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An Erinyes Adventure

 

E. E. Nalley

Kait Marksbury created by Renae Miller
Diana Davenport and Preston (Kallie) Wyecross created by Bek D. Corbin

Elisa Diaz has been an Erinys for a very long time; long enough that she has nearly become jaded by the sights and conspiracies of the world. Yet in the dark shadowy places there remain tangled plots that have never seen the light of day, until she stumbles across one of the oldest. Guns! Gritty Cyberpunk setting, babes in skintight body suits and even a little bit of cross dressing! Set in Bek D. Corbin’s Erinyes Universe, with his blessing.

Rosario-Buenos Aries-La Plata Metropolitan Area 10:28PM, March 9th

The air was heavy with humidity and the din of traffic coming and going on Moreno Street. The workday was done, but the night life was getting into high gear and a cacophonic mix of rumba, salsa and other, less identifiable music was floating up from the street below the gothic cathedral. The revelers, so close to the massive dike that had been erected to hold back the bloated Plata River took no notice of the dike, nor the sordid floating docks that had been cobbled together to keep the port open when the oceans rose. This was Old Town, the heart of Buenos Aries and just now was never the time for such thoughts.

A glossy black shadow crouched beside a gargoyle, florescent green eyes peering intently at the Hotel InterContinental de Buenos Aries. The eerie green glow was fixed on a particular window in which a tall, thin man was pacing, incessantly smoking while checking the lock on the door as well as nervous glances to his window, forty stories above the street. Here was a man whose conscience was giving him no rest.

Good.

The shadow seemed to smile at the man’s obvious lack of sleep. Imperceptible over street noises was a man’s voice in the shadows ear. The glowing green eyes turned and picked out the sight of a helicopter’s running lights. Still a ways off but getting closer; it was time.

A small, matte black device made itself known in the shadow’s hand in the weak glow of neon coming up from the street. A soft puff of escaping high pressure air was lost to the collection of music as an impossibly thin line snaked across the street to imbed itself into the concrete of the hotel, just above one of the two open lower roofs below the penthouse with it’s heliport above. The shadow detached itself from the protection of the gargoyle and slid across the space, lithe and feminine and still impossibly black in a skin tight combat suit that gave no impression other than form.

The shadow dropped soundlessly onto the roof and was through the access door before its lock could begin to put up a struggle.

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Customs of Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeira, 11:23 AM, March 8th

Buena mañana, Señorita. Puedo ver su pasaporte, por favor?” Pablo could not believe his luck that the most beautiful woman in the customs line had come to his cubical. She was magnificent even as she demurely presented her passport, only one small suitcase beside her.

Buena Mañana,” she replied, her voice a velvet contralto that lovingly rounded each syllable that escaped her full, generous mouth. Pablo forced his eyes from femininity personified to be rewarded with her smiling picture staring out at him from the documents. It named her Elisa Maria Ayala Diaz, from the American Federation and listed her age as 38.

Impossible, thought Pablo to himself. Surely this woman, so richly attired, so breathtakingly beautiful could be no older than 25 but even that was being generous. Still, it seemed prudent to keep his mind on his work. Something wasn’t quite right. “Cuál es la longitud de su estancia en la Coalición SurAmericana?”

Apenas un día. Estoy aquí en negocio.”

Pablo frowned at her ready answer. “Qué clase de negocio?” Her smile became feral and the demure façade slipped a bit.

Personal business.”

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Rosario-Buenos Aries-La Plata Metropolitan Area 10:29PM, March 9th

The Hotel InterContinental de Buenos Aries was one of a double dozen Five Star hotels scattered around the Old City, but it was the only one to boast such a central location in Old Town. It was also easily the oldest which gave it an air of Art Deco opulence that clashed with more modern security measures. The Shadow found herself in a disserted stairwell from the roof top door.

A building that had been constructed in the last fifty years would never have a roof entrance not opening into a crowded area. There were too many reasons since the seas rose large numbers of people would need to exit a building quickly to not have all the exits clearly marked. Such considerations were beyond the imaginations of the InterContineal’s architects in 1934. Doorways which went no where, to their minds, were better left to the top of unused stairwells.

As she expected, the Shadow found a small half door held shut by a simple padlock. A special tool from her belt had it open in a clutch of heartbeats and the Shadow was in the darkness once more; this time on a steel grate that was tacked as an after thought inside a concrete pit of the buildings elevator core. Groans of distressed steel and rattling chains replaced lively music to be just as ignored by the Shadow as she found the ladder she was expecting and began to descend.

Five floors later a similar grate was waiting on her, what little wall space there was taken up by a rat’s nest of cabling and an unvisited museum exhibit of telephone history. As the buildings communications equipment had been upgraded throughout the decades, each new generation of engineers simply left their predecessors work in place and placed their own beside it. Wooden distribution blocks with wing screws for connections and solid copper wire had given way to plastic 66 series punch down blocks and twisted pair Category 3 wire.

This too had been supplanted by the floor’s Smart Box and fiber optic branch threads that fed the river of information from the buildings 145meg/sec OC3 main trunk; state of the art, fifty years ago. A smile formed behind the Shadow’s mask at the pride the final engineer had had in his work.

His notes still remained on a yellowed sheet taped next to the Smart Box where he had painstakingly drawn out each circuit and thoughtfully labeled them all by room number for whoever would follow him. The green glow from the night vision goggles played across the diagram. The old engineer hadn’t completely trusted the new technology and made sure the Smart Box would make use of the previous punch down block for strictly voice calls from the hotel’s PBX.

Redundancy was the hallmark of a good engineer.

From her belt, the Shadow removed a small box with a pair of wired leads that dangled free. These she brought to the correct alligator clips of the 66 block and punched them in place, over the top of the existing lines. The outbound circuit from the same room she worked a hook into and pulled them free. Her guilty friend wouldn’t be calling for help on the Hotel’s dime.

An angry red light glowed to life as she activated the black box and secured it to the 66 block where it could be easily found. No sense making the job harder for the clean up crew. They weren’t accessories to murder.

It had taken most of a day to hard code a passable, generated copy of the man’s murdered wife’s voice and hard imprint it on a chip. The Shadow only wished she could have seen his face when his dead wife began calling from the Great Beyond. “Via con Dios,” the Shadow whispered to herself with a reverent, but hurried crossing of herself.

From the small of her back she produced and made sure of the load of deadly looking automatic pistol whose magazine extended well below the grip. The Shadow slipped clear of the service shaft and out into the main hall of the floor.

It was time.

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Themis Branch Office, Boston-Atlanta Metroplex, 2:13PM, March 7th

“Diaz,” the phone buzzed at her, seeming to know she was hip deep in trying to clear three cases at once. “My office, now.”

Elisa sighed as she began to gather up the scattered case notes from around her desk that were most likely the cause of the boss’s ire. She felt her cube-mate Kait’s eyes on her as she did so, the obvious question almost going unasked. “And what have we done to garner the attention of the boss?”

“We?” asked Elisa with a roll of her chocolate brown eyes. “Unless you’ve blown up a building I don’t know about, wehaven’t done anything.” The paperclip managed to work loose from the crime scene films and they scattered across the floor of the cube. “On a guess, she’s ticked about the Harrison-Maxwell Jewels heist.”

The red headed Valkyrie frowned as she stooped to help Elisa pick up the scattered photos. “You still haven’t managed to track down that witness? You got that name last week.”

“Well, I know he’s somewhere in Germany, but the Bundeskriminalamt has been particularly unhelpful. There must be some kind of on going special on doughnuts in Wiesbaden because no one is ever available nor can they be bothered to return my phone calls.”

Marksbury handed her cube mate the photos she’d collected. “Ah, and I imagine Wendy is laying odds on Harrison burning up Diana’s phone complaining about our so-called lack of speed for his hard earned nubucks.” Elisa finally got the file back into a semblance of order and nodded.

“Well, wish me luck and don’t bet against me.”

“When have I ever done that?” Kait smirked. Elisa’s glare did all the reciting of Kait’s previous indiscretions with the office bookie she needed. Still there was nothing else for it so she squared her shoulders and tried to pretend that every eye wasn’t on her as she made her way to Diana’s office.

The aforementioned room was a glass walled rectangle towards the center of the room where the Office Supervisor could see all of her charges and, more importantly, they could see who was getting the third degree for fouling up. Diana felt that peer pressure and a bit of embarrassment was just the thing to keep her agents in line, on the job, and most importantly, alive. Going into the ‘Shark Tank’ as it was referred to (strictly behind Diana’s back of course) was always a bit of drama; even more so when Diana had polarized the glass the make the office a black square in the middle of the floor.

Like it was now.

The door was the only portion of the office that hadn’t been polarized yet, but that changed with a press of one of Diana’s meticulously manicured nails after she’d waved Elisa inside. A set of silicon nanites appeared in red under where Diana Davenport had been ‘etched’ on the glass wall and shaped themselves into DO NOT DISTURB.

Elisa swallowed before letting herself into the office. “Sit,” ordered Diana as she tapped away at her keyboard, seemingly intent on the readout on the screen. Diaz settled into one of the very comfortable camel colored leather chairs that faced the desk, smoothing her skirt as she did so.

“You wanted to see me, Diana?” she started after a cautious licking of her lips.

If she had been old enough, Diana Davenport could have been the reason the phrase blond bombshell had been coined. While still trim, traffic stopping beautiful and as hard as nails when she wanted to be, Diana could be sympathetic and understanding; she just wasn’t often. There were rumors that she might have been seen being that way once, but no one would admit to being the witness. It was always so and so said such and such saw…

Diana finally noticed the file folder Elisa held when she looked up from her computer screen. “What’s that?”

“The Harrison-Maxwell Jewels case,” replied Diaz. “Isn’t that what you wanted to talk about?”

“No, but since you brought it, what’s going on? I’m getting tired of placating Messer’s Harrison and Maxwell over my phone. I have better things to be doing, like charging you overhead for my line’s cost this month.”

“We have the perps cooling their heels in the Dee-Cee Metro Detention Center, and they’re not getting out anytime soon. They both have a slew of violent felonies going back fifteen years or more. One of them was my first collar actually. The problem is the DA won’t release payment until we produce the eyewitness who is on the vacation of his lifetime in the European Union and I can’t get anyone from German authorities to return my calls.”

Diana rolled her eyes in disgust. “And of course no one in our great, democratic bureaucracy will admit to granting travel visas to a material witness in an ongoing homicide investigation. I’ll make some calls, but that’s not why I called you in here.”

Elisa very carefully kept her surprise in check. Diana rotated her computer screen so Diaz could see the yellow job bid form that was displayed, her name very prominent on it. “What is this?” Davenport asked with a calmness that was always the first sign of trouble.

The cocky answer sprang to Diaz’s lips with a speed that she found alarming even as she bit down on it. “It’s an open job I put a bid on, what’s wrong with that?”

“It’s an open bid from our branch office in Buenos Aires that you put a bid on. Would you mind telling me why you’re bidding on jobs on another continent?”

“The fugitive is from the Boston-Atlanta Metro. The crime was committed on the Pennsylvania Inlet. That’s our jurisdiction.”

“Crime?” demanded Diana, even as she swung the screen around to pull up the specifics of the bid. As she read through Elisa knew she had misspoken. “Oh, of course, I should have known. So, Mister Herbert Van Buren kills his wife, evidently in cold blood and highs off to Buenos Aires to avoid extradition. But as he’s not only ticked off his employer who holds him to a Lifetime Contract, but the late Mrs. Van Buren’s parents are well heeled enough to put in a bid to have him hauled back as well. And there’s no place on Earth he can run from the Avenging Angel of THEMIS, is there, Elisa?”

“It’s a legitimate bid…” started Diaz.

“I’m not paid to be your psychologist, Diaz, and we’re not here to help you work out your frustrations about what happened to your parents.” Even Diana winced a bit at how sharply the words had come out of her mouth. The softening in her eyes was probably the closest she would come to an apology. “Elisa,” she started again, noticeably more subdued. “You paid off your debt two years ago. You know how many rules I’m bending letting you stay a field agent when you should be working a desk somewhere in Computer Intelligence or Internal Security.”

“You need role-models for the new girls to see,” Elisa replied, doing her best not to sound surly. “To show them that they can pay off the debt.”

“Why do you think I put Marksbury with you?” the Boss said, something dangerously close to a smile on her face. “That doesn’t change the fact that you putting in for this has nothing to do with business or professionalism. And it won’t bring your mother back, Elisa, no matter how many murderers you bring in.”

“I know that,” she hissed. “And I know that Mister Van Buren only killed his own wife, not my mama, but bringing in the tontos who do this makes me feel better. I couldn’t help my mother, Diana, but I can make sure Lillian Van Buren’s killer faces justice. Isn’t that what we’re here for?” A long moment passed as the gears behind Diana’s eyes turned, weighing the risks verses the rewards. Finally she spoke once more.

“Don’t make me regret this.”

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Rosario-Buenos Aries-La Plata Metropolitan Area 10:30PM, March 9th

The main hall of the floor lived up to the promise of the hotel’s exterior. More to the point, blowers in the ceiling quietly, but endlessly pushed cooler, conditioned air to relieve the guests from the Argentina swelter outside. Elisa removed the night vision goggles and returned them to a clamshell keeper on her belt. They were expensive enough to warrant proper looking after while the balaclava had served its purpose and was stuffed back into a catch all pouch.

