The Cassidy Chronicles - Chapter Thirty-One

And finally we tie up loose ends!

That's all I'm gonna say about this chapter.

Except that, you think we were done with problems?

Think again.


Chapter 31: Bet U Wish U Had Me Back


“Hello, Amanda.”

Talbott looked up at the figure in the doorway. “Hello, Kendra. I didn’t expect to see you here.” She slowly reached under her desk.

“Don’t bother with your security,” said Montana, walking in behind Kendra, her favorite handgun leveled. “We had a nice chat with them on the way in. Hands where I can see them.”

Talbott pulled her hand back and rested it across her wrist.

“Yes,” added Cass, strolling in behind. “It’s amazing how easily loyalties can switch.”

Talbott tapped her wrist impatiently.

“Tell me, Amanda. I’m curious.” Kendra dropped into the seat in front of Talbott. “Why did you do it? You make plenty of money, so that’s not the reason.”

“No,” Talbott disagreed. “It was the money. You might think that six hundred k annually is a lot, but –”

“You make far more than that,” Mac contradicted, taking a place against a far wall. “In fact, in the last year, you claimed nearly two point eight million.” She waved a sheaf of papers. “It’s all right here.” Mac’s nervousness manifested in the brevity of her sentences.

“And that’s just what you made from OutLook,” amended Cass, settling in next to Kendra. “How much did you manage to skim from the contracts?”

“I never took a penny –” started Talbott in outrage, but Mac cut her off.

“From what I found, she was taking at least ten percent of every contract. Skimming it right off the top.” Mac looked at Talbott, then away. “That adds up to a pretty sum.” Mac stepped back, pulled one of her ubiquitous padds from her pack, and stared down at it, tapping occasionally.

“Were you worried you were going to get caught?” purred Kendra. “Or were you trying to get in good with the new owner?”

“Because you wasted your time,” said Montana. “Either way.”

“You see, Derek is dead.” Cass dropped the news casually.

“And so is Kaine,” added Kendra.

“So you’re the only snake left,” finished Stone, making her appearance.

“Who the hell are you?” demanded Talbott.

“Ah, ah, ah!” scolded Kendra. “Sorry, Amanda, your days of demanding shit are finished.”

“You hurt a friend of mine,” said Stone. “Someone who never did anything to anyone in her life.”

“Who?”

“Dr. Lisa Mantchev,” answered Stone.

“Who?” Talbott showed no recognition of the name.

“Oh, that’s right, you wouldn’t know her,” said a frosty Stone. “She was. What did Kaine say? “Collateral damage” trying to get to Cass.”

“See, Amanda, when you decided to turn things over to Kaine, you really fucked up,” said Kendra. “I know you’re cold and conniving, but you used to have scruples. Kaine? He was a sick bastard. To get Lisa to talk about Aiyana, he killed her husband.”

“You can’t hold that against me!” shrilled Talbott.

“Oh, yes. Yes, I can,” whispered Stone. “And I certainly do.”

““Lucky for you,” broke in Kendra. “I’ve been in the business for long enough that I know that sometimes there are accidents. Unexpected events.”

“Yes. Yes!” agreed Talbott.

“And I’ve known you for, what, ten years? Eleven? Some pretty good years in there, too, Good times, too.”

“Absolutely, you were, no, you are one of the best we have. I always appreciated what you brought to the company!” Talbott was babbling, trying everything she could think of to stay on someone’s good side.

“Which is why you have a choice,” continued Kendra.

Talbott cut herself off. “A choice?”

“Yes,” agreed Kendra. “You can get up and leave, now, with what you have with you. Walk out of the building and never, ever, return. Go wherever you want.”

Talbott wasn’t sure she liked this first option. “Or?”

“Or I let the Master Chief take you apart, one inch at a time.”

“Please choose that,” begged Stone.

“I –”

Kendra interrupted and spoke sweetly. “I may have forgotten to mention. We’re going to be watching you, so if you’re thinking revenge? Forget it. If we hear the slightest thought had even begun to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing your mind, we’ll find you. And then we’ll give you to Stone.”

