Rob grinned at her. "It gets COLD at 2000 feet with no clothes."

"In our wind-tunnel tests it's shown minimal resistance and friction, we theorise up to Mach 6. That's over your top speed." Horst said with some satisfaction. "No more naked Telluris on CNN."

"Unless you've been holding out on us." A lab tech joked, causing a round of chuckles. Horst looked closely at Rob.

"You've not been doing that, right?"

"Of course not! Heh."

* * * * *

"Sir, it's Telluris. He's just... um... accelerated? NORAD tracking control estimate he's doing Mach 9.7 and holding."

* * * * *

Rob pushed, leaning deep into his Node the way one of the Refugees had shown him, and the landscape blurring past below him became a colourless melange as his speed doubled. Fortunately the same Refugee had shown him how to tune clothing and items he was in contact with with his own quantum signature, so that about three months after the suit was already part of his media image, Rob hadn't really needed the almost indecently form-fitting garment. Still, he'd kept it, adding some baggy combats over his lower half so that he didn't feel like blushing when walking around in the damned thing.

Coming, Karrie.

* * * * *

In the darkness of the cave there was little sense of time, especially for the unconscious. Karrie drifted in a painful, dream-haunted doze, holding onto one thought: Rob was coming. But forty minutes... plus whatever time it took him to locate her precisely, plus the time to dig her out... She idly considered how much air there might be in the cave, and some part of her thought that changing to a smaller form might help to prolong it... but it was getting harder to think, and the rock wall she was slumped against was quite comfortab-

Deep underground, she didn't hear the sonic boom in the clear blue desert sky.

Rob's head was aching a little too, the strain he had placed on his node having given him a migraine. The GPS coordinates had led him right to the mine, and as he touched down in a puff of kicked-up dust that swirled away in the desert breeze, he studied the open mouth of the long-abandoned shaft.

Copper and zinc, he thought absently, reaching out with his power to 'feel' the rock and earth around him. Other traces, but those are the main ones. I can work with this. Boots crunching on the packed dirt, he approached the mouth of the cave and walked inside, getting all of ten feet before encountering what looked like a fresh cave-in. Traces of dynamite, smoke in the air. Oh shit Karrie. Stay calm, Rob. You're trained for this stuff, remember? She's not dead. She's a nova too... she could be alive under all that.

Rock shifted, changed shape and started to flow like mud under the force of Telluris's will. It flowed to the sides and upwards, forming a tunnel through which Rob walked steadily, dark eyes intent on piercing the darkness. There was an open space beyond the collapsed tunnel, his senses told him, and he angled that way, stone and earth giving way before him in a steady tide... to reveal a shape laying on the floor.

"Karrie." Rob said quietly, kneeling over the unconscious native girl and carefully examining her. Neck doesn't seem broken, but I can't see shit in here... Okay, carefully does it. Gravitic forces carefully folded around the slack form and lifted her into the air like a stretcher, carrying her ahead of Telluris as he made his way back out into the daylight.

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Karrie was comfortably asleep – or comfortably unconscious, however you wanted to state it. It made little difference to her, really. All she really knew was that it was pleasant – until she was carried into the blazing Arizona sun, which stabbed her in eyeballs like a knife. “Ow-ah!” she moaned, her initial expression of pain cut off by a sharper, involuntary sound when she moved her right hand.

“Karrie? What’s wrong?” Rob’s voice was such a welcome relief that Karrie smiled even as she pulled her arm in tight against her side.

“My arm. It isn’t broken, I don’t think. I can use it. Just hurts,” Karrie said shortly. She smiled up at her savior, unaware of how awful she looked. Someone had taken something hard to the left side of her head and her right wrist was swollen. She also looked like someone had rolled her in dirt; it clung to her skin, hair and clothing.

Suddenly, Karrie blinked. “Uh, Rob?”


“If you’re there, and I’m on my back… can you please put me down or carry me?” Karrie’s expression was pleading. “I know this is safe and you won’t drop me but this floating on nothing bit is really freaking me out please.”

Rob hesitated before sliding his arms under her and pulling her to his chest. “I wasn’t sure how hurt you were,” he explained to her. “I was trying to move you without further injury.”

“I know,” Karrie said as she looped her left arm around his shoulder and fought back a blush at being carried like this, “and I appreciate it.” Cradling her right arm in her lap, she tried to find a comfortable place to lay her head on his shoulder before giving up. “I owe you one,” she told him with a smile, her brown eyes meeting his from inches away.

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Sprained wrist, probably. Someone took something heavy to her head, leaving her with that shiner and... Rob gazed deep into Karrie's eyes for a moment, causing her to blush for real this time, though in truth he was just examining her pupils, ...mild concussion. His mind added up the catalogue of injury in a nanosecond or two and suggested the best courses of action even as another part of him was enraged and saddened by the swollen bruise on the side of her cute face. Someone's gonna get a Batman-style asswhupping for this. And not nice Batman. We're talking Frank Miller Batman.

"You can buy me dinner." he smiled back as he gently lifted off into the air. Karrie's arm tightened not-unpleasantly around his shoulders as she reflexively glanced down at the retreating ground. "Relax. The emergency exits are clearly marked and if you get hungry there's some nuts under your seat."

"Eww!" Karrie started laughing, then broke off and winced. "Don't make me laugh, Rob. That hurts..." she said tautly.

"Sorry." he told her sincerely, and looked around. "So where do I go to when I have an armful of injured injun?" Karrie paused for a long moment... well, long by their standards.

