Disclaimer: jake 2.0 and all related elements, characters and indicia © Roundtable Entertainment and Viacom Productions, Inc., 2003. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situations-save those created by the authors for use solely on this website-are copyright Roundtable Entertainment and Viacom Productions, Inc.
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Author's Note: Written for Lithium Doll for the Yuletide 2009 Challenge.
The Dangers of Champagne and Shrimp Puffs
If you'd asked National Security Agency Special Agent Jake Foley twelve hours ago where he thought he would be tonight, the last thing he would have expected was locked in a panic room with no shoes, a bottle of Chivas Regal, and his similarly barefoot boss, while armed gunmen corralled the guests at a diplomatic function in the ballroom a floor below him.
The only really surprising bit, really, was the Chivas.
Twelve Hours Earlier
Jake was at his desk in Sat Ops, trading worst-case-scenarios for World of Warcraft with Carver when she suddenly turned back to her monitor, all business. Jake looked up to see his boss, Kyle Duarte, standing over him.
"Hey, Kyle," Jake said as casually as he could, using his nanites to minimise the web browser he'd had open. But from the look on Kyle's face, he knew he was busted.
"I can explain. See, there's this new MMORG expansion pack that is in beta—"
"What are you plans for tonight?" Kyle asked, ignoring him.
"Well, Diane and I just got the new Ocean's movie from Netflix, and you know, Diane kinda has a thing for Clooney and Brad Pitt. So we were thinking Thai food and maybe some nice microbrew—"
"Do you own a tux?"
"Kyle, why would I need a tux to watch Ocean's Thirteen with my girlfriend on our sofa?"
"Because we're going to a Rubber Chicken Mission in Arlington," Kyle said with something almost akin to an evil gleam in his eye.
Kyle had explained back when Jake was still a Probie that a "Rubber Chicken Mission" wasn't a real mission. It was one of those boring gala events full of high-powered government stuffed shirts where Skerrit and the rest of the NSA higher-ups begged for funding over canapés and mid-grade champagne.
Only this time Skerrit had passed the buck and Lou was in a panic because she was much more comfortable in Sat Ops directing covert missions than she was playing nice with balding old white guys who would rather talk about their golf games and their palatial homes at the Vineyard than the importance of funding cutting-edge research into top-secret nanotechnology.
Diane had protested almost immediately.
"Does Lou just think I have a ball gown lying around? Because you know, I don't. Unless the bridesmaid's dress from my cousin's wedding last summer is something Her Majesty the Deputy Director thinks would be suitable for a room full of scary debs and Ivy Leaguers who've never worked a day in their lives except to sign checks from their trust funds. And they'll want to know things about the research—like simplified explanations of really, really super-complex processes—and it doesn't work like that! It never can be just boiled down to little bite-sized sound byte chunks for Yale grads who wouldn't know the different between a nano-assembler and the nano-surfaced microparticles used to, I don't know, make two hundred different shades of pink stationary so little fifteen year old girls can write Daniel Radcliffe love letters in math class and—"
"Okay, you need to stop and breathe," Jake said, laying both hands on her heaving shoulders and massaging them beneath her white labcoat.
"I am breathing!" Diane snapped, but began to relax just a little beneath his touch. She was, as she put it, a "total slut for backrubs." Jake knew this and was not above using it to his advantage whenever possible.
"It's true—she breathes through her nose when she's in the middle of a rant like that," Fran chirped from her workstation.
Dr. Yoshida had a lab of her own down the hall now that she was overseeing the biomedical nanite project, using the fourth iteration of the nanite code. But Diane's lab still had most the top-of-the-line equipment since Jake was still the Agency's only nano-enhanced agent. So despite her promotion, she was still in Diane's MedLab half the time, stealing espresso from her machine and occasionally IMing a guy in Crypto she'd been seeing on and off for the last six months.
Jake only knew this because he'd accidentally maybe possibly on purpose found the chat logs when he'd been worried Diane was being cyberstalked (again) by one of those guys from Cryptography (they're weird) and discovered this time the cybersex was all Fran. He'd also learnt a lot about Fran's particular tastes in the process, and he wished sometimes he could use the nanites to do targeted memory erasure.
(He couldn't, and really he was only joking about it given how traumatic his first and thus far only bout of nanite-induced amnesia had been.)
In the nearly four years since a freak accident transformed him into the world's first computer-enhanced man, no-one else had been admitted to the program. After the tragic deaths of Ben Wilton and Vanessa Carduonel, it had been deemed too dangerous. However, a version of the nanites programmed to shut themselves off after repairing cellular damage was currently being tested on lab rats, with the hopes that within a year they might be tested on live subjects.