Whatever Talbott’s choice was going to be was suddenly rendered moot. A shadowed figure burst into the room behind Stone, shocking her with a stunner. Before Stone hit the floor, the figure was leaping across at Montana, delivering a kick to her jaw. Montana fell, the gun skidding away.

Mac backed up, trying to draw her weapon, but the attacker punched her, first in the face, then the chest, and finally the gut, and Mac was down, gasping.

Talbott sprang from her chair and flew across the desk at Kendra, grappling for the younger woman’s throat. Kendra managed to push Talbott’s arms away with a desperate lunge, but Talbott’s momentum carried them both to the floor. Kendra wrapped her hands around Talbott’s arms, and the women started rolling on the floor, struggling for the right angle.

The last one standing, Cass found herself facing a woman nearly her height with short black hair. She had enough time to gather her wits and fell into her ginga.

“It’s not often I get to finish a job that went wrong,” said the stranger.

“Farrell! Or, what was it, Jeffries!” gasped Cass, the pieces falling into place.

“You’re quick,” admitted Jeffries. She took an experimental swing at Cass, who easily dodged it.

“Why are you here?” said Cass, still rocking side to side.

“Why? I was hired as a bodyguard,” said Jeffries. “It’s a little bit out of my usual gig, but business has been slow, and I kinda owed her one.” Jeffries threw a rapid combination at Cass, which she only partially blocked. One landed painfully on her ribs. Cass countered with a sweep of her leg, staggering Jeffries, but she stayed on her feet.

Meanwhile, Talbott pinned Kendra’s shoulders with her knees and was trying to gouge her eyes. Kendra’s arms were long enough to keep Talbott’s hands away, but sooner or later, she’d miss, and she knew it. Kendra looked around for something, anything, to break Talbott’s grip.

Cass and Jeffries were circling each other, respectful of each other’s capabilities.

Aiyana tried to reason with her. “You don’t have to do this. Talbott’s finished.”

Jeffries glanced over. “Doesn’t look like –”

Cass jumped at the break in Jeffries’s concentration, dropping her shoulder into the other woman’s chest, driving her backward and down. The breath was driven from Jeffries with an explosive whoof, but she kept her head. Jeffries slammed her hands against the sides of Cass’s head. Stunned, Cass reeled back.

“You’re done, Kendra, you’re finished!” ground out Talbott, tendons raised, muscles straining. “There wasn’t anything personal about this before, it was just a job, but now I’m going to enjoy taking you and your little bitch wife out!”

“Frak you, you snake!” screamed Kendra. With a convulsive heave, she brought her legs up and slammed her feet into Talbott’s back. Talbott tumbled forward, releasing Kendra’s shoulders. Kendra leapt up and whirled, delivering a kick to the still-stumbling Talbott’s head.

Jeffries and Cass faced each other again, panting, circling.

“You don’t. Have to. Do this,” puffed Cass.

“It’s not often I get a second chance,” repeated Jeffries. “This one’s a freebie.”

Jeffries surged forward, hands flashing. Cass almost missed the glint of light on the blades but stepped back in time to turn a fatal slash into a painful cut.

Talbott could see that Montana was groaning on the floor, Stone was regaining control of her limbs, and Mac was pulling herself to her feet. Even through the haze in her mind, she knew if she didn’t finish this quickly, she wasn’t going to have a chance. Feigning to her left, she staggered past Kendra to the right and plunged around her desk. Fingers that were oh so slow to respond dug at a drawer, finally tugging it open and pulling out a gun.

Kendra whirled to face Talbott, spotted the gun, and converted the turn into a dive for the floor. There was no sound as the flechettes burst from the barrel, just a spreading cone of death. Kendra’s dive saved her. Mac was caught on the fringe and tumbled back to the floor, half a dozen flechettes ripping through her side.

Cass was on her game now, dancing around the edges of Jeffries’ strike zone. She couldn’t get close enough to land any blows of her own. In her opinion, keeping Jeffries at bay was a win for now.

Stone levered herself to one knee. She assessed the situation with a quick look at Mac and another at Cass. Then she charged Talbott head-down. The years Talbott spent on bureaucratic in-fighting, instead of being in the field, caught up to her. She couldn’t change her aim quickly enough to target the rapidly-moving Stone. The impact sent her flying backward, with Stone’s still-churning legs driving until she was smashed into the wall. The sound of ribs shattering was clear, and Talbott collapsed.

