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Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Cosmos Nova - No Heroes Here [Complete]

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Horst was worried. He wasn’t concerned because Karrie was getting a dressing-down. She got yelled at all the time; the girl thrived on getting told to sit down and behave. She never listened – except to Rob but that was only because he was almost as crazy as her. That almost was key; even Karrie knew that when Rob was cautioning her, it was serious. Horst knew that the Navajo nova loved to push her limits. That’s why he set ones for her; so that she’d have something to rail against. But if real limits were set for her and the consequences were grave enough, he was sure she’d leave. Coyote had the option of walking; any company in the world would snap her up in a heartbeat and cater to her every whim. Horst didn’t want the DSA to lose her brain.

But the president was going to try to contain the mad scientist; try to talk “reasonably” with her. Horst had already gotten his dressing-down, for not “controlling” Coyote, as if such an insane creature could be controlled. Horst liked the girl for the most part; she was funny and brilliant and did great work. She was also a good person, if not quite as obviously generous as Telluris. If one wanted the results of her insane genius, one had to accept that she was insane. The president seemed to think he could lay on the charm and convince her to “settle down”, to “play ball” and magically manage her where Horst had not. “Manage”: like she was some kind of errant child who needed to be shown the proper way to be. Horst almost wished Carlson flubbed this, just to show the President that Horst wasn’t a moron. Carlson had talked on and on about having a firm hand with her and Horst’s assertions that Coyote would not react well to that were not well-received. The President thought that Horst was being too soft on her and didn’t want anyone else to show him where he’d been wrong.

This was all political, of course. The EuroZone was bitching about Karrie’s little stunt; they hadn’t stopped giving the president shit about it. Yes, she’d been trespassing. Yes, she’d technically violated EU law. However, all she’d done was talk to someone; when arrested, she’d cooperated – though he’d heard stories that she’d given them lip the entire time, which sounded like something she’d do. And yes, she should be punished for trespassing; Horst agreed with that. However, how you punished someone like Karrie and kept her working for you was the question. The president was going to lay down the law with her and it was probably only going to be a warning from him. But she’d go out and do what she was ordered not to do, just to see if the President would actually follow through on his threats. And when she was actually punished, truly disciplined, for that – because she’d have to be – she’d leave.

Horst sighed and shifted in the chair, watching Karrie sitting in the Oval Office on the small camera. He was currently in the White House security office, waiting for this mess to be over so he could start damage control – or maybe just take Karrie to lunch, if she wasn’t talking about quitting. The Secret Service agent in the next chair glanced at him. His name was Carl Eastman, and he was the head of security today. Horst liked the older man; he seemed competent and respectful. “Sir, are you sure you want to stay? We can make sure that Ms. Dineh gets back to the DSA.”

“No, I’ll wait.” Horst didn’t add the reason why. Horst wanted time on the drive back to convince her not to quit. He was sure she would, if she felt like she was being constrained too much. And if he couldn’t do it, he’d get Rob to work on her. Horst wasn’t sure how much influence Telluris could have on the young woman in this case, but it would be more than his. Frankly, there were times he didn’t know how he would have been able to have as much sway as he did over Karrie without Rob; the kid was a stabilizing influence on her. It had been a true boon for Horst in his dealings. Also, dealing with Rob had been great practice for dealing with Karrie.

Horst was about ready to authorize Karrie for full field work. That could be a carrot I could offer to convince her to stay, he mused. Of course, then she’d think he’d done it just to keep her. In truth was something he’d been considering for a while now. She’d done well in Germany and if she had a touch more training, she’d be a good field agent. And if she were paired with Rob, he could keep her in line and watch her back. They’d be a good team; Rob was smart enough to not slow Karrie down and he could protect her – and protect others from her.


The two Secret Service agents moved through the West Wing of the White House, their steps unhurried. Though they were relatively new, having been here for less than a year, they were known to the staff. Nods were exchanged; in one case, the cuter of the two gave a pretty staff member a wink. She giggled and turned red before ducking into a room.

Behind the two men trailed four more. They were wearing overalls and carrying electrical equipment; one of them pushed a cart filled with bigger tools. Their two-man escort showed them to the electrical room just behind the Roosevelt Room, following the technicians inside and shutting the door behind them. As the agents watched, the four began to set up their equipment.

After five minutes of work, a box-like container had been set up by one of the men; it looked to be a cube about the size of an air conditioner. It had only a single button on it. There was no need to adjust the settings; that was already prepared for the team. Meanwhile, the other three were opening a secret panel in the box and pulling out firearms. They passed them around to everyone, including the two traitorous Secret Service agents. The technicians had removed their overalls to reveal Kevlar vests covered in various equipment; the “agents” were shedding their jackets and white shirts to reveal the same. “We ready?” the leader asked, his cold blue eyes sweeping over his team. “Is POTUS were he’s supposed to be?”

“Yes. We’re ready.” Their technician reached out and pushed the button. It immediately began to hum. Moving quickly, the six men exited the room. They quickly broke into three groups; one went for the office of the Vice-President, one group went to collect the other staff and the third went to the Oval Office.

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Coyote sat in the Oval Office, lounging on one of the couches – or as much lounging as she could do in her formal clothing. This was her second time in the Oval Office; the first she’d come in flip-flops and shorts. Horst had told her to dress more formally this time, so she’d come in traditional Navajo garb. Unfortunately, the velveteen dress and white leggings were a bit warm for D.C.’s late May weather, so she was grateful the A/C was working.

The president wasn’t here yet; Karrie was waiting under the watchful eye of her Secret Service escort. This was all part of the game for her. She knew she was in “trouble” and was about to get her slap on the wrist. It wouldn’t be more serious than that; it never was more serious. They needed her a lot more than she needed them. They were trying to make her nervous and antsy by leaving her here to ponder her fate. Karrie had known that’s what they were doing and had been occupying herself by listening to cell phone conversations and the Secret Service radio frequencies. The latter were encrypted, but Karrie had been part of the team that encrypted them last year. It wasn’t that hard for her to break the code. The native woman wasn’t mining for secrets; she was just bored.

Idly, her perception swept through the different radio frequencies, not really listening to what was being said unless she heard something particularly interesting like the word sex or anime. That lack of attentiveness was why she didn’t realize there was a problem for a few seconds. The first dropped line she heard she just thought was a lost connection; the second caught her attention just as she noticed the odd yellowish tint and strange shimmer covering the world outside. The third was no coincidence and Karrie rose to her feet, facing the Secret Service. “Hey, something’s wr-”

The door opened and two men walked in; one was white, tall, and grim-faced with hard eyes. The second was darker-skinned; whether tanned or from somewhere south of the border was hard to tell. Karrie also didn’t care because she was suddenly facing a pistol, pointed at her by the white man. Behind him, the darker man twisted and shot the guard even as the agent went for his gun. Karrie threw her hands up and hunched her shoulders, following the instinct that told her to look utterly defenseless.

“No moves.” The grim-faced man covered her while his partner shot the downed agent twice more, turning his head into a mess of blood and gore. Karrie bit her lip and looked away, feeling fear and disgust choke her like a physical beast.

Despite her dread, her prodigious mind was already working on the problem. Following the ‘seem helpless’ instinct, Karrie whispered, “Please don’t hurt me.” The words squeaked out of her; Karrie did everything she could to make them sound pathetic.

“If you do as you’re told, then you won’t get hurt.” The gun waved at the couch as the darker man joined him, his pistol centering on Karrie, too. “Sit down, Pocahontas.”

Karrie did as she was told and started to think.


“What the fuck?!” Eastman’s exclamation was less than professional, but Horst was thinking the same thing when a third of the security cameras went blank.

“What do those cameras cover?” Horst asked, sitting up straighter.

“All… all in the West Wing!” The agent was a professional, even if a bit prone to potty mouth; he immediately radioed. “All hands, all hands. We have a situation. I need a check on POTUS now!”

“Was the President in the West Wing?” Horst asked, already pulling out his phone. He was flipping through his contacts, heading straight for names starting with “T”.

“Yes, he was. So is the VP.” The agent looked sick. “West Wing, status update now!”

The radio crackled. “Sir, Bancroft. I’m outside. There’s a… dome over the West Wing.”

Eastman frowned. “A what?”

Horst dialed the phone as he headed for the door. Telluris’s lazy drawl filled his ear as he followed Eastman outside; immediately the late morning sun beat down on Horst. “Yehello, Chief. Karrie did it.”

