Rick Stetler stumbled as he was shoved out of the van, watching as it pulled away.  He groaned, holding his head with his bandaged hand.  He blinked, trying to stay conscious.  There was a bright spot up the street so he stumbled that way, nearly falling in the door when it shoved easily.  The people in there gave him evil looks.  "Police," he whispered hoarsely.  "Me."  He passed out.

The people in the office called the ambulance and the cops came.  One of them recognized him from a shooting review, that got the investigation ramped up and Horatio got called out of bed.  He was the only one the Chief would trust.  Who knew him better than his worst enemy after all?

Horatio looked at where he had been dropped, taking pictures of the tire treads.  Ryan came over, nudging him and handing him something in a cup.  "Coffee?"

"No, sanitizing solution.  We might need to use it on him depending on what they did to him."  That got a nod.  "He was dropped here and stumbled up the street?"  Horatio nodded, standing up.  "He's been gone for four months, Horatio.  Go to the ER, I've got this scene."

"You're sure?"

"There's not much here to see.  They're professional and paranoid."  That got a nod and Horatio walked off.  He took duplicate pictures of the tire treads and then moved to look at the other areas.  He found a few blood drops, taking pictures and then gathering them.  He stood up, looking around.  "I can feel you," he called.  "You might want to come out."  Diego stepped out of the shadows.  "Witnesses?"

"Didn't get the plate.  White van.  Commercial grade."  He moved to the edge of the tape.  "Looks professional."

"It is.  He went out to talk to Doctor Edges."  He saw something and took a picture before picking it up.  "What the hell are you?" he muttered, looking at it in the light.  He bagged it and put it into his case, looking at Diego.  "Horatio's at the hospital."

"I saw.  Sanitizer?"

"With a neutralizer included," he agreed.  He kept looking, finding a few other things that probably weren't related but he had to pick them up anyway.  He found one thing, another piece of the same shiny thing, bagging it too.  He picked up his case, heading for the hummer.  "I'm heading back to the crime lab."

"I'll follow to make sure you get there then go to see Horatio."  That got a nod and he got into his car, following Ryan back.  Once he pulled into the parking lot he pulled out, heading to the hospital.  He walked in and found Horatio staring at the sedated man.  "Let's see what's going on."  He took the chart to look over.  "Electro-shock and a few whip cuts," he said quietly, going on.  "You'll need to spread that around and in the cuts if you can.  Around this scar too," he said with a point at the picture.  "They did surgery when they first had him."  Horatio nodded, calling in a nurse to tell her. "The people who do this leave a lot to be desired but they do coat their whips and knives with something. That's a higher level santizer than you have access too," he said, still reading.  "They fed him and kept him hydrated.  They wanted something from him."  He looked at her.  "It's also clear someone did some surgery."  He pointed at the one new scar.  "That's a surgical incision if I'm right."

"We have the hand-held x-ray, we can do that," Horatio said, calling down to the morgue.  "It's Caine.  I need Alexx's hand-held x-ray.  Memorial, 324.  Thank you."  He hung up.  He was still staring.  "What would he know that would take him four months to spit out?" he asked quietly.

"Would he have given up Ryan sooner?"

"He barely got into his educational profile when we had the security meeting," Horatio said.  An officer walked in, handing over a case.  "Thank you.  That was fast."

"Wolfe suggested it, sir."  He snapped his fingers and someone handed him a monitor.  "Here.  Where can I set this?"  The nurse cleared a table, letting them scan over Stetler's body.  He frowned. "Is that a microchip?"

Diego leaned closer.  "It's a control chip.  I've seen those before.  Change the angle, Horatio?  I need to see if it's got a connection."  He did that and he nodded.  "We'll need a good surgeon for that."

"I'll get neurology," the nurse promised, going to do that.

Horatio kept going, marking a few other things.  "What is that?"

Diego looked.  "It looks like the same shape that Ryan found at the scene."  Horatio looked at him.  "Triangular, shiny, silver."   It got marked and they went on.  There was an infection in his foot so he put the sanitizer on there as well.  "That should help that.  Nurse, he's got an infection," he said, letting her see.  She nodded, going to make note of  that and get him rebandaged.   He and Horatio shared a look.  "We need to ask."

"We will when he wakes up," Horatio agreed.

"That could be years."

"It'll be hours.  He's stubborn," Horatio assured him.  An older man stomped in.  "Nurse?"

"He's the Chief of neurosurgery, Lieutenant," she called back.

He let him see the chip.  Diego sketched it out.  "That very fine wire leads back to his upper spinal column.  If it's removed wrong it'll send a shock," he explained. "I'll get you the manual we have on it.  There's a few other things as well."

He frowned.  "Who did this?"

Horatio looked at him.  "He was kidnaped from the police station and tortured for information he had," he said quietly.

"Then I'm not asking.  I don't need a Black Ops team breaking into my house at night.  My wife might have to kill them."  He looked at the machine then at Horatio.  "Morgue?"  He nodded, letting him have it.  "It's a good thing to use."  He looked at the chip again.  "Okay, I'm going to have more traditional methods of examining it done."  Diego texted someone, getting him the manual on his PDA.  He looked it over then at him.  "Can we print this?"

"Of course.  I'm surprised it's the first you've seen."  He walked out to print it for him, handing over the sheets.  "If you need more information, call me here," he said, writing his number on it.  That got a nod and he looked at Horatio. "I'll take the gear back if you want."

"Please."  He put it back into the cases, letting him have it.  "I've got to brief the Chief of Detectives.  Doctor?"  He handed over his card.  "It's my case."

"Agreed.  Anything I pull out is yours and the lab's."

Horatio slid on his sunglasses.  "I am the lab."  He walked off, going to talk to his boss.  It was nearly dawn.  He'd be waiting by now.


Ryan pulled the silver sample out, looking at it under the microscope.  "What?" he muttered.  He took it into the electron microscope the other lab had given them, letting it magnify it for him.  "What are you?"  He watched as the pathways changed and shifted.  He called Horatio.  "I need to call in a consult.  It's got shifting pathways, Horatio.  Yes, that."  He hung up, calling someone else.  "I know it's early.  I need an emergency consult right the hell now."  He hung up and expanded it again, trying to see how it was changing.

Stephni jogged in.  "You swore, it's got to be bad."  He got out of the way, frowning.  "What the hell?" she asked, staring at it.  She went up and down the magnification scale, shaking her head.  "No way.  I'm sorry but no way.  How did their people do that?"

"I found two pieces there," he said quietly, glancing around.  He waved Eric and Speed in when they came in.  "Trying to figure this out.  It was at the site where they dropped Stetler late last night."

Speed looked. "Is it moving?"

"It's trying to reestablish contact," she told him.  "I have no clue."  She texted that to her big sister and Diego, getting a swear from both of them.  "Okay, someone might know."  Deigo stormed in a few minutes later.  "Where were you?"

"The morgue handing back equipment."  He looked then found a battery to attach to it.  The pathways quit shifting.  "This is like the humming crystals Mom found a few decades back.  They did the same thing.  She was never sure what their purpose was."