Jeffries turned at the thump, then turned back to Cass.

“It. Is Over,” insisted Cass. “You can still walk away.”

“No,” disagreed Jeffries. “One way or another, I’m done. You know who I am. That means you know how to find me. I’d rather go out as I started.”

She lunged again at Cass, who flipped backward, striking upward with her feet, before landing on her hands and continuing through the somersault. The kick caught Jeffries under the chin, breaking her jaw and snapping her head violently back. Jeffries lost her balance and stumbled back, trying to spin and catch herself but only succeeding in bringing her arms in towards her body. She slammed into the floor, arms crossed underneath, and lay still.

“Ohhhh,” moaned Mac, clutching her side. Montana rolled to her, then pulled herself upright.

“Pressure,” she managed. “Apply pressure.”

Stone stood and looked at the crumpled Talbott. “This one’s sorted,” she said with satisfaction.

“Is she alive?” asked Kendra, sparing a glance as she moved to help Mac.

“Unfortunately,” said Stone. “I can fix that if you like.”

“Maybe. Aiyana?”

“I’m…okay.” The surprise in her voice was apparent.

“And Jeffries?”

“Let me check.” Cass walked cautiously to the still body, noting a spreading red stain underneath.

“She doesn’t seem to be breathing,” she said.

“Don’t go any closer!” said Kendra. “Just in case. Hey!”

Kendra raised her voice. “Is anyone out there? We need medics!” She tore her blouse off and wrapped it tightly around Mac’s torso.

“Hang in there,” she said. “You’re going to be fine.”

“This is why I don’t go in the field,” cracked Mac weakly. “Ow. Ow ow ow. All down my left side.”

Stone came over, dragging a whimpering Talbott. She dumped Talbott roughly on the floor by Mac’s feet.

“D’ye want me to do anything with this one?”

“Not yet,” answered Kendra. “Cris, can you move?”

“I think so,” rubbing her jaw. “My head hurts like a sonofabitch, but yeah.”

“Go get medical support,” ordered Kendra. “Tell ‘em we have five wounded, two seriously, plus maybe one dead.”

“I’ll call them from the desk,” agreed Montana.

There wasn’t much talking. Stone remained vigilant over the prone Talbott while Kendra and Cass tended to Mac. Shortly Montana returned, a pair of medics in tow.

“Two more on the way, and we’ve got the infirmary prepping for possible surgery.”

One of the medics attended to Mac, examining the wound, while the other took a step toward Jeffries.

“Careful of that one,” warned Kendra. “She’s a trained assassin. There are all sorts of nasty tricks she might know.”

“Not my first rodeo,” said the medic.

“No shit,” said Kendra. “But – what’s your name?”

“Velez. Sally Velez.”

“Sally, take it from me. Don’t assume anything.” The tone of Kendra’s voice must have conveyed the gravity of her warning because Velez stopped, nodded, and removed a medcorder from her pack.

“I’ll start with a scan, then,” agreed Velez. She activated the device and swept it back and forth over Jeffries’s body. “I’m not picking up any life signs. There’s no respiration, no heartbeat, no brain function…wait, I do have some electrical function going on. It’s faint but regular.”

She stepped closer.

“Signal’s getting stronger,” she announced. That caught Kendra’s attention.

“What sort of signal is it?” Kendra asked, suspicious.

“I can’t tell. It’s definitely internal, regular, but not a heartbeat.”

Alarms went off in Kendra’s head.

“Out! Everyone out, now!” She grabbed Cass’s arm and pulled her upright. Montana and the other medic lifted Mac, and Stone started dragging Talbott. Kendra stopped at the door after Cass had passed through, waving at the others, when she turned and shouted at Velez, who was trying to move Jeffries.

“Leave her! Run!”

Mac cleared the door.

Velez turned. She was shocked at the suggestion but started to move.

Stone finished pulling Talbott across the threshold.

