Author's Note: I began this fic a long time ago, but when luinrina agreed to a fic trade (she wrote "Mother Loki" for me), she requested that this be my contribution. You have her to thank for this getting bumped to the front of my story queue. :) And for the record, even though Raquel doesn't learn about holoforms in this story, "Karen Hyde" is an alias everyone should be able to recognize, even if it's not the holoform gender you're used to seeing.

Also, for the curious, my muse is only mostly dead and she seems to be reviving little by little. I've resumed work on the final Kinship installment, but I need to finish the next story arc for Introductions: Annabelle Lennox before I can launch into the final story of the trilogy.

(We haven't seen Age of Extinction yet, so right now we don't have any official statement about what influence – if any – it will have on our fanon.)

Hope you enjoy!


I morosely stared at my drink, doing my best to ignore the intoxicated couple on the couch who were obviously going to get lucky in the next hour or two. Coming to this party had been a bad idea – I'd known it from the start – but when my law firm partner decided to celebrate her twentieth wedding anniversary with a virtual who's who of Mission City, I couldn't very well sit at home by myself. Besides, I flat-out refused to be the broken-hearted spinster of a divorcee. So with head held high, I'd forced myself to go out for my night of socializing, but it was only a week after officially cutting the knot, so I couldn't quite bring myself to enjoy tonight. Turning my back on the couple with the wandering hands, I sighed and tried to calculate how much longer I had to stay before it would be polite to congratulate my friend and leave.

"…alien robots?"

The snippet of conversation instantly caught my attention, and I lifted my head, trying to figure out who was talking about my formerly-favorite topic. I'd shut down my alien robot fangirl website a little over a year and a half ago, and it was that act that had begun the implosion of my marriage. David couldn't understand why I grieved the loss of that site the way I would grieve losing a sister, and he especially didn't like that I wouldn't tell him why I took it down in the first place. For his safety and national security, I couldn't explain that I'd actually met my alien robot hero, the BBB otherwise known as Ironhide, and that he'd asked me to shut down the site as a personal favor.

"Sure, everyone knows they're robots, but why alien? Sounds total crackpot to me." It was Judge Ketch who was speaking with a middle-aged woman with jet-black hair (obviously dyed) I didn't recognize. Having nothing better to do, I drifted over.

The unfamiliar woman crossed her arms and delicately huffed. "You honestly think humans capable of building robots like that?" Her voice was a surprisingly low alto.

"Even allowing that they're more advanced than anything publicly known, it doesn't necessarily follow that they're aliens," Ketch retorted. "If you're going to grasp as sci-fi straws, they could just as well be from the future."

She was baiting the woman, I could tell, and I stepped in before the stranger could get too embroiled in a fight with the judge. Ketch loved nothing better than a rousing argument. "But that's assuming they're robots," I interjected. "If you're going by what's publicly known, the events two years ago were terrorist attacks. But I don't believe we've met," I added, turning to the stranger.

Ketch threw me a sly smile – she knew I was rescuing the hapless black-haired woman. "Raquel, good to see you here. This is Karen Hyde. I've just made her acquaintance tonight."

I extended my hand, noticing how strikingly blue her eyes were. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Hyde. I'm Raquel Gutierrez."

"Are you also a judge, Ms. Gutierrez?" she asked.

I chuckled. "No, I'm a lawyer focusing on criminal defense. And please, call me Raquel." Glancing at our fellow partygoers, I asked, "How do you know my partner Mariana?"

"Oh, I don't actually know her," Karen answered. "My nephew attends the same university as her daughter, and she got me invited to this. I'm just a legal assistant looking to relocate here…"

Judge Ketch was hailed by Emerson, one of the city's prosecutors, and she bobbed her head once to us before wandering off.

"Really?" I politely asked.

Karen smiled self-deprecatingly. "Well, I've got a BA in Paralegal Studies, but I haven't actually worked in the field yet. I'm hoping to find an internship or something here, since the alien robots are something of a hobby of mine."

That caught my interest. "And you're so sure they're aliens?"

She shrugged. "I've read every imaginable argument online, and the only one that makes sense to me is aliens. Humans wouldn't have programmed them to be both bad and good, and time travel isn't sci-fi; it's fantasy. By far, the most reasonable explanation is that they're sentient aliens."

"Hmm." I sipped my drink, wondering about this Karen Hyde. Even here in Mission City, it wasn't common to find someone so nonchalant while talking about aliens being on Earth. Either they were emphatic nut-jobs or mourners or reporters looking for a good sound bite.