Ryan looked then at him.  "Is it living on the electricity or storing it to use?"

"They lived on it.  It wasn't a weapon that we knew."

"So a new life organism?" Eric asked.

Diego looked at them.  "I hate to say it but we'd hate to see you two go missing too.  Out."  They nodded, backing out and going off like they hadn't seen anything.  "Wolfe..."

"It's my case, don't even try."  He looked then at him.  "It's using it.  It's growing."  He pointed at the now bulging section.  "Either that or it's full."  The battery quit being drained so fast but the pathways settled down to make sure they all got it.  "How do I classify this?"

"Unknown metal organism," Diego suggested.  "Where's Horatio?"

"Probably talking to the Chief of Detectives," Ryan said, looking at him.  "Is subtle going to get it this time?"

"If you nark that you have it they could break in to get it back."

Ryan nodded.  "I forgot about that."

Diego pinched him.  "And your chastity belt, princess."  He walked off, smiling at Calleigh.  "Stetler was returned last night."

"Is he okay?"

"He will be once they remove some metal from him," he said, making her smile.  "We'll figure it out, my dear."  He walked around her, running into Horatio.  "Ryan needs some advice on classification in the magnetic microscope's room."

"I'll head there."  He walked in, frowning at what he was staring at.  "Looks like a new type of computer chip."  Ryan removed the battery so he could see it moving around.  He stared.  "What is that?"

"Diego said we classify it as unknown metal organism."

"Unknown metal, under investigative testing," Horatio corrected. "If you put organism they could figure it out.  He's got what looks like another piece in him."

"I've got another piece of this," Ryan told him.

"Feed it or whatever, just keep it out of sight."  Ryan nodded, going to do that while Horatio rebagged that sample and put the classification on the front.  They still had the mole problem.  He wasn't taking any chances.  He went to note it on the log and put it into his desk.  The hospital called later so he went back to talk to Rick, finding him barely awake.  "Morning."

"Do I look that bad?" he asked dryly.  Horatio nodded, holding up a mirror.  "At least I'm still whole."

"Mostly," Horatio said.  "You've got a few extras in you, Rick."  He pulled a chair over.  "What were they looking for?"

"You're not going to ask me who?"

"I figured it was Paladin since the last person you were seen talking to was one of them."

"Their strong arm branch," he said grimly.  "The chip is for controlling me."  Horatio nodded.  "You know?"

"They've seen them before."

"Dragons?" he whimpered.

Horatio gave his hand a squeeze.  "Not until you're clear, Rick.  What were they after?"

"You," he said, looking at him.  "Everything about you, Speedle, and Wolfe.  Mostly about you.  They came back to you time and again."  Horatio nodded.  "I think they have Ray," he whispered.

"Then they'll pay," Horatio said.

"They're the government.  You can't fight them."

"I'm not alone," he reminded him gently.  That got a snort.  "What else did they want to know?"

"Wolfe's qualifications.  Speedle's qualifications."

"Not Eric, not Calleigh?"  He shook his head.  "What about the other lab?"  He shook his head.  "They didn't want to know?"

"They wanted to know how you three were connected.  They're looking for a lever."  He yawned.  "What else is in me?"  Horatio handed him the report and the mirror, letting him see the purple circles around things.  "Damn."

"We've already talked to your surgeon.  He knows you were tortured, Rick.  He's got the removal manual for the chip."

"He said there were upgrades."

"We have people who have dealt with them."

"They said a wire was going to be needed then laughed and said you could beg Wolfe."

"I know what they're talking about," Horatio promised.  "Let me handle it, Rick.  Anything else you know?"

"They liked his coffee potion.  Thought it'd make good rations for commando units."  He yawned again.  "I need to nap."

"You do.  I'll tell Yelina that we've found you safely and you're here."  That got a nod and Rick let himself drift off again.  Horatio put the chair back before walking out, heading to talk to his sister-in-law.  He found her at her desk, nodding her and Frank to follow him.  "Rick got dropped off last night," he said quietly.  She gasped, dropping her pen.  Frank looked grim.  "We've found a few bits of metal in him that will have to be removed.  They're keeping him well contained on pain killers until then, Yelina.  He's under constant guard but he's at Dade Memorial."  She nodded, hurrying off.  He looked at Frank.  "It was the people who're against the other lab."

"Why don't they like them?"

"The lab has better scientists and come up with innovative ideas without stealing them.  These people are the government, Frank."

"Aw, shit," he said quietly.  Horatio nodded. "How many bits of metal?"

"One's a microchip."

"Double crap," Frank muttered.

"Exactly.  We do know who, we're trying to prove which ones to see if we can get any of them.  This is an ongoing thing, Frank.  This is only a head's up.  I don't expect you to put yourself out that way, especially not for Stetler."

"He's still one of us, even if he is an asshole.  So, Wolfe...."

"I'll probably need his help," he admitted. "I'm going there next."  That got a nod and Frank let him go, going back to his desk so Horatio could go to the lab.  Horatio found him examining the metal again.  "Something new?"

"This is the other sample I found," he admitted.  "It's more sluggish until I put on a higher class of battery."  He let him see while he glanced around.  "What I have is yours, Horatio."

"Rick said they'd need your wire."

"We can do that.  Tony said you might need a hacker too so he's sending down one of his teammates that Diego cleared a long time ago."

"Is she...."

"Taking a few classes here and there," he admitted.

"Thank you, Mr. Wolfe."

"Will he be okay?"

"We hope.  There's a chip," he said quietly.

"There usually is," he agreed. "Diego's good at that.  He was with Greg when they pulled his out."  That got a nod and Horatio went to talk to him while he texted Tiff to tell her that they would need the new wire system for Abby.


Horatio waited outside the surgical theater, trying hard not to pace or listen too closely at the door.  The nurse finally came out with Diego and a silver tray.  "It all out?"

"The chip is, the majority of the other pieces of metal.  He thinks there might be a smaller chip and he's ordered a scan later on tonight when Rick's more stable."  He handed over the dish.  "The design's not that new.  The hacker could help find out the programs it's embedded with.  We've never been able to before.  It's in someone's personal language."  Horatio nodded, taking it off.  Diego went to change back into his clothes, looking over as someone came in.  "Hey, Sis."  He gave her a hug.  "We have a chip."

"Do we have two chips?"

"The doc thinks he saw an edge, he's going to have him scanned in a different way."  He looked at her.  "Horatio has it."

"I sent security back with him."  She sat down, looking at him.  "Horatio said something about his brother?"

"So did Stetler."  He grimaced.  "We'll figure that out."  He got up to finish changing, pulling down his hair as well so he could let the sweat air dry.  "Let's get to the lab.  Are we doing the chip in theirs or ours?"

"Theirs.  It'll be safer and with it being an open case Horatio would get fussy."

"Yet you want him anyway," he teased.

Stephni smirked.  "Who doesn't?"