Then Jeffries’s body erupted in a gout of flame, expanding and engulfing the hapless medic before she managed more than a strangled cry. For the second time that day, Kendra dove for the floor as the explosion burst outward, setting the furniture and walls ablaze. She barely cleared the doorway before the fire suppression system kicked in and a fire safe door slammed down.

“Oh, crap,” breathed Montana. “Is everyone okay? Mac?”

“That sucked,” said Mac, wincing. The surviving medic was working on her wound again.

“Chief?”

“I’m good, though this bint is in a bit rougher shape.” Stone couldn’t manage to make her voice contain any sympathy.

“Cass? Kendra?”

“I’m good,” said Kendra. “A little singed, and really, really pissed.”

“What was that?” asked a horrified Cass.

“A last resort,” answered Kendra.

“A what?”

Kendra shook her head in disbelief and denial. “Remember I said that most assassination contracts call for one attempt and done?” Aiyana nodded. “A few, especially the contracts taken out for “honor,” call for total success or nothing. To guarantee it, some professional assassins have one installed in their body. Its usually an explosive, but I’ve heard of biological or chemical agents being used as well.”

“That’s just sick! Why?”

“Fulfill the contract.”

“My God. Do you have one?” said a shocked Cass.

“Oh, Zeus take it, no! As far as I know, OutLook never condoned them for our agents. But we weren’t freelancers. The only reason to have one is to take out your target after failing, and we don’t plan for failure. Not like that, at least.”

“That’s disturbing on so many levels,” said Cass.

“Beyond killing Velez – and that’s going to stay with me for a long, long time - what’s annoying is that she just managed to torch all of Talbott’s files,” continued Kendra.

“No,” disagreed Mac.

“You need to be quiet,” said the medic.

The quick response team arrived to deal with the fire before Mac could reassert herself. There was too much activity going on, too many extra ears, for them to talk freely, so the conversation changed to more mundane matters.

It wasn’t until much later, in the infirmary, with Talbott under sedation and everyone’s wounds and battle damage treated, that the thread was picked up again.

“Okay, Mac. You said that not all of Talbott’s files were lost. Explain,” said Kendra.

“Well, there’s nothing I could do about anything paper she had, although you’ll want to get in there to check out her desk, something inside might have survived, or there might be a safe or a cabinet that wasn’t damaged, but we knew we were missing a bunch of her files, they weren’t in the main computer or any of the backup cores, well I figured out why, she had an independent server, and the only logical place for it to be was her office, so as soon as I could I started a scan, that’s what I was doing with my padd, because no matter if it was insulated from perception outside she couldn’t completely block it inside, not without turning it into a brick, and that would make in inconvenient and I know Talbott, she hates inefficiency, sure enough I picked it up, she didn’t have much security on it, she must have figured that being physically isolated was enough, we ought to ask her when she wakes up, and I was able to tap into it before everything went to hell, I linked it to my personal core in my quarters here and stripped it clean, so we actually have all of her electronic records.”

“Mac, you are brilliant!” Kendra wrapped her in a hug until Mac squeaked.

“Ow!”

Kendra dropped her quickly. “Sorry!”

“It’s okay, Kendra. I know you didn’t mean it.”

“We need to know what you pulled,” Kendra continued. “Can your core do smart searches?”

“Oh, some, it’s not really an AI, just a well-trained core, but I can get SARAH to do a search, it won’t take her any time if you don’t mind her doing it.”

“Go ahead, go ahead!”

“And what do we do with Talbott?” said Stone. “I don’t mind you letting the medics stop her from dying. Much. But you’re not just going to let her off, are you?”

“Oh, no. It can wait for tomorrow.”

Mac’s wounds were the most serious. The darts that hit her had been simple penetrators, nothing explosive or toxic. Their lethality lay in their quantity, and the half-dozen that managed to embed themselves, though painful, weren’t fatal. Cass’s slash required some cleaning and a quick application of artificial skin but would heal readily enough. Montana had lost a tooth, and neither Kendra nor Stone had suffered more than bruises.

Talbott’s injuries proved to be nearly fatal. The broken ribs weren’t dangerous, but one shard punctured a lung and caused extensive internal hemorrhaging. The impact with the wall caused her brain to swell. Blood loss, combined with brain bruising, pushed her into a coma. Fortunately for her, OutLook’s medical staff was skilled at traumatic injuries and stabilized her, stopped the bleed, and relieved the pressure on her brain. She was expected to make a full recovery, eventually.