“Karrie better not have. Stow it, Lehnsherr,” Horst snarled hoping Rob understood he wasn’t in the mood right now. “Get your suit on and get down here right now. We have a situation.”

Rob knew he was at the White House; everyone knew that Karrie was getting yelled at today. “I’m on my way.” His voice was dead serious; all the humor from before was gone and there was only Telluris’s professional voice.

Horst closed his phone as he walked toward the West Wing. The second he crossed the corner of the building, he saw the problem; a semi-translucent iridescent dome rose over the wing. Where it bisected objects, it sliced through them, sundering the West Wing from the world. Water gushed over the dome, pouring out of pipes that no longer connected to anything; the smell of sewage hung in the air. A tree limb lay on the ground, sliced cleanly from the trunk, and beyond that was something that looked like two parts of a human. Horst prayed it was a dummy and knew it wasn’t. “Dear God…” Horst didn’t mean to say anything, but the words just came out.

Rob suddenly appeared next to him, dropping out of the sky. He stared at the dome for a moment, his mind working. “It goes underground, too,” he said, his voice unusually somber. “It’s some kind of solid energy field.”

“Director Horst!” Both men turned to see The Joint Chief of Staff, General Ramsey approaching. “Telluris. Thank god you are here. I’m going to set up a situation room inside. Follow me.”

Both men turned to walk with him; Ramsey shook his gray head as he said, “I wish you had been in there, Telluris. I’d love to have a nova in there right now. Who else can get here?”

“Mech’s out of country on personal leave; I’ll call him but it’ll be some time before he’s here. Same with SeaEagle and Jedi, though they’re on-mission. I could call SeaEagle, but she’s remote and it might not reach her in time. Shreveson and Kensington aren’t ready. But the good news is that we do have a DSA agent in there.” Horst felt rather than saw Rob look at him and knew immediately that the man understood before he elaborated. “Coyote was in the Oval Office when the dome went up.”

“Who?” Ramsey asked, his brow furrowing. “I’m not familiar with that name. He new?”

“She. Our best scientist,” Rob answered; he sounded grim.

“Just an egghead? Well. Shit.”

“Yeah.” Horst sighed as they reentered the building. “While I wouldn’t call Coyote just an egghead, that’s a pretty accurate summation.”

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Karrie waited silently as people began to be escorted into the room. At first, they were just staffers; the people needed to make sure that the running of the United States’s executive branch went smoothly. They were seated on the couches and chairs of the Oval Office; then the floor. Karrie gave up her seat for an older, heavy man who she wasn’t sure could get himself off the floor. Grim, as she’d come to call the first terrorist she’d seen, sneered at her generosity.

Outside, she could see the curve of the dome. From this side, it dimmed the sunlight and gave the world a yellowish cast. Karrie had no idea how it worked but she had a few theories. Unfortunately, she needed to see the device creating it to work out its exact mechanisms.

The only radios currently working were the six invaders’ and the three Secret Service agents stationed around the West Wing. But soon those three were killed; Karrie heard the reports of their deaths over the enemies’ radios. Her broadcasts were going unheard too; she was very careful about what channels she transmitted on but she couldn’t contact friendlies either. Her fingers knotted into balls and she pressed her fists into her stomach, trying to think. I need more information.

President David Carlson entered, his back straight and his face set in impassive lines as he was guided into the room. The Vice-President, Morris Koehnen, was right behind him, followed by the remaining bad guys. “Ladies and gentlemen,” one of them said, a tall man with a calm smile and wintery blue eyes. He had curly hair slicked down tightly to his head and a bland Midwest accent. “I am your captor today. You may call me Hans.” He paused expectantly; Karrie felt her eyebrows rise but said nothing as he mused, “No Die Hard fans in the room, then? Very well. Here are the rules.”

Behind him, one of the men was setting up a camera. Two more were setting up machines that Karrie recognized as air scrubbers; they would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the room. The shield isn’t gas permeable, then. They’re planning for a stay. Several hours; even the best ones on the market don’t work more than six hours or so. Given the dome, Karrie wasn’t sure she could rely on those timeframes; these guys had advanced tech from somewhere.

“Rule One,” Hans intoned as he raised one finger, “no one here is a hero. You are all captives, and if you remember this, you will have done everything you can to ensure your survival.

“Rule Two. Captives do as they are told. Captives are silent. If captives need to use the restroom or take medication or have any vital life-saving needs, they raise their hands. This does not mean they’ll be given permission, but they must ask permission.”

A third finger rose. “Rule Three. Any captive who breaks rules one or two will not be killed. Instead, a random other captive will be selected from those in the room and summarily executed.”

“Hans, the camera is ready.” The man who’d been setting it up rose from his crouch over his laptop. “We’re able to broadcast through the shield.”

“Excellent. Time to introduce ourselves.”


“Nothing’s getting in or out. No lasers, no radio waves and no air.” That information had been easy to guess, and a few quick tests had established the theories. Rob added, “If we can figure out how many people are in there, I can figure how much oxygen they have.”

Horst shook his head, not to stop Rob, but because he had no idea what to do. If he’d had his way, Karrie would be out here and Rob in there. That would have been ideal. Instead, he had to deal with the reverse. “We’ll get on that. We need more information.”

“Sir, we’re getting a communication from inside the dome.” Ramsey spun toward the speaking agent, his bushy brows drawing together. “It’s… encrypted.”

“Can we get a signal in?” Ramsey’s question was a-near bark.

“No, there’s some kind of interference. The signal is the interference.” The agent looked up. “It’s got video and audio.”

“Put it on.” The agent tapped a few keys and a video screen popped into view. A man with curly brown hair and cold blue eyes was smiling at them. Behind him, they could see the Oval Office; the President and some of the staff were visible behind the man. Horst’s eyes sought out Karrie and didn’t immediately find her. “Hello there. Turn on this computer’s video camera, so that we may talk.”

At Ramsey’s nod, the agent hit a few more keys, then scooted out of the way. “I’m General Ramsey. Whom am I speaking with?”

“You are not speaking with me. Director Horst, Telluris, I see you. They are speaking with me.”

Horst glanced at Ramsey to see his jaw clenching. But the general moved aside so Horst and Rob could fill the screen. “You got us,” Horst said, crossing his arms. “What do you want?”

“I want a hundred million dollars in bearer bonds. You have seven hours, thirty-five minutes to deliver. At the end of that time, all the hostages will die.” He glanced over his shoulder before turning back. “There are twenty-six people in here right now. They will die, if you push us to kill them.” The camera went black.

The agent stepped forward and looked at the computer. “We’ve lost communications.”

“At least Karrie knows we’re here.” Rob’s comment didn’t seem particularly hopeful but Horst nodded. Karrie was smart; if she could gain an advantage, she would.

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Karrie knelt on the floor, staring at the blank computer screen. Seeing Horst and Rob had lifted her spirits. She’d been willing to fight before, but seeing her companions had strengthened her resolve. She needed to get control of the situation, somehow. Then she could fix this and get out of it alive. She knew that the US government didn’t bend to terrorist demands. I have to get out of this or I’m dead. We’re all dead. Karrie looked at the other people, and found the President looking at her. His eyes said it all: You can get us out of this. You are a nova.

I’m not that kind of nova! I’m not a hero! But she was all these people had. She just needed some leverage to get them to interact with her. She needed to manipulate them. She needed them to talk to her for that. Get their attention.

Quietly, Karrie started to cry. It wasn’t the silent sobbing that could be ignored; it was the choked sobs of someone who was failing to cry silently. Soon a shadow fell over her. “Shut up,” the man Karrie thought of as Grim growled.

“Nicolas, leave off her.” The man who had spoken was of African descent, but his voice had the cultured tones of England.

“That fuckin’ crying is going to get on my nerves.”

“Nicolas, Arjen… Sit down, both of you.” Hans’s voice broke into their fight and ended it. As Nicolas’s shadow moved away from her another fell over her. Hands seized her and hauled her to her feet, hurting her forearms. Karrie blinked up through tears to see the icy blue eyes staring at her. They gazed at her with no human compassion. “What is your name?”

“Karen…” Karrie put a whine in her voice that she hated.

“Karen… you need to shut up. Or my associate Nicolas will hurt you. I’m afraid he doesn’t like women very much or is it too much? I can never remember. So you need to stop crying.” Hans’s voice was soft, but there was no gentleness in his eyes.

“I can’t,” Karrie blubbered. “I’m so scared…”

“If you do what you’re told, then you’ll be fine.”