"Her Majesty knows this is short notice," came Lou's voice from the doorway of the MedLab, and Diane winced. "However Senator Matheson is on the Senate Appropriations Defence Subcommittee. If we want funding for the nanite program, he's looking for the dog and pony show at tonight's reception. So we will give him a dog and a pony if we all want to keep on getting paid in the new year. Is that understood?"
"But Lou—" Diane began, and Jake hissed a wordless warning beneath his breath.
"I said, is that understood, Dr. Hughes?" Lou repeated in a tone which promised demotion and worse if Diane didn't back down.
"Yes, ma'am," Diane replied meekly.
"It'll be a party. Champagne and shrimp puffs." Lou said, her sharp edges softening somewhat. Jake knew she hated dog and pony shows just as much as Diane did, and they were still a team after all. "Think of it as a nice night out on the NSA's dime. You can have the afternoon off to get ready, and we'll send a car to pick you both up at seven sharp."
"We'll be ready," Jake promised her, feeling Diane's shoulders tighten under his hands. But she nodded as well, her dark auburn curls bobbing.
The apartment Jake and Diane shared in Old Town wasn't much bigger than Jake's old place. But even as cramped as it was with all of their combined furniture and in Diane's case, bookcases, but he was eternally grateful that it was located in a quiet residential building rather than above a deli. Even the mention of pastrami still gave him gut-churning flashbacks.
Outside, the ice-storm that had been threatening was in full swing, wind whipping through the quiet streets on a Wednesday night. Jake was glad the Agency was sending a car, as he was almost sure his own would never start in this weather. It barely ran when the skies were blue and the birds were singing like they were in a Disney movie.
Jake had given up on trying to get the black tie tied properly, and it was hanging around his neck in limp defeat while he waited for Diane to come out of the bathroom. He was actually starting to get a little worried because usually she was one of those rare women who could be up, dressed, showered and out the door in twenty minutes (and given the lives they led, that was considered a luxury). But she'd kicked him out and disappeared in there an hour ago with a white plastic Saks bag, and even his nanite-enhanced senses hadn't been able to discern what voodoo she was doing in there with mascara wands and ceramic hair straighteners. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"Diane, the car's gonna be here in five minutes," he called through the door, which opened inward in a cloud of steam and perfume.
Diane was wearing a dark purple strapless raw silk dress that left her pale shoulders and a good amount of her back completely bare. It fell in graceful folds all the way to the floor, and he realised she was wearing very high heels to keep the hem from touching the vintage oak floorboards. A simple silver chain was around her neck with an amber pendant she'd worn almost since the first day they'd met, and her dark hair was swept up in a French twist with a single curl escaping against at the nape of her neck.
"We'd better get our funding, because I may have used the money set aside for a new Mass Spec on this outfit."
Jake's lips twitched in a smile. "I think that's misappropriation of DOD funds."
"I think the DOD can bite me," Diane said smoothly and Jake couldn't help but laugh.
"I think that's my job," he said, sliding his arms around her waist. She slapped his hands away, and reached up to tie his tie.
"Did you really use your research budget on that dress?" he asked as she smoothed down the lapels of his tux jacket.
"No," she admitted sheepishly. "I used the money I was putting aside for Tahiti." It was a running gag between them that someday they would actually go on vacation. Thus far the best they had managed was thirty-six hours at a bed and breakfast in Baltimore before Jake had been recalled to fly on a covert mission to Budapest.
"Okay, this dress?" he bent forward, lips nuzzling hear earlobe, "Might be worth sacrificing Tahiti."
Before they could get any further, the door buzzer want off. Jake peered out the window to see a nondescript black sedan with smoked glass windows sitting at the curb with its blinkers on.
"Duty calls," he said, offering her his arm.
As with most Rubber Chicken Missions, they were met in the foyer of the senator's ridiculously massive house by the senator's Security, easily identifiable by their identical dark suits and the white wires running from their ears to their pockets. They ran wands over them before allowing them to proceed to the coat check. One of the wands beeped ominously as it passed over Diane's clutch, and she opened it to show him her lipstick and the Sony Clié that she called her PDA but Jake knew was in fact the monitoring device she used to track his nanite activity. The guard let her through with a wave.
"Why did you bring the JMD?" Jake asked beneath his breath, and Diane shrugged.
"I always bring the JMD. How long have you known me? Have I ever gone anywhere without it?"