Filling my expectant silence, she continued, "My favorite site was taken down a year and a half back, but they made the best case for sentient alien robots that I've ever seen. I wish I knew what happened to that site. One day it was up and the next it was gone with just an apology from MyBBB but no explanation."

I almost dropped my drink. "What?"

"Yeah," Ms. Hyde enthusiastically said. "I think she got shut down by the government because she was too close to the truth."

"Did you have a user account?"

"No. I was a little more casual about it than that. Why?"

In a low voice, I said, "I'm MyBBB."

Those striking blue eyes widened. "Really?" Karen's hand briefly touched my arm. "I'm so glad to meet you and to know that you're safe! I was worried that some government thug had dragged you off somewhere."

I couldn't help a sly smile at that. Major Lennox was hardly a government thug, but he and Ironhide had kidnapped me and hauled me off to a military base before giving me the evening of my dreams with my favorite alien robot. "Nope. Still here."

"Wow!"

"Here." Impulsively, I opened my clutch and gave her a business card. "Call me on Monday morning, and we'll work out a paid internship for you." With a wink, I added, "We BBB fangirls gotta stick together."

"And you're still a fan?" Karen asked, her expression almost intense. "You did take down your site, after all."

I nodded, tears glistening in my eyes as I remembered watching Ironhide showing off on the bombing range. "More than ever."

Karen Hyde called me Monday morning, and by noon we had a deal worked out. She met me for lunch at a bagel shop nearby, signed the internship contract, and came back to my office with me. I introduced her to my secretary Carmen and my paralegal Mitch and then put her to work. "We'll start you out simple," I said, opening a client's folder on my computer. (She was temporarily using my desk computer and I was using my laptop to work.) "I just got the police report on this DUI. Catalog it and then let me know when you're done."

"Catalog," Karen uncertainly repeated.

I gave her a curious look. "You know, record all the dates, times, who, what, where, when…"

She frowned at the computer, and I pointed at the right file. "Open the database and just start filling in the information."

"Ah," she said as the light turned on for her. "I understand now."

Newbie, I thought with a smothered grin. We'd all been there once, though I would have expected her to have at least cataloged a case or two while in college. Oh well. It wasn't like paralegals had the same rigorous educational requirements that attorneys did. As long as she could do the work, it didn't matter.

I sat down to review a petition Mitch had drafted for me, but Karen interrupted me only a quarter of the way through.

"I'm done," she said.

"Already?"

She nodded brusquely, and I read over her shoulder, clicking on a few of the entries. "It looks right," I told her. "Everyone has contact information, all the events have timestamps…the issues are a bit thin, though. Probable cause is going to be their weak spot on this – even if our client was drunk as a skunk, the cop had no reason to pull him over in the first place."

"Skunks get drunk?" she asked, her expression one of perfectly innocent confusion.

I chuckled, "Silly turn of phrase, I know. I guess the more lawyer-y term would be 'in excess of the legal blood alcohol limit.'"

"But he's guilty," Karen firmly said.

"Ah, but that's the beauty of our Constitution," I wryly answered, leaning against the desk and crossing my arms. "It was written by a bunch of criminals. Traitors to the Crown, no less."

Her brow furrowed and her gaze grew distant, no doubt puzzling over what I was saying. Most people outside of the law didn't understand this, though I would have expected Karen to know. "The government has resources at its disposal that no private individual could hope to have. Our Founding Fathers understood that and so there has to be a damn good reason for the government to take a look at anybody's private affairs. In this case, the cop didn't even have a good excuse, much less a damn good reason."

"But he's guilty," she repeated.

I sighed. "You should already know this, Karen. The judiciary is an adversarial system. The prosecution's responsibility is to make the best possible argument that our client is guilty as sin. Our responsibility is to make the best argument possible that the prosecution is wrong. We don't have to prove anything – all we have to do is show that the prosecution can't prove what they need to."

"But he's –"

"That's not for you to decide," I sharply told her. "Are you the judge? The jury? The finder of fact?"

She sat up ramrod straight and gave me an appraising look. "No ma'am."

I half-laughed. She said it like she was used to adding a salute in there somewhere. "At ease, Karen. My point is he's not guilty until the prosecution proves he is. And the cops cheated to get the evidence of our client's intoxication. If law enforcement doesn't play by the rules, why should any of the rest of us? Since they didn't have a damn good reason to pull our client over to begin with, then our legal system isn't going to reward them for breaking the rules. All the evidence improperly collected gets tossed out. Without that evidence, the prosecution can't prove our client guilty. It doesn't mean he's innocent," I added, before Karen could protest again. "It just means they can't prove anything."