“I know… I’m just scared. I can’t help it.” Karrie sniffled unattractively.

Before she saw him move, he slapped her across the face. “Learn control! Or you’ll be controlled.”

“Please don’t hurt me!” She dropped her voice to a whisper, “Please… I just found out I’m pregnant… please don’t hurt my baby…” Her eyes begged him to spare her. Behind the bad guys, the President gaped at her; even he believed her.

“Are you? Congratulations.” Hans grabbed her hair, his fingers twisting around her braid. Karrie gritted her teeth and managed not to cry out. Using his grip on her hair, he painfully dragged her closer to the camera. He stopped at the seat closest to the camera; a young man peered up at them. “You. Up. Find somewhere else to sit.” The aide scrambled to his feet and Hans shoved Karrie onto the seat.

“Get comfortable, captives. We have a bit of a wait ahead of us.” Hans glared around the room and then sat on the arm of the couch, next to Karrie.

She’d gotten their attention and had the bruises to prove it. Now she needed to wait for a chance to capitalize on it.


Two hours later, the news and the Armed Forces alike had descended on the White House. There was no hiding the Dome. Thankfully, at this time, no one knew about the ransom. Speculation was running wild, of course. Rob was so ready to do something, and could do nothing.

This was worse than Japan. At least then he’d always had something to do, even if he should be resting instead of doing it.

“Congress won’t release the funds.” Horst sounded tired. They had known it would come to this; even the terrorists had to know that the US couldn’t allow them to get money. If people knew they could ransom the President, everyone would try. With hostile nations now possessing novas it wouldn’t be that hard for this to be duplicated again.

There was a moment of silence before Ramsey spoke again. “Start from the top. What do we know?”

“We know that at ten-fifteen today, this bunch gained access to the White House.” Eastman frowned. We don’t know how many there are of them but they claim to have twenty-six hostages. That number is accurate for the number of people who should be in there, if the four electricians that showed up to work on the wiring today are the terrorists and we assume that the Secret Service agents have been killed.” Though his jaw tightened at the mention of the presumed death of his fellow agents, Eastman’s voice was steady. “So we think there are four of them. We have no idea if these guys are human, nova or psiad. One of them could easily be generating this shield.”

Rob shook his head after a moment. “Sustained effort like this usually takes too much energy. I’m betting a device. Karrie – Coyote could whip something up that would do this from a toaster and a paperclip.”

The other men looked at him, their eyebrows rising in silent question. “I wish he were exaggerating,” Horst grunted. “This is why we pay her so much. To keep that kind of brainpower in-house.”

“Is there a chance that she’s colluding on this?” Ramsey looked grim.

“No way. Absolutely none.” Rob’s denial was as immediate as it was fierce. “If Karrie went Dark Side – not that she would – it wouldn’t be about money.”

“Gentlemen, I assure you,” Horst interjected before Rob could get into what it would be about, “Karrie’s on our side. And in danger. I want to get her out of this. She’s not the kind of nova that can bounce bullets.”

“I want to get everyone out.” Rob’s voice was soft.

“So do we.” Ramsey didn’t look assured but he stopped harping on Karrie. “What have we gotten from the analysis of the video feed?”

Eastman rubbed his hands over his gray-peppered hair as he started to answer. “We have a few things. The image of the leader. The President and vice-President appear to be unharmed. We’ve seen that at least ten of the other hostages have been identified and they are unharmed. Beyond that, we have very little information to go on.”

There was a moment of silence; then Rob muttered, “I wish we’d seen Karrie.” Horst looked at him but said nothing. He was wishing much the same.


The guy who had set up the camera was now sitting at the President’s desk, rooting through papers. Karrie watched him out of the corner of her eye, wondering what he was doing. This isn’t about money. It was never about money. This is a reverse Die Hard. They want something else.

What they wanted was the question. If she could find the answer, she could stop them. The other option was giving them what they wanted but that thought never crossed Karrie’s mind. That was a solution unworthy of the Trickster. So she waited and watched.

Nicolas was digging through the womens’ purses, dumping most of the contents on the ground. But occasionally something was taken; when he dug through Karrie’s bag and took the ring Rob had given her, she glared at him.

“Is that from your beau?” Karrie hadn’t realized that Hans was watching her. “The father of the babe?” Karrie nodded silently; it was always best to play along with their assumptions. People always believed their own lies sooner than the ones you told them. “What’s his name?”

It was on the tip of her tongue to say “Connor” but after their date, she didn’t want to use his name. Karrie blinked at him. “Why do you care?”

“I’m bored and making conversation.” The ice-blue eyes regarded her coolly. “Tell me about him.”

It wouldn’t do to mention Connor. Instead, Coyote lied. The young nova felt herself smile as she described her perfect man. “He’s handsome. Funny. He can always make me laugh. That’s what I like most about him. He’s sweet and gentle, but he always keeps me on my toes, too. It’s never boring, being with him.”

“You must love him very much. Does he love you?”

“I think so. As much as anyone can be sure. And with a baby coming… he’d better be damned sure, right?” Karrie had allowed her tone to get friendlier; now her smile faded as she pretended to remember who she was talking to.

Hans smirked. “Keep thoughts of him close and do as you’re told, Karen. You’ll see him soon.” He paused. “Have you had a chance to tell him about the child?” Karrie’s gut almost said yes but her gut instinct was different and she just shook her head. “What a lovely surprise for him.”

“Hans.” The tech was done searching and he interrupted them. When Hans glanced at him, he just shook his head. “It’s not here and there’s no clues.”

Hans rose from his seat next to Karrie and stalked over to the President. “We want it, David.” President Carlson stared silently at the terrorist – or perhaps he was just a thief. When he didn’t speak, Hans continued. “It’s no use playing dumb. We know it’s here, that you keep it close. We know you know what we’re talking about. So produce it.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Carlson’s voice was firm and unrelenting.

Hans made a moue of disappointment. Turning, he glanced around the room – then shot one of the hostages. The man screamed as the bullet tore into his chest. The other captives screamed in chorus, fear lending them voices. Karrie was screaming too; she had expected this, anticipated this but she was a captive, so she screamed with them and hid her face behind her hands. “Shut up!” Hans bellowed and the screams cut off with shocking suddenness. The wounded man wasn’t screaming anymore, or breathing. Karrie looked away as Arjen and another terrorist moved the body into the hall. Only muffled whimpers came from the captives; even those sounds faded quickly as their captors glared.

“Captives do as they’re told.” Hans repeated it coldly. “Now, David. Where. Is. It?”

“It’s in the safe.” Carlson sounded as if he was drawing the words out from deep inside. “In the floor under my desk. But I don’t have the second key. Director Horst of the DSA has the other key.”

“Does he? Jesse.” The computer tech glanced up. “Fire up the camera. I want to rattle a cage.”

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“Another signal, sir.”

“About time,” Ramsey grumbled.

“Sir… this one is not encrypted. Everyone can see it.” The tech looked worried. “I’m sure the newspeople can pick this up too.” Ramsey swore eloquently and at length. This was something they’d hoped to avoid. “Sir, should I start our camera?”

“Yes.” He looked at Rob and Horst. “You’re up.”

Horst nodded, thankful that Ramsey wasn’t being pissy about the situation. He was angry, but the general was not taking that resentment out on them or creating a cooperation issue. Horst and Rob moved to stand in front of the camera and the tech turned it on.

“Hello, anyone- Ah, there we go.” The cold-eyed man was back. “Telluris. Horst. Pleasure to see you again.”

“What do you want?” Horst wasn’t about to let this one carry on for his audience.

“I want to check on the progress of my bearer bonds, and to update you on the hostage situation. Thanks to Mr. President, there are now only twenty-five and a half captives here.” Rob felt like he’d been punched in the gut at this news, even as he puzzled on the ‘half’ remark. Were they cutting legs off the captives? The next obvious answer made his gut clench. “And I have a message. Or rather, someone else does.” He gestured and Karrie was shoved into sight. Rob’s heart lurched; she looked in good health, but she’d been crying. “Tell him.”

Karrie looked stricken. “Not like this,” she whispered.

The terrorist pointed a gun at her temple, making Karrie flinch. “Do it, Karen, or he watches you die on camera and I’ll tell him anyway. A man should hear news like this from his woman.”