"Yeah—like Kevin's wedding? Or the Chinese Embassy? Or that thing at the Sydney Opera house—"
"Okay, okay. Maybe you're right. Me and shrimp puffs, we're a dangerous combination. And Australia was not my fault. That was an act of God."
"I thought it was the act of one extremely drunk rugby player who thought you were hitting on his boyfriend?"
"Anyway," Diane said with a shrug, "I'd rather have it and not need it—"
"— than need it and not have it," he finished the other half of the sentiment with the ease of long practice.
When they reached the ballroom, Kyle and Lou were already there. Kyle looked James Bond-suave as usual, and Lou was rocking a black dress that was classy and almost a little frightening—not unlike the formidable Deputy Director herself.
Kyle saluted Diane with his flute of champagne. "You two clean up nice."
"Yeah, well, at least I'm not dressed as a waiter this time," Jake said, almost nostalgic.
"Susan thought you looked cute."
"Okay, remember when I said this was a party? This is not actually a party. This is a full-frontal assault on the man responsible for the funding of your research, Diane. We're counting on you."
"Wha—me? Like, all by myself? I thought—"
"I've already got him primed. All you have to do is go over there and make nice."
Jake wondered exactly how much champagne Lou had already had before they got there. Her eyes glittered dangerously, and Jake thought about his younger brother Jerry's pet snake when presented with a mouse.
He covered his shudder with a sip of champagne, giving Diane an encouraging smile as she crossed from the buffet table to the knot of grey-haired cronies.
"She'll be fine."
"Jake, you go with her."
"Lou, I don't know—"
"Jake," Kyle leaned toward him, green eyes narrowed dangerously, and dropped his voice so low only Jake could hear it. "I'd do what she says. Remember the office pool?"
Jake frowned, confused. "The one about how long it would be before she punched Warner in the face?"
"No—after that one."
"Diane, hold up," he said as he hurried to catch up.
"— tiny, tiny robots," Diane was saying with a tight smile as he reached her elbow. He gave it an encouraging squeeze, and made a mental note to ask the driver to take them by Baskin-Robbins on the way home for double scoops of peanut-butter-and-chocolate ice cream.
As Diane spoon-fed the senator the medical applications of nanotechnology (leaving out, for the moment, the NSA's current use which was to use him as a one-man surveillance team, and occasionally, SWAT team) Jake found himself zoning out completely. As he sipped his definitely not Veuve Clicquot, he used his nanite-enhanced hearing to listen in on the various conversations.
"— and so I said to her, Honey, we can't do that. It would ruin the upholstery—"
"— never believe how hard I had to fight to get my hands on these Manolos—"
"— don't see how she can breathe in that. There ought to be an age limit on corsets, you know—"
"— Knicks are up two. I hate missing the game—"
"— done absolute wonders. You can't even see the scars—"
"— the campaign funds. It was a legitimate fundraiser. You know, it just happened to be in Aspen after the first powder—"
"— isn't that right, Jake?" Diane was saying, her brown eyes wide and pleading.
"Yes, absolutely," Jake said, nodding like a ventriloquist's dummy and having no idea what he was agreeing to. "I've always said so."
There was an awkward silence as the half-circle of the senator and his aides stared at him, waiting. Then Diane grabbed him (painfully) by the elbow, and steered him toward the buffet table.
"What did I just say yes to?"
"That we really wish we could stay and keep talking about how vital it is for Federal Government to reallocate funds to continue weapons research while cutting spending on Health Care and Education, but really we only just arrived and we ought to be mingling."
Jake swallowed, wincing. Okay, three scoops, and maybe some brownies.
"Still, I think that went well."
She leaned into him and began thudding her forehead into his shoulder with a steady rhythm.
"I'm never getting my new Mass Spec. I am going to be selling pencils on street corners to afford microscope slides. I am never going to get my Nobel Prize."
Jake wrapped his arms around her bare shoulders, and pressed a kiss to her hair.
"I'm sorry, Diane. I know I was the pony in the dog and pony show, and I just completely zoned."
Diane sighed, and then pulled herself together. "I don't blame you. Matheson spent the entire conversation staring at my breasts."
He glanced down at her neckline, entranced. "They are amazing."
She whacked him with her purse.
Ow, he mouthed at her, and she only smiled that same smile she got when she got a triple word score in Scrabble using a dead language he'd only ever read about in second rate high fantasy novels based on role playing games.
"How'd it go?" Kyle asked when they reconvened at the buffet table.
"It went," Diane said tersely.