"The one we pulled the chip out of.  He spent his last few minutes awake swearing at Horatio's ancestors for having him."  He walked her out, taking her to the lab.  They found Tony's friend already settled into a spare lab with her computer and linked back to another hacker.  "That won't get him in trouble, right?" Diego asked.  "We are dealing with a rogue government agency."

"They're scared of Gibbs too," she said happily, waving at Stephni.  "Hi.  I'm Abby."

"Stephni.  Weapons and computers."

"Cool."  She got back to work.  "If we had a key to tell us what this code is it'd help us.  There has got to be a translator for it since it'd have to run on systems the programmer didn't make."

"As far as we know the person who created the chip did all their programming until he died a few years back," Diego told her.  He looked then got into another screen on his personal laptop, letting her see it.  "Try there."  He smiled.  "It's remotely plugged in so you don't have to worry."

She plugged her machine into his and got to work with it.  "Always happy to have more brain power.  Which one are you?"

"Diego.  White Knight's Head of Security, ducks."  She beamed at him.  "We've seen a few of these but we could never decode the language."

"You know, Charlie might be able to help," Stephni pointed out.  "Language keys are often mathematical."

Abby beamed.  "Thank you, I needed that idea."  She tried some different ciphers.  "Ha!  Found something."  It decoded it to a different form of gibberish that her computer recognized and changed to something readable.  "Voila!  I am amazing," she said happily.  She smiled at Horatio when he came in.  "Hi.  Abby Scuito, NCIS.  I work with Tony."

"Horatio Caine."

"I knew that.  It's the hair."  He smiled at that.

Diego looked at the instructions then groaned.  "He's a programmed assassin, Horatio.  That second chip will make him carry it out no matter what.  Removing this one left it without an off switch.  His kill list would've been verbal."  He looked at him.  "Ryan?"

"Up the hall," he assured him.  Diego relaxed.  "We'll see.  They're going to see if they can remove that one as well?"  Diego nodded, going back to his reading.  "I'd like a copy?"  Abby printed it and handed it over with a flourish.  "Thank you, Abby, and your friend on the other end of your laptop."

"You're welcome, Horatio."  She punched him on the arm.  "They're mean.  They should be destroyed really a lot."  She got back to work.  "Hey, Diego, is that a self-destruct code?"

"After he finished his last one, he was given a verbal cue.  He'd say it, it'd set off the chip and it'd explode to kill him."  He looked up.  "The bastard's had a few that have malfunctioned and people who've said the code phrase much too soon."

"Poor guys."

"Some were accidental.  One's code was 'how's the weather today, Bob'."  She gaped.  He looked up and nodded.  "They're not that imaginative.  That's why they hate us."  He got back to work on it.  "If we're lucky he might be able to spit them out while under hypnosis.  If not, they used reverse desensitization to provoke the feelings they need for his targets.  The chip would make him go through with it but doing that would mean he wouldn't set it off too soon."

"Question, is Horatio or Ryan on the probable list?" Stephni asked.

Diego looked at her.  Then at Horatio.  "Did he seem more hostile toward you when you talked?"

"He was exhausted and swinging at the end of one dose of sedatives while the other had just been administered," he said quietly.  "Then again he's almost always hostile toward me."  He looked at Abby.  "We think they have another officer of ours that supposedly died," he said quietly.  "Do you think we can figure out if they're somewhere in the federal system?"

"Yes, he is," Diego told him.  "DEA."  He looked at him.  "We can search farther, Horatio."  That got a nod.  "We'd be willing to help him have his removed too."  He got to work searching Horatio's brother, finding him in the wrong system for DEA.  "He is out of the country and expected to stay there.  They let him leave when he was done."

"So he won't be coming back here?" Abby asked.  "Even for his family?"

"I'd kill him," Horatio told her.  "Horribly.  My CSI would be very upset with me."  She giggled.  "Not kidding.  His wife would help me."

"You might want to get her an annulment," Stephni offered.

"I haven't told her," he admitted.  He walked off, going to find Yelina.  "Walk with me?" he requested quietly.

"Is Rick all right?"

"As far as we can tell he'll wake up and be normal.  There's another chip, we're working on that one.  We need to talk."  She followed him.  "Yelina, I think it might be best if you went for an annulment through the Church," he said once they were outside alone.  "You've begun to seriously date again and it's easier to do it now, when you don't have a deadline to get the paperwork back from Rome."

"I'd only need one of those if I was still married, Horatio."  He shot a glance at her.  "What?"

He sighed, looking at her.  "This led them to Ray's trail.  DEA took him," he said quietly, staring at her.  "He's been released, he's out of the country.  I have no idea what sort of shape he's in but it's saving him by staying down there.  Otherwise I think I might kill him."

She gave him a hug.  "It'll be all right, Horatio."  She stepped back.  "I'll have to do that, won't I?"  He nodded.  "What do I tell the priest?"

"That he was taken undercover and won't be allowed to come back," he said quietly.  She looked down and nodded.  "I'll take you to mine if you want.  He's fairly liberal and was a soldier before.  He'll understand."

She looked at him.  "I'll talk to him myself.  You don't have to drive me."  He nodded, giving her another hug.  "Where is he?"  He shrugged.  "We don't even have a country?"

"No, but once you get the paperwork I'll find some way to get it to him with a letter bomb."  She laughed, walking off to her car.  She needed to drive and think.  Plus visit Rick.  He went back inside.  He found Ryan pacing and muttering.  "We're working on it, Ryan."

Ryan looked at him.  "I know we are.  I'm wondering why they're pulling this all-out maneuver.  It's not their style."

"We'll figure that out."

"The metal grew," he said quietly.  "Added a few new pathways."

Horatio nodded.  "We'll keep an eye on it.  Perhaps let one go into a mouse to test it?"  Ryan nodded, heading to find a mouse and do that.


Horatio went to answer his door, frowning at Stephni when he found her on the other side.  "Problems?" he asked, letting her in.

"A few.  I've checked over Ryan's shoulder with the mouse test."  She closed the door, looking at him.  "It's not dangerous, it's something they found and have taken on without realizing what it is."

He nodded.  "They seem like the sort.  Did Diego question Rick?"  He let her further into the house, letting her sit on the couch.

"Unfortunately he did remember," she said, looking at him.  "They wanted him to make it look like you had done it.  That way he could discredit you and make the lab weaker.  That would let them come in and pick their people.  You have some very bright people, Horatio, and they want most of your team.  The only one they don't want is Eric."  He frowned.  "I'm sorry.  They knew about Speed before we met you guys.  They knew about Ryan before then.  They told the Commissioner to move Ryan over when it was asked for.  They paid him handsomely for it.  Stetler had proof of it.  He was keeping it in hiding."  That got a simple nod and a deeper grimace.  "They wanted to make sure our genius and your geniuses would work together.  If you're discredited, they could swoop in and capture you like they did your brother.  Having Speed and Calleigh on the team would make you more likely to cooperate and they wanted them anyway.  Eric was going to be watched for progeny since he's a good tech but he's not one of the greatest and most special ones.  They've got others on their hit list and we're going to talk to them too.   We think they've got assassins lined up in their cities too waiting to act.  His orders were to kill a few around you to set you up and then drug the others with a special toxin that would basically zombie them so they'd look like part of the spree and you killing them to cover up your misdeeds."