Karrie lifted her dark eyes to meet Rob’s; the urge to reach through the camera and save her was unbearable. “I’m pregnant. I just found out.” Her voice shook; her fingers reached up to brush her face. It was an awkward gesture and Rob made note to come back to that later. Right now he was too busy fighting the urge to go and batter down the shield. “He said he’s going to kill us all and I don’t want my baby to die. Please do what he says.”

“Miss, are you all right?” Rob asked. His hands, held down at his sides, hurt. He forced himself to unclench his tight fists.

“That doesn’t sound like a very personal message.” The cold-eyed man didn’t let Karrie answer. “These might be your final words to your loved one.” He drew closer, pressing his cheek to her hair; Karrie visibly fought the reaction to jerk away. “I’m giving you a chance, for the sake of your babe, that I’ve not given anyone else. Tell your love good-bye.”

Tears welled in Karrie’s eyes. “You said… I’m doing as you asked.”

“You are, dear Karen.” The man’s cold eyes locked with Horst’s. “But they have to do their part, too. Now, show them the human side of this. Show them the face that will haunt them if they fail to do their part. The crying mother-to-be, begging for her unborn child’s life.” He kissed her hair. “Do it. Make my heart break.”

Karrie closed her eyes briefly, composing her thoughts and trying to think of how to relay the information she had. “Rob,” she whispered, “I know we say it all the time, but I love you so much. I’m sorry if I’m not there to live all our dreams. There’s so much I wanted to do… so many things I wanted to share with you. So many key things. So many secrets and hidden treasures to discover, like the joy of being parents.” She smiled, wiping at the tears that had been trickling down her cheeks. “Trying to figure out our money issues together, and learning that they aren’t as important as the real things in life. Sweetie, if I don’t come back… don’t think about this day… how I… just don’t remember that. Just remember the good things; our first date, curled up on the couch watching Die Hard… going riding with folks… the half-dozen kids we wanted. Think about the good, please. I love you.”

“Rob?” The terrorist had tilted his head away from her; he stared at Karrie, his intelligent eyes gleaming. “Rob… Lehnsherr?” He looked at Telluris and laughed. “How wonderful.”

“I’m not her Rob.” The words were painful and true.

“He’s right.” Karrie agreed, only to have the gun pushed into her head, hard enough to hurt.

“I don’t believe you, either of you. I know you hide your family, Telluris. Why wouldn’t you hide your woman?” He grinned and pushed Karrie off-camera, then leaned in until he filled the frame. “I have your woman, Telluris. I have your unborn baby. I’ll have my money, or you’ll have a funeral and lots of regrets. Oh, and Telluris? When I decide to start torturing the captives, your woman is now at the top of my list. Enjoy those thoughts.” The feed cut off.

“Rob?” Horst was looking at him.

“Karrie’s not pregnant. Or if she is, we’ll all be seeing the birth of a new religion.”

“What- Oh. Really?” Horst raised an eyebrow.

“Or so she’s said.” Rob didn’t want to think about that. He definitely didn’t want to consider that her first sexual experience might be at the hands of these assholes. The thought made him sick and so angry he couldn’t think – but he needed to think, to focus and save all the hostages.

“Are you two dating?” Ramsey asked, his gray eyes narrowing.

“No. The reason she used my name was to be sure I’d be paying attention.” As if he wouldn’t be paying attention to her. “We need to rerun that message, tear it apart. There are clues in there. She was trying to give us information.”

He’d only been studying it about forty-five minutes when his phone rang suddenly. Rob glanced at it, prepared to ignore it. But when he saw the identity of the caller, he picked up. “Simon, it’s going to be okay. I’m not going to let them hurt Karrie.”

There was silence but Rob heard a little hint of a sniffle. “All right. I know you’re going to take care of her.” Simon’s voice warbled; Rob could tell Karrie’s younger brother had been crying. “Mom and Dad are trying to make arrangements to get us to D.C.” There was a hint of a smile as he added, “You got lucky. It looks like we’re taking a plane, so Dad can’t bring any of his shotguns. He’s talking about it.”

“Your sister isn’t pregnant, at least not by me.” As he scrubbed his fingers through his hair, Rob was glad it would take them time to get here. The crisis should be resolved by that time.

“Aww, and I was looking forward to a shotgun wedding.” Simon sounded better; still shaky but he was better. “Having you as a brother-in-law wouldn’t be awful.”

“That’s only because you don’t know me.” Rob let his voice be lighter and a little wry as he said, “When Karrie’s not in trouble, I’m pretty boring.”

“Uh huh. Karrie’s friends are never boring.” Rob heard Karrie’s mom in the background. “We’re leaving for the airport. Rob… you mean it, right? You’re not going to let them hurt her?”

“Not a chance.” He wasn’t sure he could live with it if he failed her.

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Four hours in. Like most of the hostages, Karrie was watching the bad guys. After the message had gone out, the captives had been forced to their feet and moved to the northwest wall. They were sat on the floor in two rows. Then their captors had turned over the President’s desk to make room for their next focus: the safe. Karrie could have opened it quickly, but she wasn’t offering to help, naturally.

Still, the proficiency of one of the captors made her nervous. He was the one named Ethan, though like the others, Karrie was sure it wasn’t his real name. He was obviously a professional safe cracker, and from the way he was approaching it, he was a good one.

The heat was getting unbearable. Most of the captives had pulled off what clothing they could; the men now wore their dress shirts open. Women had peeled off hose and shed scarves. Karrie hated her outfit; it wasn’t meant for muggy DC weather. All she could do was unbutton the top two buttons and fan herself with a bit of paper. They didn’t have the humidity in here, but they did have the heat. If the terrorists don’t kill me, then the heat will.

There was another problem; the other terrorists were getting bored. Though the captives had given them no trouble, there was very little for any of them to do. They couldn’t distract themselves by playing games or anything that would take their attention from the captives, so they were paying an unfortunate amount of attention to the captives. Particularly, Karrie was noticing, the young, female captives. “So.” Arjen’s voice drew her attention up to him. “I hear Telluris is hung like a brother. That true?”

Karrie winced. “I’d rather not talk about this.”

“Captives do as they’re told.” Arjen was grinning, his teeth bright against his dark skin. “So tell me. Before I decide to find another way to amuse myself.”

“He’s impressive.” Karrie managed to keep her voice steady, but she couldn’t stop the flush that crossed her cheeks as she pictured Rob naked. She’d given up pretending that Rob wasn’t her Rob to them. They didn’t believe her anyway, and she might be able to spin this to her advantage.

“Really? You must have developed a cavernous pussy.” Karrie felt her cheeks darken more as she glared at the dark-skinned man. The other men laughed coarsely. “Come on then, love, throw up that dress and let us try throwing echoes down there.” Karrie felt a stab of fear but didn’t move. Arjen’s eyes narrowed. “Captives do as they’re told.”

“Hans?” Karrie didn’t want to ask him for anything but he could control his men. She hoped.

“Arjen, leave them alone.”


“They’re behaving. Those are the rules. You have your rules, too. You do as you’re told, and when pussy treats are handed out, you’ll get your share.” Hans didn’t bother looking up from the safe. He was watching the safecracker work; despite not sparing attention to his man, Arjen moved away from her, grumbling. “Not before.”

Hiding her sigh of relief, Karrie turned her attention back to the safe. What was so important that they’d go through all this trouble?


“What have we learned?” It had only been four hours, but Ramsey looked like hell. The stress had already taken a toll on him. Horst himself felt pretty bad and wondered if he looked as rough. The rest of the men in the room looked like they were all contemplating bleak futures where their political calling was over. Being on watch while the President died was sure to be a black mark on even the greatest career.

Rob worried him the most. The boy was wound tightly; being around him felt like being too close to an electrical conduit. Horst expected his hair to start to stand on end when he was standing next to Rob. The young man was taking this hard. Horst understood; this was personal. It was the same for him but Rob was closer to her. They were worried for Karrie and couldn’t do much to help her. The famous nova was watching the video again, her dark eyes intent as he studied Karrie’s message.

Horst’s spirits lifted when Rob sat up straighter, his expression losing some of its moodiness. “Her pinky,” Rob muttered.

Horst leaned over to see the image frozen on Karrie’s tear-stained face. “Got something?”

“Yeah. I’ve noticed that on key phrases, she moves her pinky.”

“Her… pinky? That’s it?” Horst wasn’t trying to discourage Rob, but that seemed too little to go on.

“She had to keep it subtle. She was being watched. Here, let me show you.” Rob ran the tape back, then hit play.