Jake grabbed some hors d'oeuvres from a passing server who nearly scowled at him instead of stopping-and-going. On selection were the usual—mini spinach and cheese pies, scallops wrapped in bacon, the ubiquitous shrimp puffs and melon wrapped in proscuitto. This close to the holidays there were usually more festive fare, but beggars couldn't be choosers. Especially as he and Diane had skipped lunch in order to find suitable black-tie attire at the last minute.
As Jake bit into a lukewarm shrimp puff, he plastered a fake smile on his face and chewed until he could turn away long enough to spit the remains into a napkin. He looked for a potted palm or an empty table where he could successfully hide the evidence and was so distracted that he didn't notice the waiter at his elbow until his arm connected with the tray. Four flutes of mid-grade champagne ended up mostly on his legs, soaking his socks inside his slightly too tight dress shoes.
"Smooth," Kyle said blandly, and Jake gave him the Glare of Death. Which pretty much had no effect, per usual. Lou, on the other hand, had hers perfected.
"Men's room?" Jake asked the waiter picking up shards of glass with his gloved hands, and the scowling server jerked a thumb in the direction of the stairs.
"I'm just gonna go—I'll be right back."
The look Diane gave him was murderous. Okay, three scoops, brownies, and a bottle of really good wine, he thought as he backed away and began squishing up the stairs.
"You were the one who thought this would be a good idea," Kyle said to Lou as Diane watched Jake go with a sad little dejected wave.
"Don't remind me."
"Jake's just nervous," Diane said with a sigh. "You know how he gets at parties."
"And embassy receptions... and in foreign countries..." Kyle teased, and Diane rolled her eyes.
"Australia was not his fault."
"C'mon, whatever his shortcomings in polite society, he's a huge asset in the field."
"Which is why it's so important that Matheson's committee grant us our funding." Lou deposited her empty champagne glass on the tray of a passing server while snagging a fresh one and draining it in almost a single swallow.
"The last thing I want is for the program to be shut down, and Jake transferred to some research facility in BFE where he spends the rest of his life a lab rat."
Diane turned back to them, her mouth open in shock. "That wouldn't actually happen, would it? I mean—it's been four years! The NSA has reams and reams and reams of streaming data from Jake's nanites. It represents a massive leap forward in technology, and they'd never be able to replicate those kind of results in a lab."
"Spoken like a true scientist," Kyle said with a chuckle.
"Well, and also, obviously, I don't want him to end up a lab rat."
"And on that note, I need to use the little Deputy Director's room," Lou said, handing Kyle her champagne flute. Diane watched their boss head off towards the
"Did she really just say what I think she did?"
"You guys missed the open bar portion of the evening, remember?" Kyle set the champagne flute down, and looked around for a member of the catering staff.
"What?" she asked, and then realised what he meant.
Every single member of the catering staff had disappeared from the main floor. No one was passing around trays of mediocre canapés. No one was clearing away the soiled dishes and crumpled napkins.
"You're right, that's—"
She was about to say "really weird" but the sound of gunfire stopped her dead in her tracks.
Jake had just wrung out his left sock into the marble sink with what looked like solid gold fixtures when Jake heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire below.
He dropped his shoes and came flying out the bathroom door when he collided with Lou, who used the momentum to spin him around and drag him into what appeared to be an office.
She closed the door soundlessly, and Jake realised she too had ditched her spiked heels.
"Lou, what's going on?"
"Catering staff—" she said tersely. "Not actual caterers." She scanned the room, looking for what he wasn't sure. Using the nanites, he listened and could hear shouts from downstairs, followed by another burst of machine gun fire.
Jake felt all the blood drain from his face, and his hands were suddenly cold and clammy.
"I should have known. That shrimp puff was toxic," was what he said, but what he was thinking was on a continuous loop.
Lou continued to pace the room, testing walls and bookcases, and he snapped out of it. Focusing with the nanites, he scanned the room. There was a click along one wall, and a bookcase swung open, revealing a safe room.
It was the size of a large walk-in closet—and probably had been one, years before. The walls were reinforced with steel, and the ceiling was covered with thick cotton soundproofing. It was empty except for a camp bed, a pillow, and a firesafe sat against one wall. An opened bottle of Chivas Regal sat atop the firesafe, and Jake was still trying to parse exactly what was going on was Lou dragged him inside. As the door swung shut with an almost inaudible snick of the latch behind them, low emergency lighting came on, casting the tiny room in a dim orange gloom.
They sat in silence as they heard voices and footsteps through the upper floor.