Elisa liked for her victims to see her face, to know a woman was who brought them down.

More to the point, while the glossy back Erinyes combat suit wasn’t exactly high fashion, it would draw enough stares if she were seen. Wearing the hood would doubtlessly start a panic. Without the hood she’d just be dismissed as a either a tramp or a showoff, flaunting her magnificent body. Either had applied at some point, she thought ruefully to herself before clearing her mind for the business at hand.

There were incoherent shouts coming from Van Buren’s room, sufficient to reach down the hall to Diaz’s unoccupied ear, but not so much that she could make out what was being said. A cruel smile plucked at the corner of her mouth; it seemed her bit of psychological trickery was having its desired result.

“We’re on station, One,” whispered the voice in her other ear.

The communications uplink was state of the art, small, light weight and very secure. It had cost nearly a month’s pay and the part of her that was still getting used to being out of debt grumbled about the company store. Elisa settled into a fighting stance up against the wall on the strong side of her mark’s door. “Light him up,” she sub-vocalized into the pick up.

Outside the hotel, the helicopter whose approach she had followed rotated slightly so that the 20 million candle power flood light in its nose was pointed into Van Buren’s room. Elisa could almost feel the heat from the flood lamp against the wall. On cue, the front door swung open and the room’s occupant, trying to protect his eyes, came stumbling out.

Right into Elisa’s elbow.

The blow fell in the corner where the man’s jaw met his skull, just below his ear. Herbert was staggered and fell into the door frame, his sobs of anguish now cries of pain. Not giving him a chance to recover, Elisa collected handfuls of his shirt and whirled him around her, using the wall to stop him.

Blood spurted from the fountain his broken nose had become, tracing a perfect arc between the impact points and the floor he fell back to, stiff as a board. Elisa’s right foot struck his kidney as the fulcrum through the cartwheel she turned over him, making him arch up and away from the foot.

This left him extremely exposed as her left foot crashed into his groin on her landing. Herbert curled up into a ball to try and protect himself, his sobs less and less coherent as one arm flayed, whether in defense or surrender was unclear.

“Stop…! Stop…!”

Elisa grabbed his arm and used it as leverage to roll him prone, if his wrist was striking the back of his head that just encouraged him to move in the direction she wanted. “Is that what Lillian said?” she snarled at his back, the weight of the pistol in its holster ever on her mind. “Eh, tough guy? Did she beg for her life?”

“…Lillian…!” he wailed.

Her fist raised of its own accord the soft spot where his neck met his head fixed in her tunnel vision. A single strike would be sufficient to shatter his neck. He wouldn’t die instantly, but suffocate over twenty agonizing minutes. “One, we’re at the roof,” reminded the voice in her ear. “Ready for extraction.”

A lifetime passed before her fist relaxed and snatched a pair of hand cuffs from their keeper. “You’re going to answer for what you’ve done,” she hissed as the metal bit into his flesh. “Lillian sends her regards.”

She snatched him up into a fireman’s carry and made her way to the elevator. None of the other guests who had appeared from their rooms did more than stare as she passed.

The elevator was thankfully empty when it arrived, its soothing music a macabre counterpoint to the bleeding, moaning prisoner across her shoulders. The pain was forcing him into shock based on how disjointed his mumbles were becoming. Fortunately the ride was short to the sky lounge were a five man team in Reflex Armor and Personal Assault Systems were waiting on her in a classic, over lapping ambush.

Their leader stood first, his face plate becoming clear as the PAS found a more neutral direction. It was a handsome, but weathered face; tanned from the sun of a hundred plus countries in countless ‘engagements’ he occupied himself with there, both legal and less than. At his signal, the other men relaxed as well. “Is he dead?” he asked simply, noting the condition of her prisoner. “Or just wishing he was?”

“I don’t think he’s coherent enough to wish,” she replied, allowing one of the men to relieve her of her loathsome burden. “But he’ll live once Murphy gets a few quiet minutes with him.”

“Murphy,” called the other man to the group’s medic, his armor having smaller red crosses near the THEMIS logos. The leader led the group out to the small Sparrow Hawk helicopter that was idling on the pad. It was a Special Forces surplus model, old but well cared for and still carried some interesting looking mounting points that were currently empty.

Elisa settled into one of the cloth jump seats near the door and furthest from Van Buren and sighed. It was a thirty minute ride by car to the Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeira from the hotel, but just five by air. There the crew of the helicopter would quickly step the rotors so it would fit into the C-181 Atlas that was waiting on them. The Atlas would then swallow the Sparrow Hawk and depart on a flight plan filed 36 hours earlier. Within an hour they would out of Argentina and on their way home, long before the local authorities could organize some way to stop them.

The leader settled into the jump seat across from Elisa and sighed as he got his helmet off. This revealed a coal black high and tight that lengthened his already long face but seemed meant for him. “You want to talk about it?”

“What is there to talk about, Tom?” she snapped. Her eyes apologized for her and she continued in a much more subdued tone. “Just another perp brought to Justice.”

“Is it sad I can hear that you capitalize that J?” he asked around a chuckle. Diaz rolled her eyes at his humor, but he had coaxed a smile from her.

“I appreciate you and the boys coming down here to play second fiddle. I know it was short notice too, but it’s nice to work with people you know.” He shrugged; an emphasized gesture through the heavy armor and ran a free hand through what there was of his hair.

“Always happy to get a pay check for nada,” he said, continuing to smile. “Still, I’ll add this IOU to my collection, maybe next to bit of business in Kuala Lumpur.”

“Oh you weren’t going to fall, you big baby,” she growled with mock venom. “How long are you going to hold that over my head?”

“41 Stories between me and a sudden, messy stop, Diaz!” The boyish good humor left his eyes for a moment as he looked over his shoulder at Murphy fussing over the prisoner before turning back to her. “You’re awfully quiet for a change.”

“You my confessor now?” she demanded angrily.

“Do you need one? Just a general observation that when you catch one of these you’re normally a lot more up beat,” he said after a moment of collecting his thoughts. Elisa shrugged which did interesting things to the combat suit.

“This one felt wrong is all.” She spared Van Buren a glance, who was now morosely staring out the window at the approaching lights of the airport. “Still, that’s what courts are for, right?”

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William J. Clinton Air/Sea Port, Boston-Atlanta Metroplex, 10:18AM, March 10th

One of the great benefits of the Atlas was it was designed to function as a sea plane as needed. In an era when the seas were 47 feet higher then they had been that was a large advantage. While it’s fifty meter wing span made it impossible to get anywhere near THEMIS HQ, the Pennsylvania Inlet was more than adequate to touch down on to be met by a sledge.

The cargo plane idled to a parking berth under the watchful eyes of the harbor master and the longshoremen who tied it off. Kait Marksbury let the men do their work as she waited by the sledge her ‘mentor’ had called ahead for. She wasn’t exactly unhappy to be working with Elisa; the only person who’d been doing this longer in the department was Diana and she didn’t work the field any more. Kait was satisfied that Elisa had a lot to offer in the way of tips and tricks; nobody who could pay off a two hundred and fifty thousand nubuck debt in fifteen years didn’t.

However, Kait was a fully qualified agent; she’d passed all the training and physicals. She tied her own shoes and everything. To have been ‘assigned’ a partner who Diana in no uncertain terms made clear was the superior of the relationship galled. It really didn’t help that in the three months since the Smithsonian blow up that she’d been mentoring under Elisa she’d made bonus every job.

“Everything ready?” whispered Elisa’s voice in the communications link that had been disguised as a pair of fashionable gold hoop earrings.

“All clear here,” Kait sub-vocalized, catching sight of Diaz looking at her through one of the windows of the big plane. The hatch opened, revealing the heavily armored form of a private with the Cerberus body guard detachment Elisa had taken with her. He made a show of checking the area and led his detachment down the ladder to the platform.

The bodyguards made a half circle before the skiff’s door, PAS rifles in hand and rigged for bear. The private was already inside the skiff, getting ready for the prisoner. Paranoid, thought Kait to herself as she took her eyes to their Commander, a rugged looking fellow who was leading the ‘client’. Kait gave a low whistle at the amount of bandages on the poor man; most of his face was wrapped in ruddy linen and he was walking with a noticeable limp that wasn’t entirely due to the leg irons he was wearing.

It looked like Elisa had vented some serious frustration on the twerp.

After him Diaz brought up the rear, still wearing her combat suit but with a secure coat over it. A buzz overhead brought Kait’s eyes up to see a news service helio had begun to orbit the platform, a camera man hanging out the side on a jump harness. Marksbury keyed her PCS over to the harbormaster’s frequency. “Get those vultures out of our airspace!”

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>>>K-WASH NEWSDUMP! SPECIAL ON THE SPOT REPORT!<<<
“This is Ilena Reyes, coming to you live over the Pennsylvania Inlet Harbor where a cargo plane registered to the THEMIS Corporation is currently disembarking Herbert Van Buren, wanted for the brutal slaying of his wife Lillian three days ago. K-WASH has learned from reliable sources that after the killing the suspect fled to Buenos Aires in the South American Coalition, probably to escape extradition for the crime. Those same sources inform us the Erinyes Corps were contracted both by the suspect’s employer, Saeder-Krupp as well as the parents of the deceased to return Mr. Van Buren to face trial. We…just a moment…! Something’s happening…! Mr. Van Buren has been shot! He’s down on the platform and there’s a lot of activity! Joe are you getting this?

“The platform is covered in blood and the THEMIS agents are engaged in pitched battle with a skiff just below us! Now the skiff is firing on us! I can see the THEMIS agents are moving Mr. Van Buren into their sledge. What? NO! Don’t follow the other skiff they’re shooting at us! Get us some altitude! Michael, we’re being ordered out of this airspace by Washington PD aerial units. Again, Herbert Van Buren, wanted in connection with the slaying of his wife Lillian, has been shot! Back to you! Get us out of here!”

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Themis Branch Office, Boston-Atlanta Metroplex, 11:37AM, March 10th

The screen that had dutifully formed in the glass wall of Diana’s office clicked off with a sharp gesture from its mistress. She didn’t shout, but then she didn’t need to; her glare was enough to wilt a new rose in rich soil. The targets of her ire found their shoes very interesting in the manner of a small child brought before a feared teacher. “Are you happy?” she asked at last. “We look like a collection of amateurs to the entire metroplex. A protected fugitive gunned down under your very noses in living color on the evening news.”

Of all the eyes Elisa could feel on her back, the ones that burned the most belonged to the smirking face of Valerie Worthington; the office vulture and resident Bitch Queen. While the others on the floor had the grace to pretend to not be watching, Val boldly stared, obvious pleasure plain on her face. “Well?” continued Diana crossly. “What do you have to say for yourselves? What can you say to persuade me not to open an office in Anchorage to staff with you three?”

Tom, ever a bold one, cleared his throat, immediately drawing Diana’s piercing gaze. “That’s not entirely fair, Ms. Davenport. Elisa took extensive precautions…”

“For all the good they did.” Diana calmly rotated her monitor again, this time it displayed her email program. “I have a lovelynote here from Maria Montoya, my counterpart in our Buenos Aires office reminding me of the large favor I owe her for allowing my professional poach on her territory. How should I respond to that, Diaz?”

“Nothing went wrong on her turf,” groused Elisa. “We were in and out in under an hour. It was text book.”

“That’s right,” drawled Diana. “It was on your own ground that it all went to hell, didn’t it? You can’t even blame Marksbury…”

“Leave Kait out of it,” snapped Diaz. “None of what went wrong was her fault. I was the Team Leader, if you want to blame someone, blame me.” The glass threatened to frost over, so cold Diana’s gaze became.

“Oh I am,” she finally whispered. “I may not be able to fine you since you’re clear of your indenture contract…”

“…Must be nice…” muttered Kait.

It only took a second of Diana’s gaze to convince the Valkyrie that silence was golden just then. “But,” she continued returning her glare back to Elisa, “I can make sure this doesn’t happen again. As of now, Agent Diaz, you are suspended from all field operations, pending a transfer to the Computer Intelligence Division, where you will serve the rest of your ten year contract; said transfer to be finalized with in two weeks. Badge and gun,” she demanded, holding out her hand.

Elisa stiffly removed the badge that hung around her neck on a chain and presented to her boss. “My sidearm is not issue,” she said with remarkable softness. “I purchased it with my own funds and so I do not have to surrender it to you. Further, as required by regulations I am informing you of my intent to file a harassment grievance both with human resources as well as Internal Affairs over your handling of this.”

“That is your right,” returned Diana with even less volume. “Now get out of my office.”

The trio filed out of the Shark Tank looking decidedly glum. As they made their way through the cube maze there was a moment of fear that Valerie would say something and thus ignite a major incident, but as they went by, a glare from Kait reminded her she had a pressing case load she should be working on. Elisa’s mood did brighten slightly at the arrival of Pres, the office intern.

While Kallie, or Preston as was ‘his’ official name was still technically male, her future acceptance into the Corps was all but written in stone. Having impressed the Office Supervisor does have its perks. And even a lowly intern’s part time salary was ridiculously better than anything she could manage flipping burgers like the others in her peer group.