"Who else?"

"A few in Taylor's.  One in Grissom's beyond Greg.  Hodges is not going to be happy with us."  He shook his head.  "There's going to be some fit throwing and we think we can get the information back to Gibbs so he can stymie them and help the officers afflicted."

"I hope."

"We hope so too.  Mom's ready to chew tail, literally in this case since a rogue one of our kind started them as we've just found out when Abby hacked into them."  He gave her a sideways look.  "What can I say, she's brilliant and they wanted her too."  She stood up.  "So we'll get together to brief  you guys soon.  We're going to warn the other labs today."

"Thank you for telling me."


"Will Rick survive the second surgery?"

She shrugged.  "I don't know, Horatio.  No one in the family can do that surgery.  The guy down here is world class and we've only got a few neurologists in the family.  They all said this is the best guy to try it.  We'll see if we can get the other cases to him and if not, maybe he and someone with microchip experience can help him disable it so they can't be activated or set off."  He nodded, getting up to let her out.  "Be extra safe, Horatio.  I mean it."  He let her hug him then she left, heading off to talk to others.

Horatio went back inside to his computer to make notes on what had been said.  Then he printed it out and put it in a safe place that his nephew and Yelina would find.  Just in case.


Sheldon looked up as the pigtailed, redheaded woman bounced into the lab, frowning at her.  She wasn't dressed like a lab tech by any means.  "Excuse me," he called, heading out to stop her.  "Are you supposed to be here?"

She looked at him.  "Sis sent me to talk to you and Mac.  Get his ass to his office, Sheldy.  Now."  He hurried off.  She went to gather the other one, smiling when she ran into Stella.  "Hi, I need to see a Danny Messer too please?  It's DragonTech business, ma'am."

"I'm not that old," she said dryly.  "He's gone for the night."

"Can we have him called back?  It's going to get messy.  We've found a plot to kill or kidnap him."

She nodded.  "I can do that.  Meeting you where?"

"Mac's office.  Sis sent me."  She headed that way, strolling inside, weathering the shocked looks.  "I'm one of the younger ones.  I'm Storm."  She shook their hands.  "Sis sent me.  We are expecting Mr. Messer as well."

"What's going on?"

"Better to tell it once, Mac," Sheldon told him.  Danny stomped in a few minutes later, Don behind him.  "Do you mind if Detective Flack listens?"

"No, I think it's best he hears too.  He wasn't officially included that I know of but since he knows about us he might be used as leverage."  She waved a hand and the door shut, making them all gape at her. "I'm Storm, I'm Stephni's eggmate.  Sis, Amanda, sent me."  She sat down, looking at them.  "You're in danger.  Paladin is trying to recruit the hard way."  She handed Mac a folded piece of paper from her tight shorts pocket.  She looked at Danny again.  "Unfortunately their favorite way of doing it the hard way is to blackmail, kill, or set you up so you fall and fall hard.  That way they can scoop you up without your department helping you and your friends won't be helping either.  They sent a chipped assassin to Miami to set up kills and make it look like that yummy Horatio had done them so they could get him, Calleigh, and Speed, plus our Test Pookie Ryan."  She crossed her legs.  "You have a similar setup up here from what I'm told.  We found somehow who could finally hack their systems while working to free the poor bastard who had dual microchips with explosives implanted after a few months of torture."  Don gaped.  She nodded.  "They implant it, teach you to hate your hit list, and then give you final instructions under hypnosis before releasing you."

Mac put down the paper with an order to trust what she was saying and a web address.  He typed it in, reading it over.  "She's right, guys.  They got an Internal Affairs officer down in Miami to set up Horatio."  He looked at her.  "How can we tell?"

"Anyone been mysteriously missing for a few weeks and then suddenly show back up?" she suggested.  "It usually takes at least two weeks to start the training.  The harder they are to break, usually meaning the more stubborn, the longer it takes."

"One guy outta....  Outta the patrol unit downstairs," Don said, frowning.  "He went missing for three weeks.  His wife was frantic.  I remember wondering if he was dead since it was our unit's case.  We found him pretty beaten up and a background pulled up some gambling debts in his past."

Danny shook his head.  "I took his pics, Don.  No new scars.  Putting in a chip like that would leave a scar."

"Usually on the back," she agreed.  "It's hooked into the spinal cord.  Stetler's was on his upper front shoulder but looped back that way."  That got a mass nod.  "One of our other students on the Teacher system is a hacker and she finally broke the code they use on the chips.  It allowed them to hack their systems and find out their plans.  You're not the only two labs targeted."

"Greg?" Mac asked.

"And another tech out there.  We have the name of their assassin.  There were notes saying that they wanted to chip Greg when he was in the hospital and burned but they decided he was too well guarded to take for emergency surgery and implant it.  His friends were being paranoid and guilty."

"Thank God," Danny said, still sounding horrified.  "Can we find out how to remove it?"

"Horatio's got a guy down in Miami who worked on Stetler's.  He's the guy all of us would go to based on the family medical practice's recommendations."  She nodded at Sheldon.  "You can use a portable x-ray to establish them having a chip or not.  Also, I was told to deliver this to *you* from Ryan's hand."  She handed over a small envelope.  "You need to feed it electricity.  Do not yell and scream.  We're very certain it's harmless but they're using it for some reason.  With your medical background and the science here, you should be able to figure out *why*.  We need to know so we can counter it.  Ryan said he fed it about an hour ago.  It goes through a AAA battery every day."

He opened it to look at.  "It's metal."  He pulled it out to look at, taking Mac's magnifying glass off his desk to stare at it.  "It's moving!" he said.

"Yeah, it's alive enough to eat the energy. They found shards around and inside the poor bastard down there.  Test Pookie couldn't figure it out so he sent it to you.  You're a higher class of nerd according to him."

Sheldon smiled.  "Thanks.  That's a high compliment coming from him.  How's George?"

"She's just adorably hopping around the giant bunny ship in the lab tonight."  She beamed at them.  "So I'll leave you to figure that out."  She looked at Flack.  "You'd be leverage.  That's why I included you when I didn't have to."

"I'd be faster at finding out who was missing," Don told her.  She nodded and bounced out with her pigtails bouncing behind her.  "Do they not ever wear clothes?" Don asked.

Mac shook his head.  "Not around the lab.  They all wear tiny shorts and tight t-shirts."  Stella leaned in.  "Not yet."  She nodded, closing the door before walking away.  "Danny, Sheldon, Don, I want you to be *very* careful.  Am I clear?"

"I can camp on his couch tonight," Don promised, nodding his head at Danny.

"If that makes you feel better, go for it," Mac agreed.  "Sheldon, I'm sitting an officer on your house."