Her office was a total loss. The explosion and subsequent fire had consumed everything organic or flammable, down to the permacrete walls. There was an old safe embedded in a wall, which Kendra ordered opened. When the mechanical lock was picked, the only items revealed were documents dating back to the building’s use as a Mint. They were historically interesting but practically useless.

Her computer records, however, were a treasure trove. SARAH and Mac stripped out all the files dealing with HLC, Kaine, Cass, and Kendra in short order. A quick review hadn’t revealed any surprising details. However, Mac estimated it would take at least a week to follow all the possible leads.

In the meantime, business at OutLook continued as usual. Talbott’s incapacitation and the story of her treasonous activities ran rampant. To put some order in place, Kendra claimed the Directorship, and the staff accepted her, at least temporarily. That would have to change, as Kendra had no intention of getting tied down in the day-to-day minutiae of what suddenly seemed like a tiny company.

Talbott emerged from her coma but was kept strictly isolated. Nobody was allowed to talk to her alone. Mac’s toys monitored the room continually, and someone – usually Stone – was present whenever Talbott was being cared for.

A day later, Mac announced that she’d finished going through the files and could present her information any time Kendra wanted. Before she could start her usual free-form spiel, Kendra said, “Mac, just tell me this: are there any active contracts on me?”

“No,” said Mac.

“Cass?”

“No.”

“Anyone else in our group? Any of the agents who helped us, any of our friends, family, coworkers?”

“No. Talbott didn’t have any other contracts like that. There are more off-the-books contracts, and there’s a whole bunch that she was skimming from.”

“Get me a list of those contracts and the people who hired her.”

The medics finally decided that Talbott could be released a full week later. Kendra had her brought up to the main conference room late that afternoon.

“Hello, Amanda.” Kendra was pleasant enough when Stone escorted her in.

“Kendra.” Talbott hissed the name as she was seated.

“How are you feeling?”

Talbott spat on the table in reply.

“Oh, please. You lost. You can spare me the histrionics.”

“Are you my executioners then?” Talbott glanced at the solemn faces around the table: Kendra, Cass, Mac, Montana. Stone stood behind her in case she had any odd ideas.

“Hardly,” said Kendra. “No, we’re not going to execute you. As long as you behave, I promise you you’ll have the opportunity to walk out of the building a free woman, unharmed. No, this is more what you could call a separation interview.”

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word at face value.”

“Oh, Amanda. Which of the two of us has never lied to the other? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t you. You shouldn’t worry about my word, but rather what you need to do to get out of here.” Kendra’s eyes flicked to Stone. “I’m not going to pretend there aren’t people here who would love to put you in a shallow grave, but they’ve all agreed not to as long as you behave.”

Talbott remained defiant. “I’m not going to tell you anything.”

“I didn’t ask you to,” replied Kendra. “I don’t need you to.”

Now Talbott was confused. “Then what do you want?”

“Your promise you will never, ever, act against me, my wife, my family, my friends, and my interests.” Kendra leaned back with a satisfied smile.

“Is that all?” scoffed Talbott.

“That’s all. And there’s no wiggle room there, Amanda. You can’t drop hints to someone or provide anonymous tips. You will obey the spirit of this agreement, not just the letter.”

“Or what?”

“Or I give the Master Chief permission to find you and put you down like a rabid dog.” Kendra shrugged. “Like I said, it’s your choice. I’m not bothered one way or another, but anything we might have had? We’re finished. Paid. Books balanced.”

Aiyana resisted glancing at Kendra. She and Talbott had a history? That was for later.

“You said separation interview,” stalled Talbott.

“Yes. You see, there’s been a change of management at OutLook. Specifically, we own it now, all legal and proper.”

“Oh, bullshit! You don’t have the money to buy OutLook.”

“I didn’t say anything about buying it, just that we own it. The details aren’t important, though. What you need to concentrate on is this. The new ownership feels having a director who routinely skims percentages from the contracts, inflates prices, and takes contracts off the books is bad for business and our reputation. As such, we have no recourse but to remove the director – you, Amanda, in case I wasn’t clear – from her position. Effective immediately.”