Being young and transsexual meant Kallie had nothing better to spend her salary on than clothing. To Elisa’ knowledge Kallie had yet to wear the same outfit twice which made for something of a daily fashion show straight out of Elle. Today was a Princess Retro Cotehardie in teal green that had a hem line that would have scandalized a monk of the appropriate period while managing to match the color her eyes currently were. “Elisa! I’ve been looking all over for you!” she announced upon her arrival.

Diaz smiled as she muffed the teen’s growing longer hair. “You and everybody else, sweetie,” she said. “What’s up?”

“Your land lord in holding on five,” the near girl replied. “Says it’s urgent, something about a break in?” Elisa frowned as she picked up her pace to get back to her cubical. There, she snatched up her phone and connected to the appropriate line.

“Thank you for holding, this is Elisa Diaz, how may I help you?”

“Elisa? It’s Simon,” came the slightly distorted voice in her ear. “Where you been, girl? I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.”

“Been out of the country on business, Simon, what’s wrong?”

“About four in the afternoon yesterday, two Dee-Cee cops showed up, said they had a search warrant for your apartment and made me let ‘em in. The whole thing seemed fishy to me, but they cuffed me before I could finish complaining. They left after about two hours and let me go. I called PD, but they don’t know anything about it.”

“You ok, Simon?”

The gravely voice chuckled. “Take more than a couple of thugs playing cops to ruffle my feathers, girl. You safe?”

Elisa couldn’t keep a smile off her face at the old veteran’s bravado. “I’m fine. Thanks for the heads up, Simon. I owe you a solid. Keep your head down for a couple of days, alright hon?”

“Roger that, girl. You watch that cute backside for me.”

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Bethesda Naval Hospital, Boston-Atlanta Metroplex, 2:08PM, March 10th

A pair of discrete gentlemen were flanking the door she approached. Although neither wore a uniform, going instead for the upscale casual tough guy look in turtlenecks, slacks and leather blazers all in black, Elisa knew both were employed by the Cerberus Body Guard division of Themis. She nodded a greeting as they let her pass into the room, dark except for weak illumination of the bio-monitors.

The Ki that had been awakened in her by the Dragon’s Blood process let Elisa ‘see’ effortlessly. The sole occupant of the room was peering through the gloom guardedly in a vain attempt to see her. After a few moments of wasted effort, he finally managed the strength to ask, “Are you here to kill me?”

Elisa crept forward, just allowing the light from the monitors to reach her without fully lighting her. “If I’d wanted you dead, cupcake, you’d have never left Buenos Aires,” she told him with more bravado than she felt.

He lay back in the bed, spent for the moment. “That’s true, I suppose,” he admitted. Diaz allowed herself to look at Herbert for the first time. He was an all right looking sort; thin with a soft chin and young for being an engineer. There was nothing remarkable about him, certainly nothing to suggest he was a killer.

Indeed, if she had passed him at one of the Metroplex Malls’ she would have pegged him as a vegetarian. “I didn’t kill my wife,” he gasped around a fit of coughing from his previous efforts.

“Then why is she dead?” whispered Elisa as she moved around the foot of the bed for a slightly better vantage point.

He lay in the bed, fruitlessly staring at the ceiling for a long moment. “I want to thank you for whatever premonition you had about the docks. If you hadn’t dressed me in that armor, I would have been the one shot. The man who took my place, is he alright?”

“The trauma plate saved his life,” Diaz answered. “A couple of broken ribs, but he’ll be a pain in my backside again before I know it. You haven’t answered my question, Herbert.”

He looked into the empty space her voice had come from, peering once more for some glimmer of her presence beyond the hackles on the back of his neck. “Why do you care?” he demanded. “You’re an Erinys, aren’t you? You only care about what you’re getting paid to care about.”

“You’ve been surfing too many combat porn sites, hombre,” she chuckled mirthlessly. “I’ve had two opportunities so far to snuff out your miserable excuse for a life and you’re still drawing breath. I get paid either way. But you’re here, and I’m here and I want answers.”

His head lolled back onto the pillow. “I don’t have any answers. My life has come apart at the seams, my wife has been murdered, I’ve been beaten within a centimeter of my life, and now I’m in a hospital bed being tortured by the Bitch who put me here. Do you honestly think I care what you want?”

Elisa causally reached out and took a hold of his bare foot in a grip of iron he was powerless to overcome. Her thumb found the ninth pedial chakra and she extended her Ki into it. The agony flashed up his nervous system, painting itself on his face, but was gone before he could scream. “Herbert,” she told him coolly. “I am an Erinys, a Fury in every sense of the word. I can drop you into pain your pathetic brain can’t imagine. I can make you wish for death and not leave a mark on you. Don’t make the mistake of making me angry. You’ll only regret it once.”

She released his foot with a glare that drained what there was of the color from his face. “Now that we have that out of the way, cupcake, let me clue you in on how the rest of this conversation is going to go. I will ask you questions, and you will give me full, honest and complete answers to the best of your ability. There’s still a killer looking to poke you full of holes, hombre, and I am all that stands between you and him.”

He swallowed on a throat that had become remarkably dry. “What do you want to know?”

“If you didn’t kill your wife, why did you haul ass to BA?”

“The night she died, I got a call from our boss, Bertram Loen. He’s the CEO of Saeder-Krupp; my wife was his personal executive assistant. He told me I had to rush to the airport and take the next flight to Buenos Aires to salvage a presentation the next day. I’m an engineer; I’m used to this kind of thing so I just went. I found out on the flight that she’d been murdered from the news service my PCS subscribes to.”

“Was there a presentation?”

He shook his head. “I touched base with the division head in BA when we touched down. He had no idea I was coming. He got me a room at the hotel and I started calling, trying to figure out what was going on. When…when I called Lillian’s parents, they told me they knew I had killed her and that they’d contracted with Themis. I never heard back from Juan, and then you got there.”

“Have you called anyone since we got you here?” Again he shook his head. “Don’t,” she ordered tersely. “If you want to live to see next year, keep quiet and don’t give the gorillas outside any trouble.”

A faint spark of hope lit in the dark, hallow orbs of Van Buren’s eyes. “You believe me, don’t you?”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” she snapped at him. “I’m going to get to the bottom of this, is all. And, hombre, if you’re at the bottom, I will know it.” She turned sharply on her heel and left the room with its unpleasant odors of death covered by disinfectant, pausing by the two guards outside. “Nobody, I mean nobody goes in there who isn’t verifiable hospital staff or a real cop, guys.”

“Not going to be a problem,” murmured the taller of the two with a nod.

Elisa sighed and continued down the corridor her thoughts in a jumble. No matter how she tried to make the pieces she had fit, the puzzle refused to come together. Maybe I’m over thinking this and none of it is related, she thought to herself as she stabbed the elevator call button with more force than was probably needed.

However, no matter how she tried to make her thoughts dismissive, tried to convince herself that she was imagining things, the doubts returned. The elevator arrived to a soft tone revealing the extremely fit figure of Tom Vannoy, who had traded his armor for a polo shirt and chinos that set off his magnificent frame well. The sight of him brought a smile to Elisa’s face as she joined him in the car. “Speaking of pains in my backside,” she greeted with a laugh.

“I wish,” he answered wistfully, eliciting a punch in the arm for his trouble. “How’s your boy?”

“He took some persuasion, but he finally spilled the few beans he knew. Not much, but what I was expecting. How’s Murphy?”

“They’ve already got him out of the tank and he’s fussing only the way a medic in the hospital can.” He paused and looked down on her for a moment, drinking in anew her lithe, breathtaking form. Her dark, normally inviting eyes were far away in the soft oval of face, a face that was made for smiling. The smile was over cast from strands of dark hair that escaped the French braid that trailed down to the small of her back. She was currently wearing a thick turtleneck sweater and a pair of jeans that hugged her hips and showed off her legs under a black leather trench coat against the nearly constant rain fall the Old DC Metro was plagued with. His mind’s eye undressed her and for a split second the memory of her perfect, dusky skin under his hands over wrote the image in his eyes before he could master himself once more.

“Elisa, you sure you want to go through with this? You won’t be in Computer Intelligence for more than a day before Cerberus would give you an option, you know that.”

Her smile up at him set his pulse to racing. “I know, and don’t think I wouldn’t be happy to work with you and the boys on a more permanent basis, but this is about my name, Tom. I know I’m right. Davenport can rant and rave all she wants; she’s been pushing paper in that office for so long she’s forgotten what it’s like out here. There’s more to this than a simple domestic, I know it.”

“Alright, I’m in. You know I can’t say no to you.” He was rewarded with another smile and it was all he could do to keep his imagination in the here and now. He took out his phone and brought up the documents he’d saved to it earlier. “You were right about BA. Policía Bonaerense has put out a case solve bid for the murder of one Juan Rodriquez, Division Engineering Head, Saeder-Krupp, found dead 1:30am local time this morning.”

“Why are so many people around Mr. Van Buren dieing?” she wondered as she skimmed the documents. “You get my badge from Central Supply?”

He fished into his pocket and removed the badge, still hanging on its neck chain as it had been surrendered. “Crimes committed under color of law are pretty serious you know,” he cautioned her as he handed it over. “Lot’s of ways to end up in the chair.”

“So we’ll do things quietly,” she replied as she took it. “You know what a cautious girl I am.”

“That’s why I’m worried. So, what’s our move now?”

“I believe it’s time we paid Mr. Bertram Loen a visit.”

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Saeder-Krupp Corporate Arcology, Old DC Metro, 3:17PM, March 10th

The Saeder-Krupp building was built on an artificial island along the canal Delaware Avenue had become. It was a towering edifice of steel and glass that had been personalized with a series of terraced gardens that ran, stair step, up the side of the building. It was situated near the bowl that protected Fort Leslie McNair between what had been the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, which was now the Pennsylvania Inlet. As the seas and risen, the vast majority of the peninsula the site was on had been abandoned to the rising waters and only recently reclaimed.

Elisa’s BMW had bought the pair across the ocean inlet most of what had been the District of Columbia had become quickly and in relative comfort. The cabin of the sporty vehicle was sealed and constantly supplied with cool air as it could serve with equal aplomb as an old fashioned automobile, speed boat or personal submarine. Elisa let the vehicle drive itself as she tapped her way through a website on her PCS. “Strictly out of curiosity,” asked Tom with a sidelong glance at her, “what makes you think the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world is going to talk to you without so much as an appointment?”

“My winning personality,” she replied without looking up from her phone. “That and the fact of the post contract interview which is a standard part of every Themis contract.”

“Yes, but those interviews are handled by public relations, and usually by phone.”

She finally looked up and flashed him a sardonic smile. “I was in the neighborhood, and besides, if you were him, would you not see me?”

“Only if I was a eunuch,” he admitted.

The BMW turned into entrance of the parking garage at the base of the atoll and smoothly made the transition from water to wheeled mode at the Valet station. Elisa declined to notice the Valet undress her with his eyes and took Tom’s arm as he led the way into the lowest level of the building, a multileveled shopping center.

The pair flashed their badges to the soft tone of the weapons detectors as they entered and were allowed to go their way. “You know, I could get used to this,” he remarked quietly. She gazed up at him intently for a moment, obviously not following his comment, but smiled when she realized he meant her being on his arm.

“Why Tom, are you going soft on me?”

“I don’t think that’s possible with you in the room,” he quipped, timing his innuendo at their arrival at the information desk to keep her from responding.

“May I help you?” the young man behind the desk. Elisa held up her badge.

“Elisa Diaz with Themis, Erinyes Division to see Mr. Bertram Loen on a matter of official business.”

“I’ll see if he’s available, Agent Diaz,” he replied. “One moment please. Would you care to sit down?” He indicated a comfortable looking bench off to the side. The pair made themselves comfortable for several minutes before a somewhat harried looking, but nevertheless well dressed young woman was directed over to them by the information desk attendant.

“Agent Diaz?” she greeted as she reached conversational distance and offered a soft hand shake. “I’m Constance Walker, Executive Assistant to Martin Hammond, Senior Executive Vice President of Saeder-Krupp. How can I help you?”

“I’m here following up on the contract Mr. Loen took out with my firm. May I speak with him, please?”

She smiled a smile that was strictly official issue. “I’m afraid Mr. Loen is not available. I understand you’ve successfully completed the terms of the agreement. Is this some kind of customer service interview?”

“It’s that as well,” Elisa replied as she stood to add a bit of psychological leverage against her new adversary. “I have a few questions to finish up my report.”

“Perhaps I can answer them?”

Elisa shook her head as she opened her purse and dug out a business card. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m afraid my company’s strict confidentiality agreements prohibit me from speaking about this with anyone except the contractor. Would you be so kind as to give Mr. Loen my card and ask him to contact me at his earliest convenience?”

The official issue smile didn’t move. “I’d be happy to. Thank you for stopping by.”

Constance watched the two leave for a long moment before turning her regard to the card she’d been given. The stylized Medusa Head that made up the Erinyes logo seemed to be staring directly at her and hissing with rage. A thought keyed a speed dial program in the telephone that had been implanted within her skull. The line connected and a thought was broadcast to the person on the other end of the line. We have a problem.