"I'll be here all night, Mac."  He walked out with his new sample, going to feed it and watch what it did.  It was fascinating and it was going to drive him insane trying to figure out what it would do with a body.  He watched as it fed off the battery, moving the pathways so it could get the energy.  Stella came in to look over his shoulder.  "It's something they found down in Miami," he said quietly, looking at her.  "Something to do with this problem."

"Which is?"

"Go ask Mac, Stella.  They could use you too."  She nodded, going to do that.  Sheldon decided to take his new sample home with him.  They couldn't let Lindsay in on it since she wasn't cleared to work on the DragonTech stuff.


Greg got called to reception, finding Storm there.  "You're in an odd place," he said dryly, giving her a hug.

"And you're in more danger than normal."

"Aw, crap."

"They chipped Stetler in Miami."  He growled.  "I need to brief others."  He nodded, going to grab her a visitor's badge and walk her back to the conference room.  "Do you have security, Greg?"

"Beyond the life chip, the word sensor, and those things?" he asked once they were in there.

"Yeah.  Beyond those."

"I can."  He paged Grissom and Brass to come back to the office, and then Catherine.  She had to hear.  "Just me?"

"Someone named Hodges?"  He paged him too, getting an odd look from up the hallway.  He waved and he came in.  "David Hodges?"  He nodded, smirking slightly.  "Your life's in danger.  I'm here to tell you why."

"Too much red meat?  Or sex?" he suggested dryly.

"The same assholes who want me," Greg told him.  He looked at her.  "How did they find out about him?"

"They knew about him when he worked in LA.  They've been tracking him since college," she said with a small shrug.  "It's easier to have him here.  That's why they bribed your people to take him on when he applied.   It gave him the nudge out of the tie with someone else."

"I thought Grissom...."

"What's going on?" Brass asked calmly.

Storm looked over at him.  "I'm from DragonTech.  We've got a massive situation with strange shit from a rogue government agency who's wanted Hodges since he was in college and Greg longer."

"Again?" he demanded.

She nodded.  "Yuppers.  Now they're recruiting the hard way."  He went pale.  "Get the others he paged?"

"They're on their way in.  I was in my office."

Greg looked over at him.  "It's going to be a few.  Want me to make coffee?"

"Yeah.  Do that.  Why Hodges?  I know I got ordered to hire him from above.  They liked him over the guy I had him tied with."

"You were?" Hodges asked.

Brass nodded, sitting down.  "You and the Chris guy from Arizona and New Mexico State were tied in my book.  I got the nudge from the higher ups that they liked you more when they met you.  It broke the tie."   Grissom walked in.  "Again."

"Why?  And why Hodges?"

"Since college," Storm said, smiling at him.  "I'm Storm, Amanda Disher sent me since I'm her younger sister."

"How big is your family?" Hodges demanded.

She smirked. "You'd be amazed," she teased.  Catherine walked in.  "Close it if that's the last of us."  Greg nodded so she closed it.  She handed another copy of the paper to Brass.  "From Stephni.  She was dealing with it when it hit Miami.  They're looking for some very good techs and CSI.  To do that they've been tracking some of you since college.  They needed certain traits, including being smart enough to know when to take orders but strong enough to be free thinkers.  They are military and the government after all.  They can't handle the super smart or the super asslickers that they would normally get applying for whatever project this is going toward.  We're still working on that part."  She took a cup of coffee with a smile for Greg.  "Thank you, snuggly."  She sipped and moaned.  "Ooh, nearly as good as Ryan's coffee potion.  Only more subtly flavored." She took another drink.  "In their quest to do this they've fallen back on a hardline recruitment process.  That's usually means to discredit and snatch, then snatch leverage to make them follow orders until they see that they're the greatest thing since cracker shaped cheese."  She took another drink.  "They've had an ongoing chipping program for people that they feel are needed for certain serious, critical projects.  That way they control them.  Usually they're sent out as assassins with an exploding chip in them.  Or two in the recent case of the Internal Affairs guy that got returned to Miami with orders to kill and make Horatio look guilty so they could snatch him and most of his team."

"But why Hodges?" Catherine asked.

"He's very bright, he has the right sort of mindset they wanted, and he's good in the right areas.  Plus he doesn't have many social ties.  Almost no one would miss him if he disappeared.  They were going to discredit him so the department would willingly send him away and not support him when they came for him."  Hodges sat down hard, staring at her in horror.  She nodded.  "We know who the guy out here is and there's a specialist in Miami who's removed one of the chips from Stetler's spine.  The other one they're working on."  She nodded at the paper.  "That's got his name and the web address of what we've pulled so far."  She looked at Hodges again.  "They want you badly, my dear."  He slumped, shaking his head.  "Badly enough to steal someone, torture them, implant an expensive ass microchip with a fairly high rate of killing the person it's put in within a month of insertion, and then send them home to get you over time.  You were a long term goal of theirs.  Fortunately one of the people helping with the chip in Miami is a hacker and she broke their code.  It allowed her to hack their system and find this.  They were supposed to start when a code was given.  It was going to be within a year.  They're finalizing the details of the new project they wanted you two, the guys from Miami, and a few from New York, plus another scattered few around the country and Interpol.  We're still working on the why."

"Fuck," Greg said simply.  He gulped some of his coffee.  "They want me for the usual things?"  She nodded.  "Usual ways?"

"They got you with a chip once to see if they could control their genius population, Greg.  Do you remember any of that?"

"Unfortunately.  I'm thankful they got mine out without damage."

"They had planned on getting you when you were burned to do it again but they decided your friends were too paranoid and guilty to leave you alone long enough for a so-called emergency surgery."

He smiled at Grissom.  "Thank you."

"Welcome," he said, looking at Catherine.   She was still pale so he helped her into a seat.  "What can we do?"

"Find the guy, send him to the specialist in Miami so his can be taken out.  Horatio found that one guy's with a handheld x-ray they have in the morgue.  You should be able to at least do his here to prove it to him."

"I'll have him pulled in," Brass said.

"There's a code phrase," she warned him.  "He's under orders to say it and it'll explode the chips to kill him.  They're smarter than they used to be.  They used to use common phrases like 'nice garden, Joan' on one poor guy.  He barely made it home after he was found and healed from the torture before his went off."

"Will his come out under hypnosis?" Greg asked.  She nodded.  "Is Diego working on this?"

"Of course.  Like you, Stetler spent his last few minutes before the surgery talking to him and he's debriefed him since then.  With him they did use the dual chip design and it took them four months, Greggy."  She stood up.  "I'll be keeping you guys informed and we've got people on our side.  The family's docs said to use the guy in Miami.  He's top notch, he's managed to keep Stetler alive through the first one.  The guy who removed yours did it by sheer dumb luck to quote my favorite Harry Potter teacher," she finished with a hug for him and a bright smile.  She grinned at David.  "This means someone has wanted you for a very long time, Mr. Hodges.  It's a high ego stroke to have someone spend millions of dollars to get little old you."

"They still tortured someone," he said grimly.

