President of the United States Joyce Gadsden absently glanced at her watch as she came into the Oval Office.  It was late, almost 3 a.m.  She glanced quickly to the Marine guard that stood 24 hour post outside the outer doorway leading to the balcony.  He was there as always. His back ramrod straight, his eyes looking out toward the lawn.

            "Feeling secure?" I questioned in almost a whisper.  She half turned.  She hadn't noticed that one of the bulbs that lined the outer wall, the one closest to the entrance to the Chief of Staff's office, was out.  A small, almost imperceptible shadow was cast by the absence and there in a wing back chair I sat. I knew she recognized me, but my name probably escaped her at the moment.

            "One word and thirty Secret Service and twelve Marines will kill you where you stand.  My security is obviously not in question. Mister...?"  I could tell she recognized me now as she stepped lightly closer. 

            "You know who I am.  You know why I'm here."

            "Patrick Scottman.  A man who once served his country in payment for the wondrous gift he'd been given.  I've read the case file." She crossed to the small mini-bar beside the desk.

            "Scotch?" She asked as she pulled out a bottle of single malt and poured herself a glass. "And before you start in on whatever it might be that is so important to commit high treason coming here, how did you get inside?"  I held up an open hand to indicate that I didn't want a drink and then stood from his chair.  Gadsden sized me up as I answered her question, reveling in the irony of it.

            "Security is an interesting thing.  You always have to have a designer – someone in charge to approve the final plans.  Almost always that person will gravitate toward making the object of protection impregnable to him or her. Hubris, I suppose.  So once you know the limitations of the designer you can formulate how to attack the system." I was grinning.  Here I stood, mere feet from the most powerful person on the planet and I had the upper hand, at least for the moment.  I was about to fool myself that I had any real idea how I was going to accuse the very President of these United States of kidnapping. 

            "I take it they didn't account for superhuman abilities either." She remarked taking a sip of the Scotch.

            "Oh no, they did...or more to the point – I did.  I just decided on a whim to make it difficult – just not impossible for me and me alone.  Who knew it would actually bear fruit?"  Gadsden grimaced, almost as if the Scotch was of bad distilling.  Anger flashed in her eyes and for a second I thought she would alert the guards that surrounded us on every side before I had a chance to say my peace.
            "Enough bragging Mr. Scottman.  Despite your demeanor you've broken more laws of this land then I could list in the limited time we have.  It's quite obvious you're here for a reason.  Going to this much trouble to gain an audience is worth another couple minutes I suppose."  She finished the Scotch with ease and slammed the glass down on the end table beside her with some force.

            "My son." I said, the ache still sitting deep in my gut every time I thought of the little time he had left before the Phoenix Factor overtook him.

            Gadsden smiled a knowing smile, rising toward the bar again.

            "Taken from your home by a covert op three days ago while you were off looking for an old flame if I remember correctly from the briefing.  Shouldn't you have been home instead of chasing women what with a wife and son..." She trailed off.  I held back my own reaction as best I could.  It was bait – ripe and odorous – the best kind to catch live prey which I most definitely fit the description of at the moment.

            "The hit reeked of CIA...NSA...positions whose Directors sit in those very seats and advise you Madame President.  When I refused to become the lap dog of another Administration I believe they decided the sins of the father should be placed upon the son."

            "An accusation? You've definitely got some balls Mr. Scottman, but then I would expect no less.  You've got neither the right nor the proof to come into my office – the office of the President – and accuse me of anything."  Her eyes we're blazing now – anger almost to a boiling point.  I figured I had one or two more sentences tops before she blew the whistle.  It was time to call.  See what cards were going to be shown.

            "If I come back, will you let my son go?"  The President laughed.  It was true politician laughter – the kind us ordinary people barely ever heard.  It was reserved for letting an opponent know they've been beaten, humiliated, and trod upon like a snake in a wagon rut.