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The Waterford Apartments, K Street Canal, 4:30PM, March 10th

Elisa felt her spirits fall as she sorted through the wreckage of her apartment. Whoever the two men posing as policemen really were, they had been extremely thorough. Nothing had been left where it had been, nor been spared from the fine tooth comb that had been run through her personal belongings. Only her gun safe had stood up to the intruders, doubtlessly because they hadn’t had the time to cut it open.

“I’m sorry about all this, girl,” Simon muttered once again, pushing his trademark USMC ball cap that was covered in VFW pins further up his bald fore head. “They had 40 years and 9mm on me.”

Diaz was at once consoling; despite the emotional turmoil she was already in. “Simon, I have a dangerous job, you know that. Don’t ever get between my stuff and someone determined to go through it. They’ll likely be pros who won’t bat at eye at murder.”

“People used to have rights,” muttered the old codger as he nodded his own frustration. “I left it just like it was. Called DC Metro to get their crime geeks out here, but they said it’d be two weeks. If I wanted to foot the bill to a sub-contractor they could get it sooner.” Elisa laughed a mirthless laugh.

“Save your money, Simon, these guys weren’t likely to have left any kind of evidence behind. I see they couldn’t get into the safe, though.” Simon brightened at once.

“Oh they had all sorts of electronic do-dads to bypass every electronic lock on the market. Neither one knew what to do against good old fashioned mechanics. Told ya,” the old man beamed.

“Where did you even find a mechanical combination lock safe?” demanded Tom from his inspection of it. “It’s even bolted into the floor!”

“Simon set it up for me,” Elisa told him with a smile, as she worked the combination and opened the safe. “I’d imagine he could get you the hook up as well, if you’re interested?”

“I just might be. Is anything obvious missing?”

Elisa removed her spare Erinys combat suit from the safe, still on its hanger, the slick molecularly locked black material glistening in the light. “They took the memory card from the CTV,” she said, gesturing to the combination home computer, wide screen TV, internet station and telephone. “They won’t find anything on it, I keep my work files on my PCS, but I imagine they were being thorough. Of course now I’ve missed this weeks’ episode for Of Masks and Marvels. I’m going to have to break somebody’s legs for that.”

“It should be on my system,” Tom assured her. “I want you to come stay with me until this all gets settled and you can get all this repaired.”

“Back in the Themis dorms?” she demanded. “No thanks; I’ve stayed there quite enough, thank you.”

“Not at Squad Commander Level, you haven’t,” he countered. “I’ve got plenty of room and, more to the point, it’s nine different kinds of secure. This is serious, Elisa, there’s already two people dead. You wouldn’t want me to get high blood pressure worrying about you, would you?”

She shook her head as she relented and returned to packing the gym bag with clothing and necessities. Diaz cleaned out the safe’s store of magazines for her pistol as well as several boxes of ammunition with a determined expression on her face. “Simon, you keep your head down for a little longer, alright? If somebody wants to know where I am, you go ahead and tell them I moved back into the Themis dorm. If they’re stupid enough to try and pull something there then I will pity them. No heroics, read me Marine?”

Simon tossed off a salute as he meandered back into the hall at sound of one of the other residents looking to report a problem. Diaz shouldered the bag and planted a finger in Tom’s chest. “Let me be clear, Tom, nothing is going to happen, ok?”

“I can’t look after a good friend without being accused of being a horn dog?” he protested. She closed the safe and returned to glare at him.

“I’m not accusing you of anything; I’m simply stating a fact.”

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Themis Employee Dormitory, Arlington, 6:02PM, March 10th

His apartment in the dorm lived up to his boasting. The door opened into a large main room that doubled as a living room, dining room and kitchen, neatly arraigned around the walls in the most unobtrusive manner. His own hobby was evidently World War Two as the walls and shelves were tastefully decorated with relics and memorabilia from the soldiers in that conflict.

Three rooms opened off the main, his bed room, a well appointed bath and a small office. “I’ll sleep in the office,” he volunteered at once as they entered. “I’ve got a sleeper sofa in there.”

“I wouldn’t hear of it,” Elisa protested. “I’m already putting you out.”

“It’s done,” Tom all but commanded her. “My house, my rules.” He relieved her of the bag and placed it on the nearest sofa so as to be able to help her out of her coat. “Would you care for coffee?” he called over his shoulder as the coat was whisked away to the closet.

“Please,” she replied, taking in this window into his psyche. “I didn’t know you were so into history,” she commented as she took in the various displays throughout the room.

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” he called over the sounds of the coffee preparation from the kitchen. “My great-great grandfather fought for the old USA in Europe under General Patton. Further back, as the family tradition goes, we were involved in the Huguenot movement in France against the Catholic Church.”

“Strike one,” she told him with a half chuckle. “I’m a good Catholic you know.”

I didn’t have anything to do with it,” he retorted. “You can’t hold my ancestry against me, can you?”

His sense of humor drew a smile from her as she continued to meander about the displays. “This is a, oh what did they call it? A Tommy gun isn’t it?” she asked, looking at the menacing looking wood and metal weapon that held most of one wall.

“Cream and sugar, right?” he declared as he arrived with a steaming cup. “Technically it’s an M1927, the military version, but yes, it’s a Chicago Typewriter. My grand dad’s actually; he stuffed it in his duffel bag coming back from Europe and it’s been in the family ever since.” She took an appreciative sip of the coffee as they admired the ancient weapon.

“You still shoot it?” she asked after a long moment.

He regretfully shook his head. “It was de-militarized last century. They had a number of paranoid laws about automatic weapons.” He shrugged as they settled on the couch with the best view. “Stupid, really when you stop and think about it, any idiot with a little bit of know how and a decent machine shop can turn them out. With all the computer aided design and CAD Lathes these days, you don’t even need the know how. I’ve toyed with taking it to a gun smith and having it repaired, but it’ll be expensive and I’ve had other things to spend money on.”

“It suits you,” Diaz declared at last. “You should get it fixed up. Looks like it would be fun.”

“If it will get you over here more often, consider it done,” he told her with a lopsided grin.

“Look, Tom, we never really got a chance to clear the air about what happened,” she said in a soft voice, her eyes scrupulously avoiding his. “I can’t imagine what kind of whore you think I am…”

“Don’t ever use that word about yourself again,” he ordered. It was stern order, in a voice of command used to handing out life and death. It brought her eyes back to his and they were watery and endless that drew him back into his memories yet again.

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Themis Christmas Party, The Watergate Hotel, 9:15pm, December 24th

It had been a particularly ordinary office party. The food was alright and the decorations a wild mish-mash of traditions so as to not offend anyone. There was a menorah sitting on top of a faux fireplace with large socks hanging from it. A Yule log was burning and casting odd lights on the Christmas tree.

Not that anyone was admiring the decorations.

The party goers were clumping strictly by division lines. The Management types were all in a group, congratulating each other on what a successful year it had been and how, if they were the branch VP they would break all records in the coming year. The VP himself was taking this mild roast with the good humor of someone very confident of his position. The Myrmidon contingent, those who’d showed anyways, had set up operations on one corner, studiously opposite from the corner that held the Cerberus detachment where Tom himself was currently sipping a cup of Earl Grey.

Only the Erinyes moved in the center of the room, impervious to the social hierarchy that everyone else was observing. Each had a male model, star athlete, or international playboy on her arm in a subtle contest that had it’s own rules about who had bested whom in the date department. Two had brought female models and they were causing something of a stir in the manner of two matrons at a benefit who’d arrived in the same dress.

Tom sipped his tea and regretted that, as a squad commander, his appearance at the function had been mandatory. He couldn’t have imagined a worse waist of time.

At least that’s what he’d been thinking until she arrived.

Vannoy had worked with her numerous times in the past; he knew how beautiful Elisa was when she’d played the role of arm candy for his body guard work. But this went beyond his wildest imaginings as the stir from the room’s door drew his gaze. She entered with Kait Marksbury, the young Erinys who had just been assigned as her partner. The fiery young woman with a talent for destruction had just destroyed the ongoing Erinyes contest by arriving with two dashing young men, one on each arm.

Elisa was standing next to her, laughing at the state she’d caused the room, draped in a stunning silver silk dress that in its understatement did a better job of advertising her magnificent form than the skintight combat armor she normally wore. It was a strapless design that caused her exposed skin to practically glow as her dark eyes, dramatically framed by her ebony hair that flowed freely around her head swept the room and finally locked with Tom’s.

She had come alone.

Tom was drawn to her as irresistibly as a moth to a flame. “Nice Tux,” she’d greeted as he’d gotten to conversational distance. “You look like you’re going somewhere important after this.”

“This,” he’d told her to her amazing smile, “is the highlight of my evening.”

“Such a flatterer!” she declared with mock outrage. “Do I get a meal with on this flight or is it a nonstop feet sweeping?”

“I’m afraid the guilt for the food service is entirely the fault of senior management, but I think I can wrangle some punch that isn’t too bad.” She took his arm and thus began one of the greatest nights of Tom’s life.

Their conversation had ranged freely through politics, history, current events, movies they both had enjoyed or despised, work and life in general. Her laugh was musical and completely unforced which he found himself enjoying immensely. He had gone back for her six or seventh cup of punch to find that the party had ended around them and the hotel workers were discretely waiting for them to come out of their own little world and let them clean up. “We seem to have a problem,” he informed her with a chuckle as they looked about to find themselves the last of the party revelers.

“So I see,” she answered with a chuckle. “I’m not sure I’m ready for tonight to end.” Her voice was low and soft with a sensual undertone that set his blood to boiling.

“Me either,” he managed, around a lump that hadn’t found a home in his throat since he was a teenager. “Still, I can’t imagine anyplace nice we could continue the evening at this late.”

“We’re at one of the nicest hotels in Old Dee Cee,” she told him with a smile. “What could possibly top this?”

Fifteen minutes later Tom found himself in a hotel room with a beautiful woman he’d been carrying a torch for longer than he cared to admit. Her need had not allowed for much conversation, though he had the strength of will to savor unwrapping this most cherished of Christmas presents. Her dusky skin had put the silk of her dress to shame as he let his hands gently explore the object of his fantasy.

While he wasn’t in any sense a master of Ki himself, once she had him out of his tuxedo and her hands could explore his skin unimpeded, he could feel her focus and direct her own Ki into him. It had made for a night that had forever spoiled him for lovemaking in its mundane form. He had fallen asleep, her head making a pillow of his shoulder, believing himself to be the luckiest man on the face of planet Earth.

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Themis Employee Dormitory, Arlington, 6:03PM, March 10th

“I never got to apologize for how I left that morning,” she whispered. “When I woke up the last thing I could remember was meeting Kait just out front of the Watergate and suddenly I was in a strange room, naked, with you.” She sighed as she looked away again. “I utterly panicked, Tom.”

He risked his arm by putting it around her shoulders and gave what he hoped would be a re-assuring squeeze. “Once I figured that out it made a little more sense,” he told her gently. “I swear to God Almighty, Elisa, I had no idea how what happened, happened. You didn’t seem drunk, hell; I didn’t think an Erinys could get drunk. If I had any inkling you weren’t in your right mind, I never…” She pressed her finger onto his lips to silence him.

“I don’t blame you, Tom, please don’t think that! I don’t know what was in that punch, but if I ever find out who put it there…”

He touched a remote control and CTV came to life on the far wall. “On the off chance I’d ever get to speak with you again, I had the lab run a test from the residue in your cup. Thank God you brought it up to the room with you. When you seemed content to just kind of ignore what had had happened, I figured I wouldn’t bring up a bad memory. I can’t follow half of what the lab rats told me, but what I did get says this substance acts on the inhibition center of the brain, like alcohol. Its major side effect you know. It wipes out the neurotransmitters that turn short term into long term memory.”

Tom shut off the display with an angry gesture. “I never wanted to take advantage of you, Elisa. If I had the slightest idea…”

“Tom,” she said softly, “in the state I was evidently in, I’m not sure I would have taken ‘no’ for an answer. But, of all the people I could have woken up next to, I am glad it was you.”

The expression on his face did his disbelieving for him. “‘Oh God, oh God, what have I done?’” he quoted with only the smallest amount of rancor. She winced at his teasing.

“You didn’t really know me when I was new in Themis,” she declared, her voice off in memory. “I was finally right, in the right body, with the right gender. Boy did I celebrate. Or at least I did until Karen Astor, who was in Diana’s job at the time, hauled me into her office.” She paused for a moment, the pain of the tongue lashing anew on her features. “She called me every name under the sun, and meant every one of them too. She told me if I couldn’t keep my knees together and get my act straight she’s have me brought up on breech on contract. I had a curfew that was enforced by the house mother for six months, no overnight company or sex for the duration.”

His brain scrambled furiously for something remotely polite to say and failed. Before he could put his foot in his mouth, she continued. “It was during that probation that my father killed my mother,” she whispered. “He’d taken my decision to join Themis pretty hard. I was his oldest son, first born, carrier of the line and all that. Mom had come around, and she’d noticed what a complete slut I’d become. She had been trying to help me deal with being right and help me back into the family. She and papa had some pretty spectacular fights over me. When he found out what I’d gotten in trouble over, he fell off the wagon. Came home roaring drunk and mama was never one to put up with that kind of thing.”