"South-east." she told him after getting her bearings for a second. Extending his quantum signature around her so that she barely felt it, Rob accelerated to a steady 200 mph, the ground 300 feet below them flashing past. Soon enough their objective came into sight: a single-storey house in the middle of nowhere, tinted red with dust like the rest of this place. There was a broken-down pickup rusting away on blocks out back, and as Rob set down with his burden.

"Where are we?" he asked as he headed for the door. A coyote darted away from round the side of the house where it'd been nosing in the trash, and the place was quiet.

"My uncle's place." Karrie told him, weariness in her voice. "He lives alone, and he'll be at work. No sense letting the whole rez know what's going on yet." She winced and looked up at him, noting that he wasn't his usual, well, Rob-like self. The line of his mouth was sober, and his eyes were grave as they looked back at her, but then he nodded and smiled slightly. "We can get in round the side." Karrie suggested. "He never locks the side door."

Following her directions, Rob went around the side of the house, noting the tipped-over trashcan the coyote had been rummaging in as he opened the door with a touch of his power. Karrie felt light in his arms as he tilted sideways and carried her inside, pausing for a moment there to get used to the sudden gloom. The kitchen was sparse and tidy, a table and two chairs against one wall, and it was on one of these chairs he set her while he hunted for a first-aid kit. That done, he sat beside her, handing her a cold wet towel to press to her face while he started to strap up her wrist with gentle expertise. He was quiet as he worked, dark eyes intent on her face for a long moment before he spoke.

"So... wanna tell me what's going on?" he suggested with a lightness of tone that he didn't feel, not entirely. "Who's Ed Tso, and is he the guy who gave you the baby seal treatment and tried to bury you alive?"

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“Oh, wow, don’t start with the easy questions, do ya?” Karrie inquired with a sigh. “I need to explain a few things. First, the name Coyote – it’s a joke I play on the gullible. I think that the archetype of Coyote is amused by that. I don’t think I’m the Coyote, and neither do most of my people. The Navajos. The problem is that a few people do.

“Out here, most people have nuthin,” Karrie said softly, leaning into the cool towel. “The government gives them enough to survive on. We grow up hearing about our history and all that we lost and all that we could be. We learn that white people don’t understand our problems. Some of us think that the white people hold us back. So then you have all these novas showing up, and there’s me. I’m a nova, and I’m Navajo. For a while, I was supporting pretty much everyone in my family. Even now, I send money home. But some people, those that hear me say Coyote and put a ‘the’ in front of it, want me to be more.

“One of them is Ed Tso,” Karrie said, her voice shaking. “He’s a cousin, through my mother, same as Sami. I think… I don’t know why he killed her. But I think he did. I know he put me in the cave because I smelled him.” Rob looked faintly surprised; Karrie had not exactly disclosed that to DSA.

“Why did he do that if you’re ‘the’ Coyote?” Rob asked.

Karrie sighed. “You know the scene in Ghostbusters where Gozer asks Ray if he’s a god and Ray says no?”

“‘Ray, when someone asks if you’re a god, you say “YES!”’ I might know the scene,” Rob told her with a smile. “So you said no… and he got mad?”

“Yeah. I don’t know why he killed Sami. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe she didn’t give him what he’d paid for. Maybe it was to draw me here,” Karrie muttered, shifting the towel slightly. “But he staged her body to get my attention. We use our sand paintings to talk to the gods. He was talking to me. Some of the stuff wasn’t religious – it was engineering symbols. He was trying to get my attention, to get me to come home.”

“It worked,” Rob said grimly, securing the bandage. “I’m guessing he put you in there before you had a chance to tell the sheriff?”

“Yeah, which is just as well,” Karrie said, her voice developing a soft growl. Her soft brown eyes were hard and cold as brown agate. Rob had never heard her sound like this before; even when Horst had been his most dictatorial and made her take down her ‘Twelve Months of Mech’ calendars before a big VIP’s visit Karrie hadn’t looked quite so angry as she did right now. She hadn’t been this upset when a misplaced shipment had delayed an important project for over a month, right after she’d promised to have it ready, and she’d actually been asked to leave for the rest of the day by Horst. In fact, the only word Rob had to describe her expression was murderous. “Because it’d be really inconvenient to try to kill him while he’s in jail.”

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Rob was quiet for a long moment, which was so unusual Karrie emerged from her murderous reverie enough to study her lab-mate. His dark brown eyes were level with hers, and he looked serious. Like wise-serious. Without his usual amiable jester's deadpan he looked like a very different Rob... for one thing, it was easier to notice how handsome he was when he wasn't making you laugh or wearing a goofy expression of some kind.

"You're not going to kill him." Rob said quietly, his gaze steady as he held her now-bandaged wrist loosely in his hands.

"The hell I'm not." Karrie sat back, removing her hand from his grasp. "The fucking son of a bitch killed my best childhood friend, Rob. He killed her in a horrible way, then he damn well used her body as a... a... a Bat-signal. Then he tried to kill me. He's a walking dead man." She felt furious, and sad too, and part of that was the steady, sorrowful look in Rob's eyes, like a hyper-intelligent Yoda-puppy or something.

"He's crazy. And he's a murderer." Rob said, still squatting on one knee as he spoke. "You don't have that excuse, Karrie."

"What the fuck do you know?" she said with real force now, ignoring the ache in her face. "You don't know me, Rob Lehnsherr - which isn't your real damn name. You don't know what I'm capable of."

"You're right. I don't. But I do know you will only break a part of yourself by killing him, no matter how justified you feel right now." Rob held her gaze with his. "You're planning a murder, Karrie. Don't do that."