"Sweep," Lou mouthed, and Jake nodded. Using his nanite-enhanced hearing, he listened in, waiting for the all clear. A couple that had been making out in the coat check were dragged, whimpering and crying, downstairs. There was another man who had been taking a personal call in a bedroom who had come out when he lost the signal, and was rounded up and hustled downstairs with the rest. When the last couple braving the ice storm to sneak a quick smoke on the rear balcony had been dragged back in, Jake let out a shaky sigh.
After the longest eleven minutes of Jake's life, he nodded to Lou. Everyone was downstairs, and aside from one guard near the stairwell, the second floor was completely deserted.
"They'll concentrate on ground level—barricade all the entrances and exits. The ballroom has no exterior windows. If the front doors are barricaded, the only way in or out would be through the kitchens. Probably narrow staircases and hallways—easy to pick off anyone trying to come in—or go out."
She was only thinking aloud, Jake knew, but even so he couldn't suppress a moment of panic.
"Kyle's with her," Lou said, her voice firm, and full of rock-solid belief. "She'll be fine."
Jake swallowed, and nodded. He wanted to believe in Kyle too, but no agent was infallible. And Kyle hadn't been out in the field for a long, long time.
"The best way we can help Diane and Kyle and everyone else out there is to get word back to Sat Ops so they can send an SRT team."
"Okay. Okay, you're right. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry. Just be smart."
Jake picked up the phone mounted on the wall, but there was no sound—not even the crackle of static. "They've cut the phone lines. And they must have some kind of cellphone jammer too, because I can't pick up anything. No chatter, no outside communications. Not even radio."
"So we're completely cut off?"
"Maybe, maybe not. What kind of car does Kyle have?"
"Jake this isn't the time to—"
"Lou, Kyle drove here in his own car, right? If he's got a new GM car, they come with GPS tracking built into the OnStar system. Even if they've got a jammer in the building, it might not extend out to the parking lot. I can tap into the signal, and if I can get through the NSA firewalls, relay a message to Sat Ops."
Lou nodded briskly. "Do it."
Jake closed his eyes, and stretched his senses to their limits. He filtered out everything except the low electronic hum that he normally didn't even notice because it was constant. As quick as thought he tapped into a car GPS system, the nanites relaying his commands between one breath and the next.
In the valet lot behind the senator's house, while two guys casually smoked and talked near a space heater, one of the cars came to life, its engine rumbling low as its headlights cut through the pitch black night.
On the dash, the lights came up, and a pleasant female voice said "This is OnStar. How can we assist you?"
The signal bouncing up into space where it bounced for satellite to satellite, searching for just the right pathway.
At the same time, thirty miles away deep in the bowels of Ft. Meade, Tech Agents Carver and Hart were arguing about the relative merits of Negra Modelo versus Sam Adams when klaxons went off and every eye in the room was drawn to the big board.
"Oh shit," Carver and Hart said in unison as information about a hostage situation at Senator Matheson's gala began filling up the screen.
"Okay," Jake said, reading the communications the same way another person would read words on a sheet of paper, "NSA is sending an SRT team to our location. ETA is—dammit.
He opened his eyes to see Lou's face, grim in the pale light from the single overhead bulb.
"Even at top speed, they're still twenty-five minutes away." Jake could feel his chest beginning to ache with something like panic. He'd handled dozens of missions with worse odds than this, but that was with Diane, Lou and Kyle safe at NSA headquarters. Not in the middle of a mansion full of armed gunmen. Nanites would heal him in seconds—minutes. "We have helicopters, right? Why aren't they using helicopters?"
"Don't focus on what we don't have. Focus on what we do. You've got half a billion dollars worth of research paid for with Government taxpayers dollars in your body, and so long as the terrorists don't know about this room, we have a single tactical advantage. They don't know you're here. Let's keep it that way."
"I just wish I knew what was going on down there." Jake stared at the safe room door as if he was Superman and had X-ray vision. "The soundproofing is awesome and all—for keeping anyone from hearing us in here. But even with the nanites, it's making it hard for me to..."
He trailed off, eyes widening.
"Lou, the old guy who was by the open bar who looked like Strom Thurmond—that isn't actually Strom Thurmond, is it?"
Lou's eyes flashed with exasperation. "Jake, Storm Thurmond died four years ago."
"Right. I knew that. Anyway, he has a hearing aid."
Lou continued to stare at him blankly.
"I remember because I thought at first it was a radio and he was listening to the Knicks/Atlanta game like—never mind. I can tap into the miniature speaker like a radio. Use it to hear everything he hears."
"That's good." Her eyes widened as she realised what he was saying exactly. "That's good, Jake. We can use that."
"It's not the same as a real bug—'
"Right now, I'll take anything and everything we can get."