She tipped his chin up.  "Yes but that's because they're evil shits who need their flying broomsticks shoved sideways before being put on a forward and reverse winch system for the fucking part."  He cracked a smile at that.  "Really.  All the heavy, industrial shoves that can keep going as long as someone adds gas to the engine?"  He smirked at that.  "Good boy."   She kissed him on the head, then looked at Brass.  "Find him, help the poor bastard.  We have no idea when they chipped him.  He was originally chipped for another project they think."  She shrugged. "That's all we have so far but again, I'll pop back around to let you know when we know."

"Thank you," Catherine said.  "Aren't you ...cold?"

She beamed then shook her head. "Nope.  We're all like this.  You should see my goth sister.  She's one of the scary ones."  She strolled out, spanking Nick on her way past him.  "Sorry, couldn't help it, it looked so sweet," she teased, smirking back at him before handing back her pass and heading outside to disappear once she got back to their local lab.

"Who was the mouthy, pigtailed, semi-naked little girl and why does she remind me of Greg?" Nick asked, rubbing his sore butt cheek.

"She's from DragonTech.  They're all like that in the labs," Greg said with a fond smile.  "She's one of the ones I play clothing-eating foam tag with."  He got more coffee, handing a refill to Hodges too.  "Here, you look like you need it."

"Someone spent millions of dollars, tortured someone, and possibly killed others, trying to get me," Hodges said.  "When I was back in college."

"Yup," Greg agreed.  "They're assholes that way."  He looked at Grissom then at Brass.  "Can we find the poor guy?  I know how terrible this thing is."

"What were they going to make you do?" Grissom asked.

"Just general control so I'd be under their thumb," he said with a small shrug.  "It was a trial to see if they could harness their geniuses to work on just their projects or in their ways of thinking.  I was never in it for the glory or the cash.  Though money would be nice."  He walked out, finishing his coffee on the way.

"Should we worry?" Nick asked.

"Not once we remove the threat the people after him and Hodges created," Brass said, looking at the paper.  "I know him.  Cat, here's their web address."  He let her copy it down and head to go look.  "Hodges, for obvious reasons, order lunch in."  He got up, going to get the poor guy from patrol.

"Gee, I feel so protected with that order," Hodges said grimly.

"You and Greg are both staying in the building tonight," Grissom told him.  "If we haven't gotten the guy before then, you're going to a safe house tomorrow, David.  Both of you."  He left, going to read over Catherine's shoulder.

Nick looked at him.  "You need me, you call," he ordered, getting a nod.  He left him alone in the break room.

Hodges looked up.  "When I wished I was wanted back then, this isn't what I meant," he told whatever God was up there.  "Thanks anyway for the offer.  Now can I have a supermodel instead?"  He got up and went back to work.  This was not a good day!


Diego walked Abby off the elevator at NCIS.  "I believe this is yours?" he asked, handing her over.

"She is.  Thank you for returning her safely to us."

"Mostly safe," Diego corrected.  Gibbs stared at him.  "She found her name on their hit list.  The same as she found your name on their hit list."

"Why would someone like them want me?" he snorted.

He shrugged.  "We haven't gotten that far yet.   Why do they want about ten other CSI, five inspectors, and a detective as well?  It is something we should talk about with a higher being."

"My director isn't that hip on this problem," he said grimly.  Diego put down a file, getting a shudder.  "You found exploding microchips?"

"Two in Stetler's body.  Abby cracked their language with some help and was able to hack them," he said quietly.  "There's others and we have alerted the labs and those we could."  He stared at him.  "You are still on their hit list.  Listed as Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and family, to be destroyed," he finished.

He just nodded.  "Is Abby safe?"

"Now.  She logged in under my ID in the system.  They'll think it was me unless they have extra moles in Miami,"

"Boss?" DiNozzo said quietly.  "She might not like them either."

"Maybe.  It'll still get her involved."

"And?" he snorted.  "Better that than having her unprepared when they start to shoot at you for being in their way."

"Why me specifically?" Gibbs asked.  Diego pulled out a file and opened it, letting him read the name on the profile.  He went pale.  "When?"

"That is one of the nice people who started their company, Jethro," he said quietly.  "You're in their way, a small bump on the road to their power."

"Let's go see the director."  He looked at his coffee cup.  "Damn it," he muttered.

Tony hopped up, smiling and taking his cup.  "Let me, boss.  I wanted to show you something I brought back from Miami."  He took the cup and something from his desk into the break room, coming back with a damp cup.  "Condensation.  Taste it before you say a word, boss."

He sipped then stared at the cup, then at his senior agent.  "What's that?"

"That is Ryan Wolfe's coffee potion," Tony said smugly, putting down the vial.  "One dropper is like six at home cups.  So three of your usual Grande sized ones.  It's got a bit of vitamins in it.  It's totally healthy and even your doc can't complain because you can mix it into any fluid."

Gibbs looked at the vial.  "One dropper is three cups?"  Tony nodded.  "We'll see.  You brought home a tester vial?"

"Yup.  I figured we could use it on the road or something.  For those cases when we end up so far out in the middle of nowhere there's no coffee."  He went back to his desk.  "I can get more.  He's nice about selling it cheaply.  It's in the processing phase before it goes on the market.  They're trying to figure out a name and all that stuff."

Gibbs took another sip.  "Not bad.  He went for girly coffee but not bad."  He walked upstairs, nodding Diego to follow him, carrying the original folder with him, Abby bouncing behind them.  He looked at her.  "You're attending?"

"Hell yes.  It's my life too."

"Good point."  He got them into the director's office.  "She in?" he asked as he headed to her office.

"No, she's in MTAC, Agent Gibbs."

"Get her in," he ordered.  "It's important.  If she bitches tell her I'm on a hit list."

She blanched but called her.  "Ma'am, Agent Gibbs' life is in danger.  He's on a hit list.  There's someone with him and Abby Scuito, ma'am."  She nodded, hanging up.  "She'll be right here, Agent Gibbs.  Coffee?"

"No, DiNozzo found something."  The director breezed in and paused, then opened her office door to let them inside.  He took a drink and it calmed him.  Yeah, this was like a good morning's worth of coffee.  "Director, my name has been found on a very serious hit list."

"I was wondering why we had someone from White Knight here," she said, shutting her door.  She looked at Diego.  "I remember seeing you at a security conference a few years back."

"Unfortunately I'm here on business yet again," he said smoothly, shaking her hand and walking her over.  "I was called to help some of the family in Miami over a threat.  During that time they had an officer stolen from Internal Affairs."  She groaned.  "Paladin turned him into a chipped assassin," he said, staring down at her.

"Is he living?"

He nodded.  "We've found someone who took out the primary chip.  They're looking at the secondary to see if they can take it out or neutralize it.  That is what we borrowed your brilliant young Miss Scuito for.  To help with the chip situation.  In helping us she broke their language and managed to hack into their server."

"Good!" she said, smiling at Abby.  "Good work.  I want copies."  Abby handed her a DVD.  "Why would they want Jethro?"