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“Don’t pontificate at me,” Karrie snarled, scowling at her lab-mate. “He’s earned this. If it were just me, I’d be fine with letting it go. If he hadn’t killed Sami, I’d walk away. I don’t give a fuck how crazy he is, he gets to die now.”

“Don’t make this decision,” Rob said, without heat in his voice.

“Bullshit, it’s for a jury of his peers to decide?” Karrie said, Rob’s calmness feeding her anger and causing it to grow. “If they’re that crazy, they’re too crazy to serve on a jury. If he’s that crazy, he’s going to get away with it on some bullshit crazy plea. Fuck that! I’m gonna make sure he gets what he deserves.”

“It might be what he deserves, but it’s not what you deserve, Karrie,” Rob told her intently. He caught her uninjured hand in both of his, his warm fingers curling around and engulfing her hand as he almost pleaded, “I’m not telling you this for his sake, but yours.”

“My sake?” Karrie laughed and the noise was harsh and half-unhinged. “This isn’t about me, Rob. This is about two boys who’ll never really know their mother. Three and four, and they are without a mother or a father who cares about them. They’ll grow up with aunts and uncles if they’re lucky, or with some generous white people who’ll try to care for them and ruin them without meaning to. There’s my family, who’ll never really feel okay again. And there’s Sami, and she will never get another chance to fix things, to turn it ar-”

Karrie froze, her face twisting. Rob’s hand tightened on her fingers. He expected tears; instead she whispered, “Get me off the rez, Rob.”

“Where?” he asked, his voice urgent.

“Just off Navajo land, now,” she hissed, her face locked in a strange grimace. “Hurry.”

Rob wasn’t sure what was going but she sounded so urgent he scooped her up and hurried out of the house. His power pulled the door to as he took to the air, his phone floating next to him as he consulted a map. He found the closest border to the Navajo Nation and headed for it. The ground blurred by below for a few minutes; then Rob landed on the dry earth. “We’re off of it,” he said, still holding her light weight in his arms.

Karrie asked, “Are you sure?” When Rob nodded, her face softened into one of grief and Karrie started to cry. He’d seen her cry before; she’d hurt herself once in the lab and that had drawn tears. These were not like those tears. These were painful, hot and scalding, as they trailed down her face. Instinctively she turned to Rob, snaking her arms around his neck and pressing her face into his neck. As she cried, he heard her choke, “Never get another chance… I left her behind… it’s my fault…” All of her rage, grief and guilt poured out of her in a terrible wave of pain.

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Rob held her tight, feeling the ache of his old guilt, his old grief. It wasn't Karrie's fault - he knew that and so would she once this was over, hopefully. Whenever there was a tragedy, people looked for someone to blame, someone to punish. Ed Tso was the obvious choice, but even if Karrie had murdered him, she'd only have delayed the current storm of self-blame... and then she'd be dealing with becoming a murderer on top of that. In his view, Karrie deserved better than to torture herself like that.

"It's okay, Karrie. You're alright." he said soothingly, his voice creating a quiet calm spot in the storm for her to sail into. Her arms tightened around his neck as her sobs became deeper, her whole body shaking with their force. Her tears were hot on his neck as he continued making gentle words. "It's not your fault- no, listen." he insisted as she tried to sob a refutation, his arms still cradling her. "Don't blame yourself like this. Hush-shh-shh. I'm here for you, Karrie. I'll always be here for you. Uh, when you need me."

What the hell was that? he mused as his brain caught up with his mouth. He'd meant to just say something reassuring, to let her know she wasn't alone, that he had her back. But some treacherous non-platonic emotion had slipped a stray sentence from his deepest darkest into the speech center while he was distracted with an armful of crying Coyote. He sincerely hoped that she'd been so distraught that she'd just heard soothing noises without really interpreting their context... though he felt a little guilty about actually hoping she'd been so grief-stricken that she was oblivious...

No more talking for you, big-mouth.

So he just held her close, and let her cry it all out, and hoped to hell that she wasn't going to try and murder Ed Tso anyway... though he hoped the grieving would help there, like lancing the boil before it festered. Picturing looking into Karrie's adorable brown eyes and seeing them going cold and mean like a hardened killer's was going to be a close number two in his all-time nightmares. The first being looking in the mirror and seeing his own eyes looking like that.

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“So. Big job in DC, huh?”

Karrie turned at the familiar face, smiling at Sami. “Hey, hi! Yeah, I’m just packing up a few things that are my tools, stuff Dad wants me to take.” Karrie studied her older cousin, noting with a hint of worry the heavy makeup, trampy clothing and the weary, jaded look in Sami’s eyes. “I haven’t seen you around. Where have you been keeping yourself?”

“Busy.” Sami’s reply was unhelpful and left Karrie with no good way to carry on a conversation.

Still, the nova persevered. “You doing okay? Mom said you didn’t have the job at the diner anymore.”

“Yeah, I got canned for missing too much work.” Sami’s smile was oddly victorious while being hollow and bitter. “Fuck ‘em, the job sucked. Not like yours.”

Karrie was no social powerhouse, at least not when it came to handling people she didn’t want to manipulate or con. “Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.” She paused and asked, “Did you need something, Sami?”

Her cousin laughed, pretty lips twisted into a sneer. “The great Coyote. Our savior. Of course I need something from you, oh Great One.”

Two years ago, Karrie would have fallen apart when Sami talked to her like that. This older, harder Karrie narrowed her eyes at the pretty girl and said, “I didn’t mean it that way and you know it. But you want something from me, or something to say to me. So what is it? Don’t play games.”

“I just wanted to congratulate you on getting out of the rez, cousin,” Sami said briskly, snatching out a cigarette and lighting it up in a fast movement. “Just thought I should offer my heart-felt well-wishes, seeing as you’re leaving the rest of us behind.”