Jake took another deep breath and concentrated until the voices came into focus, sound muffled slightly because the hearing aide of the Republican fogey in question was never meant to boost a signal a hundred feet away.
"— long as no one tries any heroics—" a woman was saying.
"— no one's going to get hurt," a woman dressed in the white shirt, tie, and black skirt of the catering staff was saying.
The woman in charge was plain, nondescript, in her late thirties with blond hair pulled back in a tight ponytail and had was seemed to be a Midwestern accent, though Diane knew that didn't mean much.
Diane had been by the buffet table, and before she had registered what was happening, Kyle had had down on the floor and was crouched over her, covering her body with his own. Now Diane was sitting on the floor next to Kyle, her hands fisted in her lap, the knuckles white with tension.
"It's okay," Kyle kept saying, his voice a hiss through his teeth barely above a whisper. "Jake and Lou know what they're doing."
"Okay, Lou knows what she's doing."
Seven armed gunmen—two women and five men—had gathered the senator's family, guests, household staff, and security in the ballroom. Women (and one journalist) were crying softly, the mood in the room spiralling from fear to panic and headed toward terror as one security guard had attempted to pull his weapon when the terrorists had first entered the room.
He'd been hit with two streams of gunfire which had shredded his torso and sprayed everyone near the doors with a fine mist of red blood which was now pooling on the marble floor and dripping down the jacquard wallpaper like a gory Jackson Pollack painting.
"Get that outta here," the woman with the gun said, gesturing to the dead security guard, and two men, assault rifles slug across their bodies, took each of the man's legs. One of the guests behind Diane vomited into an ice-bucket as the body left a bloody trail across the marble floor.
"Why haven't they made any demands?" she whispered to Kyle, her eyes following the barrels of the guns more than the people wielding them.
"They will, I'm sure. Nobody takes a room full of Washington's elite without a plan."
"They haven't made any demands," Jake told Lou, who frowned.
"They've got to have a plan. This is too well orchestrated. They replaced the entire catering staff, managed to get a cache of weapons into the house. They know what they're doing."
"They've just got everybody in the ballroom. They haven't even asked for their cellphones."
"If they have a cellphone jammer, then they wouldn't need one." She shrugged. "A small unit can block a room that size easily. And in this weather, everyone would just assume a tower went down."
"There were a ton of security outside when we came in—they would have radioed for help, gone to the police, something... By now. I mean, wouldn't they?"
"Some of them are probably still doing rounds. It's only been—" she glanced at her watch, "— sixteen minutes. If they were far enough away that they didn't hear the gunfire, they wouldn't know until they came back for shift change. Valets aren't going to notice. Parties like this go 'til dawn, and it's barely nine o'clock. If they got to the rest of the guards, used silencers—"
"But won't the parking attendants notice their cellphones are dead?"
"Out there, that's not so rare. Towers go down from weather. Hell, half those guys don't even have cellphones. They're high school kids."
Jake thought about some poor kid parking cars for a living ending up shot by terrorists at a Rubber Chicken dinner, and shuddered.
"We need to know how many gunmen are actually down there," Lou said, her back to Jake and her eyes fixed on the door. "If Kyle just had some way to communicate with us..."
"He does," Jake said, smacking his forehead with his open palm. "Lou, they both do. The terrorists haven't taken their phones. Which means—"
"— Diane still has the JMD."
Diane had forgotten her purse, until through the layers of beaded fabric, she heard a faint muted beeping. She met Kyle's eyes, and he coughed to cover to sound as she eased the purse open and hit the MUTE button on the side of the JMD. The sounds topped but a message flashed in blue text on the black screen which she could just make out without actually removing the device.
Diane blinked rapidly, then leaned toward Kyle. Instead of attempting to whisper, she angled her purse so he could see the letters and symbols glowing on the screen.
Kyle held his open hand against his thigh and flashed three fives and a two. Diane swallowed. She hadn't realised he'd even been keeping track of the gunmen as they came in and out of the ballroom via the kitchen.
Moving as slowly as she could, letting the folds of her voluminous skirt hide her clutch, she reached inside. Diane used the edge of one nail to pull the stylus from the side of the PDA and, her chin resting on her chest as she pretended to hold back sobs, she tapped in 17GM 1DED.
SRT N 20 was the reply. Diane wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but all she could think was that a lot of people could die between now and twenty minutes from now.
"What if the plan is to just open fire and kill us all?"
The bleached blonde deb behind Diane whimpered, and Diane couldn't help rolling her eyes.
"Then we better hope Lou and Jake have a better plan."