A single tear flowed down her cheek. “I don’t think he meant to kill her. They probably just got into a fight and he pushed or hit her. He’d never done that before. The coroner’s report said that she must have hit her head on the stove as she’d fallen. When he realized what he’d done…” The silence strung out like the blade of a knife between them. “I thank God I was the one who found them, not one of my brothers or sisters,” she whispered.

“Elisa, stop,” he murmured into her hair as he hugged her to him. “You aren’t responsible for what happened.” She sniffed at her runny nose and looked back up into his eyes. At that moment, no one would believe how dangerous she could become. At that moment, she was only a vulnerable young woman with a terrible cross to bear.

“Who is?” she asked plaintively. “I swore then, Tom that I would get my life together and I would be a professional. And I did it, for so many years that it got to be second nature. When Karen left to take over the branch VP position in Kansas she told me how proud she was of me. That she’d recommended me for her position but Diana had already cleared her process debt and had seniority. That meant a lot to me, Tom. But the older I got, the louder my biological clock started ticking. I’m thirty eight and if I’m going to have a family I’d best be about it…”

He couldn’t contain a chuckle that brought a questioning look from her. “Elisa, your mind may be thirty eight, but your body is twenty two, twenty three, tops.”

“That doesn’t stop the ticking,” she groused with a half smile. “I have respected you for a long time, Thomas Vannoy. You are damn near everything I want in a husband. Yet, I can’t even consider dating you because you’re a co-worker and that would be the height of unprofessional. I guess with my guard down the old Elisa came roaring out.”

Tom opened his mouth to counter, hotly, her logic, but was interrupted by the buzzing of her PCS. The two exchanged a glance as she retrieved it from her purse and had a puzzled stare at the caller ID. She rerouted the call to his CTV and the scenic painting it was displaying was replaced by a pair of distinguished older gentlemen.

One was much older, but it was obvious he’d taken care of himself. He wore a dark, four piece suit that had obviously been cut to his measure and only added to his distinguished aura. He sat at the table and looked intently into the camera screen before him, thinning snow white hair meticulously combed over and cropped short.

The other stood behind his right hand. He was at least as well dressed and appeared to be in his late fifties or early sixties as compared to the seated man who was at least seventy. The standing man had a hard face that wore a scowl unlike the intent, but almost grandfatherly expression on the seated man’s face.

“Elisa Diaz, how may I help you?” Elisa greeted as she stood.

The seated man smiled. “Agent Diaz, I apologize for intruding on your personal time. My name is Bertram Loen, and this is Martin Hammond,” he said, indicating the hard faced man. “Martin’s secretary told me you’d stopped by this afternoon. I apologize I couldn’t see you in person.”

“I appreciate you taking the time to call me, Mr. Loen,” she said once, one hand subconsciously trying to make herself a bit more presentable and hoping against hope that her mascara hadn’t run. “We just had a couple of procedural questions for my report.”

“I’m completely at your disposal,” Loen affirmed in his polished voice that gave no room for doubt of his sincerity. “How can I help you?”

“We have some contradictory statements from the suspect that Dee Cee law requires we account for. Mr. Van Buren stated that he went to Buenos Aires due to a phone call he received for you directing him to do so.”

Loen began to answer, but Hammond cut him off. Surprisingly, the older man let him. “That’s impossible. The day Herbert killed his wife Bert was with me preparing for our quarterly share holders meeting until very late.”

Elisa’s eyes flicked between the two before she flashed a smile. “Of course, you understand I have to ask. Can anyone vouch for both your whereabouts on the day in question?"

Again Hammond spoke first. “Yes, my secretary Connie; she was taking notes of our ideas. If there is nothing else, Agent?”

“Just one thing, Mr. Hammond; a Juan Rodriquez, your engineering division head in Buenos Aires was found dead the day after I left. I was wondering if you’d been made aware of that?”

“Obviously Van Buren was covering his tracks,” snapped Hammond. “Thank you for your diligence, Agent Diaz. You can rest assured we won’t hesitate to contract with Themis for our future recovery needs.” He reached forward and pressed a control built into the table that terminated the call.

Tom stood and joined Elisa in front of the screen. “Is it just me, or would that not fool a five year old?”

“Tell me you recorded that,” she asked, looking up into his sculpted face. He nodded thoughtfully as he returned her gaze. “I know for a fact that Herbert received a call from the Saeder-Krupp building the night Lillian Van Buren was murdered. And the air line confirms that the flight was paid for by an electronic debit from S-K’s general fund.”

“What now?”

“Now, we get some sleep. Tomorrow we start planning how I’m going to get access to the S-K Building’s main cable trunk. If I can plant a 332 transmitter I can get complete access to their network. There’s something funny going on here, Tom, and I mean to get to the bottom of it.”

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Michael Milken Academy Private High School, 10:02AM, March 11th

Preston Wyecross, alter ego of Kallie Wyecross, Intern at Themis Corporation, Erinyes Division, was having a humdrum kind of morning. Mr. Vasquez, his teacher, had just finished explaining that for the rest of the day the class would be studying the two Persian Gulf Wars and how old USA military adventurism had led to the creation of the North American Federation. The issue was that, try as he might, Mr. Vasquez could make a topic as exciting as war become dull. The youngster had already gone through four different focusing techniques and still felt boredom tugging on his eyelids.

As it was, Preston was counting the hours until he could transform himself into Kallie, the person he was on the inside and make his way over to Themis HQ. That’s when his, or rather at that moment, her, day would really begin.

Mr. Vasquez had just finished setting the tactical situation on the smart screen behind his desk when he was interrupted by a knock at his door. Cursing under his breath he opened the door to stop dead his in tracks. The six foot plus hyper-feminine form of Kaitlyn Marksbury was standing in his door way, her luscious curves displayed for the world to see in her Erinys combat suit.

As you might imagine might happen to a class room full of ‘drowning-in-hormones’ teenage boys when exposed to such a sight, the room exploded in wolf whistles.

“Quiet down!” thundered the educator in the best voice he could muster before turning back to the Valkyrie in the body suit that was easily head and shoulders taller than he. “What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded with a sour voice.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger Vasquez?” asked Kait in her best professional voice as she graced the boys in the room with a wink. “I have a custody warrant for Preston Wyecross, a minor student in your care. Surrender custody of the minor to me.”

“This is completely improper!” sputtered Vasquez. “You’re required to go through the office…!”

Kait shoved the paper she was brandishing into the smaller man’s chest. “You have been served a court order, Mr. Vasquez,” she snapped. “If you do not comply I am authorized to arrest you for contempt of court. Are you refusing to surrender custody of the minor in question to me?”

Mr. Vasquez scowled up at the smirk wearing woman for a moment before shaking his head. “No, I’m not refusing to surrender custody. Preston? Evidently you must go with this…woman. I’ll inform your parents of what’s going on.”

Preston was already scrambling to assemble his things and get to the front of the class. “Not to worry, Mr. Vasquez, I’ll call them on my phone,” he remarked in passing as Kait ushered him out the door. Once they’d gotten a bit of distance from the classroom, he had the courage to whisper, “What’s going on, Kait?”

The taller woman winked down on him. “What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t help a little sister skip school every now and then? You think you’re up for a little covert operation?”

“Do I get a combat suit this time?”

“Not this time,” she laughed. “Subtle is actually the watchword of the afternoon. You know how Elisa likes things nice and quiet.”

“But why…?” the intern started before the other woman cut her off.

“You’ll see.”

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New Realities, TIS Arcade, Saeder-Krupp Arcology, 11:04, March 11th

The Saeder-Krupp Corporate Arcology was a little bit of everything. Its lower floors were open to the public as a multi-floored shopping plaza that catered to everything from the hottest fashions to house wares. The next double dozen floors were living spaces for the employees of the North-AMFED branch, then office spaces, R&D labs, sever farms and everything else one would expect to find on a corporate campus, all contained in one overly large building.

On the mall level, Preston made himself at home in one of New Realities’ Total Immersion Sensorium booths. The anonymous Cash Card that Tom had provided him bought him a full hour in the booth where he called up a ‘Super Hacker’ simulation, but left the crown on its hanger. His heart racing, despite the fact of a professional body guard just outside with an automatic weapon, Preston opened his palmtop and inserted the modified memory card Elisa had given him into the game’s slot for it, a thin cable between the card and his palmtop dangling. He hit go on the small computer and the screens of the booth flickered for several seconds before being replaced with the S-K logo.

The lower left hand screen showed a simulation of Preston, wearing the crown and enjoying his TIS Simulation.

A few experimental taps on the palmtop reversed the security feed built into the booth and gave him access to the building’s security monitors. The screens were filled with the images of hundreds of cameras scattered throughout the Arcology. “I’m in,” he whispered into the pickup of the narrowband transmitter/receiver disguised as a small stud earring he was wearing.

“First things first,” Kait’s voice drifted from the earring. “Find me a law breaker.”

The palmtop ran a face recognition software that flashed across the screens before settling on a larger of a pair of street toughs currently amusing themselves’ by intimidating the patron’s of the food court area of the fourth level. The details scrolled across the small holographic screen of the palmtop. “Got one,” Preston whispered. “Irving Wallace, assault two, possession of a controlled substance, and armed robbery. Current warrant #2857643A, Dee Cee Metro; he’s on the fourth floor food court.”

“On my way.”

On the monitor, Preston watched Kait, the long cloak she was wearing over the armor so as not to cause a scene, billowing dramatically behind her as she began to make her way to the fourth floor, PCS to her ear. “One,” Preston sub-vocalized, “Three is en-route, ETA 2 minutes.”

“On station,” called Elisa’s voice faintly.

Preston quickly scanned through the monitors, focusing on the few that were watching the flooded access ways under the building where the public utility lines entered the Arcology. That he couldn’t find any indication of Elisa on the monitors was a good sign. That meant security couldn’t either. Somewhere, in the labyrinth of old tunnels beneath the building Elisa was following the utility trunks up to where they would couple with the buildings own systems.

Thanks to the ancient laws of the old Capitol of what had been the United States, every building in old DC had this particular vulnerability. The utilities had to be underground so as not to disturb the scenic beauty of the old capital. And since the entire infrastructure was underground, when the seas rose, the areas where the new buildings met the old cables were generally flooded.

Anyone with a re-breather could get in, but it was a risky and dangerous proposition. Frequently sharks would wonder in and get lost which made things interesting to the would-be saboteur. In addition, a re-breather would only last so long and the tunnels could be miles long. Getting lost was a very real hazard.

“This is Three,” Kait’s voice cut into Preston’s worry. “Option on arrest has been accepted by Dee Cee Metro; awaiting go signal.”

Hijo de una perra,” muttered Elisa’s voice. “It’s a tight fit in here. I’ve got the sofea trunk located; I’m just trying to get it connected now…”

Preston’s palm top beeped. “One, a level two security sweep has been initiated by the system.”

“Three, go,” ordered Elisa’s voice.

On his screen, Preston saw Kait pull off her cloak and saunter up to Irving. The two obviously exchanged words before his comrade made the mistake of taking a swing at Kait. The Erinys easily tossed the other man while bringing her foot sharply up into Irving’s groin.

Bedlam exploded in the food court.

Preston’s palmtop began to beep more urgently. “One, three is engaged. The system has gone to a level five active alert.” The screens in front of the young man went dark and were replaced by the S-K logo. “I’ve lost visuals!”

“Two,” grunted Elisa as she struggled with the cable trunk. “Remove to position alpha.”

The door to the booth was thrown open by Tom who snatched the lead from the palmtop from the TIS and firmly but gently extracted Preston from the couch. “Two is rolling,” he muttered as he half guided, half carried Preston towards the exit. Preston couldn’t help blinking in the stronger light from the darkness of the arcade. He struggled to match the brisk pace Tom was setting while getting the palmtop back in its case.

They rounded a corner as a pair of security guards, these in classic uniforms with ‘Smokey the Bear’ hats made their way around them, moving at trot back towards the arcade. There was nothing classic about the heavy pistols each wore. Six more were trotting up the stairs across the ‘canyon’ of the open design of the mall towards the shouts of pain and panic from the food court above. “One, it’s a hornet’s nest up here,” muttered Tom one hand never straying from the scruff of Preston’s neck. “Recommend you withdraw at once. Three, six friendlies inbound to you.”

“Aww, I was just getting warmed up!” she groused. “Not much fight in these two, already have them cuffed.” There came a pause then her voice rose as she caught sight of the security guards. “Dee Cee Contractor on official business!”

Preston hazarded a glance up to see Kait sitting on the two bully boys, one shapely calf across both throats that they squirmed against, both her hands in the air. The six guards were slowly approaching her in a half circle formation, pistols out, for all the good it would do them. Should Kait want to, she could end all their lives inside of three seconds.

Then Tom had him on the escalator and Preston was forced to keep his eyes on where he was going. The escalator went all the way down to the parking garage and so took them quite a while, even with the steady pace Tom had Preston walking down it. The youngster looked back up at the stone faced body guard and whispered, “That was the coolest thing ever!”

