In which Agent Dave Strider hires a new secretary, is partnered with a blind legislacerator and tasked with thwarting a cyberterrorist attack, is the target of several assassination and/or seduction attempts, and must handle a crisis of trust complicated by his flushed affection for two females in a caliginous relationship. There are several plot twists of increasing dramatic magnitude, a variety of fight scenes catering to all tastes, and a number of cameos by fan-favorite characters missing from the previous installment.
Thank you so much to everyone who reads and especially reviews, you motivate me to keep working despite my extremely small amount of free time. I love writing for you and I love that you enjoy my stories.
This one's going to be much more of a "novel" than the last. It's going to get ridiculous, too, so hang on cause it's gonna be a hell of a ride.
CHAPTER 1: THE LAST TRICK or GEM QUALITY
After a long career in the military, Cmdr Dave Strider RN (ret) has an almost religious respect for sleep. Going without a decent night's rest most of the time for ten years has imbued in him an appreciation that transcends the mundane. On a given night, it would take a jet engine to jostle him awake- and indeed on occasion it has- and in his luxurious bedroom, complete with an antique four-poster he bought at an estate sale for the irony but which ended up one of the best purchases he'd ever made, he usually falls asleep in about forty-five seconds.
But on this night Dave Strider couldn't sleep. It's four thirty in the morning and there isn't the slightest trace of sunlight coming through the blinds, nor the barest suggestion of cheerful songbirds chirping. With a sigh, he rolls over and attempts to forget what's distracting him from his much-needed rest. But her long black hair still tickles his nose, and her light breathing still grates on him like a new single by Lady Gaga. It's been two weeks since a glimpse of her legs has set his heart into palpitations, and one more still since the merest glance at her forest-green eyes caused his breath to hitch. In the same way a boy might grow tired of a toy he'd anticipated owning for months, Dave Strider has grown tired of Jade Harley.
He gives up trying to fall back asleep and rolls out of bed, landing gingerly on the balls of his feet. He pads quietly towards the bathroom to brush his teeth, but he's stopped by the sound of Jade awakening.
"...Dave? What's going on? What time is it?" she inquires sleepily, rubbing her eyes.
"I felt like going for a run, it's nothing. I'll make breakfast when I get back, you just go back to sleep," replies Dave, praying she doesn't offer to come with him.
"Wait a sec, I'll come with you!" she offers, stretching her freckled arms convincingly. She runs a hand through her long, black hair and reaches for her glasses- she'd not been able to buy new contacts since coming to England, and she's really quite nearsighted.
"No, really, it's stupidly early and we were up late. I just couldn't sleep, I was, er- I was so upset thinking about you having to go back to America."
"Aww, what a sweetheart," says the girl, laying back down. "Ok, you can go on your own this time. But I want blueberry pancakes for breakfast and we don't have any berries left. Think you can pick some up on your run?"
"Darling, it's not yet five, nothing's open. I'll get some berries today and we can make your favorite pancakes tomorrow, alright?" Dave rubs his belly absently.
"...Oh. Yeah, you're right. OK, tomorrow then," and she closes her eyes.
Dave walks into the bathroom, ignores the cold tiles' sting on his feet, and grits his teeth. He's just about had it with the way she pretends to let things go like that- she'll bring it up the next time she wants anything from him. Her memory is comprehensive and by God is she self-entitled. He needs to do something about her. She still has four days until she needs to leave and he doesn't think he can last that long.
Upon leaving the bathroom, he throws on some running shorts and a long-sleeved shirt and fishes through his computer desk drawer for his iPhone running armband. He had no real intention of doing any serious exercise at all, he just needs an excuse to get out of here without Jade following him around like a whingeing puppy. He leaves his house and heads for the park at a leisurely pace.
He holds the home button on his phone down for a few seconds until the voice control screen pops up. "Call Vriska Serket," he enunciates, and the phone begins to dial. He jogs along, thinking about what he's going to say, and fondly regarding Vriska's custom ringback song: I'm Shipping Up To Boston by the Dropkick Murphys. Just one more thing he loves about the enigmatic troll woman: her taste in Punk is exquisite.
"This better be good," she begins, "I'm busy!"
In the background comes the sound of a woman moaning.
"Jesus, Vriska, what the hell are you- did I get you at a bad time?"
"Oh, no, it's just past noon here. I'm in Taipei," Vriska explains. The moaning sounds grow louder. Dave feels slightly uncomfortable with this, though also equally intrigued.
"And what, pray tell, are you doing in Taipei?"
"Your human philosopher, the one they call The Little Wayne, said it best- 'fuck bitches; get money'. Words to live by if you ask me. I might even fuck a dude every now and again but I prefer the ladies. Call me a romaaaaaaaantic," she draws out her a's even as the woman in the background begins actually screaming.