"We need a plan," Lou said, pacing the small confines of the room. Jake could see—as if he'd was ever capable of forgetting—exactly why her nickname during the first Gulf War had been "Tankbuster". Even in a slinky dress, wearing make-up, and being something like eight inches shorter than he was, he had no doubt that anyone in her way right now would be dead before they hit the floor. "SRT are still en route, and there are a lot of frightened people down there."
"We can't just sit here and wait for SRT," Jake said, his hands balled into fists at his side. "Lou, I can't. It's Kyle and Diane and who knows how many innocent people down there— Even when SRT gets here, it sounds like they have enough people to hold them off for a while."
"And we don't want another Japanese embassy hostage crisis on our hands," Lou said with a shudder. "For all we know, they could have rigged the building with explosives."
Lou's eyes snapped to Jake, confused.
"They'd need some way to detonate. Most explosives use a cellphone or a radio signal. They're blocking analogue signals. Even if they did wire up the building, the first thing SWAT would do is jam cellphones."
"You really do pay attention during those training seminars, don't you."
"Actually, most of that came from McGyver reruns when I was at Georgetown," Jake admitted. "Carver can put me in touch with the team—you can tell down to the minute what their moves will be. But what good will that do us? Other than me being a human listening device?"
"We're going to have to provide some kind of distraction, so SRT can actually get into the building."
"I think I have an idea," Lou said as she eyed the bottle of Chivas Regal sitting on top the firesafe.
"How 'bout we wait to get drunk until after the terrorists are in custody?"
"Oh, we will. But that's not what I'm thinking," Lou said as she pulled the white cotton handkerchief from Jake's tux jacket pocket. "Trust me."
All Diane could think when the lights went out was this is your plan? This is a sucky plan!
There was a spray of gunfire that lit up the corner of the ballroom closest to the stairs. Diane was almost trampled as terrified senators, congressional aides, wives, mistresses pushed backward as far away from the firefight as they could. She grabbed the edge of the buffet table to haul herself up and out of harm's way. Her purse fell to the floor, and she bent down to grab it just as the ice-sculpture behind her exploded in a cold spray of slush. Shaking, she grabbed the two people closest to her, and dragged them back toward the walls.
"Stay down!" she told them as she worked the clasp of her purse open with numb fingers.
The lights on the JMD were going wild, information pouring in from Jake's nanites. His adrenals were through the roof, as was his heart-rate.
In the second flash of weapons fire, she saw Jake in the muzzle-flashes as he moved with nanite-enhanced speed, punching, grabbing guns, and knocking gunmen unconscious with the butt of the first rifle he'd grabbed. She knew that in the darkness he could see as if it were bright as day, and she realised as a second figure joined them that Kyle—who didn't have the benefit of built-in night vision—had grabbed one of the fallen weapons and was racing down to the kitchens through the side door.
There was a scream as the guard on the second floor balcony went tumbling over the railing to land with a wet sound. People were screaming—many of them the hostage-takers— The next thing Diane knew, the entryway was lit up with a brilliant flash.
Wreathed in flames, and barefoot, Louise Beckett, deputy director of the NSA, was going after one of the gunmen with a metal hatrack.
Then the front doors exploded inward, and black-clad NSA agents spilled into the hall.
All Diane cared about was finding the one man who had taken on an army. As she stumbled to her feat, she was practically crushed again—but this time by Jake's arms going around her like steal bands, the smell of gunpowder, sweat, champagne and sweat enveloping her.
She closed her eyes, and just hugged back.
Twelve Hours Later
The NSA cafeteria on the third floor was nearly deserted on the Thursday morning. While most of the Federal government had shut down for what was being called the worst ice storm in recent history, SIGNIT and ESCHELON never sleep. So despite the weather, the parking lot was half-full, and a group of die-hards were clustered around the double tables by the windows overlooking the North parking lot.
"A Molotov cocktail," Fran said as she stirred yet another packet of Equal into her coffee.
"Yep." Carver hadn't stopped grinning all morning.
"Director Beckett," Seymour Lafortunana repeated, something like awe in his voice. "With a Molotov cocktail. Made from a bottle of eighty year old blended Scotch."
"My hand to God."
"Took down twenty-nine armed terrorists?" Fran asked again, as if she couldn't quite wrap her mind around it."
"I heard it was thirty-two," Hart chimed in. "She provided a distraction so SRT could bust down the front door."
"I heard Agent Duarte took out three of them himself, when the lights went out." Seymour leaned toward Fran conspiratorially. "Punched one guy in the throat and took his weapon. That's so badass."