"For some reason they've been trying to steal a few different CSI in a few different labs.  Not only Miami's, but New York, Las Vegas, one in Texas, one in Regina, Canada.  A few on the west coast."  She whimpered.  "They've been tracking some of them since college.  Where we've found other assassins and/or those with control chips to kidnap their targets, we've let them know.  Jethro's name was on their list as him and all his family, to be removed."

"Damn it," she said, looking at him.  "What do we do?  Not even the CIA like to deal with Paladin when they go over the deep end."

Gibbs grimaced, taking another sip.  "There's one person there who knows me.  One of their founding members knows me from way back.  He thinks it's her."

"I'm pretty sure it's her doing," Diego corrected.  "The others would be more likely to bring you in as one of the assassins, Gibbs.  You have the right mindset and while it would take forever to break you, once you were they wouldn't worry about you.  At one point they even chipped one of our pet geniuses because they wanted to see how control like that could inhibit their genius.  I was with him when his chip was removed and thankfully he survived.  The guy in Miami is much smoother with it and is doing it a lot easier than we did Greg's back in the old days."  He looked at her again.  "Due to this, we have to warn him.  Abby should be all right.  I had her logged in under my ID so they think she was me and she was down on a case consult for Horatio.  When asked that's what we had her tell everyone.  Even the people who know."  That got a smile.

"They were very nice to me and I wanted to pack up their labs," Abby told her.  "We could use a *serious* upgrade to get up to their levels, Director."

"We'll see how the budget lays out," she ordered.  She looked at Diego.  "So they're going to come gunning for Jethro?  How old is this list?"

"It's the same one they're working on gathering CSI from now, Director.  It was started years ago.  They've been thinking in long-term plans again."

"Crap," she muttered, looking at her coffee cup.  Jethro offered her his.  She looked at it then at him. "Water?  You?"

Diego smiled.  "Taste it.  It's something one of our pet geniuses came up with recently."  She tasted then looked at the cup in shock.  "It's good, right?  Ryan always likes to hear from taste testers."

"Can it be packed for out of town travels?"

"Yeah, it's in a small liquid vial.  One dropper equals six normal, at home, coffee cups," Abby said happily.  "I had some for breakfast.  It's very good."

"It is."   She took another drink.  "I know people who would bow down at this if we could put it in MRE kits."  Jethro shuddered at that.  "Sorry."

"Right now it's in a liquid form.  Turning it into a powder made it stronger again," Diego told her.

"Define stronger."

"A packet with the same amount of  volume as Tony DiNozzo put in that cup would make an oil drum of coffee," Diego told her.  "Like I said, it's in liquid form.  He hasn't broken it further down than the six cups a dropper he has at the moment, Director."

She took another gulp.  "I want to see if we can get some for our out-of-town cases and field kits," she decided, handing it back to Jethro.  "Tell DiNozzo good work finding that, Jethro."  She looked at Diego again.  "What do you want us to do?"  She looked at Jethro then back at him.  "For the record I do know about the *other* group he belongs to," she said.

"One of them started them and we do believe that's one of the reasons he's to be shot," Diego said.  Jethro moaned.  "Take another drink, Jethro.  If she knew, she knew."

"Another ex-wife?" the director asked Gibbs, smirking a bit.

"No.  Nestmate who wants a higher station.  We'll have to watch out for that with some others, Diego."

He got a wicked smirk back.  "Stephni or Tiff would only build him prettier weapons, Jethro.  He has a full dance card if he wants it.  They both think he's cute, charming, handsome, and all that."  He snapped his fingers, giving him a smug look.  "Plus a really great flier."

"I'll tell him they said that," he said dryly.

"Tiff is planning her next big enticement since he liked the assault bike so much."  He looked at her again, smirking a bit.  "We at DragonTech and White Knight feel that these people are dangerous, Director.  Not only are they dangerous to us, they're dangerous to the normal people since they sell weapons to anyone with money.  Even if the are the government's corporate arm that can't be good for the security of our people."

"True," she agreed, smirking at him.  "That is one way to go at them."  She took Jethro's cup back.  "Is this addictive?"

"No, but it does have some vitamins in it and your body probably needed the water anyway."

"Hmm.  Probably."  She took another few gulps then handed it back.  "Tell whoever made that I want to buy some of that for field testing?"

He typed that into his PDA, getting a 'sure' back.  "We'll put you in touch with Doctor Wolfe."  He smiled at her.  "He's one of the threatened ones in Miami's lab.  We trained him with the Teacher system, Director.  He's one of our test bunnies.  He's a bit strange at the moment but he's a very nice young man."

"Good.  Then he won't soak us on the price."  She took it back and finished it.  "Tell DiNozzo I need to take some with me to let others taste it later, Jethro."

"You can call him yourself, Director.  I'm not your secretary."

"Cynthia, tell DiNozzo to have some of this solution ready for me to take to the Pentagon to a meeting tonight!" she bellowed.

"Yes, director," floated through the doorway.

She smiled at him.  "I do feel much better.  Thank you, Jethro."  She smiled at Diego.  "I'll bring this up to them later as well.  I cannot and will not have the onus of stopping them be on my shoulders.  I'd hate to get wrinkled when I ground my heels into their throats."  He nodded at that, smiling a bit.  "I want all you have on their illegal sales, especially to hostile countries."

"I'll have it sent over," he assured her.

"Thank you.  Now shoo.  Abby's probably got a backlog."  She looked at her.  "Even though I do not like hacking, good work."

"Thank you, Director."  She bounced out, smiling at Tony.  "She took Gibbs' coffee from him and drank it on him."

"Oooh."  He handed Gibbs a new cup.  "Yours, boss."  Jethro grunted, walking off drinking.  He smiled at Diego.  "What do your wily sisters have planned to draw me back to Miami?"

"I'm not sure yet," he admitted.  "They were brainstorming to ease the tension while we wanted on word of the new chipped assassin's status.  He'll pull through."

"I know one of those who never got it removed," he said quietly.

"There's a neurologist and neurosurgeon in Miami who has a much better touch than they had in the old days," he said, digging out his card.  "Have him call him."

"I will.  Thank you."  Diego patted him on the arm as he walked past him.  Tony walked into the office, putting down the little vial.  "One dropper makes six at home size cups, Director.  I brought some back from Miami for Gibbs to try on an out-of-town case."

"That's what I want it for, that and MRE kits."

Tony shuddered.  "I  hate those things.  Anyway, remember that rule.  Some people can't take six cups of coffee in their system, especially later at night."  She nodded.  "He has a whole drum of the stuff and he told me I could get it relatively cheaply since I'm doing good work and Gibbs scowled at him last time when he needed coffee."  He walked out, going back to work.  "Boss, everything okay?"

"We hope," he admitted.  "I somehow ended up on Paladin's crap list."

"I hate them," Tony said fondly, smirking a bit.  "Just the very name makes me want to crap myself.  We'll make sure you're okay, boss, even if we do have to sit surveillance on the house."  He got back to work.  He did send an email to the one guy he knew titled 'chips' with the name and address of the surgeon.  He deserved to get it out of him.   Someone stomped in and he waved as they walked past their row.  "Look, boss, it's a Feeb."