“You could leave, too,” Karrie insisted. “Just come with me. I’d welcome a roomie, a piece of home in the big city.”

“Right. That’s frickin’ hilarious. You and me and the brat.” Sami snorted and shook her head.

“Brat… Sami… are you-”

“Yeah. Changes your offer, don’t it.” The hard sentence should have been a question, but the older baseline’s tone made it clear it wasn’t.

“Bitterness is making you a bitch, Sami,” Karrie snapped, her lip curling.

“Not all of us get to be novas, Karrie. Not all of us get that kind of break. And don’t tell me I can still accomplish so much. Because while I’ll go to beauty school, you’re getting a six-salary job. And you can argue that all you want, but that’s because you got lucky and I… I got shit.”

“You’ve got exactly what you’ve allowed yourself to get,” Karrie said, her voice harsh. “I do have it easier, but you aren’t even trying.” The nova Navajo turned her back on Sami. “And until you start trying, I don’t want to hear your whining.”


“I said terrible things to her, Rob.” The admission came after Karrie’s sobs had turned into sniffles and quivers; futility, she wiped at her eyes and nose, trying to stop the leaking tears and snot. They combined into an unattractive combination of mud and bodily fluids on her filthy face and clothing. “It was the last thing we ever said to each other. Horrible things. And I always thought we’d have a chance to make it up to her, that someday we’d patch things up. Now we never will.” The last was a near-moan as her head dropped onto his shoulder again.

“It hurts,” she wept, succumbing to tears again. This time she was able to speak, at least. In a way, that was worse for Rob, for now he wasn’t getting half-coherent burbles but complete statements of pain. “That hurts, so much it’s like there’s a hole in my chest and I don’t know how to make it stop hurting. Rob, all I have is killing the person who took my chance away, who took Sami’s chance to get off the booze and drugs and have a life she didn’t hate. He doesn’t deserve any more chances to live or have happiness. And making sure he gets what he deserves is the only thing I can do for Sami. I can’t say I’m sorry. I can’t tell that I love her. I can’t do anything except hurt. How is that fair? How is that right? I can’t just sit here and let some white people decide whose worse: the crazy Injun murderer or the squaw whore he killed. I have to do something.”

Karrie had heard what Rob had said to her, but her mind was so distracted she hadn’t processed it on a conscious level. But she had heard it and that was why he was now getting this tearful confession instead of more anger. Rob had offered his help, and Karrie was desperately reaching for it.

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"Killing won't make it better." Rob stated softly, his cheek against her dirty hair as he cuddled her. "Sure, it might feel that way now, while the wound is fresh. But all that your killing this schmuck will do is leave a hole where the scar-tissue should go. And that hole will take way, way longer to heal." Something in his tone made Karrie tilt her head to look up at him, her sniffles quieter as her sober brown eyes studied his face.

"You're not just saying stuff that you read in some self-help handbook, are you?" she asked rhetorically. Rob hesitated, then shrugged.

"Actually, I saw it on Doctor Phil." he quipped, the corners of his mouth tilting in a smile. Karrie wasn't fooled - Rob was evading. But that could wait... for now.

"Seriously, Karrie. He'll get what he deserves." Rob urged quietly. "Either he'll be locked in a nuthouse while they untangle the bad in his head, then he has to deal with being sane and realising what he did - or else he'll be judged and sentenced based on whatever the law of this state decrees. Either way, he's going to go through hell, but if you kill him, he gets a quick out and - and this might not seem important now but it is - you'll be living with being a murderer instead of him."

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Karrie leaned into Rob, but her body was still stiff. She had meant what she said; Karrie felt the need to do something. It seemed unfair that Ed would live and Sami was dead. Every fiber of her being cried out for justice. Every part of her knew that there was no justice in letting the murderer live.

She was afraid, too. Part of what drove her was a sense that she had to do this herself. She was Coyote, the only of her people to have any powers. She was Navajo, and she owed her people, her family and her nation to give something back. Karrie gave them money, but that was so little compared to what was needed. She didn’t want to kill anyone, not really, but she owed something to Sami for what had been done to her cousin – for both what Ed had done to her and what Karrie had done to her. Being home reminded her of that obligation. Her father had told her to live her own life, but she was Navajo – they were part of her life.

Rob was representing the other side of her, the part of her that was Karrie. It felt good to be held like this. Her family wasn’t demonstrative and no one had ever cradled her against them. It was strangely comforting, to be touched and held. It was, Karrie realized suddenly, slowly draining away her need to act. She should pull away but instead the woman put her head on his shoulder. Her body relaxed against Rob’s a little more as she either accepted his logic or gave into her fear. Karrie wasn’t sure which it was and it didn’t matter. Either path, either choice, would diminish Coyote or Karrie. She lost no matter which way she went. When faced with a choice like that, she chose to be Karrie.

Someday, she would choose to be Coyote.

“What time is it?” Karrie’s voice was steadier now. Rob’s phone floated out of its pocket to hover before her. “Just after seven. We need to talk to Sheriff Whitehorse. Well, I guess me, anyway.”

“We.” Rob’s statement drew her eyes back up to him; his face was just inches away from hers and his smile was unusually somber and warm.

Karrie felt herself answer his smile, though hers was much more tired. “We,” she agreed softly.


Lila Whitehorse gasped when she opened her door. It was quite a sight; a bruised, dirt and tear-stained Karrie carried in the famous Telluris’ arms. As Rob resisted the urge to make a joke about delivering Indian. Karrie asked, “Is Sheriff Whitehorse in?”