"Are you- right now- that's not porn, is it." He's stopped running now.
"Nope," comes the reply.
"Aaaaaahhhhhh!" comes the other reply.
Dave hangs up.
Upon returning home, Dave is alerted by means of his olfactory glands of a disaster taking place in his kitchen. Untangling his headphone cords, he stalks in to find Jade standing in front of the stove, in the buff save for an apron, looking particularly unsexy trying to put out a fire that has started in a frying pan. "Oh goddammit... I was gonna surprise you with breakfast but this fucking thing..."
"Were you making poor knights?"
"No, it's french toast, I didn't know if you'd had them before, I mean, here in the UK," She's obviously fighting back tears, skin glowing red where flecks of hot oil have hit her.
"Aside from the fact that France is only two hundred miles away, if we're thinking of the same french toast, we English invented it. Only we call it poor knights. Here, give me that," He grabs a dish towel, soaks it in water from the sink, throws it over the flaming pan and averts his face from the steam. Jade stumbles back, nervously wrinkling her apron, as Dave maneuvers the whole mess to the sink and begins wiping his hands dry and free of grease. He notices some speckled eggshells on the counter and his brows furrow. "Did you use the eggs in the blue carton?"
"Yeah, I liked the pattern. What kind of chicken lays those?"
"Those were quail eggs. I was saving those," Dave adjusts his shades, drums his fingers on the countertop. His cool facade is slipping.
"Aw, geez, sorry. I hope you can get some more..." she simpers at him, but the effect wore off long ago- even naked in an apron she's about as arousing to his libido as the remains of her attempt at breakfast cuisine was to his appetite.
"Yeah, I can get some more. In two weeks, when the farm I order them from in fucking Durham sends me another dozen-"
He's cut off by the buzz of Jade's cell phone going off a split second before the ringtone kicks in. Dear God, it's a new single by Ke$ha- even if he were deaf he'd know by the inimitable pain in his molars that flares up when horrible music is playing nearby. Jade just looks at it.
"...Aren't you going to get it?"
"In a sec. I just really love this song!"
Twelve seconds later, Capt Jade Harley, USAF is ejected bodily from the home of Dave Strider, a soiled apron all that protects her from the morning chill. Landing unceremoniously on her rump in the frosty grass, she opens her mouth to object but before she can say anything Dave calls after her, "I'll have your shit mailed!" and slams the door.
Strider pulls into his parking spot just as the final beats of the song he was listening to fade out. This is a good sign- not that he puts too much stock in superstition, but he hates turning off his car in the middle of a song; the sudden silence is like a slap to the face. He gets out, smooths his sensible two-button jacket and fixes his tie in the driver's sideview mirror. Attaché case in hand, he strolls towards the unremarkable building in his usual aloof manner. He passes reception, feeling generous enough to give the intern at the desk a quick nod that just about stops her heart. He passes the steno pool, scoping for new faces and finding none, before taking the stairs up to the third floor. He no longer has an office in the conventional sense, as he's no longer a conventional officer. He is a special agent, and his accommodations are special to match.
The third floor is carpeted in a nondescript tan, with cream-colored walls and light fixtures that wouldn't offend even the most self-righteous of interior design fanatics. The warm, energy-saving bulbs spill luminescence along a hallway full of doors that have neither numbers or names. Dave's is the fourth one on the right. He doesn't know offhand who's in the others. He enters to find the small room that is usually occupied by his secretary by this time of the morning deserted; desk clear, and coffee maker empty. He'd rather liked his previous executive assistant, a cheery post-college-but-still-young brunette who over the months she worked for him learned how to make his coffee just so and on that merit alone he brought her gifts from every job he went on. She had been in grad school for... something, but he never asked too many questions. It wouldn't have been fair, she hadn't been allowed to ask questions about him. And anyway, he never really found her attractive enough to seriously pursue.
He spies a note on the desk.
Dear Mr. Strider,
Circumstances have called Ms. Denison away from your desk for an unspecified time. Due to the undetermined length of her absence, we've elected to hire you a new secretary immediately and find a new position in the building for her upon Ms. Denison's return. At 2 o'clock this afternoon you will be able to meet a selection of candidates for the position individually in the 2nd floor parlor. All come with the highest of recommendations from their previous employers and plenty of experience.
There's a loopy signature that Dave can't read at the bottom, followed by an internal phone extension. He continues into his office and drops his case on his desk before slumping into his comfortable leather chair. There's a neatly typed schedule on his desk, as if he couldn't handle one day on his own, and a still-steaming traveler's mug of coffee on the desktop. Well. That's something at least.