"She's probably still swearing, Fornell," he called, watching him stomp up the stairs.  He shook his head.  "You do realize you're on that list if I am?" he said quietly.

Tony looked over and smirked.  "Yeah but I can get something from my ladies to destroy them.  A warrior's art is the skills of his weapons," he quoted, getting a nod from Gibbs.  "Can I, please, boss?" he asked happily.

"We'll see.  If so, we can invite the ladies up to help."

"Oooh, that would be pretty."  He got back to work, getting an email back.  He expanded on his former message for him and got back a simple 'thank you'.  He smiled and got back to his boss's current paperwork, sending it to him when he was done.  "There, boss, weekly manpower reports are done."

"Good."  He glanced over them then sent them on.  Better DiNozzo being driven insane than him.


Horatio looked down at Rick when he woke up, waving.  "You're alive."

"I thought it was hell," he said tiredly.  "Are you sure it's not?  You're here."

"Yelina's out getting dinner."   He sat down, looking at him.  "They have the second chip out.  They were able to remove the explosive part first."  He saw Rick try to move his feet. One did, one didn't.  "There's some swelling.  They said you should be normal once it's gone down," he said gently.

"How bad?"

"The reflex test said that you don't have feeling from your left knee down," he told him.  "They've gotten the swelling to go down some and your knee got feeling when it did.  He sounded optimistic on the second surgery.  It was embedded directly into your spine, Rick.  It was hard-wired into the nerve cord."  Rick shuddered.  "That's where the explosives were and the suicide command.  It is out and you're clear of metal and other bits."

"So, rehab?"   Horatio nodded, looking grim.  "Anything else I should know?"

He looked at him.  "You were right, they did have Ray."


"He's somewhere in South America.  We're working on the annulment.  He's not coming back, he's not allowed.  If he comes back to the states the information on his second chip explodes in Customs."

"I almost feel sorry for the man."  He gave Yelina a weak smile when she came in.  "I need an angel.  With him here I thought I woke up in hell."

She swatted him on the shoulder but gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead.  "Even if you are an ex, I wouldn't let you do this on your own, Rick.  Perhaps this will change you for real this time."  She smoothed over his hair.  "How is your left foot?"

"I can't move it," he admitted.

"They said that could be helped," she promised, smiling at him.  Horatio got up, letting her have the chair.  "Are you sure?"

"I was giving him a situation update.  It's fine."  He looked at the officer in the bed.  "The Chief'll be in later, Rick.  He's in a very growly mood at the moment.  So sulk and growl back.  Maybe it'll help him."  He slid on his sunglasses.  "I am going to go back to the lab and make my people go home.  You rest."  He walked out, heading down to the hummer.

Rick looked at her.  "Was Ray that big of a drama queen?"

She sighed and nodded.  "They get it from their father, who was an asshole.  Everything was always about him."  She squeezed his hand.  "Let me get the nurse in to fuss for a bit and then we'll get you dinner?"

"Most likely I'll be drinking it," he complained.

"Yes but you have to go through that step so I can make you real food, Rick."  He smiled and nodded so she summoned the nurse.  "He's awake and lucid this time."

"Welcome back, Sergeant.   Let me check you over.  Can you feel your left foot?"

"I can't move it," he told her, moving his right and trying to move his left to show her.

"Hmm.  Well, the neurosurgeon who was brilliant on your behalf will be in tomorrow morning.  I'm sure he's going to order some scans for you.  For now,  let's check your vitals and we'll get you some juice."  She checked his vitals, fussed his pillows into place, then his blanket into a better placement.  "There you go.  Apple all right or would you prefer water?"

"Apple juice would be nice," he said.

She smiled.  "I'll get you some."  She went to tell the others he was up and to get him some juice handing it to Yelina.  "His arms are probably sore from the IVs."

She nodded.  "I remember when I had two during delivery."  She held it for him, letting him sip.  "Slowly."  He  gulped it all down and the nurse took it back to refill for him, bringing it back.  "Thank you."

She nodded.  "It's not a problem.  I've let his doctor know he's woken up."  She left, going to make notes about having two glasses of juice.  It was a good start to a long recovery.  She smiled at the commissioner when he came in.  "As far as I know he's awake, sir."

"Thank you."  He walked in, looking at Stetler.  "You all right?"

"Horatio told me the second chip came out well.  So far I've only shown some swelling and possible damage to my left foot, sir."  He smiled at Yelina and she left.  His boss closed the door.  "Why did they pick me?"

"Who knows better how to make Caine pay for  something?" he said bluntly.  "I was given a report on what they wanted you to do, son."  He handed it over.  "For your information."

He read it over, grimacing.  "I wouldn't think myself capable of those things, sir."  He handed it back.  "Then again, that was the purpose of the chips?"  That got a nod.  "Do I need to fill out leave forms?"

"We filled them out for you.  You'll be on medical leave for a while, son."  He stared at him.  "As long as your foot heals  you can come back."

Rick nodded.  "I know."

"Good.  Now, what's with that other lab?"

Rick shrugged.  "I don't know, sir.  I know that the people who had me are very bitter toward them for coming up with things they can't.  The people who had me are the corporate arm of the military."

"Interesting.  All right.  I'm going to remove these people's things from everywhere in the department."

"I do hope you're talking about Paladin instead of DragonTech's stuff, sir?" he asked, getting an odd look.  "If it weren't for them I'd still be a walking bomb.  They're the people who knew how to safely remove the chips.  Their people get taken all the time by Paladin Resources, sir.  If it wasn't for them I'd be in very bad shape and probably being made to follow those orders."

"Point.  Fine, I won't make the DragonTech kids take their stuff.  Horatio would scowl at me anyway.  I hate when he gives  me that 'are you stupid' look over the top edge of his sunglasses.  Fairly rude of him too."

Rick nodded.  "Then again, Horatio Caine is a law unto himself now and then.  Even if he can't get Wolfe to act like a normal being."

"I've heard about his evil genius plans and pet."

"It's a bunny rabbit, sir."

"I heard," he said dryly, giving him a look.  "I also got a copy of the book when I asked how evil a rabbit could be.  Someone has a very warped mind."  He handed over the book.  "Here, it was a good read.  Maybe you can twit Wolfe on something.  I'll be talking with your doctor tomorrow about how long you'll be off."

"That's fine.  I'd like to know that too," he agreed, looking at the book.  He shook his head, putting it on his lap.  "Only those two."

"There's another in our lab?"

"The lab in Las Vegas," Rick told him.  "Sanders, formerly DNA, now in the field.  His evil pet is a helper chimp.  He came down for a trial of something and brought her.  She's even trained in lab protocol."

The Commissioner walked out shaking his head.  Caine had a very strange world floating around him.  He didn't want to know.

Rick opened the book, reading the premise.  It wasn't as dry as some history books he had seen.  It was even a bit cute in spots.  Not that he'd ever admit it.  Yelina came back and took the book to read to him for a while, making him smile.  She still loved him.  Maybe they'd get back together.   No matter what her brother-in-law said and wanted.

The End.