Horst listened and watched, and Karrie’s pinky did seem to move at certain times. “So what’s her message?”

“She emphasized key, secrets, treasure, important, Die Hard, and half-dozen. So I think we’re dealing with six people in there.”

“Why do you say that?” Horst knew that Eastman believed there to be four.

“Because earlier,” Rob jumped the message back a bit, “she held up six fingers. See how she rests her pointer, middle and ring fingers of both hands on her jaw here? She was making it look like a nervous gesture, but she was really giving us a head count. That’s why she emphasized half-dozen. She was trying to tell us how many bad guys there are.”

Horst nodded slowly. It made sense, even to him. “What about the rest?”

Rob was quiet for a moment, thinking. “Karrie thinks in anime and popular culture. Many of her inventions are tongue-in-cheek or nods to something in a movie. So the reference to Die Hard means something.”


“In Die Hard, the terrorists are trying to steal money. But they pretend that they have a political motive.” Rob paused for a moment; Horst let him gather and prepare his thoughts. It didn’t take long. “Our bad guys claim to be thieves… what if they’re after something else? I think that key, secrets and treasure all refer back to that.” Horst tried to hide his reaction, but couldn’t. “Chief? What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I know what they’re after.” Everyone looked at Horst. “In 2009, just after Carlson was sworn in, he called me into his office.” Horst crossed his arms, his gaze distant as he revisited the past. “I’d just been told I would be the Director of the DSA. Carlson had something on his desk, some metallic thing that looked to be a tusk. I asked him about it and he told me it was a classified secret. The reason he called me into there was to tell me it was in there. He warned me never to let it all into another’s hands, no matter the cost. He gave me the other key to the safe, the safe that is beneath his desk.”

“That’s what they’re after.” Rob’s fists were clenched. “You have no idea what it is?”

“None. Carlson wouldn’t tell me.” Horst frowned. “But he thought it was vitally important – a matter of national security.”

“Then why didn’t he lock it up in Fort Knox or something?” Ramsey looked disturbed.

Horst hesitated. “Honestly, I don’t think he trusted it there. He wanted it close.”

“Can you describe it? Did it have markings? What color of metal? How big?” Rob shot the questions out rapidly.

“Does it matter?” Eastman asked.

“Yes, that’s the reason they’re here!” Rob’s frustration exploded for a moment; he drew a deep breath to calm himself. “If we find out what it does, we might learn enough about them to stop them. Any information we have on them will help us.”

Horst nodded, then drew a deep breath and began to plumb the depths of his memory. “It was about two feet long, silvery metal, shaped like an elephant tusk. I don’t remember any markings on it but I remember that it had a grip.” After a moment, he confessed, “That’s all I recall.”

“It’s something.” Rob went back to the computer and started to research.

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They’d had one round of bathroom breaks – thought without running water the bathrooms would soon smell rank – but no food or water. At six hours, people were starting to get hungry. The man sitting next to her had a stomach that had been growling for about two hours, but he didn’t say anything. No one wanted to draw attention to themselves, except Karrie. Still, she kept her peace for now.

The drill had been running intermittently for the last hour. The safecracker was finally starting to show the pressure he was under; though the safe itself was hidden from the captives’ view, they could see his struggles as he fought to get the thing open.

A hand gripped Karrie’s arm; she glanced to see the President was leaning over to touch her. “You can’t let them get that,” he hissed. His dark eyes were fervent. “That’s an order!”

“Are you nuts?” Karrie was hissing herself; she shot a nervous glance at the closest captor. “Stop drawing attention to me!”

“A Presidential order!” Carlson’s grip on her arm hardened.

“Got it!” The safecracker threw his drill to the side and ducked down; when he straightened, he was holding a cloth-wrapped bundle.

“Give it here!” Hans demanded, reaching for it. The safecracker passed it over and Hans opened the cloth. For a moment, he stared at whatever it was, his expression one of victory. Then he rewrapped the item and placed it carefully in a padded case. “We’re done here.”

Carlson’s grip was bruising. “Coyote!”

“Now is it time for our fun?” Nicolas’s voice cut off Karrie’s replied whisper.

“Yes. Take Karen and anyone else you want and the camera into another room. Be sure Telluris sees what you do to his woman.” Hans looked evil in that moment; pure, utter evil. “Actually, let me come with you and start the festivities. Everyone else, prepare to move out.”

The women started to panic. Karrie was on the verge of hyperventilating herself; Carlson was still holding her arm and glaring at her. A tall shadow fell over here, and Nicolas was staring down at her. “C’mom, Poca-hot-ass. Which, I’m totally going to do to you.”

“Ooo, I get first dibs on her caverns, if you’re taking her ass-cherry. I bet I stretch out Telluris’s channel more.” Arjen was grinning crudely and Karrie thought she might be sick. It’s not going to happen. You’re not going to let them rape you. She remained silent as she and two other women were dragged to the Presidential Dining Room. The camera was moved as well and Hans set himself in front of the lens. Patiently, he waited for the laptop to start to display the image from Horst and Rob. Karrie waited, too; she wanted to see them. They’d given her courage last time and she needed that again.

“Horst. Telluris. I want an update.” Hans wasted no time on pleasantries. “Where are my bearer bonds?”

“We know what you’re really here for.” Horst looked tired but his voice was still strong and steady.

Hans grinned. “I want the money, too. And that was the condition for the release of the hostages. Has Congress authorized release of the funds yet?”

“Of course they have.” Horst was lying and Karrie could tell. She prayed Hans wouldn’t, only to realize that it didn’t matter. This was a show for the watching audience.

“I don’t believe you.” Hans shook his head. “Telluris, I’m disappointed.” He gestured and Arjen pushed Karrie forward, into view. Rob’s eyes met hers and Karrie could see the toll this was taking on her friend. She flinched when Hans picked up one of her braids; with nimble fingers, he undid the tie and combed the long, plaited hair out. “You’re not doing everything you can to save this sweet thing.” Hans sniffed her loose hair and Karrie stiffened. He started in on the other braid, tsking softly. “A shame.”

“Leave her alone.” Rob’s voice was strange: hard and heated. She’d never heard him sound like that before. Karrie shook her head slightly at Rob, trying to tell him to not let Hans get to him.

“Or what?” Hans pulled the other tie out violently, jerking on Karrie’s second braid. She winced but didn’t make a noise; not yet. He knotted his fingers into the woven tress and combed it out roughly, forcing Karrie to grit her teeth against sounds of pain. “You are not in control, Telluris.” With a suddenness that hurt, he grabbed a handful of hair at the back of her neck and wrenched her head back to press his mouth to hers. There was no gentleness in the gesture. The gesture took without giving and wasn’t a kiss, as far as the young woman was concerned. Karrie fought the “kiss”, making angry noises and pushing against him.

“Let her go!” Where Rob had sounded strange before, he now sounded terrible – the ‘exciting terror and awe’ kind of terrible.

Hans opened his mouth to answer Rob only to be slapped across the face by a pissed Karrie. “Bastard!” She hadn’t meant to do that; the impulse to lash back at Hans had just been so strong.

His answer was a punch to the jaw that staggered her; she almost fell and only Hans’s grip on her kept her on her feet. Karrie had been slapped before but anything harder than that had just knocked her out. This was the first time that she had to deal with the aftereffects of a blow like that, instant and first hand. Her jaw ached with an instantaneous pain. “Touch her again and you’re a dead man.” Distantly, she realized that rage-filled voice was Rob’s. As she tasted blood, she heard him say, “There’s nowhere you can hide where I won’t find you. And when I do find you, I’ll tear you apart from the inside with microsingularities.”

Karrie snuck a peek at Rob. He was really selling this borderline rage; had she not been so sure Rob could never really be like that, she would have believed him. As it was, Horst looked shocked, which really helped sell it. Damn! He’s a better actor than I thought! Go Rob!

Hans pulled her upright by his grip on her hair but his eyes were on Rob, challenging the nova. Gripping the collar of her dress, he ripped down, parting seams and popping buttons. Her bra and stomach were unveiled to the camera, framed between sundered red cloth. Karrie turned a matching red as she caught the edges of her dress and pulled it shut. The men laughed crudely at her modesty, which only made her angrier.

She wasn’t the only one; when she glanced at camera, the Navajo saw Rob snarl in fury. “I warned you,” he growled; without warning the computers behind him popped and sizzled. The screen on the laptop went black a beat before the camera and laptop both sparked; their lights winked out. The flashlights went next, plunging them into darkness.