            "First of all, I don't have your son.  Nor does the CIA or the NSA or the Postal Service for that matter.  Second, why should I care if we did?  Have you seen my approval rating lately?" She paused, relishing her position of power. "You played the game in this town and you should know how it works.  You have nothing I want or need. Now if you'll excuse me I have work to do."  She crossed the space between her and her desk and slammed her finger down on the alert button.  There was no audible claxon, but I knew in seconds I'd be beset by exactly as many agents as she'd mentioned earlier, besides the fact that D.C.P.D. and Quantico's Crisis Response Team were also receiving the alarm.

            Across the room the Marine turned, his hand reaching for his sidearm.  I took one last look at Gadsden.  I was tempted to say something cliché about Christopher's well being, but I didn't I just let the Phoenix Factor rise within me.  I tensed and crossed the space between myself and the young Marine before he even got his pistol up into a shooting stance.  My left hand intercepted the draw and pushed the gun up and away while I stepped into his open stance and shoved.  The back of his knee hit the front of mine and he toppled over, still trying to figure out how I'd moved as fast as I did.

            Behind me the outer doors opened and I caught a glimpse of Steve Thompson and three other Secret Service agents pour into the room, weapons drawn.  I took another two steps and leapt, easily clearing the balustrade. Pivoting in air I grasped at the bushes that surrounded me, slowing my descent before touching ground.  Two shots rang out to my left, the bullets whine incredibly close.  It took an incredible amount of self-control not to duck and cover. I made another leap – this time a fully Phoenix fueled jump.  I erupted clear of the bushes, my path at an extreme right angle to the two Marines that had come from their post down on the ground.  They fired again, but were way off the mark.  Seeing someone use the Phoenix Factor has a tendency to do that to marksmanship.  I was against going toward either the Old Executive Office building or the Treasury Department.  Security of both were likely alerted.  That left a straight dash across open lawn toward the street.  I calculated three minutes from alert to when snipers would be on the roof.  I'd only taken about 20 seconds of that time.  Snipers would mean crossfire and while I was pretty confident in my augmented abilities, I wasn't stupid enough to brave some of the best-trained marksmen in the world.  I began to run. Full speed.  Full Phoenix augmented speed.

            A trail of bullets lagged behind me, the two Marines unable to draw good enough aim. I turned on a dime, this time straight at them. I had to get through them to have a chance at the METRO station on the far side of the Mall.  I pulled the twin Glocks from the shoulder rig under my jacket, flipped off the safeties with my thumbs and opened up.

I had no intention of hitting them, but the Marines had no clue of that. They'd probably just think I was a crappy shot. Their training would kick in and they'd seek immediate cover with which to flank me with fire and maneuver techniques.  The one to my right rolled behind one of the trees while the other kept up his fire while tracking in the opposite direction.  I emptied both clips at the first Marine as I ran, forcing his head back behind the tree as the bullets peppered the ground around him. 

            Suddenly a high-powered bullet skip-whined past me. It had missed by inches.  The snipers were early. Instinct took over before thought could override it. I crashed to the earth and rolled to a stop by another of the trees fronting the lawn.  The second Marine had reached his cover, the fence line facing Pennsylvania Avenue.  I saw the glint of his pistol and knew he was lining up a kill shot. If I turned away from him I'd be in the sights of both his partner and the snipers above.  Both pistols were empty and I hadn't had the chance to swap clips.  I took a deep breath, readying to charge forward and try and hope for a bad shot when there was a brief flash, almost like a flashbulb, and the Marine went down.

            Another sniper bullet snapped into the tree I hid by, cracking through the wood and embedding itself in the ground by my right leg.  I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. I got to my feet and took off at full sprint toward the fence. The other Marine fired after me, his bullets once again just a second slow.  Measuring the distance in my head I took in one last deep breath and launched myself into the air.  I sailed up and over the fence and crashed heavily into the concrete of the street.  Police sirens were converging and I knew I had to get to the METRO. I took half a step when I saw another flash behind me. 10,000 volts of TASER electricity coursed through me and I barely saw the van that had pulled unto the curb as light faded into darkness.

