Everyone let Quinn sleep through her two consecutive power naps, so, to her later dismay, she remained one of the last people to learn of the attacks. She did, however, learn of Steve's arrival early enough.
That hated intercom harkened her awake, darned impersonal. Quinn reposed with a sensitive finger. Fate had it she learned of Steve's arrival while she boiled over obscenities.
Blaspheming the guy upstairs, she tidied her wrinkled suit and changed to it from that LAX shirt.

"I'll be right there, Helga," her secretary acknowledged.
Muary fist-pumped an affirmation of victory- the gates spilled positive energy.

Waco, Texas

Most people, Trace reflected, chose to forget the Branch Davidian standoff, so naturally, great guns, readily available before those fifty-one days before April nineteenth, nineteen ninety-three, stayed accessible.
Nothing changed, best to forget.

He found an arms-dealing duo, an old woman, only a fool would call "hag" to her face, she's not a hare bent over, and a young impish Nordic boy. The boy displayed his great grandmother's wares.

Granny's Type 100 Beretta, with adjacent missile-dart clip, caught the warrior's practiced eye. Reba concurred.

Earlier that morning, Trace had emptied his Post Office box. Inside was a simple PDA with a universal diagnostic jack, and all the makings of a new identity.

The Italian gun had an outlet near the laser sight. Trace plugged the gun in. The palm dialed out, ran a test, and displayed results. Readings showed up green.

Black marketers now trade in the world's strongest paper money, the Korean Kwan. Trace exchanged a thick wad of small denomination bills. The boy presented the pistol.

The white-haired lady boxed a "landwarrior" integrated FAL rifle with many clips and 20mm grenade rounds.
The boy turned to a polymer vest as Granny hefted a nickel-titanium trauma plate.

"Y boron platos, por favor."
The grandmother unsheathed a bundle of panels.

"You're gonna cover head, right kid?"
The senior tapped her temple.

"Understood. I have lexan glasses and Kevlar hat."
The little boy accepted the remaining coinage.

"Gracias! Vaya con Dios!"
Trace pocketed the plates in a protective arrangement, and summoned his pup.

Reba's doggy armor should arrive via parcel carrier overnight.

Reston, Virginia

Chaos continues at the monkey house.

Men known only as Giap, Nguyan, Duc, Ji, Sojan, and Soon, inter the complex with the captive identified as Steve Leary.
The men insisted on coming in armed, a condition Thurman allowed, at great risk to his career.

"As a courtesy to the Anglo-American Alliance, the Commonwealth State of India presents you with this token of friendship," spoke "Giap," before flourishing away with the others.

"I'm not saying we need all the trappings of NSA, but couldn't we be a little more forbidding?" Ivan dutifully stayed on his station, though the cameras recorded his nervous shudder for posterity.
Thurman wouldn't respond, he offered Steve his hand. Steve's own quivered around it.

"It's him!" Hair eccentric, blazer a shambles, slacks wrinkled, and eyes red-rimmed, Quinn nevertheless rejoiced in the occasion.

"I'm the guy alright, but could someone tell me why?"
The team composed themselves, breath in, then out. Or was it the other way?

"We've been looking for you everywhere, Kid, ever since we've taken interest in tech sector attacks," Dynamics informed, leading his guest to sit, "but it's been a bear to find your whereabouts, you think?"
He did.

"Great couch, you sitting?" Thurman took a station beside him, while Quinn manned the sofa over.
Their den rested more as a pit stop on the hallway stretch. A bar island, four sofas, an extended coffee table, and two donated Chicago Bulls beanbag chairs furnished the space. Nothing matched.

"Did you get a glimpse of the man who attacked you?" Quinn glided an old fashioned stylus to the most important record icon adorning her palmed PDA.

"Sure did. He's an ex coworker of mine, Tekkon Mallow, Heinlein's former Legal Advisor."
I beg your pardon!

"Steven, why did you hold out this information before?" Thurman carried all the paternal/maternal authority of a grade school teacher.

"Because the company crisis management-you know- emergency PR guys, petitioned my silence. I-I'm sure I work for crooks, and, they deserve dirt, but, um, I guess a part of me hated to see Tek given due process-" Muary cut him off.

"We can understand, Mr. Leary, but we could have captured him, had you come clean. Help us catch him now," she pleaded, "because the law dates back much further than corporate vigilantes. We can stop him, I promise it."

Quinn's secretary, Helga, promptly typed up Steve's interview, and issued a warrant for Tekkon Mallow. Thurman Dynamics personally conversed with Mike Lowe of Homeland Security to insure the decree grabbed proper notice.