"Agent Duarte is badass," Fran agreed, subtly moving her chair as far away from Seymour as she could without tipping it over. "And hot," she said to Carver, who nearly choked on her latte.
"God, so hot. Did you see him in his tux, with the tie undone? So James Bond. You know, if James Bond was Puerto Rican."
"A Chivas regal Molotov cocktail," Hart said, shaking his head. "I bet the senator was pissed."
"Did they ever find out what the terrorists were after?" Fran asked Hart, who shrugged.
"Something about DOD contracts, I think. It was all over so quick, you know?"
Seymour frowned, his eyebrows drawing together like fuzzy caterpillars on a leaf. "Where was Foley during all of this?"
"I heard the coat check room," Hart said, pushing his tray towards Carver so she could finish stealing all the fruit off his plate.
"With Dr Hughes?" Seymour waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Carver popped a strawberry into her mouth. "You know what they say..."
"Don't ask, don't tell," Fran replied with a grin.
"Where are Hughes and Foley, anyway?"
"Lou gave them the morning off," Carver said, wistful, as she wiped her hands on her napkin and piled the dirty dishes on the plastic tray.
Every time one of the naked branches outside the window of their apartment broke under the weight of ice with an echoing sound like a gunshot, Jake flinched.
Diane snuggled closer to him under the mountain of blankets (two down comforters, and a hideous afghan her grandmother had knitted—vintage apartments in Old Town may have been more secure than Luigi's deli, but their heating tended to suck) and Jake stroked her hair.
"So Lou says we're getting our funding," Diane said sleepily into his shoulder, and Jake chuckled.
"I think Senator Matheson will probably make a pretty convincing case to the Allocation Committee."
"Considering he practically pissed himself when the Deputy Director of the NSA almost set fire to him with a bottle of Chivas Regal, that's pretty decent of him."
Diane wrapped her arms around his torso, shifting her weight so she could look up into his eyes. His dark hair was mussed, and she wrinkled her nose.
"You have bed hair."
"I may never get out of this bed again." Jake pressed a kiss to her equally tousled auburn curls. "I'm serious, Diane. I've handled some pretty tough situations. But I don't know if I could have made it, if it wasn't for Lou. Not knowing you were down there while I was stuck in that panic room."
"Kyle made sure I was okay."
"I know." Jake trusted Kyle with his own life. But it was still hard for him to imagine trusting anyone with Diane's. She meant that much to him. He wouldn't have got through the last four years without her, and it would be a long time before he didn't wake up in a cold sweat, remembering how desperately helpless he'd felt locked in that room with Lou while Diane was a hundred feet and a million miles away.
"And Jake... it's not like you can always be there, every single time I'm in mortal peril."
Jake frowned. "You're only ever in mortal peril when I'm around, though."
"You don't know that."
"You were held hostage by two dozen armed gunmen before you met me?"
"Almost sold into white scientist slavery?"
"Horseshoes and hand-grenades."
"Had arms dealers shoot up your lab?"
"That was, actually, technically before I met you. And it was the NSA who shot up the lab—remember?"
"Good point. Maybe you just attract danger."
"Like there's a magnet in my butt," she said, and Jake's shoulders shook with barely repressed laughter.
Jake surveyed the trail of clothes littering the floor from their front door to the foot of the bed. Her dress lay in a crumpled heap, one high-heeled shoe poking out from beneath it. His cummerbund was scorched and marred the threshold. His shirt was covered in blood (only some of it his) and was stuffed down the side of the bed, along with her nylons.
He never had got his shoes back.
"You know, I'll say this about Chivas. It burns really well."
Diane giggled. "Yeah, I don't think you're getting your deposit back."
"One of these days, I'm gonna have to just buy one."
"Very James Bond."
"Well, you never know when you'll need one for those last-minute Rubber Chicken Hostage Situation Missions." He traced circles on her bare shoulder with his thumb. "Or other occasions."
"Like bar mitzvahs?" Diane said coyly, or as coyly as she ever got, which was just on the sexy side of blunt.
"Or when you win the Nobel Prize."
"Or the next time you have to deliver the toast at a wedding."
"Weddings. Yeah. Those too."
Before that conversation could go any further, Diane leaned up to kiss him. They both needed to brush their teeth (champagne shrimp puffs ice-cream and bourbon), and Lou had given them the morning off, but not the entire day, and there was digging out, thawing, and hopefully starting Jake's car to deal with yet.
As Jake pulled the hand-crocheted Afghan blanket up over them and slid his hands down to her waist, he decided all of that could wait just a little bit longer.