“Yes.” His wife, used to having her husband’s job invade their home, was nonetheless nonplused by this particularly invasion. She kept sneaking glances at Rob, even as she invited them into the kitchen. The baby in her highchair was too young to care, but the little boy was staring at Rob with big brown eyes. The cereal in front of him was forgotten as a real-life hero walked into his kitchen. “Just a moment, I’ll get him. Ronald!” Lila hurried out of the kitchen.

There was a moment of silence as Rob reluctantly put Karrie down on a chair. The boy broke the quiet when he asked in a hushed whisper, “Did you rescue Karrie?”

“Yep.” Rob leaned against the counter as he smiled at the kid. “Who’re you?”

“Collin.” The boy peered up at him. “You’re Telluris.”


Rob was contemplated for a long moment. “You’re cool.”

“Thanks.” Any further commentary was interrupted by Sheriff Whitehorse’s arrival.

He entered looking slightly aggravated and running a comb through his black hair. The Sheriff stopped as he took in Karrie’s appearance, his jaw tightening. “What’s going on?” His voice was casual, but the hand resting on his holstered gun wasn’t. Lila picked up the baby and drew the protesting Collin out of the room.

“It’s Ed Tso,” Karrie told him, her voice tight. “I can’t give you motive, but he tried to kill me. That I can provide you motive and my testimony.” Rob was quiet as she went through the story again for the Sheriff, pausing to answer his questions.

Whitehorse was quiet for a moment. “Mr… uh, Telluris. Would you keep Karrie under protection until I have Tso in custody?”

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"Safe as the Federal Bank." Rob said quietly as he glanced at Karrie, then back at Whitehorse. He smiled in that Rob way that was somehow reassuring despite the surface impression that he thought everything was a joke. "Safer, in fact. Banks can't fly away." After Karrie had given her statement, the sheriff's wife had brough both he and Karrie a cup of coffee, and the boy was watching quietly from the doorway. He looked at Whitehorse. "You anticipate any trouble making the arrest?" The sheriff shook his head.

"Not much. I'll be doing it by the book though, as always. Deputies and vests." He gave the younger man in the tight black suit a wry grin. "Having you there would be overkill, son." He glanced at Karrie. "You're welcome to hole up here, if you want." he told her kindly. His wife nodded, and the young boy's eyes lit up at the prospect of having two novas around. Karrie smiled gratefully, but shook her head setting her cup down.

"I think I want to head home and bathe for a year or so." she said softly. The sheriff nodded, shooting a glance Rob's way which neither of the perceptive novas missed. Rob nodded back, finishing off his own drink and stepping over to stand beside Karrie.

"Ready to go when you are, kiddo." he told her, grinning as she shot him an annoyed look.

"Kiddo? I'm two years older than you." she said mock-grumpily.

"What can I say? I'm a shameless flatterer trying to make you feel better about your advanced years." Rob deadpanned as he walked next to her to the door. The sheriff, despite the somber business at hand, couldn't help but smile a little as he followed them out.

"Two years, Lehnsherr. Two."

"Two years is a long time. When I'm 28 and in my prime, you'll be 30 and over the hill."

"Keep it up, Magneto, and you won't reach 28." Karrie grinned up at him as they stepped off the porch and onto the packed earth.

"Threats, huh? Keep that up and yer walkin', Coyote." Rob grinned back. Karrie's grin softened to a smile as she stood on tiptoe enough to hook her good arm around his shoulders.

"You wouldn't leave a girl hanging, would you?"

"I guess not. I'd better get you home though. It's late and your folks will be wondering why I've kept you out so long." Rob curled his arm around Karrie's waist and nodded to Whitehorse as he attuned her to his quantum signature once more. "Later, sheriff. Be safe."

"You too." the older man replied as he looked at Karrie. "I'll be in touch when we have him."

"I'll feel better about it." she nodded, then tapped Rob on the shoulder. "Up, up and away, boy wonder." Rob rolled his eyes, but smiled as he took off, waving at the sheriff and his family with his free hand as he accelerated up, up and (indeed) away.

"Directions?" he asked Karrie, keeping her close to his side as they flew. She tried not to think about the arm holding her and instead concentrated on where home was from 500 feet up. She gave Rob a heading, and tried not to squeak as the ground blurred past, even though she wasn't feeling any acceleration effects at all. In slightly less than a minute they were landing in front lot of her parents place, the cars, horses and people everywhere a clear indicator that the extended family get-together was still at full strength. There were some astonished stares as Rob dropped out of the sky to land with only a slight puff of dust on the ground - right in front of the small group of men who'd been having a smoke on the porch, her father among them. Someone made a small outcry of surprise and more faces appeared at the doors and windows, and from around the side of the house as Karrie released Rob and stepped a little away from him.

"Hey." Telluris waved in a friendly fashion, feeling the slight hint of awkward in the air. He remembered what Karrie had said on the phone about the infamous aunts and tried not to smile at the daughters, he really did. Sadly, smiling was a natural reflex to Rob when meeting new people - and there were such a lot of new people here. Ohboy...

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“Karrie?!” Joe Dineh rose off his chair and wrapped his hands around Karrie’s arms. “What is going on?” Angry, dark eyes snapped to Rob, accusation clear in them.

“I’m fine, Father.” Karrie’s voice was filled with weariness. It wasn’t due to her family freaking out as much as she was starting to crash. “Or I will be, with a bath and some rest.” More people were gathering and the volume around them was picking up as people whispered and muttered. There were now a lot of angry men looking at Rob, who was trying to look harmless and hoping that no one did anything stupid. That hope faded when the harsh sound of a shotgun being pumped rang out.