This stream of activity didn't catch the suspect unaware, however, for Tek built a cog into the machine.

In fact, it collects funding from the Treasury, and contains a twenty-four hour staff. It runs tax free, and takes a small unnoticeable space in Annapolis, Maryland, where so many other sights are scene.

"It's been eighteen months, about time, guys," he spoke without fear. For now, an arrest would be impossible.

He's only been himself in illicit trade like the Combridge dealings, and is currently surrounded by an oblivious sports crowd.

He fell into reflection, but for only a minute…

Waco, Texas

"Mr. Mallow, we've been waiting for you. I'm Dr. Irene Koji, we attended school in Hawaii together. You don't remember me? Well, it was a big campus!
Tek's mouth felt as a veteran piece of leather.

"Just relax, our neural tomography doesn't bite."
His hands moistened.

"Please lie on this mat, and get comfortable. The array will slide over you, then we're finished. Do you have a question? Good."
The array lived up to advertising, and Dr. Irene, Neurosurgeon, University of Hawaii, glandered at the holographic readout.

"I'd need nanobots to remove that, probably. As you know, you'd have to venture to space for the operation. Mr. Mallow, no microbe is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, so I'd have to open you up, to insert the bacteria straight into the gray matter. Your tumor is riding about the brainstem, in an area conventional surgery can't safely reach. I recommend the microbial process. Now, we follow strict guidelines here. We allow the bugs to eat for a maximum of fourteen days, before we proscribe antibiotics. This is important; if you get an open wound, or drink contaminated water, we can't help you, because we can't kill you little surgeons to soon. This next part is also important: on the fourteenth day, you must begin taking the recommended antibiotic- and finish the bottle! If you don't, the bacteria will continue to reproduce and mutate, and become pathogenic!"

Tek promised to think his options through…

Baylor's loudspeaker kicked him back to the present.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the Lonestar State's finest athletes, por favor!"

They resemble a displaced sleepover, but they played the crowd like athletes of all other types.

A stereo struck up the national anthem's strings, and everyone's attention turned to a girl Jeanette's size.

"We all should be aware that unknown terrorists have attacked our troops on Io. Let us all observe a moment of silence," she said.


Loudspeaker: "Singing the national anthem, Misses Nadia Consuela Rosa!"

"Oh say can you see, by the dawn's early light? Oh so proudly we hail…"

All the tough wisecrackers joined the respectful audience.

For a moment in time, every soul made an exodus to Nadia.

She ventured to a thundering finale, holding the spectators as long as she dared, before sending them off with a flourish to linger.

"We should mandate ourselves to nurture her dreams," the Samoan mused, imaging Nadia, a girl representative of her father's countenance much more than her sister is.

"Yes, she's justly entitled to every outlet Sol is endowed with. Even on Earth, we have so much to share.

She grasps all that, and feels no shame in it. Others can only suffice to murmur fragments of honesty sotto voce, but this little girl sings truth in its entirety, its beautiful depth."

Song and spirit conquers the weight of oppression.

You are the firm anchor and ideal for this team. Be that rock, and don't sob just now.

Mist moistened her vision, and she gave in to a sniffle, but Carmen halted a tearful cascade she feared coming.

Nadie's here, la familia made it? Of course, la escuala must have helped arrange to pledge a singer, those sly dogs. Amarillo seems to have an uncommon allotment of luminescent minds, and better comes with the passage of time.

Kate, the starting leg for Amarillo, set her mark with seven opposing Texans, checked in place until the astronaut Malloney triggers "go."

The race looks decided a frame after go. Kate, superior to all the other anchors, swells a commanding lead after just one lap, and doubles it with her piston-stroke off the pool wall. Her heavy cavitation baffled up a large trail of foam, which surprised and delighted when she returned through it. Closing up lap four, she speared the last ten meters powers by inertia. Janice Baton leaped well over, as Kate touched the wall, and it was Jeanette's hands that supported the fatigued girl's climb from the water.

"They're even trailing you wake, Kate."

Carmen draped a towel over Morrison, and escorted her hand-in-hand clear of the next relay member, Jeanette.

"I really appreciate how you assaulted the water out there, like a sworn enemy."

Kate said nothing, breathing hard.

"You surged enough wake to really hold those swimmers down, and Janice wants an advantage out of it. Look at her, nearly lapping them down now!"

Absurd as it seemed, Carmen's assertion wasn't a gross exaggeration.

"Rose," Kate gargled, "we aren't really that different. Sports and medicine are linked, and so are we. A victory for women's athletics- that's what this is, you know- is a victory for the well being of women. I'm not letting this team go, Carmen, I'm going for a lesser degree, but I'm Baylor-bound, too," she smiled slyly, "let's share dorms, okay?"