“What the fuck!” Arjen growled as Nicolas pulled out a lighter and flicked the wheel, filling their area with a warm glow of light. A moment later, Arjen fished out a chemical glow stick and ignited it.

To Karrie, it was clear what had just happened. “You guys thought you could taunt one of the most powerful electromagnetic novas on the planet and didn’t expect this?” Karrie stated the words with confidence but even she was a little surprised that Rob had actually used an EMP blast.

Hans stared at her, then shoved her at Arjen. The black man caught her, pinning her arms tightly. “Have your fun, then kill her. Don’t dawdle.” Outside, there was a low rumble as if rocks were being rolled through a tumbler. “I believe we have run out of time.”

Hans left as Arjen grinned and slipped his hands through the rent in her dress. “One more to add to the Small World List,” he whispered into her ear before licking the lobe. Across the room, Nicolas was grabbing one of the other women, shoving her against a wall even as she struggled.

Two on one. Best odds I’m going to get, Karrie thought.

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The EMP blast rocketed out from Rob’s body, frying the computer that had been relaying the feed from the captor. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t see Karrie anymore; the important thing was that no one else could either. He didn’t want this to end up on YouTube – not that anything else was going to happen to her. He’d promised Simon she’d be fine; he wouldn’t let anything else happen to her. Of course, the ultimate goal had been to fry the device creating the dome. Rob dashed through the halls of the White House, headed outside to see if it had worked. Ramsey and Horst were yelling for him, but he didn’t stop.

The iridescent dome still rose over the White House and Rob choked back a curse. A second later, he rose off the ground as he expanded his senses, feeling every rock and hunk of metal in the area. Washington DC was built on a swamp, but the ground still possessed hidden treasures and they were known to Rob in an instant. With a twitch of his node he drew them out of their hiding places; he pulled them toward him in a wave of dirt and stone and half-rusted artifacts. The soil itself yielded to his demand, rising in a tide to loom over the dome. For a long second, it hovered, until teeth of stone and metal appeared out of the brown wave. Then Telluris slammed the edged tsunami of earth into the energy field.

A boom rang out at the contact, interrupting the reporters fretting over their non-operative gear. Those who hadn’t noticed the show Telluris was giving were now paying attention. But their equipment still wasn’t working and they could only bear witness to the full might of the DSA’s star nova.

The shield held and Telluris dragged the earthen weapon across the surface before retracting it and slamming it against the barrier again. He struggled to find purchase, to gain entrance to the dome. Karrie needed him and Rob was going to do whatever it took to find a way in there.


Arjen’s fingers were rough as they played over her stomach but Karrie ignored that. Instead, she drew on a power deep inside of her, one that she rarely used. The Trickster in her loved to do things like this, though she always pulled her punches when using it as part of a gag. As Arjen’s fingers tried to worm under her bra, Karrie unleashed the full might of her power.

For the terrorist, the world suddenly felt wrong. The man who called himself Arjen felt his limbs go limp; his vision dimmed and his hearing faded. The floor tilted one way and the walls another; the ground rushed up to meet him.

Karrie grinned as the man pawing at her went limp. That worked really well, she thought happily, bending over him and pulling his gun from the underarm holster. Nicolas was still pulling at the other woman’s clothing while the third woman in the room cowered in the corner. Karrie took a second to consider all her options for stopping Nicolas: shooting him, trying to knock him out or using her power again. Shooting him was not an option; she might hit the woman. Karrie wasn’t sure she could knock him out. So instead, she tried her power again.

It wasn’t a guarantee. That was proven when Nicolas turned, his brow furrowed in confusion. “Arjen?” he asked, seeing the man on the floor. Then his gun was out and Karrie fired. She missed, as she expected; his return shot whizzed by her as she dropped to the floor. Desperate, she reached out with her disruptive power, trying to take him out. This time, he swayed, lost his balance, and crashed to the floor. “What… doing?” he drawling, his voice slurring.

Karrie hurried over to him and wrenched the gun from him. “I’m here to stop you. I’ve always been here to stop you. You just didn’t know that until now.” She looked at the two women huddled against the wall. “Get over here. Come on! Hurry up.”

Together, the three of them stripped the Kevlar vests off the two men and used plastic ties to secure the men to the table. Karrie took a moment to retrieve Rob’s ring from Nicolas’s pocket; no way was she letting him keep that. She jammed the ring onto her thumb, the only finger it would fit, so she wouldn’t lose it. And she felt better feeling that heavy band of metal; like Rob’s image, it gave her courage. When they were done, Karrie grabbed the woman who seemed the more stable of the two and told her, “You’re putting on the other vest. Stay in front of the other woman. Can you fire a gun?”

“I’ve shot guns before, when I was little.” The woman was pale but gamely struggled into the vest.

Karrie was strapping herself into the other. “Good, then you know how to at least point it like you know how to use it.” Karrie handed her one of the guns, grimacing at the fit of the Kevlar. She was a lot smaller than Arjen, and the armor hung on her. Pulling the Velco straps as tight as they would go, she reminded them, “Single file, one behind the other, me first.” Grabbing some of the glow sticks the men had been carrying, she left them inactivated, shoving them under straps on her Kevlar to keep her hands free.

“Wait, what are we doing?”

“We’re rescuing everyone else. And for god’s sake, don’t shoot me in the back of the head.” Karrie led the way back to the Oval Office, her gun held before her. She had received some basic DSA training in firearms once she’d told Horst she’d killed rattlesnakes with her father’s shotgun. Horst had seemed to believe that meant she was just dangerous enough to know what she was doing but not experienced enough to be safe. Then he’d gotten mad when she’d made the instructor cry.

Those memories were far away as she eased down the hallway to the Presidential office. The orange glow of more chemical lights led the way back to the captives. I’m glad I wore my moccasins for maximum sneakiness, she thought to herself, almost giggling aloud at the silly thought. It was nerves; a small part of her brain was trying to crack jokes, while the rest of her was focusing on the room ahead.

Then she was in the office, just as Hans leveled a gun at the hostages and said, “-me to say goodbye.”

“I agree.” Karrie was a little surprised that her voice was steady. “Everyone, put your hands up.”

Hans turned and Karrie found his gun centered on her forehead. To be fair, that’s where hers was too – centered on his forehead. “Four on two. You are outnumbered, ladies. I suggest you surrender, or I start killing hostages.”

“What the fuck ever.” Karrie’s voice was full of scorn. “We surrender and you’ll kill all of us anyway. So I’m going to make sure that I take some of you with me. And I have my gun on you, Hans. You’re the first one who gets a bullet. At this range, I won’t miss. So the only way for you to survive this is to surrender yourself.”

“There is another option. Enjoy my final surprise.” Hans touched his wrist; a quick movement aided by his double grip on the gun. There was a hum and a flash of light and Hans was gone. Karrie stared as three other hums filled the air and Hans’s remaining compatriots disappeared as well.

“You!” Karrie spun on the woman who’d she’d armed. “Go back and make sure the others are still there. If they are, take anything on their wrists off and bring them to me.”

“Coyote, you have to go after them and get back the Orialsti!” Carlson rose in front of her, grabbing at her arms.

“Let go. I have more important things to do.” Karrie was already shoving at him.

The president’s face went red. “Wrong! You have to follow my orders!”

“Fuck your orders. I have a bomb to find and disarm. Get out of my way.” Karrie’s statement shocked him, and she chose that moment to break away. “The rest of you, tend to one another and then go looking for that bomb! Let me know if you find it!” She was betting she knew where it was but at least that kept them busy.

Koehnen followed her into the hall; as Karrie yanked open the door to the Roosevelt room and peered inside, he asked, “Why do you think there’s a bomb?”

“What do you think a final surprise is?” Karrie grunted, yanking a glow stick from under a strap on her vest. With a snap and a shake, she held up the light, scanning the room. “Not here. Where’s the most central room in this wing?”

“The mechanical room. Over here.” Karrie found herself liking the Vice-President much more than the President. He opened the door for her and they both stopped. A simple metal box was in the middle of the room; it was about the size of an air conditioning unit and Karrie could hear a soft hum coming from it. “That looks…”

“This is got to be it.” Karrie dropped her stick in the middle of the floor, then began to pull off all the sticks, igniting them and dropping them around the boxy device in the middle of the room. “Give me a couple of minutes and we’ll be good.”

“You can disarm it?” Koehnen still looked nervous.