She frowned thoughtfully, looking at the screen again.

"Make sense?"

Karen huffed. "More than I expected it to. Reminds me of a pair of twins I know."

I lightly clapped her on the shoulder. "Read through the police reports again and look for anything that could be useful in undermining the prosecution's arguments. Oh, but first look up the statutory definition of 'driving under the influence' so you know exactly which elements they have to prove."

"I feel like I'm venturing into enemy territory," she muttered.

"Used to being on the other side of the equation?"

"Yes."

I chuckled as I returned to my seat and picked up my laptop. "Welcome to the Constitution's first line of defense."

What Karen lacked in experience she more than made up for with a wicked-fast typing speed and a memory even sharper than mine. After a couple of weeks, she still needed help picking out the issues, but once they were defined for her, she could tear apart the prosecution like a pro.

And legal research! The woman was amazing – I could tell her, "find me a case that supports argument x" and she'd be back a half-hour later with three state cases plus one or two on the federal level, all of them double-checked to make sure they hadn't been overturned. Mariana wanted to steal her from me, but I jealously guarded my newfound research super-weapon.

She had other quirks, though. Traditionally, the interns were given break-room duty, but Karen couldn't make a decent cup of coffee if her life depended on it.

"No, no, no!" I overheard Mitch scolding her sometime during her third week. "You have to let it get to boiling first!"

"Fine," Karen had growled, sounding about ready to tear his head off. "You make it." And she stomped – stomped – out of the break room grumbling, "It's not like I drink the slag anyway."

But she had her endearing qualities, too. She was no-nonsense and exuded a confidence that was more reassuring than intimidating. Like when Carmen had, in a moment of womanly camaraderie, told Karen, "You know, no one is going to take you seriously in court dressed like that."

"Like what?" she had demanded.

"Like a Goth," Mariana had supplied as she walked past.

"Men can get away with black on black, but it's too severe for a woman," Carmen gently continued. "You need a little color to break it up."

"Maybe try a skirt," I suggested.

"I. Don't. Do. Skirts."

"A nice, conservative navy blue power suit, then," I placatingly said. "But not red – or at least – only use it sparingly. Same thing with pink – only a little bit, and avoid anything overtly girly. Cute doesn't belong in the courtroom."

"And your shoes," Carmen added. "You're under-dressed if your heels are less than three inches tall."

Karen looked down over her black sweater and black slacks to her black loafers and then back up at me. "Guess it's a good thing I'll never appear in court." And then she'd easily strolled away.

Comfortable in her own skin – that was Karen.

But the thing that really sparked our friendship was our mutual obsession with kick-butt alien robots. We never talked about it at work, but three days after she started at my office, we went out to dinner together at my favorite sushi bar.

As soon as we were settled into a quiet booth, Karen eagerly leaned closer. "So. Alien robots."

I gave her a quick glance while dipping my California roll. "What about them?"

"What about them!" Karen sputtered as I took a bite. "Everything! It's been months since your site was shut down. I haven't heard a good theory on what their homeworld is like or how to palm-read a metal hand in all that time."

I choked on both a giggle and my mouthful of sushi. After a couple of coughs and a long drag on my diet Coke, I said, "I'd forgotten about that thread. What I wouldn't give to see ShinyBlackArmor actually try to read BBB's palm!"

"What do you think the fortune would say?"

"Hm…" After meeting Ironhide for that one spectacular evening, thinking about reading his palm had a whole new dimension. I dredged up memories of ShinyBlackArmor's theories and explanations of how to read palms and forged ahead. "I'd say that he has fire hands. Square palm and short fingers, with a short fuse and fierce leadership skills."

Karen Hyde leaned back in her chair and smirked as she crossed her arms. "I'd say you're off to a good start."

Encouraged, I said, "I think he'd have a straight love line – very practical and straight-forward when it comes to his…" I almost said "mate" but caught myself just in time. "When it comes to his love life," I corrected. "I bet he'd have a straight head line, too. No-nonsense, plough forward and blast the bad guys into scrap."

My friend smirked a little and nodded in agreement, and I continued, "He'd have a deep, curving life line, though. Who knows how long those guys live!"