"That's a deal, Kate Morrison, we can carpool, too, share meals, clothing, and help each other with homework. Did you get a swimming scholarship?"

"They equaled mine with yours. Hey, do you have a dorm reserved yet?"

Carmen winced.

"Si, and I even have the security deposit secured, but I feared I'd lose it, unless I found someone to share payments with. Your perfect."

Janice tagged with Jeanette.

"Well, I'd better get in line. Take care."

"You, too. We're just about neck-and-neck with the Olympic record, you know," said one Olympic medallist to another.

Janice, not a medallist, but an Olympian for Haiti nonetheless, high-fived Morrison.

"Que gusto?"

"Carmen and I will be college roomies, sebe?"

"That's good. I'm very happy (for you). You cut costs?"

"Si, Senorita, we'll share everything."

Shout out.

"Venga, Jenny! All right!"

Janice joined in.

"That's it, you go, Girl!"

"You think we'll get a chance to face each other in the Pan Am Games, or will the war, if there is one, interfere?"

Jane, they sometimes shorten her name to Jane, barely flickered a downcast look.

"No clue. I-I don't understand the nature of these things. Maybe those rich guys in space are trying to fit us deeper in our place. I don't know, but things are the pits already."

"Can't argue there, but why would they fear us?"

Jane just shook her head.

Carmen gets her feet wet, and the two girls trot to Jenny, cheering.

"Oh, look at her go. Had this been a singles event, she would have officially broken the women's 50m record," Kate chimed, watching the JUMBOTRON.

"No," Jenny disagreed, "you cut out the time needed to turn into her next lap. That increment puts her behind on the record book."

Janice agreed, and Kate conceded the argument.

"Still- and there's another lap! She's a red devil."

"Totally. She leaves thick rubber on asphalt."

Carmen burned for the finish line, kicking berserkly for that bright finish.


All those wonderful, loving faces greet the winner, cresting over the ridge.

Kate, Jeanette, Janice, Jeannine, and Nadia. Trace made it, showing thumbs up. Show him victory and a good fist-pump.

No team had ever swum 800 meters faster than this regional high school team, and, as much as scientist hate the popular turn-of-phrase, they raised the bar by a quantum leap, once again broadening the measure of human potential.

For a little while, they'll lose themselves in the ecstasy of achievement, but that time won't last, and they'll soldier on for a few more accolades.

Jupiter's Orbit

Ganymede, the world named after a well-sculpted cupbearer that Zeus kept for lustful purposes, held the honor of being the Jovian system's seat-of-government, and as such, was called home by the First Stellar Fighter Wing, a unit built around ion-engined killer probes.

Core to each probe was a bi-static radar, a passive set, a CCD low-light/infrared camera for detecting proximity attacks, a chemical laser for distant snapshots, a few peripheral missiles for defense outside the laser-attack package, and a small protective vulcan.

All ports were really small; the laser could fit on a dining table, and the missiles could be man-portable, after the special boosters were removed.

Tech crew settled all ninety working fighters aloft with rail assistance.

Without the railgun, each fighter would need a JATO solid fuel rocket to get off this rock. At control panels, a minimum of six operators commanded the ninety, and usually, it isn't trouble...

"Single file? Please! They're supposed to focus on security, not on operating a shooting gallery!"

Urban Legend pressed the fire switch atop his HOTAS, loosing a railgun slug bent on knifing the port side of Zulu. The kinetic round impacted, making Rural Acres' shot on the port side redundant. But redundancy is necessary, if it saves one the grief of missing when alone.

Even these gargantuan railguns, borrowed from the aging 'Stan' class main battle tank, these manned shuttles should have no right to outperform even one of these modern wonders, but these wonders have weaknesses as surprising as the likes of Sampson and Achilles.

Reload, and repeat.

The rounds chambered in time, and another probe met oblivion.

Before the ground controllers could halt the process, a third depicted the others.

Then comes a fourth, decaying it's trajectory- a move of desperation. Urban scored a debilitating nick.

"Here comes a fifth into my court. You think these are sacrificial scouts?"

Rural grunted.

"They're probably scouting for inspiration. You know, feeling us out for hope's sake? Desk pilots are limp-wrists, meant for captivity."

Number five fell too short to attain orbit, but the suicide maneuver earned a low percentage pot-shot. No luck

"They're going to play this game for a while, but they'll figure out it's an exercise in futility."

A radio broadcast can take the better part of an hour to reach Mars from Ganymede, and the deck weenies of the fighter wing weren't terribly patient people.