There was a nearby toolbox and Karrie selected a screwdriver. “I can,” she stated confidently, opening up the panel. “This should be…” Her voice trailed off as she got her first look at the inside. “Oh. Fuck.”

“What?” Koehnen moved to stand next to her, but Karrie held up her hand.

“No. No closer. Go back to the Oval Office and gather everyone up. Get them as far from this room as you can, into the most heavily shielded room in the wing.” Karrie felt a bead of sweat roll down her face.

“You can’t disarm this?”

“First, I have to figure out what the fuck it is,” Karrie said softly, her voice shaking. “Then I might be able to disarm it. But this device is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. So yeah… I might need time we don’t have to even figure out how it works. Now, get the hell out of here and do what you can to save everyone else.”

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Karrie turned her focus back to the machine. The rumbling noise continued; she could only assume that was Rob. He’d keep trying, she knew, to get them out. That was the kind of hero he was. Better kind than me, sneaking around and pretending to be weak and now faced with failure at what I’m supposed to be the best at! The internal guts of the machine almost seemed to be mocking her.

Her brain had never failed her before and Karrie attacked the machine, not with fists, but with a screwdriver, starting to rapidly dismantle the thing. She still took care, cautiously removing each piece, but definitely angry at it. “Stupid fucker,” she growled, peeling back the separate parts and examining each one quickly before setting it aside. “When I get my god damned hands on you…”

Her voice trailed off in surprise when she saw the writing on one of the panels. Most people wouldn’t have had a clue what it said, but Karrie knew Navajo. If you can read this, you’re lucky enough to get a hint: there is no off-switch, only a distance setting. Are you smart enough to figure it out?

“What the fuck?!” Karrie’s shrill shout rang through the small room. “Are you paying games?!” Quickly, she unscrewed the panel and exposed the components behind it, blinking at what she saw. There were a lot of fibers – not wires, but something that appeared to be fiber-optics or something. Karrie touched one of them, noting that it felt warm to her. Then she pulsed quantum through it – and felt an answering pulse. “Shit.” She had no idea what this was or how to turn it off.

I’m going to die. I’m going to die and I’ll never get to give Rob his ring back. She didn’t understand what she was thinking; her hands shook as her brain raced to a long list of never-get-to-do’s. That was her ring; Rob had given it to her. Why would she give it back?

“Calm down,” she muttered. Karrie took a deep breath and centered herself, clearing her mind with difficulty. “Focus. Focus and survive.” Then she started to study what she had before her. The fibers were strange: an odd pale white color and about as thick as hair. Pulses of quantum caused the same thing: an answering pulse. So this was clearly nova-tech but not like any tech she’d seen before.


Karrie spun to see the woman she’d armed earlier in the doorway. “What the fuck are you doing here?!” Karrie barked. “I told Koehnen to get everyone away!”

“But you told me to bring you this!” The woman had shrunk back from Karrie’s outburst, but she still held her hand out.

Karrie rose and grabbed the black device from her, recognizing it as one of the wrist teleporters. “What happen to the other one?” she asked, turning it over and popping the back of it off. The same too-advanced tech was staring her in the face and she scowled at it.

“I… uh… I accidently activated it and he beamed away.” The girl looked sheepish. “The white one.”

“Shit.” Karrie’s expletive wasn’t too hard and she glanced at the woman. “No, don’t worry. Show me how to activate it.”

“Hold this for several seconds.” The woman pointed at the big black button on the front. Amusingly, it said Push in small gray letters, the lettering almost lost against the black background. Makes it hard to see unless you look for it.

Karrie nodded. “Thanks. Now get away from the bomb.”

“Oh!” The woman cast a worried look at the big device on the floor and fled.

With a sigh, Karrie moved back to kneel in front of it. “Alright, I have this god-awful thing, no off switch, and it’s a bomb. Think, Karrie, thi-” It’d been so obvious, she’d almost over-thought it. She wrapped the device around one of the internal struts. She couldn’t disarm it; she couldn’t stop it. So Karrie was going to send it away. If she were really having a good day, she’d send it the same place the terrorists had gone. She thumbed the button, releasing it when she heard the first tones of that hum. She backed up until she was as far as she could get from it, unsure of its radius of effect. The native woman remained in place until the box flickered and disappeared.

Then she sagged to the floor, put her head on her knees, and waited for her shakes to pass.

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The dome was gone so suddenly that Rob knew he hadn’t had anything to do with its disappearance. Karrie! The word was both a cause of the dome’s absence as well as a declaration of his fevered brain. Rob dropped out of the sky as his earth wave folded back into the ground. He skimmed the earth of the Rose Garden in a rush that snapped petals off of the flowers. Rob was through the door of the Oval Office seconds after the shield was gone, peering around in the dark. Karrie had been in the Dining Room, and Rob shot through that door, too.

A form was huddled under the table, but Rob could tell even in the dark that it wasn’t Karrie. It was far too large, and he was unsurprised when he realized it was the black man he’d seen on camera. A fiercely satisfied grin crossed his lips but he otherwise ignored the man. When he saw Rob, he pulled against his bonds and snapped, “Let me up!” Rob noted the British accent but didn’t stop, stepping into the hall.

There was a faint glow to the right and Rob followed it to a maintenance room. He’d never really paid attention to this particular room on his previous visits and he didn’t really note much about it now, because Karrie was slumped against the wall, her head burrowing into her knees while her arms gripped her legs. Three quick strides put him at her side; he put a hand on her shoulder as she lifted her head. “Are you okay?” he asked, looking into her eyes for signs of emotional trauma. She’d been huddled in on herself, and Rob had seen rape victims look like that before. If they’ve hurt her… He didn’t finish the thought.

“Yeah,” she breathed, giving him a weary smile. “Rough day, but I’m fi-”

He couldn’t hold back any longer; the second he realized she was about to say fine he grabbed her in a tight hug. His arms slipped under hers and tightened around her ribs until her Kevlar vest dug into his chest. After a half-second, she was hugging him back, her arms curling around his neck. Rob didn’t say anything to her, just held her. He didn’t dare speak, because he would have said something he couldn’t un-say. Rob could have held her forever but she shifted a little after several minutes and he released her. She didn’t move far; instead she leaned against him and he sat down, settling her on his lap. It probably wasn’t a good idea but he didn’t care. He’s been so scared for her.

“They got away. I think the President is going to fire me.” Karrie grinned a little but Rob could tell she wasn’t joking.

“Fuck ‘im. Horst won’t fire you, not after you saved the President and everyone else in here.” Rob could feel himself coming down from the hours of adrenaline; he was comfortable with her on his lap and part of him wanted to sleep. That same part wanted to carry her home to his bed and sleep cuddled around her. He took a closer look at her and realized that what he’d thought was a shadow on her lip was actually a cut. Gently, he turned her head and took a closer look at it. “I don’t think you’re going to need stitches but I bet that hurts like hell. Any loose teeth?”

Karrie paused and assessed. “Yes! Fuck! Are they gonna fall out?”

She looked worried and normally Rob would have made a joke. Not today. “They shouldn’t, if you don’t wiggle them. Most of the time the gum tightens up again.”

“Good. Teethless Navajo women are so stereotypical.” She wound her arms around his chest and put her head on his shoulder. “Ugh, I want to sleep for a week. Next time, you get to be the hostage.”

Rob finally smiled, resting his head against the wall and enjoying the feel of her in his arms. She was joking. She’d be fine. “And you can be the one outside, dealing with Horst’s nervous sweat-smell.”

Karrie paused. “I changed my mind.”

“Nuh-uh. No take-backs.”

That’s how the paramedics found them, arms around each other, arguing about who would be the hostage next time.


I did not expect that. Horst was trying to concentrate on giving a statement to the members of the press who had found working equipment, but his thoughts kept getting pulled to the side. As such, he let Rob do most of the talking, which was fine; Rob was better at this than he was in many ways. Certainly more attractive, which helped the general public’s attentiveness.

He’d known that Rob and Karrie were fond of one another but today he’d seen how deep that concern went. Horst had been with the paramedics when they’d been found and he’d been shocked by the scene that had greeted him. For all that they said they’d been acting, they’d been canoodling and cuddling after the fight. And if they were together, how come she’d been seen on a date with Connor? Why was there a YouTube video of Karrie kissing Connor?

Of course, that was easily answered, and the answer made Horst a little sad for the young man standing next to him. Horst had been married for years, but he remembered the bitter pain of unrequited love. Of course, he couldn’t remember the name of the girl he’d fancied so intensely, but he did remember the emotional agony. God, I don’t wish to be that young again. All that stuff seemed so important.