“Who did that!” Karrie’s head snapped around toward the noise, her tiredness burned away by rage. There was sudden silence and a slight shuffling of feet. “Who did that?!” The normally jovial Karrie was glaring at the crowd as if she could pick out the perpetrator without even seeing the gun in his hands. Her eyes were still blazing with wrath as she stepped backwards, away from her father, until she was standing in front of Rob. Her back bumped into his front and she grabbed his wrist when he tried to ease back. “Telluris saved my life and you are so quick to judge him! Why because he’s white? And you’re right. He’s about as white as they come. Guess what else he is? My friend. Now he’s my hero, too.” The words should have been lame but Karrie managed to utter them with straight face. “I would be dead if he hadn’t saved me from the collapsed mine where a Navajo left me. So if you want to shoot him, you have to shoot me first.” Nevermind that he can probably take a shotgun blast to the face and you can’t, her mind supplied. Karrie ignored that. It was the gesture that counted here.

“Karrie, calm down.” Uncle Nathan stepped forward, his long hair in steel-gray braids. “No one’s shooting anyone, especially one of your friends. Someone just got a little excited. It’s all right now.” Karrie slowly relaxed and let her uncle gently take her by the arm. Several aunts came out when Nathan nodded, flocking around Karrie and drawing her away while chattering in Navajo. “Don’t worry. Your father and I will keep an eye on your guest, Kare-Bear.”

Karrie shot Rob a glare on par with the temperature of the sun as his expression lit with glee. Kare-Bear? he mouthed in pure delight. As her brown eyes promised sure death to the American superhero, Uncle Nathan drew Rob to the side. “I’m Nathan Smith. Can I get you something to drink, Telluris?”

“Water would be fine. I’m supposed to be watching Karrie.” Rob cast a worried glance at the door she’d just disappeared through before glancing at her uncle.

“You don’t want to watch my daughter bathe, do you?” Joe Dineh’s voice was a little too gruff.

“Oh. No. I do not need to watch her that closely.” Rob wasn’t exactly afraid of Karrie’s family but she hadn’t painted a picture of sober, emotionally-stable individuals. While Karrie was getting a bath and more bandaging, Rob was engaged in a bit of public relations – answering questions he was asked all the time, telling polite jokes and generally being Rob.

Finally, one of the aunts came out and murmured something in Navajo and Uncle Nathan rose. “Karrie’s sleeping now. If you want to sit with her, I think that’d be alright.”

“So long as someone else is there.” Joe Dineh’s words might have been insulting to Rob, but he was in protective mode and Rob could respect where he was coming from at the moment. When Rob agreed – having more eyes on Karrie only made sense – her father relaxed a bit more. So Rob found himself on guard duty with one of Karrie’s brothers. The young Simon couldn’t have stopped Rob had he tried something, but the boy was happy to just talk his ear off. While Rob found himself answering all the questions he always got asked by teenage boys, Karrie slept on, obvious to the world.

Karrie’s mother came in and shooed her son out at lunchtime. Rob was invited to eat with them as well; when he declined, Ally brought him in a tray of food. Rob passed the afternoon with his phone, as various members of the family stopped in to check on Karrie – and probably on him to make sure the white man wasn’t ravaging their precious Coyote. It’s the pants, Rob tried to joke with himself. They’d make any sane father nervous.

Sheriff Whitehorse showed up just before dinner. “It’s done,” he advised Rob in a soft voice. “Tso’s in custody.” Dark eyes regarded him for a moment. “Gonna stick around until she’s awake?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell her.” Rob nodded. “Thanks, Sheriff.”

“Just doin’ my job.” With a tip of his hat to Rob, Whitehorse left again.

Just before dusk, Karrie stirred but instead of drifting back into sleep, she woke up. “Rob…” she mumbled, “what are you doing in my bedroom?”

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She could hear his sigh of relief, feather-soft, right before he ruined the facade of tender concern by being... well... Rob.

"Our room now, don't you mean?" he said brightly. "But I suppose the last 24 hours are just a blur, what with Vegas, the champagne, the lapdancers and that curious little man in green bodypaint." Karrie levered herself up on her elbows, noting that her nova constitution had already taken care of most of the aches and pains, and glowered at him. Rob grinned back, waving a book. "And I'm reading your diary. Fascinating stuff, especially the bits about your secret yearning to be a pony."

"Dick." Karrie threw a pillow at him which he fielded readily as he rose, setting down the Star Trek novel Simon had loaned him. The native woman smiled through her scowl. "You've been watching over me, haven't you?"

"Like the dude from Twilight, but with better hair." Rob deadpanned. "And less of the creepy stalker vibe, too... Though I got some great phone-cam footage of you farting like a trucker on an all-bean diet. I dunno if that qualifies as creepy stalker or not." He stepped to the side of her bed and helped Karrie sit up, placing the pillow behind her. "How do you feel?"

"Better." she allowed, peering up at him. He really couldn't hide his concern, despite the stream of banter. It was kind of sweet - but then, she remembered, this was the guy who'd literally nearly killed himself burning away his own vital energies to save people in Japan last year. "What time is it?"

"About dinnertime." Rob said after a glance at the clock and a sniff of the air. "I think your mom, aunts and cousins have been cooking all afternoon." He leaned down to examine the bruising of her face, his nearness reassuring as he continued to talk. "And the sheriff came by a little while ago. Ed Tso's in custody."

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In the confines of her bedroom, with the light dimmed by curtains on her windows, Rob was a little too close for Karrie. It made her vaguely uncomfortable, in a way that she was curious about and unwilling to explore. She licked her lips unconsciously and it took a beat for her to hear his words. “Ed’s been caught?” She still felt torn about that but it was done. The choice had been made and it was out of her hands now.