“Don’t speak too soon,” cautioned Tom as he gestured with his eyes. Preston followed his gaze and felt his heart sinking into his stomach.

At the bottom of the escalator, hands folded angrily across breasts, stood Diana Davenport.

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Themis Employee Dorm, Tom Vannoy Apartment, 11:38, March 11th

“Of all the bone headed, irresponsible acts!” exploded Diana as Tom let her into his apartment. She was followed by Kait and Preston rather meekly and finally a somewhat defiant Tom. “Where is Diaz?” she demanded.

The door to the bathroom opened, revealing the requested agent, dressed in a terry cloth bath robe and in the process of drying her hair. “Tom,” she told him in a firm voice, “I wish you had called and told me to expect company.”

“And just what are you doing here?” demanded Diana.

Elisa shrugged. “Tom wanted me to stay with him while they were fixing my apartment. It was broken into while I was in Buenos Aires.”

Diana crossed her arms and her entire body dripped disbelief. “And I suppose you have a perfect alibi for why you weren’t at work this morning, but also not at the Saeder-Krupp Building?”

You suspended me from field operations, Diana,” the other shot back. “The only thing I could do at the office was working on the Harrison-Maxwell case, but that would be a violation of your order. So, I was taking some well deserved time off. I’ve been here all morning, did something happen at the S-K Building?” The last was asked with a saccharine sweetness that could only be meant to provoke the supervisor and it had its desired effect.

“And I suppose you just happened to want to spend this time off with Marksbury and Wyecross, who you had Marksbury illegally remove from her school?”

“Oh, come on, Diana, now you’re going to tell me that you never skipped school?” shot back Elisa. “Think back to what it was like for us; Themis was just getting started, and we were all dreaming about being right as well as getting to be perfect. Wouldn’t you have loved to spend time with an Erinys when you were some gawky teen sick with your own body?”

“Kallie spends four hours a day with an office full of Erinyes.”

Working,” the other replied. “What’s the point of skipping school if you’re not going to have fun? Yes, I had Kait spring Kallie from school. I’ll be happy to pay a fine for that if you’d like.”

Diana turned back to Kait with a suddenness that was surprising for all who saw it. “What were you doing at the S-K building?”

“I met up with Tom there,” Kait replied. “We were waiting on Elisa to show up to get our shopping on.”

“So you optioned a two bit thug to pass the time?”

“He made the mistake of pissing me off while being wanted. I made sure Kallie was safe with Tom and worked an option. And don’t start about reckless, Boss, because if Kallie wasn’t safe with a Cerberus Squad Commander, then there’s no place in the sprawl she can be. More to the point, what were you doing at the S-K Building?”

Davenport’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t pick up Diaz’s bad habits. I put you on a punitive assignment as her partner to learn the good ones, not the bad.”

“Like I could forget!” Kait shot back.

Diana turned finally to Tom, her frosty glare loosing some of its trademark force as it was met with a scowl only a professional bodyguard can muster. “I ought to have a talk with your division leader about all of this, Vannoy.”

“You’re welcome to talk with whomever you like, Ms. Davenport,” he replied nonplussed. “But I’ll thank you to remember you’re standing in my apartment, not your office. Who I associate with, off the clock, is none of your business.”

Diana’s hands danced in the silent language of the Erinyes as she glanced a final time at Elisa, before she snatched open the door and stalked out of the apartment, her back rigidly straight. “What…” started Preston, but the youngster couldn’t continue as Kait had grabbed a hold of her and clamped a hand over her mouth.

“Well,” started Elisa brightly, “let’s get you en femme and do some shopping!” The agent fixed the youngster with a steely gaze and held her index finger up to her lips. Kait’s hand slowly released her and she winked at Preston.

“Uh…right,” the young girl want to be managed. Turning to Tom she asked, “Can I use your bathroom?”

Mi casa es su casa,” the guard replied. “Looks like Elisa is going to take some time getting ready herself, so no hurry.” Elisa shot him a disgusted look and continued into the bedroom.

Preston managed his transformation into Kallie with remarkable speed, borne both from a desire to become who he actually was as well as the months of practice with the procedure. Elisa considered briefly taking her time in getting ready to punish Tom for his remark, but decided against it. The clock was definitely against the conspirators as it was.

In short order the foursome was inside of Elisa’s BMW which cruised out of the Dorm’s water lock without incident and began making its way through the DC traffic towards the Georgetown mall. “Ok, what gives?” demanded Kallie once they were clear of the lock. “What was it that Diana hand signaled to you guys that made you shut me up?”

Kait, who had crammed herself into the back seat next to Kallie over Tom’s objections, mimicked the gestures as she explained them. “Danger, combat quiet, close enemy, proceed with caution at own risk.”

“I have sooo got to learn that,” the young woman groused. “So, what does that mean?”

“Any Themis facility has active security monitoring as a safety feature,” Tom supplied. “Even in my private apartment there are listening devices that are monitored. If I’m injured and call for help, I can communicate with the crisis responders while they’re en-route.”

“So if we had started talking about…our adventure this morning…?” started Kallie.

“We’d be hearing ourselves admit to felony wiretapping at our trial,” finished Kait. Kallie considered this for several minutes before she thoughtfully asked.

“And the ‘proceed with caution at own risk’?”

“That was directed at me,” Elisa said from her driving. “It means that Diana has been backed into a corner where she has a choice of protecting the company or protecting me. And if she has to make a choice, she’ll choose the company. So, I can either accept this transfer, or I’d best prove my gut is right and quickly as I’m running out of time.”

“So, let’s be about that,” chimed in Tom. “What have we learned so far?”

“The night Lillian Van Buren was killed, her logon accessed a file in the S-K mainframe that trigged a level 12 security alert. I’m not certain yet what that file was as the log I found in my cursory investigation didn’t list it. However, the buildings’ PBX confirms that the phone call Herbert received from the S-K Building that night came from the phone in Mr. Loen’s office.”

“That doesn’t prove that Loen was the one who told him to rabbit,” protested Kait.

“No,” agreed Elisa. “But it does build reasonable suspicion that something is being covered up here. What-ever it is, it’s bad enough that two murders have been committed over it and a third was attempted. Those aren’t odds I like.”

Kallie considered that for several moments before shaking her head. “No, that’s not what’s important here.” Kait’s eyebrows ascended her forehead in amusement.

“Oh really? And what, pray, is important Little Sister?”

“What could box Diana into a position of making a choice between the company and Elisa,” the young girl dead panned.

Diaz considered that for a moment before pressing the auto-drive button on the dashboard and fishing her PCS out of her purse. After a moment it established a connection with the Themis main branch and displayed her desktop icons. The waiting message light immediately caught her eye and she was shortly looking a split screen of a forwarded video call, Diana on one side, the hard faced man on the other.

“Thank you for holding, this is Diana Davenport. How can I help you?”

“Ms. Davenport, Martin Hammond, Senior VP of Saeder-Krupp, North AMFED.”

“How can I help you, Mr. Hammond?”

“You can tell your bitch Elisa Diaz that the job is over and she can stop sniffing into our corporate matters,” Hammond snapped. “My secretary made me aware that she has been harassing our CEO. You people were paid to get Herbert Van Buren back from Buenos Aires, not play Sherlock Holmes.”

“I’m certain, Mr. Hammond…” Diana started, but was cut off.

“Let me tell you what you can be certain of, ‘Diana’, either Themis puts a stop to Diaz’s interference or Saeder-Krupp will file suit in every court in the Dee Cee area for everything we can legally admit into evidence. S-K will bury you, got it?”

Diana’s face became cold and stony. “I will certainly look into the matter, Mr. Hammond. Good day.”

The screen went black to Kallie’s soft whistle. “I think we have our nominee for ass hole of the year.”

“Yes,” muttered Elisa. “Now we just have to find out what it is he’s so worried I’m going to find.”

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Kings And Queens Fashion, Georgetown Mall, Old DC 1:13PM, March 11th

“Not that I’m complaining,” Kallie enthused as the group entered one of the most expensive fashion boutiques in Old DC. “But, I figured when you told Diana we were going shopping that was a cover.”

“It is,” confirmed Kait as she began to flip through a rack of mini-skirts.

“The first rule of alibis is be seen at your alibi,” chuckled Tom as he held up a very dapper four piece suit to inspect the material in better light.

“And always have a receipt with a time stamp,” added Elisa as she held up a red silk blouse with a neck line that would settle around the bottom of her ribcage to her neck and turned to the group. “What do you think? Too sexy?”

“There’s no such thing as too sexy,” Tom declared. “I for one would love to see you in it.”

“That goes without saying,” chuckled Kait as she selected the same blouse in a deep burgundy and held it up to Elisa. “This plays up your skin tone better. Makes it more difficult to figure out where the blouse stops and your skin starts. You’ll get more stares that way.”

“So,” murmured Kallie as she found a half jacket that would set off an outfit she already had. “We like Hammond as our bad guy?”

“Thus far, he’s come out as the front man,” Elisa murmured as she flipped through a rack of skirts. “He seems to be calling the shots at S-K, and what ever stinks there seems to be sticking to him. Our current theory is Loen’s secretary, Lillian accessed something dirty of his and he has her killed. She may have made Loen aware of this, but Loen is too big a fish for Hammond to just kill. Loen tells Herbert to rabbit to BA and then contracts us to go and get him. Hammond tries to silence Herbert, and anyone he’s spoken to. He’s safe in our custody and Loen counts on us being thorough to get him out of his jam.”

“There’s a whole lot of hopes and maybes in that theory,” Kallie observed. “Why doesn’t Loen tell Herbert why his wife is killed? Or that his life is in danger so that Herbert can pass that on to us? He’s just assuming that we won’t say, ‘here’s your boy’ and wash our hands of it. If he’s in fear of his life that’s a pretty big leap.”

“More to the point,” Kait said as she settled on a miniskirt. “What is Hammond into that he’s willing to kill so sloppily to protect? If our theory is right, both Lillian Van Buren and Juan Rodriquez were killed out of knee jerk reactions to silence them.”

“You wouldn’t think someone who’d made it all the way to the Senior VP slot of a multi-national like Saeder-Krupp would be that careless,” Tom declared.

Elisa finally settled on an ankle length skirt that was a good match for the blouse and pulled it from the rack. “Let’s found out,” she said, brandishing the two items and heading into the back of the store to the fitting rooms.

Tom handed Kallie a twenty after checking the price tag of the jacket she was lusting over. “Go buy that,” he instructed. “We may need to leave in a hurry.”

In the fitting room, Elisa placed her two items on the hanger and made herself as comfortable on the bench as she could. From her purse she removed her PCS and attached the neuronic induction cable to it at one end, then fit the other into a small jack hole that was hidden behind her right ear. Once connected, the implant in her skill interpreted the signals coming from the PCS and overrode the signals coming from her eyes instead building a three dimensional virtual environment. Elisa could still feel the bench as the implant couldn’t override all of her senses, but it was smart enough to know which icon she ‘reached’ for in the virtual space.

The PCS wirelessly connected with the transmitter she had attached in Saeder-Krupp’s network cabling and a simple command gave her access to the company’s entire computer layout. Certain machines were kept completely offline to prevent this type of tampering of course; however with a bit of luck, she’d be able to get a better understanding of what Lillian Van Buren had seen that had gotten her killed.

The security log she’d already viewed on her hasty return to the Themis dorm to beat Diana and the others gave her Lillian’s access logons and she was in luck. Security had not yet deactivated them. The log only gave the location of the file she had viewed that had triggered the alert, but no direct links to it. Keeping the log in one corner of the virtual screen in her mind, Elisa moved to the server it indicated.

This particular machine was simply a file server that worked the Executive floor of the building, acting as a simple repository of documents the Executive’s would need on a day to day basis. It was full of confidential information, product delivery schedules, financial records and procurement lists. Sensitive data to a competitor, but thus far Elisa found nothing worth killing over.

Switching mental gears for a moment, Elisa searched out Hammonds ID and dove into the financial records main frame. Hammond struck her as the arrogant type and a little judicious digging showed that he had personally authorized two separate three thousand nubuck withdrawals from the company’s general fund; plenty of money to buy a hit man. One the day Lillian had been killed, the other in the wee hours of the morning on Juan’s last day.

But there was still the lingering question of why.

Elisa made a copy of the dispersals, as well as the record of the payment for Herbert’s flight. That had been authorized by Loen himself.

Following a hunch, Elisa did a quick file comparison between files Loen accessed and Hammond had as well for the last few days. The list was very long, as you’d expect between the two top men at a company as large as S-K, however there were a couple of interesting things that leapt out at Elisa. Loen hadn’t accessed a file since the 9th, and that was his authorization of Herbert’s flight. Further back everything he had touched had been human resources related for several months.

“Looks like someone is prepping to retire,” muttered Elisa. “Nice little condo on the New Fiji Atoll, very healthy 401k. Why is Hammond nervous? He’s number two…” Diaz trailed off as she read the memos, very likely what had spelled out a death sentence for Lillian Van Buren. “Sofea,” she breathed. “What have I gotten into?”

Copying the files as quickly as she could Elisa backed out of the Saeder-Krupp system. Not daring to dream what she suspected, Diaz quickly dialed Themis HQ. “Themis Accounting and Audit Services, this is Dallas Rogers speak’n, how can Ah help ya’ll?”