I was out maybe half a minute or so. My eyes fluttered open and I saw that the two men that flanked me each had a TASER weapon jammed into my side.  I contemplated making a move, but instantly decided against it.  The inside of the van was too cramped.  They weren't the government that much was easily apparent, as they'd obviously aided in my escape from the White House.  The van didn't peel off or make any other overt signs of escape, the driver just easily slid into traffic.  I caught a glance of Steve Thompson running down into the METRO station through the smoked glass of the van as we moved unto the roadway.

            "And you guys are...?" I questioned.  I got no answer.  I looked up at the driver, but he didn't look like the talkative type either.  The van made two quick turns then crossed over the Potomac. Near as I could tell we were heading for Arlington National Cemetery.  I absently wondered if there was already a plot bearing my name waiting for our arrival.  This time of night it would be awfully tough not to be noticed, but to my surprise the van was waved through a service entrance with nary a glance.  We drove silently among the thousands of gravestones, bypassing first the JFK Memorial, and then heading toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It was there we stopped.  It was well lit, as always, but the guard took no notice.

            "I'm a little rusty on my protocol, but I think the next wreath laying isn't until later." I said as the two men flanking me motioned for me to get out of the vehicle.  They didn't respond again, ignoring my attempt at levity.  They lead me around toward the back of the monument. A man stood half in shadow, his back to me as we approached.

            "Leave him. I'll be fine here." The man said.  I was incredulous at the treatment. Obviously whoever it was knew of the Phoenix Factor from the caution used to bring me here, but chose to ignore it. I immediately thought it was who had taken my son.  I tensed up. My mind and body both racing.  There was a bout of silence before the telltale snap-pop of a soda can being opened. It took all I had not to scream in rage and set upon the man a few paces away.

            "Breaking into the President's office.  Why didn't you ever try illegal shit like that when I was trying to discredit you?" Lamper said with an evil smile as he took a long drink of the Coca-Cola in his hand. He turned to face me.   Nothing had changed about him. Still impeccably dressed. Still obsessed with two things: coca-cola and me.

            "I like variety in my life." I replied. "Let's cut through the bullshit where's my son?"  Lamper looked almost disappointed in my question.

            "What? No, how are you alive? Or perhaps what are you doing here questions? All you want to talk about is you. A little selfish isn't it?"  I didn't react. I wanted to cross the yards between us and rip his heart out. I wanted to crumple the tin soda can and shove it sideways down his throat, but I didn't.  I couldn't.  For the second time tonight I was playing a game I was neither good at nor liked very much – begging for information.

            "You have nowhere to turn Patrick.  Your government wants you dead.  Your wife wants nothing to do with you. Your fiancée of old is now with another man. You have no leads - just baseless accusations."

            "Sounds like vintage Lamper machinations." I replied.  Lamper shook his head as he took another drink.  I couldn't tell if it were genuine or contrived, but then I never could.  Mark Lamper was a master of manipulation.  He could make the Devil and God agree if he put his mind to it without them even knowing he'd done it.  Those were his drugs of choice: control and power.

            "I wish.  I have neither the money, time, nor manpower to undertake such an operation right now.  It's again selfishness on your part isn't it? Why does this have to be about you?  Have you ever stopped to think for a second Patrick?"

            "Think about what?" I snapped back, angry and defensive.

            "Count the bodies my old adversary.  Where does the trail lead?"  My mind spun.  What was he talking about? I looked at him, confusion evident on my face.

            "You haven't read the paper have you?" He laughed.  It was the laugh of a school bully after he's taken your lunch money or of the class genius trying to educate the class dunce.  Only this time the dunce was me.  He tossed me a folded newspaper that had been tucked under his arm.

            "Front page, metro/city section." He remarked.  I glanced at the headline "CIA Deputy dies in Fire". My mind immediately thought of MacArthur, but I was wrong. It was Riato.  The fire had swept through his home and leveled it.  He'd been unable to escape. Preliminary reports were that he'd been smoking in bed.

            "So Riato was stupid. That's hardly news." I said absently, tossing the paper back at Lamper.  He shook his head in disgust. 

            "How the Hell did you beat me?" He asked no one in particular.  Suddenly I started to understand.  Pieces started coming from different directions to paint a clearer picture, but one piece, the first piece didn't fit.