Mars, being such a perfect world for humans, next to Earth, made a great place to station the fighting man.

Both observations were true for reasons other than to annoy the Jovian techs, but they annoyed nonetheless.

Here's the part where chain-of-command is detrimental to the Deep Space Net: Don Beardsly, the Anglo-American's aerospace Chief on Mars, had to beam a request for authorization to Earth, a twenty-minute call, one way.

What does he do? He's all alone in a virtual control tower, anxious to help, and he has a couple of armed operation shuttles that can catch a departing Mars-Jupiter bus, if they pursue at bull-burn, so he puts the leadership on hold, and authorizes a flight pattern for two bored pilots.

Forty minutes later, they're formally on a mission.

Waco, Texas

The day is nearly dusk and Amarillo's walk with greatness is done.

Kate needed an epidural, and the bath with full massaging shower head treatment, courtesy of Couch Lawrence.

Fifteen minutes later, the other swimmers are outfitting with street wear, but Kate's

on the message board in the buff, getting a rub-down from the coach.

Under Jeanenne's skillful clamping hands, the meat shows signs of tenderizing, a sign of less tension.

"Kate, I need you to sit up, so I can wrap this heating pad around you, okay?"

Coach heard a muffled "yes," and Kate pushed herself to a sitting position.

"Good job," the coach fitted her with a thermal gauze much like vest, then fastened smaller ones, like sleeves, on her limbs.

"Awesome. Now put on this robe, and I'll wheel you out of here."

The Rosas and Janice chose this time to skip out to attend mass.

Over the Jovian Moon

The launch time for the launches are subtly growing longer, to the point that a rather obtuse child could realize the ground controllers were using stall tactics, but Legend and Acres scantly cared, in firm control.

Typically, great military victories are only possible through a great ineptness of the loser, an exception being Alexander the Great's victory over Persia, but Anglo-America

follows the norm, spades full of incompetence.

Number fifty-eight lifts slowly, dragging through a super-thin atmosphere, but still burning like an inverted meteor rising.

Figures; a radar alarm alerts Urban to two assault shuttles burning in from an incoming interplanetary bus, fully depleted of fuel.

OK, things are getting tricky. Ground controllers are now working on jettisoning fighters in overdrive.

"Select separate targets, I've got the slow mover, hit, you- I'm snapping toward it, reverse thrust, fell back. Sixty kills. Sixty-one coming up, but we're coming into his attack package, " Urban rattled, calculating risk. Such a military grade probe, with that awesomely accurate laser, is a blight on life, but still, Urban and Rural outnumber the one probe, and in medium orbit, they can safely maneuver like crazy, while the probe must take a more-or-less ballistic ascent.

Together they maintain split apart, adjusting attitude for clean shots even as they dodge away.

Even taking broadside shots, accuracy at such extreme range is iffy, so they both double-tap. Hits. Those shuttles are inbound, but running on fumes. Urban's tank is full, however, fueling a full-burn escape, a gun for a Jupiter sling-shot.

See y', follows.

Waco, Texas

Kluxing isn't dead in Texas, though largely distasteful, in the opinions of most residents, but the Klan still finds reason to stay active in the region, as do other hate groups and other separatists.

Hatred of Catholicism is known to bring splintered crowds of haters together, so they can clash with Catholics and many other hated people who happen to mind their business in the wrong place.

By happy coincidence, a Roman Cathedral in Texas happens to be packed with both hated Catholics and hated Hispanics, who make up a great portion of the faith in Texas.

As much as Chester Norris hates doing such a misdeed to the area, he must cover up his mercenary group's activities with something, and he can't pass up catching the USUK bounty on Tekkon Mallow, just after the failure against Trace.

'Those clergymen make nice fortresses,' Norris thought, sketching over their virtual version of the facility.

'Most people will think we're Klanners, and the rest will think we're possessed by demons- well, a conspiracy theorist or other skeptic will always show up, but no one will ever link us to the event.'

"Okay, what can our employees expend on more than opiates? Standard sedative setup; Stone enters the church, and he takes over female operative, Mira, in with him, You'll both have taser at the ankles, and some smoke grenades in Miras's purse. Guys, this will take a bit of acting, and your motivation is petty gossip. In reality, you'll tell us when to perform the takedown, and if we need to improvise, you tell us how.

Code words: if Tek is to the right, stone says Astros, if he's left of the entrance, you say Rangers. Mira, if Tek is on the same side as you, agree with stones team. The code phrase for the take down is the cubs suck. say it, got it?"

Norris breaks out his cut-down carbine, and the team starts to roll.