Elisa hit send on the PCS. “Dallas, it’s Elisa Diaz. I’m calling in a solid for a rush job, hon.”

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The Saeder-Krupp Arcology, Old DC 11:58pm, March 12th

What identified itself as a small commuter helicopter was flying south west over some of the most magnificent scenery that the bowls of Old DC had to offer. Between the diked-in expanse of The Mall and the Smithsonian Complex to the Pennsylvania Canal lapping at the steps of Capitol Hill, this was a sight most tourists would spend a month’s salary to see. The occupants of the helicopter weren’t looking into the past, however, but rather the future. Their eyes were fixed on the vaguely rhomboid shaped campus of steel and glass ahead of them.

As the helio passed over the building a pair of feminine silhouettes tumbled out the side doors, connected to the craft by impossibly thin wires. A soft squeal of braking pulleys was drowned out by the roar of the rotor wash as the pair dangled, nearly ten feet above the top of the building. As one they released the harnesses they wore and dropped with cat-like grace to the roof top. The hands of the smaller danced in the direction of the weak green glow of the starlight goggles both wore. Zero kills, soft entry, good luck, they said.

Spoilsport, the other replied. Have your back, go.

The smaller figure lead the way across the roof, in the direction of the more lighted rooftop garden and heliport. Both shunned the lights and crept from shadow to shadow with a speed and ease that was unnerving. They had covertly landed on a roof in full sight of forty people that were milling around the rooftop bar and no one had seen anything. An unlocked side door gave them access to the stairways that ran parallel to the buildings elevators and a locked maintenance hatch was opened for them by the pass code of a dead woman.

This core had four shafts and the benefit of being outside the video surveillance network of the building. The two shadows slid down the emergency ladder without bothering to use the rungs. They arrived at a more protected floor and stopped at the ladders landing. The starlight scopes lifted from their concealed faces to a lopsided grin from Kait. “I kinda like this James Bond extraction stuff. I see why you do so many.”

“The real trick is to get in and out with out setting off an alarm,” Elisa replied as she removed her machine pistol to chamber a round. “Of course, I don’t normally work on such short notice.”

Kait un-slung her Personal Assault System and made an adjustment to the safety. “You’re too much of a perfectionist,” she replied, as she reached up to trip the manual release of the elevator door and swung the PAS into the opening.

It spat a double burst of escaping high pressure air that propelled a small cloud of darts laced with a heavy sedative that caught the guards framing the door down the hallway unaware. They were still in the ‘traditional’ S-K security uniforms but under that were probably soft form armor suits. Not nearly as good as either a reflex system or a combat hard suit, they would defeat most small arms the guards were likely to come up against. They weren’t designed to protect against a cloud of high velocity syringes being hurled at them, however and the guards quickly succumbed to the toxin and slumped over, unconscious. “You should relax more. Maybe take a vacation,” Kait finished.

“I’ll take that under advisement,” Elisa replied as she planted a foot in Kait’s waiting hand and was propelled down the corridor by the other woman. On her flight, the machine pistol spat two bursts that destroyed both cameras in the hall, muffled by the silencer, but still much louder than the PAS had been.

Elisa tumbled to her feet at the door the men had been guarding, pistol seeking another target. Clear, her hands said. As Kait silently trotted to catch up, Elisa quickly removed the magazines from the unconscious guards’ weapon and spare carriers, stuffing them into a pouch that hung from her belt.

“Attention please,” a calm male voice said from the speakers in the ceiling. “Your attention please; a level three security alert is now in effect. Report any unauthorized persons to security at once. Do not approach anyone you do not know. Remain in your apartments until the all clear has sounded.”

“So much for no alarms,” chuckled Kait as she braced herself by the door.

“Short notice,” shrugged Elisa.

Marksbury raised her leg and struck the door, just above where the lock resided. The re-enforced steel of the bolt and bolt catch made a fulcrum against the force of her kick and the fiber kelp of the door. While it was a sturdy construction, the fiber kelp was far weaker than the steel and gave; the door flying open. The PAS whispered again, two more guards inside the room fell as they were trying to set up a barricade to cover the door.

An elderly gentleman in a magnificent suit slowly came to his feet, bravely facing the two women in their slick, black body suits. Straightening his tie he asked, “What can I do for you, Ladies?”

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The Office of Martin Hammond, S-K Arcology, Old DC, 12:05AM, March 13th

Martin was getting nervous. Upon hearing the alarm he’d quickly made his way to his office and the pistol he kept there. The weapon was awkward in his hand and heavy as Hammond was someone who normally had others do his killing for him. The door opened and he nearly shot Connie, his secretary, as she came in. “Jesus!” she swore as she ducked out of the line of the muzzle.

“Sorry,” Hammond muttered as he began to pace behind the desk. “So, what’s going on?”

“We have two confirmed intruders on the penthouse level. No contact from any of the guards there,” she informed him. “It’s got to be that Erinyes, Diaz. I have four riot squads moving up there now.”

“They won’t find anything,” spat Hammond. “Still don’t make it easy on them to waltz out of here. I want the entire building locked down, for all the good it will do.”

“They’ll have Loen by now; perhaps they already have him out.”

“Start a floor by floor search,” he started, the caught himself short. Hammond’s eyes fell on the report he’d neglected up until now and a moment of serendipity fell on him. “If Diaz wants to take hostages,” he mulled mostly to himself as he reached for the photo. “That’s a game two people can play.” He handed her the photo. “Get this to black ops. I want to know who that is and have him in custody within the hour.”

“Yes sir.”

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The apartment of Bertram Loen, S-K Arcology 12:06AM, March 13th

“Mr. Loen,” greeted Elisa as she returned the machine pistol to its holster. “I’m Elisa Diaz with Themis Corp. We spoke on the telephone the other evening.”

“I recall, Agent Diaz. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

“It is my belief that you’re being held here against your will by Martin Hammond. Is that correct?” The old man started to answer, but his eyes drifted over to the CTV that dominated one wall. “Sir, if you are being held here, I will do everything in my power to see to your safe escape, but I must have a reply.”

The soft chime of the elevator came through the ruined doorway, brining Kait’s eyes from the cover position she’d taken. The doors opened to reveal half dozen men in combat hard suits and heavy assault rifles. Out of reflex, the Erinyes snatched a flash/bang from her belt and threw it into the middle of the group while simultaneously ducking back. The explosion rocked the building and bought her enough time to reset her PAS to a more lethal setting. “Elisa, new playmates and they’re dressed to dance!”

The old man covered his ears against the noise as Kait kept the response team pinned down. “Yes!” he shouted over the cacophonous din. “Yes, get me out of here, please!”

Elisa flipped the sofa over on her way to the magnificent picture windows that dominated the far wall. “Get behind the sofa and cover your ears,” she ordered. “Mr. Loen, do what I tell you when I tell you and I will get you out of here alive.” The old man moved with some stiffness behind the sofa, but with more agility than Elisa would have given him credit for. She took a small device from it’s keeper on her belt and with a suction cup attached it to the window. “Kait!” she shouted over the nearly constant automatic weapons fire. “Fire in the hole!”

That accomplished, Elisa threw herself behind the upturned sofa on top of Loen. The micro-shape charge she’d attached to the window finished its countdown and exploded, blowing the glass out in a rainbow shower of pebbles. Elisa snatched the harness from her belt and got it strapped around Loen as quickly as she could. “You’ll have to trust me, Mr. Loen,” she shouted into his ear. The old man nodded guardedly, eyes constantly being brought back to the gaping hole into nothingness. Once she was sure of the buckles, she secured the first strap to her own wrist and picked him up.

“Kait! Time to go!”

The valkyrie dropped her weapon, the auto-strap winding it back into place here she could reach it as she snatched her two remaining grenades off her belt and chucked them down the hallway. The two Erinyes fell in step as they ran at the open maw, each foot landing in time to the thudding of Loen’s over working heart. As they ran, Elisa handed Kait the other strap that she secured to her own wrist and, as if in Olympic sync, the two women and their slightly unwilling cargo leapt out into nothing.

As they sailed through the air, Elisa let go of Loen, letting the strap that bound his harness between the two of them play out while triggering the Para-wing she was wearing. Kait mimicked her movements so that the jar to Loen was minimal. Above and behind them, a gigantic explosion rocked the Saeder-Krupp building, silhouetting the two women and the CEO dangling between them.

Elisa caught Kait’s eyes and signed to her. What was that?

Kait’s grin was almost sheepish as the upper floors of the Arcology caught fire. Thermite, she signed back. Sorry, got excited.

The false commuter helicopter had already circled back, a pair of hooks now hanging out both sides that snared the cabling of the Para-wings and drug both women and their cargo up as the pilot quickly gained altitude. A whine of a winch was drowned out by the rotors and the amazed moans of Bertram Loen that hauled the two up to the skids of the helio. Welcoming hands hauled the three inside once more to the exalted whoops of Kait.

“Damn, I love this job!”

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Themis Dorm, the Apartment of Thomas Vannoy, 1:24am, March 13th

Tom’s apartment was getting positively crowded as Elisa and Kait arrived, their elderly gentleman in tow. Vannoy was already present and with him was Herbert Van Buren who was looking much better, if still a tad bruised. Elisa felt a twinge of guilt for the beating she’d given the man who’d done nothing, but she supposed, at least he was still alive and would likely remain so.

That had to count for something.

She made sure of Loen’s comfort on the sofa before she removed her PCS and pointed it at Tom’s CTV. It was currently displaying a news feed from the six alarm fire that had just been confined to the upper floors of the Saeder-Krupp Arcology. “Another quality Erinyes Operation,” chuckled Tom at Elisa’s consternation. “I figure the damage ought to be limited to only two or three million dollars.”

“Only,” groused Kait.

“One problem at a time,” muttered Elisa as she forced the unit to place the call. After a moment it connected, the screen being filled with harsh features of Martin Hammond. “It’s all over, Martin.”

The Vice President smirked. “You must have stones made of steel to pull what you just did.”

“Not any more, but my gender is completely beside the point. I’ve got Van Buren and Loen. I know you had Lillian Van Buren and Juan Rodriquez killed and I’ve got the financial records to prove it. You can either give yourself up and we do this quietly so you can cut what ever bargain you can with D.A. or by this time tonight your face will be on every news net channel on this continent.”

“You don’t want to do that,” Hammond boasted around an oily smile as he made a gesture to someone behind the camera’s pickup. “See, you tell a soul about our difference of opinion and your friend here will have himself a very tragic accident.”

Hammond’s secretary Connie entered the camera’s range, forcing a sheepish looking Preston Wyecross before her. “This hostage thing is getting way old,” the youngster muttered.

How? Danced Kaits’ hand.

Security camera at previous target, responded Tom’s.

Elisa sighed before meeting her enemy’s steely gaze. “Alright, I have someone you want, you have someone I want. Let’s trade.”

“It’s not going to be that easy,” sneered Hammond. “I want them and all the copies of the records you’ve removed from our main frame. In return, you’ll get the kid and as I’ll be the CEO of Saeder-Krupp in a few hours, I won’t press charges about this evening’s escapades. For that, you forget about all of this and we live out our lives avoiding each other.”

The Fury shrugged. “That seems fair. I’m at my boyfriend’s apartment at this address. We make the switch in an hour?”

“I’ll be there. And Diaz, I get so much as a whiff of a set up and I just keep right on driving. You won’t ever see Preston here again, and I’ll have warrants on you and your Viking friend there inside of an hour.”

“You’ve already won, Hammond,” Elisa groused. “There’s no need to rub it in.”

“Just remember that and everything will go fine.”

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The Office of Martin Hammond, Saeder-Krupp Arcology 1:26am March 13th

“Just remember that and everything will go fine,” the executive snapped before angrily terminating the call. He turned to Connie and ordered, “Get the kid down to my car and get it running. Call security on the way and get me two of their best. I’ll be down in a moment.”

“Why the delay?” she asked to Hammond’s oily smile.

“I just have to de-fang this serpent completely. Move it.” The secretary hustled Preston through the office door as Hammond called up his holographic rolodex and had it connect him when he found the entry he wanted.

“Themis Special Services, this is Mark, how may I help you sir?”

“Connect me with Diana Davenport.”

“I’m sorry sir; Miss Davenport has left for the day.”

“Then have some one wake the whore up and connect me to her cell,” snapped Hammond. “She’ll want to take my call, trust me.”

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Themis Apartment Complex, Arlington, 2:27AM, March 13th

“The boyfriend must be doing well,” remarked Martin as the limousine cleared the final security checkpoint to enter the complex itself. It paused to convert from water to land mode as its passengers admired the excellent architecture of the complex.

“The bitch must have snagged herself a banker,” complained Connie with no small portion of envy in her tone. “I honestly don’t see what men see in those glorified faggots.”

Diana Davenport smirked as she fixed a predatory gaze on the secretary. Walker realized her faux pas and squirmed in the rich leather seat. “Perhaps they aren’t finding what they’re looking for with the vain, conceited and so-called ‘naturals’” she replied coolly.