“You can’t do this!” Talbott protested.

“Oh, I assure you, we can. Can’t we, Aiyana?”

“Definitely. I completely concur with my co-owner’s position.”

“But I have a contract!”

“Mac?”

“Director Talbott, you do have a contract, but you are in violation of several clauses of that contract, specifically B three b, B four a, C nineteen D subsection two, and, oh, about a dozen other minor clauses, plus the fact your contract was with the prior ownership group, and there’s language which relates to your situation, specifically that all employees contracted directly by the owners have their contracts voided in the case of a change in ownership, with the stipulation that all impacted employees, if not retained under a new contract, receive two month’s severance pay, plus any accrued bonuses.”

“Mac worked it all out for you,” said Cass, pulling out a form. “At the bottom, and we’ll be done.”

“I’m not signing anything!” Talbott pushed the paper away from her.

Montana spoke for the first time. “You might want to think about it. What that is –” She gestured at the form. “- Is a statement of separation, written purely based on the change of ownership. It doesn’t say anything about your deals, your skims, nothing. It doesn’t even have a non-compete clause. You could go and set up your own shop if you wanted.”

“And it has the number of a Las Vegas numbered account,” added Kendra. “Two months’ salary, plus bonuses, plus the bonuses you might have earned in those two months given the average rate of contract completion. A pretty tidy sum. Deposited in your name, in gold, and payable upon demand.”

“Gold?” asked Talbott, finally interested.

“You can check yourself,” said Montana. “Here, I’ll put it on speaker so everyone can hear.” She connected with the depository and went through the authorization. Finally, the automated voice announced the balance in gold, as promised.

“Or you can choose what’s behind door number two,” said Kendra. “Don’t sign, and we throw you out with nothing. We can’t prosecute you for anything you did, but we can sure as hell guarantee you don’t get a job in this business, ever.”

“You’ve learned how to negotiate,” confessed Talbott in the most natural tone she’d had since entering the room. “I’ll sign.”

“You have chosen wisely,” intoned Kendra. “Oh, you don’t need a pen, just a thumbprint there, above your name. It’s reactive paper and will take the imprint. Good, perfect. Mac, will you make sure she has a copy?”

“I’ve already emailed it to her personal account.”

“Maybe I should mention what happens if you violate your agreement,” mused Kendra.

“What, you send your apes after me?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. I’m firmly opposed to violence as a first resort.”

“Much to my annoyance,” reminded Stone.

“No, what we’ll do is worse.” Kendra leaned forward, her gaze and tone hard.

“First, we’re going to shut you out of every bank account you have, freeze your credit, and basically cut you off. Then we’ll pull the files on every assignment you gave out while Director. Suppose the agents did anything illegal at your direction. In that case, even if it was jaywalking, we’ll report it to the appropriate country. OutLook might be immune since it’s in the Border States, but you don’t have immunity as an ex-employee.”

Talbott paled at this. OutLook almost always operated on the fringes of the law, no matter what country the agents were in. It was the nature of their profession. Since the company was officially extralegal, those countries couldn’t effectively retaliate, even if they didn’t use OutLook’s services themselves. Once an agent left, they were vulnerable to prosecution if their activities ever came to light. As the director, Talbott could be held liable for everything.

“Ah,” is all she said.

“Wait, I’m not done,” said Kendra maliciously. “We’ll also let all of the primaries who you cheated by skimming off your percentage know exactly what you did, how much it cost them, and where to find you.” She paused. “Now I’m done.”

“Oh.”

“Exactly. Oh. And in case you think you can drop off the grid, go to ground, and somehow slip away? Not a chance. I won’t tell you how, but you are never, ever, going to be out of our sight. Think of us as Sauron.”

“Who?”

“Sauron? The evil – you know, just go find out yourself.” Kendra stood, all business now. “We’re done here. Talbott, you have ten minutes to clear out anything you want from your quarters, then we will have you escorted off the property. After that, you’re on your own.”