The trickster sat back against her pillow. She couldn’t remember feeling this unlike herself – this empty before. Rob seemed to sense that because he shifted so that he was sitting on the bed. He didn’t try to do anything or say something meaningless. He simply was there, offering support to her. “You’re a good friend.” She wasn’t sure she’d meant to say that but it came out of her mouth anyway.

Rob looked down, a slight grin on his face. “Just adding it to your tab, Kare-Bear.”

“Call me that again and you’ll be subtracting decades from your life-expectancy.” Her glare was competitive with the sun’s heat. As he grinned, she told him, “Your punishment for that is staying for dinner.”

“That’s punishment?” Rob asked.

“And you’re staying the night.” Karrie’s smile was evil. “I can think of no more fitting punishment for you, Lehnsherr, than subjecting you to the hospitality of my family.”

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"That's a little extreme." Rob said with a grin. "They're not so bad. Simon's a cool kid, and your mom and Ally have been checking on me regularly."

"Yes, but you can bet Mom and Ally have been running interference with the men." Karrie grinned evilly. "Sitting through a big ol' family dinner with Dad and my uncles glowering at you is gonna test even the fearless Telluris."

"It's the supersuit you designed." Rob said in a faintly accusing tone. "Even with the combat trousers over it, it still worries fathers everywhere."

"I know." Karrie said with a self-satisfied smile. "They're perfect. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get dressed and stuff my face - I'm starving." There was a knock at the door, and her mom stuck her head into the room.

"I heard voices- Oh, good. You're awake." she said, brown eyes glancing at the Bilagaana boy sitting on the bed next to her daughter. Rob stood up hastily and smiled.

"I was just going to leave the room so Karrie could get up." he assured Mrs Dineh. He glanced back at Karrie. "I'll be outside, k?" As she nodded, he quietly left the room and wandered out onto the porch. With the desert night sweeping in, the Dineh house was an oasis of light and human sound. He leaned against a railing and nodded at the male relatives clustered nearby.

"Karrie's up and about." he told them quietly. He decided not to say anything about staying for dinner, or the night for that matter. Let Karrie sort that one out.

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“What was he doing on your bed? Are you dating him?” Karrie’s mother was speaking in rapid Navajo before Rob was out of hearing. Karrie rolled her eyes as she dug through her suitcase; while she found a shirt, her mother asked, “Are you doing the friends with benefit thing?”

“Ohmygod! Mom!” Karrie whirled on the older woman, her face beet red. “Just because he sat on my bed doesn’t mean he’s sleeping with me! Jesus! And Rob is my friend! We’re not doing anything!”

“Wait, that’s Rob?” Mrs. Dineh stared at her daughter. “But he’s so normal. So… cute.”

“What did you expect, horn-rims and buck teeth?” Karrie pulled off her shirt, still warm and smelling of her from sleep, and dropped it on the floor. “He’s a superhero, Mom, not the Nerdlinger.”

“The way you described him…” Her mother trailed off and her expression changed.

As Karrie changed into a new shirt, she added, “He’s staying for dinner and tonight. I wanna do something for him…” As she finished changing, she laid out her plan for her mother. When Karrie was done, Mrs. Dinah stepped forward and put her hand on her daughter’s face. For a moment, the older woman merely studied her daughter’s face. “Mom? Do I have something on my face?”

“No, dear. I was just realizing you’ve grown up more.”

Karrie raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I did that years ago.”

“You’re not done growing, but you’re getting there,” her mother added, as if Karrie hadn’t spoken. “Very well, I’ll help you. Now, hurry up, dinner is ready.”


Dinner was something of a gauntlet. When Rob joined them at the massive arrangement picnic tables outside, he got several very hard stares. Some of the men seemed inclined to let it – and him – pass, but he was sure that it didn’t help that Karrie sat across from him. Worse, she seemed unaware of the tension around the table, laughing and joking with him like they were in the lab. Well, not exactly like they were in the lab: she didn’t make many sexual jokes.

After dinner, he was pulled around the campfire by Nathan. Rob politely declined the pipe Uncle Nathan offered him. Most of the conversation was in Navajo but a few of the men talked with him. By now, most of their questions were about his work; what he did in the lab or in the field. Karrie had disappeared with the other women, a fact which seemed to surprise most of her relatives. “Yeah, Karrie’s been a tomboy since she was in diapers,” her uncle laughed. “She’s not much for doing womanly things.”

“Then I don’t want to know why she’s in the kitchen.” Simon dropped onto the bench next to Rob, handing him a soda that the boy had retrieved for him. “She probably thinks she’s making dinner, but is crafting a terrible poison.”

“Your sister’s a fine cook, and she’s likely to have Ally or your mom helping.” Her father hadn’t become much more friendly toward Rob, but he was still at least polite.

“It is the only hope of the world.” Simon grinned at Rob. “I feel sorry for whoever she marries. She’s probably going to poison them.”

“I’ll be sure to warn Connor.” Rob was certainly taking notes.

“Connor?” Karrie’s father had narrowed eyes. “Who’s Connor?”

“Does Karrie have a secret bilagaana?” Simon asked, his voice sounding delighted.

“Watch your language!” Simon’s father snapped at him. “Anyone Karrie… chooses will not be called that.”

“Unless he is.” Nathan smirked. “Then we kill him and bury him in a shallow grave in the desert.”

“Wait, what am I missing?” Rob asked.