“Ladies, let’s all get along,” interjected Martin smoothly. “Once this evening’s unpleasantness is settled we can all be about our lives and not have to worry about it.” He turned to Davenport and smiled. “So long as Diaz and her partner never see the light of day except from a prison window again, you won’t have to worry about Saeder-Krupp pressing charges.”

“I’m aware of our bargain,” snapped Davenport. “Let’s just get this over with. I have enough to worry about without rogue agents making this kind of trouble for me.”

The Limo smoothly pulled to a stop before the front door and the driver leapt out to open the door. Behind the Bentley-Rolls was a plain GM Sedan that spilled out the muscle Hammond had requested and the entourage made their way inside. “I can’t wait to see the look on her face,” chuckled Hammond. He took a hold of Preston himself as they waited for the elevator.

“There’s no reason to involve the boy in this,” Davenport pointed out.

Hammond shook his head. “No, she may try something if our young hostage isn’t in sight.”

“I can keep her on a leash,” Diana replied. “More to the point, if she does try something and a minor is hit, that will bring in complications with the law. Why don’t you let me take charge of him?”

Martin considered that for a moment before forcing Preston’s gaze to meet his. “I’m giving you over to this woman. You keep quiet and don’t give us any trouble and you’ll be home in time for school.”

Preston shared a glance with Diana. “Ok,” he managed to stutter. The elevator arrived to a soft tone and opened to an empty car. The group crowded in and rode it upwards. Martin turned to his two guards for their final instructions.

“She won’t be expecting me to have her boss along. She may try something but keep your restraint. I doubt there will be any serious trouble once she realizes she’s lost.” The matched pair nodded quietly as they opened their jackets to facilitate access to their weapons.

Diana drifted to the back of the car and surreptitiously tucked Preston behind her. The door finally opened to reveal a smirking Elisa in the hallway, one apartment door open, but filled with the curvaceous form of Kait Marksbury; a PAS in her hands. “Mr. Hammond,” Elisa greeted. “Fashionably late?”

“As you yourself pointed out, Miss Diaz, you’ve lost,” smirked Hammond. “Your boss is here to arrest you for kidnapping and murder. Don’t make things hard on yourself by resisting.”

“Hello, Diana,” Elisa replied with a nod to the older woman. “Sorry to drag you out of bed for this.” Diaz returned her gaze back to the Vice President, her smile still on her face. “I’m afraid you’re under a misunderstanding, Mr. Hammond. Ms. Davenport is here to arrest someone for those crimes, but it won’t be me.”

There was a blur of motion and suddenly Diana was holding a large caliber automatic handgun to the back of Martin’s head. “Martin Hammond, as a duly recognized contractor for the Boston-Atlanta Metroplex Police Authority, I am hereby placing you under arrest for the murder of Lillian Van Buren, Juan Rodriquez, and the attempted murder of Conrad Murphy.” The body guards recovered sufficiently from the shock of her movement to draw their weapons and cover Diana. Hammond actually chuckled.

“You think this little Mexican Stand Off is going to change anything?” he sneered. “You’ve lost girl. Give it up.”

Kait couldn’t help snickering as she raised the PAS. Elisa shared the chuckle and it sent a shiver down Hammond’s spine. “Martin,” chided Elisa. “You misunderstand. We don’t have a Mexican standoff. See, while this is my boyfriend’s apartment, my boyfriend works for Themis. You’re in a Themis Employee Housing Dormitory. There are about a thousand Erinyes, Myrmidons and Cerberus troopers in this building. I think it’s safe to say you’re surrounded.”

The various doors off the hall opened revealing Erinyes in their signature body suits, a Myrmidon in a hard suit and Combat Gauss Gun, and a pair of Cerberus in Ajax combat gear. The muscle boy to Diana’s left swallowed hard before he let his pistol rotate in to a surrender position hanging by the trigger guard as he raised his hands. His partner quickly followed suit.

“Take these two downstairs,” ordered Diana as Hammond and his secretary were handcuffed. She turned to the body guards. “As I doubt you two have any serious involvement here I’m releasing you on your own recognizance. Cause any trouble and you’ll be doing time with Martin and Miss Personality here.” Diana paused to smile a vicious smile Connie’s way. “Have fun in the clink with the other ‘naturals’, honey.”

The two were led back into the elevator, a somewhat numb and disbelieving look on their faces. Diana sighed in satisfaction. “I love my job,” she told herself before picking up her voice to carry throughout the hallway. “Alright people, thank you for the extra support, but tomorrow is a work day and I can’t be too lenient in reporting times! Get some sleep! Rogers, you’re with me.”

Davenport led the way once more into Tom’s apartment and firmly closed the door after Elisa and Dallas had entered. “Now,” she said, fixing a stern gaze on the two men on the far couch. “Perhaps you’d like to clear up a few things, Mr. Loen,” she declared, her eyes never leaving Van Buren’s face.

“I suppose the jig, as they say is up,” remarked Herbert with a somewhat nervous laugh.

“Hold up,” interjected Preston. “He’s Loen? Then who’s that guy?”

“Peter Allen,” replied the elderly gentleman in the business suit. “I’m a piece meal worker and actor by trade. Or, rather, I was an actor thirty years ago. These days I’m whatever spot of work I can get. Which have been rather few and far between in this economy.”

Herbert sighed a heavy sigh. “I contracted with Mr. Allen to take my place for the last few months I was Bertram Loen.”

“Bertram Loen is nearly eighty,” whispered Preston. “You’re telling us you’re Bertram Loen? You can’t be more than thirty five.”

Herbert laughed. “Actually, Miss Wyecross, I’m closer to one thirty five. To date, I’ve pulled this little stunt twice.”

“It’s true, ya’ll,” interjected Dallas. “Back in aught nine the old man of Saeder-Krupp, one Maxwell Fredrick von Krupp announced his retirement and named the new CEO as a twenty something Young Turk named Bertram Loen. Who’s ruled the company with an iron hand in a velvet glove ever since. The old timers said that it was like Old Man Krupp had never left.”

“In a few short weeks history would have repeated itself,” Herbert admitted. “I hired Mr. Allen here to assume my old form. He received some first rate medical care from my firm as well as the cosmetic surgery. He would live out my retirement on New Fiji and a new Young Turk would have taken the helm.”

“Except that Martin Hammond was expecting to take over,” finished Elisa. “And someone in HR accidentally or purposefully CC-ed him on the confirmation email for the transfer of power. What I don’t get is Lillian Van Buren’s place in all this.”

Herbert laughed a dark chuckle. “Come now, Miss Diaz, surely you can understand a concept as simple as love, can’t you? I’d finally found the perfect woman to share my long life with. It was becoming time to undergo the treatment again and I thought, why not?”

“Treatment?” demanded Diana.

“It’s a gene therapy project my firm invented some time ago. Rather simple, actually, and as you can see, very effective.”

“And why hasn’t Saeder-Krupp marketed this?” Kait wanted to know.

Before she could warm up to the lists of virtues and benefits, Preston whispered, “You never intended to market it, did you?”

Herbert shook his head. “Mankind is not ready for immortality, Miss Wyecross; as you can well imagine. I had intended to share the treatment with Lillian; however I’d left some documents in Martin’s office the day I underwent it. Lillian went to get them for me and Martin had just received the email in question. I’d barely recovered when I had to flee for my life.”

“Who hired Themis to go and get you?” demanded Diana.

“I did,” declared Mr. Allen. “When I realized that we had been compromised, I realized Mr. Loen’s life would be in great danger. I have seen you ladies in action before and could think of no place safer for Mr. Loen than in your custody.”

“And you didn’t come clean to me so you could keep the secret of the fountain of youth to yourself?” Elisa snapped.

“Heavy is the brow that wears the crown,” muttered Van Buren. “As it stands, I have lost the love of my life. I would deeply appreciate your discretion in this matter.”

“That’s going to cost you,” Diana informed him calmly.

“Name your terms,” Herbert affirmed. “I’m alive thanks to your diligence, Ms. Diaz, Ms. Davenport. Anything you ask will be a bargain as far as I’m concerned.”

“Except for the firing of Martin Hammond and his cronies, Themis was not involved in this beyond our contract to secure and protect Herbert Van Buren,” Diana started, ticking off her points on her fingers. “The fire and subsequent destruction at the Saeder-Krupp Arcology were accidents that Themis is not liable for.” Herbert nodded eagerly as Diana caught Elisa’s eye. “Body count?”

“Zero,” she affirmed in chorus with Kait.

“YES!” shouted Preston in glee, drawing every eye to him. The boy blushed a deep crimson before Diana’s continuing stare coaxed an explanation out of him. “I put a ten on the end result of tonight with Wendy,” he said with glee. “Of course, I was so late the only slot left was zero body count, zero accessed damage! At four thousand to one odds, that ten just paid for my college education!”

“Glad I could help,” chuckled Kait as she ruffled his hair.

“Office bookie,” provided Diana to the bewildered Herbert. “Oh, and Mr. Loen, there’s just one more thing. How does this fountain of youth bit of yours work? Is it all or nothing?”

“No, it clears out cellular debris, re-encodes the frayed ends of the recipients DNA strands, as well as a time released capsule of human growth hormone, that sort of thing. It is actually administered in blocks that repair about ten years each.” He paused for a moment. “Why?”

“My last bit of payment. I want from your company, free of charge, a one-block bonus to each Themis Erinyes as a bonus for clearing her process debt. We ask a lot from our girls, they deserve to have a bit of their youth to enjoy once they’re free and clear. I realize that’s a big bite; however I think I can guarantee you extremely favorable rates for your future security needs.”

“Perhaps a bit of publicity wouldn’t hurt,” the CEO mulled to himself. “So long as it’s understood in all your literature that the process is a one time treatment due to a medical reason and cannot be repeated, I think perhaps it may be time for a new product to enter the market.

The two power brokers reached to shake on their deal when Elisa daintily raised her hand. “I have one small request…”

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The Loen Estate, Morning Island, New Fiji Atoll, 11:00AM, March 20th

A soft breeze blew in off the cove Bertram Loen’s South Pacific house over looked. Just on the horizon one could make out the resort hotels dotted in and amongst the lush forest that grew on the artificial island of New Fiji. As the seas had risen over the years, the landscape of the Pacific Ocean had changed radically, invigorating new industries and technologies as people fought to save their homes. The Fiji Islanders had turned to forced growth coral to make a new island to call their own.

The new technology had allowed them to make a completely new island that rose and fell with the rising ocean, tethered to the ocean floor below by a length of linear aligned cable that was practically unbreakable. It hadn’t taken them long to realize that since they were already in the land making business, why stop with one? In short order a new ‘island’ chain was formed, the most exclusive homes for the wealthiest of patrons.

Elisa Diaz sprawled in a chaise lounge and took in the perfect blue-green of the water framed by swaying palm trees. Life, she decided is good. Below her in the lagoon the chiseled form of Tom Vannoy was approaching, modesty only barely preserved by brief type Speedo while showing off the magnificent bronze tan he’d acquired thus far.

A bit further out in the bay, Kait was having the time of her life on a Sea-Doo that brought a chuckle to Elisa at her antics. “This has to be the best bonus I’ve ever gotten,” greeted Tom as he arrived. “Two months off, with pay, in the palatial retirement home of a multi-billionaire. That was a killer negotiation, Elisa,” as he settled into the lounge next to hers.

“Well, I’m sure that Diana is glad to have me out of her hair for a bit,” Elisa replied. “And, after this little adventure, quite honestly I could use the time off. Since I needed it, there was no stretch to assume my co-conspirators did as well.”

“There’s a suitably dangerous ring to that,” chuckled Tom. “Too bad our young intern couldn’t join us.”

“Well, she’ll have to be satisfied with paying off her debt and college in one fell swoop. I’m certain the tears of Wendy on a chit that size will be able compensation.”

“I do have one question,” the ruggedly handsome body guard remarked as he drew himself a bit closer on the chaise. “About this boyfriend line you spun Hammond…?”

Elisa was so shocked by his question that she could only stare at him. “What? Are you propositioning me?” she demanded as her PCS began to ring. As she fumbled with her bag to get it out he reached over drew her face up to meet his.

“Nothing so lurid or short term,” he replied as he bent down and kissed her. He was a magnificent kisser, gentle but firm, strong, but tender and Elisa quickly found herself lost in the kiss. A part of her mind struggled to remember the events of the night of the Christmas Party that was lost to her.

If he’s this good a kisser…

Her hands found their way to the back of his muscled neck, the phone, still ringing slipping from her fingers sought to draw him into herself. It fell open in the soft warm sand to the creak of a chaise lounge that had more weight on it suddenly than before.

“Elisa? It’s Diana, I’m afraid I’ll have to cut your vacation a bit short. I have something of a situation here and I need all hands on deck. Elisa? Are you there? Diaz? Hello?”

finis

Comments   

+4 # E. E. Nalley 2017-02-03 03:35
this was the first story I uploaded to Bob Arnold's Stardust site. I can't help but be a little melancholy every time I come back to this universe to write knowing Bob won't get to see it. We miss you Bob, very much!
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+2 # Bad Idea 2017-02-04 00:14
Changed my mind. - This is STILL a GREAT story. I'm glad you reposted it so that it has just that little extra chance of never being lost.
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