Karen snorted. "Yeah, and he'd probably have so many loops on it that his palm would look like a kaleidoscope."

"No way," I protested. "A robot with his fighting skills? He'd never get injured."

Her eyes sparkled and she shook her head almost condescendingly. "He charges right into the thick of things, though."

Huh. I'd never thought about him actually getting hurt. Although Karen was right. If there was an enemy to fight, Ironhide would be there with both cannons blazing even if he was injured.

As I reached for another slice of sushi, I asked, "What about his friends? What do you think Search and Rescue's fortune would say?"

Karen chortled almost evilly and then regaled me with her theories on first S&R and then Flaming Semi as I finished my roll.

I hadn't realized until that night just how much I missed the discussion boards on my website, how much I missed the shared enthusiasm and a second opinion. Once we'd speculated on the palms of all of Ironhide's friends, we drifted into other hot topics from the site. Karen had all kinds of wild ideas that had the both of us laughing – like what the 'bots must think of our weird way of 'fueling up' and our primitive technology. After that evening, we met for dinner together once a week. Karen jokingly called it the traveling BBB fan club, although she made it a prerequisite that we go someplace that served either steak or pizza because she couldn't stand sushi.

That friendship really deepened about a month after Karen started her internship. It wasn't until I booted up my laptop and checked my calendar that I saw what day it was: June 23rd. Eight years ago, to the day, I married David. It was my first anniversary since the divorce. Sudden tears blurred my vision and I couldn't see my appointments.

This can't be happening, a part of me wailed. I can't be divorced. I can't miss these appointments today. I can't grieve. I can't move on.

I swiped a tissue from the box on my desk and dabbed at the tears for a second. I should have known better than to stop wearing waterproof mascara.

"Raquel?" Karen's low, urgent voice made flinch, and she was instantly at my side. "Are you injured? What happened?"

"I got divorced," I finally managed. "That's all. It's kind of hitting home today."

"You're severed from your…spouse? When did this happen?"

"It was finalized a few weeks ago. But I can't have a breakdown today, even if it is my old anniversary. We've got the pre-trial conference on the Santiago case later this morning and we just got almost a hundred pages of evidence back from the prosecution on the Ford case." But I was starting to hyperventilate.

Karen turned my chair away from the desk and knelt in front of me, placing steadying hands on my shoulders. "Look at me Raquel."

I blinked at the tears, trying to focus.

"Look at me," she ordered, and I finally met her gaze.

Her piercing blue eyes bore right into my soul. "You are stronger than this. There are people who are fighting for their rights, their freedom. Whatever you're feeling right now is insignificant compared to what's riding on today. Later, this weekend, you can grieve, but you've got a battle to fight first. You are the champion for these accused men and women. Right here, right now, you're needed. Understand?"

Looking down, I nodded, feeling like a six-year-old.

"Understand?" she barked, and I mumbled, "Understand."

"Good," she huffed before rising to her feet. "I'll take care of cataloging the Ford documents – they'll be ready for your review when you get back. Now go get ready." Then turning on her loafer heel, she strode out of the room.

I had pulled myself together more or less by the time Karen returned with a cup of coffee for me. "Thanks," I quietly said.

I could feel that she was frowning at my mousy answer, but I was just getting myself emotionally pieced back together, and I wasn't going to jinx that by arguing with her. After a minute or so, she returned to her computer and got to work.

Karen's little pep-talk kept me emotionally grounded all the way through the pre-trial conference and back to the law firm. Plopping into my office chair, I stared blankly at the computer screen for a minute, steadying myself again. Karen ruined that, though, when she pushed her way through my door with three grocery bags in her hands. I sat up straighter as she spilled their contents onto my desk – boxes of cupcakes and brownies, fudge, fruit pies, and every kind of cookie imaginable. And inexplicably, a bag of jerky.

Baffled, I looked up at her, and she blushed a little. "My sister Sarah always makes comfort food when people are upset, but I can't bake, so here!"

I blinked away tears as I looked at my calorie-laden, coronary-in-the-making desk and then back up at Karen. "Comfort food?"

"Didn't know what you liked," she defensively grumbled. "So I got a little of everything. Be more specific next time."

I just stared at her, dumbfounded, until she said, "And Alyssa Ford says she can make it in Thursday afternoon. Her documents have been cataloged, so should I schedule her?"

"Yeah," I managed, pulling myself together again. Weekend. That's when I could deal with all this. I just had to make it through until then. As she left, I finally said, "Thank you, Karen."