“Wait, I need more than ten minutes!” Talbott wobbled to her feet, still weak.

“You’re wasting time. Don’t worry. The clock doesn’t start until you reach your room, and we’ve taken the liberty of packing for you. Might be a little messy, but…” Kendra shrugged, dismissing any concern Talbott might think of offering. “Joe, DiFiore, Cross, you’re in charge of the former Director. Make sure she follows the timetable.”

“Yes, ma’am!” snapped Buckley.

“Oh, Joe?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Try not to lose the other foot. The new one looks good on you, but you can’t dance on two artificial feet.”

“I can’t dance anyway. You of all people know that.” Buckley turned to Talbott. “Come on, let’s go.” Flanked by the three agents, Talbott left.

“That’s not so bad,” admitted Montana. “I thought you’d do worse to her.”

“Oh, I wasn’t particularly merciful. Did you hear me say anything about an APV?”

“Now that you mention it, no.”

“No, I specifically said she would walk out of the building a free woman. I always keep my word. But I didn’t say anything past that.” Kendra shrugged. “She’s a snake. I figure that the gators might not bother another cold-blooded creature, but the nightwalkers won’t be so picky.”

Aiyana picked up where Kendra left off. “If she does survive the night, Mac arranged to implant a tracker in her during her recovery. It’s bioelectrically powered and in one of the ribs that broke. Quick heal will have set it and regrown fresh bone around it, so removing it will be major surgery, even if it’s detected. It taps into her nervous system, so what she knows, what she does, we’ll know, for the rest of her life. However long that might be.”

Kendra nodded, satisfied. “On other matters. Cris, we have a new job for you.”

“Anything,” agreed Montana.

“You’re the new Director of OutLook,” said Cass.

“And Mac is your Assistant Director, to keep an eye on all the tech,” added Kendra.

“We figure between the two of you, there’s nothing you don’t have covered,” whipsawed Cass.

“If you can’t break it,” said Kendra.

“Mac can gizmo it,” added Cass.

“You’re a natural leader,” continued Kendra.

“And your fellow agents respect you,” finished Cass. They shared a grin before Kendra took over.

“Seriously. We were both impressed by what you did putting together a team on the fly and how you managed everyone. That shows skills I don’t think you realized you had. And Mac, you are so much more than the tech geek you claim to be. Your talents are being wasted as just an agent.”

“What do you say?” asked Cass. “And unless it’s yes, you’d better think carefully.”

Montana hesitated for just a moment. “It’s a huge honor,” she began.

“There better not be a “but” here,” said Kendra.

“No, no “but,”” said Montana. “I accept. On three conditions.”

“Conditions, even,” said Cass. “What conditions?”

“One, you come and teach capoeira to everyone,” she said to Cass.

Aiyana shook her head.

“I’d love to, but I’m not qualified.” She held up a hand to forestall an argument. “How about I arrange for Master Ruiva Alta to come and teach? Starting with Master Cordova. And I’ll come as often as I can to check in and do a little one-on-one.”

Montana nodded. “That works for me. Okay, two, I want Master Chief Stone on the staff here.”

“Director, remember? If you want to hire her, that’s up to you. And it’s not our decision,” said Kendra. “If she says yes, of course you can have her. Mikki?”

“What position are you thinking?” asked Stone.

“If I’m running the show, I need someone else to take over my specialty.”

“Hurting people and breaking things?” Stone said, relishing the opportunity.

“And training agents to do that,” agreed Montana. “No field gigs, unless you want them.”

“No,” said Stone. “If nothing else, the past few weeks have shown me that I’m really getting too old for this shit. If you want me, I’m in.”

“That’s two. What’s three?”

“You two don’t just drop this place because you’ve got other things to do.”

Kendra and Cass nearly gave themselves sore necks, shaking their heads violently.

“Never!” said Cass. “After what we’ve been through?”

“Ohana,” was all Kendra said.

“Ohana?” echoed Montana.

“Ohana means family. You’re our family now, Cris, and you too Mac, and you, Mikki. We don’t leave family behind. Ever.”

“That’s what all of this has been about,” said Cass, hugging Kendra. “You do anything you need to protect your family. And our family just got a whole lot bigger.”


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