“Director Horst?” Horst snapped out of his musings at Rob’s voice. “Are you okay?”

Horst looked from Rob’s concerned face to the hungrily watching reporters. “Yes. It has been a long day. What was the question?”

“Do you have any comment at this time regarding the terrorist’s motivations? Is this a religious group? White jihadists?”

“No,” Horst grumped to the pretty young thing thrusting the phallic microphone in his face, “we haven’t yet determined what exactly this group might do in the future. We’re getting our best minds on that.”

“What about the nova that was with the President? Does she work for the DSA?”

“Absolutely. That’s Karrie Dineh, also called Coyote; her information is already available in her public profile on the DSA website.” Horst didn’t mention that it was mostly overlooked by the public at large; she wasn’t in the spotlight enough or sexy enough to grab attention. That was going to change, he knew. “When she feels better-” And I’ve had time to try to get her ready for the public- “-we’ll have a formal press meeting where you can question her directly. With that, I’ve had enough of the press today. Telluris and I still have a lot of work to do today. We’ll talk to you guys later.”

They wanted more but he pulled Rob away from them, finding a spot where they could talk more or less privately. Though God knew that ‘private’ was becoming a thing of the past, in this brave new nova-filled world. “Alright, son, time for a talk.” As Rob blinked at him, Horst bluntly asked, “How long have you felt romantic feelings for Karrie?”

Rob’s mouth opened, then closed, and a flush blossomed over his face. “Uh… I don’t know. I think for sure since I went to the Rez to help her last summer.”

Horst had to give it to the kid; he didn’t try to lie his way out of it or deny it. “I’ve heard you encouraging her to chase after Connor. Why?”

“Because it’ll make her happy.” Rob smiled a little at that – actually smiled at the thought of Karrie with another man, if it would please her.

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard today.” Horst’s statement was delivered bluntly, taking Rob aback and removing that smile. “Rob, how long do you think Connor will make her happy? Have you heard the way she talks about him? Compare that to Connor the real person. There’s no match. She’s crazy-in-love with some made-up ideal of a person. Connor’s a great guy, but he’s going to bore the shit out of her eventually. She’s going to wake up and realize that, and then how happy will she be?”

“So what am I supposed to do?” Rob asked, looking miserable. Horst hated doing this on a level, but it had to be done. “Either I’m the douche who waits for her to crash and burn with him and is there to pick up the pieces, or I’m the jealous douche who tries to talk her out of seeing him at all.”

“I can’t tell you which way to go. I can tell you that there might be more than two paths; you could just be her friend and point out to her that the guy she’s in love with is a fabrication of her own brilliant mind.” Horst shook his head. “She may not like it, but she’s smart. Even if she ignores it at first, she’ll hear it – but only if you say it. Rob, you’re the only person who can reliably change her mind once she’s settled on something. She listens to you.”

Rob nodded but didn’t look happy. Pleased to have gotten that out of the way, Horst drew a deep breath and added, “And there’s one more thing that I need to let you know…”

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“I’m not fucking pregnant!” Karrie glared at the fifth paramedic trying to hook up a neonatal monitor to her. Rob and Horst were off doing PR, leaving her in the back of an ambulance to fend for herself. “Get that thing away from me. I swear, the terrorists were less pushy than you people!”

With an annoyed glare, the man backed off. Karrie sighed and settled back in the gurney, staring at the metal plating in her hands. She’d read the Navajo writing over and over, trying to get a feel for the person who had written it. “I think…” she murmured to the empty ambulance, “that I’ve gotten my first taste of my Moriarty.” And like Holmes, her arch-enemy was several steps ahead of her.

I wish we’d been able to keep some of that tech. Karrie realized she was wasting time; with a huff, she ripped monitoring pads off of herself, sending out shrill warnings. The medical staff came running, only to stop, glaring, when they saw she’d just disconnected herself. “Knock it off. I’m fine. I need some paper and a pen.” After some grumbling, they found what she needed and left her to work. Quickly, she started to draw everything she remembered from the devices, trying to get it on paper before she forgot it.

“Karrie?” Director Horst’s voice interrupted her.

Without looking up, Karrie grunted, “Yeah?”

“You feel all right?”

“Yep. Just trying to get the machinery committed to memory.”

Horst tilted his head slightly. “Koehnen said you didn’t think you could have disarmed it.”

There was a question in there and Karrie drew another couple of lines before squinting up at her boss. Rob was standing silently behind Horst, his tired eyes on her. He gave her a weary smile when their gaze met; then Karrie returned her eyes to the human. “I could have, but I don’t think I could have done it in the time needed. I’m serious. It was completely alien.”

Horst pulled out his phone and punched a few buttons. “Anything like this?” He handed the phone to her.

“Yeah,” Karrie murmured after a moment. “Yeah, this is not as… complex, but a lot like that. Where did you get this picture?”

Horst retrieved his phone before Karrie did something terrible to it as a joke and answered, “That’s some of the tech that the egghead Refugees brought with them.”

“Oh shit.” Karrie stared at Horst. “Can you get me some more examples of that? I really need to study this stuff.”

“I’ll try, but the Europeans are going to ask why and they don’t like you.” Horst stared at her. “An apology for your stunt would help loosen the gears of diplomacy.”

Karrie’s big brown eyes narrowed. “Fine. You finally got me to agree to apology for doing nothing wrong.”

“Great!” Horst looked delighted, or as delighted as he could look when he was this tired. “Rob can help you write it.” The human’s unspoken order to Rob included, Make it a real apology and Rob nodded. With that, Horst headed off, moving to catch up with General Ramsey.

Sighing, Rob pulled himself up into the ambulance and sat on the bench. “Your family’s landing soon. They’ll want to see you. Simon’s gonna call when they touch down.”

“Oh, uh, awesome.” Karrie sighed and pressed a hand to her forehead. “That should be fun. Did they catch the news?”

“Uh huh.”

“Oh, fuck.” There was another deep sigh from the woman. “They upset?”

“Let’s just say it’s good for me that your father can’t bring a gun on the friendly skies.”

Karrie blinked at him for a second before comprehension crossed her features. “Awwww, shit. I’m sorry, Rob. I was just trying to get Hans’s attention… I didn’t think… about after.” She smiled ruefully. “I haven’t had to worry about it before now. I’ll explain it all to them. It’ll be fine.”

“I know.” Rob turned his head, looking at the White House. Even from this distance, it was clear that there was something wrong with the West Wing. “They say it’ll be millions to rebuild the wing.”

“Yeah. That shield really fucked everything up.” Karrie studied him. “You okay? You seem down.”

Rob smiled at her but he still didn’t put much happiness in it. “I’m proud of you. Horst is talking that you’re ready for field missions.”

“That’ll be fun.” Karrie smiled. “You and me, out there being hero and sidekick… What?”

“Horst isn’t going to let us go on missions together.” Rob’s dark eyes dropped and studied his feet.

Karrie looked stricken. “Why? We’re a great team!”

“I lost my cool, Karrie. When those guys were talking about raping you, I would have done anything to stop them. That’s why I leveled the EMP blast.” His cute brown eyes returned to her, full of remorse. “I lost my cool and I can’t do that on a mission. So Horst says I can’t go on them with you right now.”

“I’ll talk to him, once this calms down.” Karrie put a hand on his arm. “I want to do missions with you, and I’ll persuade him.”

“Karrie, I did lose my cool. Horst’s decision sucks, but it’s probably right.” Rob put his hand over hers, smiling slightly as he recognized the ring.

“Rob, you lost your cool because some assholes were talking about raping your friend. Anyone, Horst included, would have snapped because of that.” Karrie leaned closer. “Once everyone’s had some sleep, it’ll smooth over.” She was a little surprised; she’d thought that his reaction had been playing along, not what he was really feeling. “Horst will get that we’re the best team out there, and he’ll come around.” Rob just shook his head. “I’ll make him come around.”

They were silent for another moment, his thumb toying with her fingers. It was good: companionable and quiet. “I really was scared for you.” Rob’s admission was uttered in a quiet, sincere voice.

“You shouldn’t have been,” Karrie told him, smiling slightly. “I had it all under control.” She was lying, and they both knew it, but accepting the lie made it easier on them; it hid truths neither was willing to discuss. And for now, that was the way both heroes wanted it. Besides, they’d saved the President – that was enough for one day.

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