Bilagaana means literally ‘enemy’. Lots of people just use it for white man.” Joe said, frowning at his son who was looking abashed. “Not all white men are enemies, though.” His dark eyes settled on Rob as he added, “Some are welcome here.” It wasn’t quite an endorsement, but Rob was now pretty sure he wouldn’t be run off the Rez by an enraged father.

When the fire was low and Rob wandered up to the house with the other men, Karrie’s mother intercepted them at the door. They were hustled through the house; Rob was led to Karrie’s room and given some of Nathan’s clothes to sleep in. “Uh, in here?” he asked Simon nervously.

“Well, we already have people in the guest room, everyone else is going to bed, and Karrie slept all day. She’s got the only open bed.” Simon grinned. “Just don’t jerk off in it and I’m sure there’ll be no problem.”

Rob shot him a look. “I’m not doing anything like that in your sister’s bed.”

“Then no problem.” Simon left, shutting the door behind him.


Karrie slipped back into her room at about five. Rob was sprawled on her bed. The image drew her up a little short; it was really, really weird seeing him there. Shaking off the feeling, Karrie crept to the bed and crouched in front of him. Grinning, she pressed a hand to his mouth; when his eyes shot open, she held her finger in front of her lips. “Get dressed,” she whispered, “and meet me outside.” Taking her hand off his mouth, she added, “I hope you know how to ride.”

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"Depends. I'm licensed for mules and sorority cheerleaders. Anything more lively than that and I'm stuck." he whispered back. Karrie rolled her eyes and jerked a thumb at the door before smiling and leaving.

"Get dressed, white boy." she shot back as she closed the door behind her.

"Yes ma'am, Miss Coyote ma'am." Rob said out of habit before slipping out of bed. He noticed someone had set out some non-superpants clothes for him, and so when he emerged onto the Dineh's porch he was wearing jeans, boots and a white t-shirt. The shirt (and the jeans) were just on the small side, which confirmed that it was likely Nathan's clothing he was wearing, again. He'd washed his face and combed his hair with his fingers, which he figured would be good enough for 5:30 am, and as he emerged into the pre-dawn silvery light he blinked owlishly, warm brown eyes adjusting as he looked around for Karrie.

This is probably gonna be a doozy of a prank he thought to himself. Any minute now, she's going to pop out with her uncles and try to wrap me in a freshly-skinned buffalo hide, or something.

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The rhythmic sound of horses walking alerted Rob to their presence just before they rounded the corner of the house. Their hooves were muffled on the grass and they moved with surprising quietness for such large creatures. Karrie was on the back of the lead horse, a brown animal that rolled it’s eyes at Rob and snorted nervously. She was leading the second horse by its reins; this one appeared to be lighter in color. “Hurry up and get on,” the native woman urged softly, “we’re going to miss it.”

“Miss what?” Rob asked, even as he moved to the side of the horse. It looked at him placidly, then turned a head to sniff at his leg. He eyed it with a hint of unease, but the horse seemed uninterested in him after getting a noseful.

“You’ll see!” Karrie waved at him to hurry up, then helped him get into the saddle. After he’d sorted out the reins – again with help – she turned her horse and rode away from the silver-kissed horizon. Rob was glad she was leading, for two reasons. First, she wasn’t behind him, watching him bounce all over his horse. It wasn’t like the animal gave him any trouble; quite the opposite. He was just unused to this and it showed. Second, being behind her meant that he could watch Karrie ride. She rode with her horse rather than on it, and Rob had to admit that he didn’t mind watching the way she swayed and shifted in harmony with the horse’s movements.

Karrie led him up into the hills behind the house; the rolling hills quickly gave way to rock outcroppings. Karrie paused at one of these and slid off her horse. When Rob dismounted, she hobbled both of the horses and turned them loose to graze. Then Karrie grabbed his hand and led him around the edge of the rock.

The horizon in front of them was a blaze of golden light; the rocks and valleys below were just beginning to catch the light of the sun. As Rob stared, Karrie’s voice intruded. “Hey, Rob, over here.” He turned and saw a blanket on the ground; Karrie was removing steaming food from an insulated container. “C’mon, while it’s still hot. There’s biscuits, sausage links, blueberry pancakes… oh! Syrup’s still warm.” Karrie smiled up at him, then patted the blanket next to her. “Breakfast and a light show you’ll never forget.”

Rob smiled back as a dangerous little tingle ran up his spine. Karrie’s smile as she patted the blanket was very nice, and the entire thing had a vaguely date-like feel to it. Rob ignored those urges and took his seat. The two novas leaned against the rock, watching the sun come up and munching on the breakfast made only as a mom can.

“I will wanna kill him.” Karrie’s voice was sad, not angry. Rob looked at her, letting her work out her thoughts. After a moment, he realized that was all she had.

“I think that’s normal.” He picked his words carefully. “Ed took family from you. That’s hard to bear, and I understand why it’d feel normal to want to hurt him as much as he hurt you. But murder, it hurts everyone, the murdered and the murderer.”

Karrie looked at him for a long moment, her brown eyes strangely somber. In a way, what he said made sense to her, and she once again sensed that he spoke from experience. It implied he’d killed someone, or been close to someone who had. She knew that Lehnsherr wasn’t his real name. But at the same time, it was Rob. It was hard to imagine him doing ill will to anyone. That, more than anything, convinced her to listen to him.

Impulsively, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, her lips as warm as the golden sun cascading over them. Rob’s heart skipped a little as he turned to look at her; his smart-ass leer died on his lips when he saw her serious smile. “Thanks. For everything.” For another moment, Karrie just smiled at him. Then she leaned against Rob’s side and went back to watching the incredible sunrise.

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