The day proceeds as normal. He spends most of the morning at the basement shooting range either practicing or observing his junior agents' shooting and providing advice for their improvement. Towards lunchtime he drops by the office of one of his friends in accounting and hands him ten quid and a note with his order on it for the Lunchtime Sandwich Run, a responsibility tantamount to the messianic, which on this particular day will be weighing down the accountant's Fiat 500 with about forty sandwiches and several kilos of salads and crisps.
With that done, he retires to his office to listen to his new podcasts while compiling the data from his last job into a neat report. He likes to work through lunch- he has no trouble multitasking and he finds the idea of getting more work done on his lunch break than during proper work hours appealingly ironic. Someone else's secretary brings the crisp white paper bag up to his desk with the change from his ten, which he refuses to accept and tells her to put towards the next bottle of whatever is causing her to smell so delightful. She's blushing as she leaves. Munching happily at his sandwich and tapping his fingers in time with a new DJ set from one of his favorite house artists, he barely notices the elaborate timepiece hanging on the wall- another ironic antique he's developed a real affection for- edging towards two o'clock. When the thing rings out with a solid dong dong, he's actually startled.
Not bothering to tidy, he dashes by the mirror only long enough to straighten his tie and heads down the stairs to the second floor. Passing the normal agents' offices at double time, he reaches the parlor in record time and swings the door open.
Three pairs of eyes are on him immediately. Two are human but the third, surprisingly, belong to a troll... a troll he recognizes. He pretends not to notice it's the waitress from Eridan Ampora's hotel party only about a month ago. What the hell is she doing in London?
"Okay. Why was I late?" he asks the room at large.
One of the girls, a blonde in a low-cut sweater and slacks, replies immediately. "You're a busy man. Whatever you were doing was no doubt very important." She gives him a charmingly saccharine smile. He's not charmed.
"Thanks for playing, but sadly you're rather wide of the mark. Any other guesses?" Dave leans against the wall and crossed his arms.
The second one, a pretty redhead in her late twenties, ventures to speak. "You had too much to do and just lost track of time?"
"That's exactly correct, but I'm awarding points for originality too. What about you, what do you think?" He turns to the troll.
"You're self-indulgent to a fault, completely unwilling to rest until whatever you're working on is done. You're as vain as they they come, too- you've probably restarted the project you're working on three or four times. I guarantee if a woman came into your office today you had to hit on her. Not that you're vain for no reason, I wouldn't be surprised if you held a couple of company records for something generically masculine like shooting or parallel parking. But mostly you're late because it never occurred to you to be anything but late," replies the troll girl. Dave bothers to give her a second look. She's beautiful, features delicate and almost Asian-looking, with long curls of black hair and orange ram-like horns curving forwards. She's tall for a troll, with curves that could kill, but she's wearing a ladies' skirt suit in maroon with a conservative neckline. The Ares emblem pin on her lapel sparkles. Her expression is impassive but not apathetic, her posture relaxed but not resigned, her tone confident but not superior.
Dave glances at the other two. "Thank you for coming, ladies. Best of luck in your future opportunities," and turns back to the troll as the two human women sullenly depart.
"Aradia, so good to see you again. I don't believe I got your last name when we met briefly last month."
She sits up, attempting unsuccessfully to hide her glee at being hired so easily. "It's Megido, but don't bother remembering. It's not a name that carries much clout among trolls." She glances down briefly, then meets his gaze with her big yellow eyes. "I'm overjoyed for the opportunity. Sorry about-"
"Don't mention it. Have you been shown around?"
Dave settles back in his chair after giving Aradia a quick tour of the places she'd need to know. Turns out she'd been debriefed after the Ampora job along with much of the other hotel staff and she'd hit it off with the agent who'd been doing the interview, and having no place better to go, came to England with him. After the fun wore off she moved out and found her own place, doing odd jobs for a temp agency, which led her here. She was extremely qualified for the job, her lowblood upbringing preparing her for a wide variety of service-oriented jobs, and came with the highest recommendations from troll and human alike.
At the moment she's happily arranging her items on her desk with efficient little gestures and just generally being a remarkably competent ray of sunshine. He finishes gathering his things together and steps out of his office into her small room between it and the door to the hallway. She's just sitting at her desk, smile generating enough warmth to power Greater London, and it takes her a second to regard him.
"I've never had a desk before. This is amazing. Also, I'm not going to fuck you, so don't get any ideas."
Dave quirks and eyebrow at her. "If I didn't know any better I'd say that sounds like a challenge."
"It's not. I'm seriously, definitely, absolutely not under any circumstances going to fuck you. I am going to be the best secretary you've ever had though."
"Well then. Have a fantastic evening, miss Aradia Megido."
"You as well, special agent Dave Strider."