Charlie looked at the math on the chalkboard in his attic late one night, then at his big brother.  "There's something going on in the lab that no one knows."

Don looked over at him.  "Of course there is.  They're very secretive."

"No, I mean beyond that.  Beyond the fact that they're at least twenty years beyond all of our current technology.  Beyond the fact that some of their stuff reminds Larry of Star Trek.  Beyond the fact that their schools are grooming women to run the world behind their husband's back, which is kinda nice in many ways, there's a bigger secret than all that, Don."

"Charlie, friends don't do math on their friends."

He gave him a look and went back to his calculations.  "It's not like that."  He frowned at one part.  "There's no way this is a normal secret."

"Then maybe you should let this one mystery alone," Don offered patiently.

"No, it'll drive me nuts tonight if I do."  His chalk paused.  "The only way this would work out is if the secret is something that no normal person would believe."

"Maybe they can do magic, like the Wiccans say they can," Don said tiredly.  He stood up and walked off shaking his head.  "Tell me if you figure it out."

"Okay," he said absently, going back to work on his formula.


Don woke up when something pounced his chest, looking up at his brother, who was looking very confused.  "Let me guess, they're Communists?"

"Mythical creatures.  Unicorns or dragons most likely."

Don blinked at him.  "You need sleep, Charlie."  He got free of the heavy lump of brother and flipped onto his side.  "Go to bed."

"I can't.  The math is right.  I went over it four times, Don."  He shifted to face him, giving him a pouty look.  "Tell me I'm dumb?"

"You've never been dumb."  He reached over to pat him on the arm.  "You're stressing over a hypothesis."

Charlie shook his head.  "It's not, Don.  It explains so much, including how they're twenty years ahead of us in technology.  Who else has laser weapons?"

"Point," Don said through a yawn.  "We can worry about it tomorrow, Charlie."

"Yes, Don."  He went to his room to lay down and stare at the ceiling.  Once it was light out he got up and snuck back to his attic workspace with the phone.  "Amanda?" he asked quietly.  "If I ask you a really strange and possibly bad question would you answer me honestly?  Even if you do have to mind wipe me later on?"  He listened to her sleepy voice assure him she couldn't mind wipe him.  "Even if I figured out that you're keeping something really huge secret and I can't tell if you're all unicorns or dragons?"  She went quiet.  "I don't care," he said quickly.  "I really don't.  It's kinda neat and special.  I won't tell anyone either."  He sat down, staring at his equation.  "Because you guys are so far ahead.  You're all very overprotective.  Your family's huge, beyond what normal humans can do, and I've heard some temporal references to times well before where you were born," he admitted quietly.

"I told Don but that's Don and he didn't believe me."  He listened to her instructions.  "I can do that but I still have class.  Unless you're going to mind wipe me after all?" he asked, smiling just a bit.  "Can I see before you do?"  He grinned.  "That's fine.  I understand. I'm definitely not going to say anything, Amanda.  I'm not like that.  Even if people other than Don listened to me I still wouldn't tell.  I did it to figure out the stuff that didn't make sense to me.  I will.  Thank you, Amanda.  I'm sorry if I disappointed you."  He grinned at her assurance she wasn't upset or disappointed.  "Can I see anyway?"  He grinned. "Sure, I'll bring Don.  See you in a few hours."  He hung up and went to pounce Don again.  "We've got to go out to the lab."

"Did you tell her what you were thinking?" Don asked, blinking at his little brother.  He got a nod.  "Did she laugh?"

"No but she did say I could see her scales."  He grinned.  "We're due out around eight.  That way they can have a panicked family conference."

Don blinked at him a few more times, then pushed him off the bed.  "I'm going back to sleep now."

"She wanted you out there too, Don."

"Uh-huh.  When I wake up."

Charlie huffed and pulled his blanket off him.  "We have to go out there, Don."

"Call me off and give me another hour," he complained.  "I'll help them give you your new drugs, Charlie.  Go shower too.  You clearly haven't yet."

Charlie walked off shaking his head.  A shower and a change of clothes later and he was back waking Don up again.


Amanda rolled out of bed and headed for her office, hitting the button for an emergency conference with the *entire* family.  Nick, her oldest brother, called first.  "Don't growl at me!  My math geek god figured out that we're scaley."

"Oh, shit," he said succinctly.  "Let me get frat and party boy up.  Boys!" he bellowed.  "Conference, get your tails in here!"

The others started to call in but her mother got them all quieted.  "What's going on, Amanda?" her mother asked calmly.

"Charlie Epps figured it out.  He said he'd heard some temporal clues that I'm older than I seem.  The technology being so far advanced.  A few other things made him figure it out."

"Well, that's certainly an emergency," Tiff said with a yawn.  "Who did he tell?"

"Don.  His big brother and the one we've got liaising."  She got comfortable.  "He did ask to see my other form before I mind wiped him," she offered.  "I told him we couldn't do that yet."

"Are we worried he'll tell someone else?" her mother asked.

"No, he said no one listens to him.  I don't think Don believes him yet.  What I'm worried about is how many other geniuses we have in the Teacher program who'll start to wonder.  I know I've made some slips.  I know we've all made some slips."

"Me especially," Nick agreed. "I'll be retiring in a few years really."

"Were these the ones who you said would make great bonded if they were younger?" Muffin asked from the doorway.  She nodded.  "Well, being practical, others do know," she pointed out, coming into the office.

"She's right," their mother agreed.  "Former spouses.  Former bonded.  We do have others who know but we also know they won't tell anyone."

"Crap," Tiff said, and her line went dead.  She came back a few minutes later. "Sorry, Ryan Wolfe was on my couch and wandered in.  He's in the shower.  Do we trust them, Amanda?  Truly trust them?"

"I do.  Charlie's so sweet. He might even figure out the stupid portal problem we've got wandering around in White Knight.  He and Larry probably can."  She frowned.  "I told Charlie we were going to have a family conference then I'd talk to him about eight."

"That's reasonable and I'll leave this up to you," her mother offered.  "As long as they are totally trustworthy."

"Don's one of the few agents I do trust in the FBI.  He's honest, he's uptight, he's got brains and he's sweet.  Hell, if I wasn't still missing my bonded, I'd take him in a heartbeat."  Muffin laughed.

"Don't laugh, daughter.  How do you think you came to be?" Tiff said dryly.  "Speaking of, aren't you flying down here today?"

"Yes, mom," she sighed.  "Am I living in the lab?"

"No, I signed a lease yesterday.  You've got your own room, Muffin."  She coughed.  "Not yet, Ryan.  Family conference."

"Is this about why you need lotion on your ears and the back of your neck?" he asked faintly.

"Yup.  I've got some, I've been ignoring it.  Thank you, Ryan."

"Welcome.  By the way, Speed saw them."  The faint sound of a door closing. Then opening.  "Oh, we've got questions but we'll be nice and buy you lunch," he said happily but very faintly.  Then the door slammed again.

Tiff moaned.  "Damn it."

Their mother let out a 'I've got a headache' sigh.  "Do we trust them?"

"Oh, Gods, Mommy, if I had my way I'd have a few different pets.  You'd love Speed.  He's such a surly science geek.  You'd love the boys here."

Her mother let out another sigh.  "Only those who find out and are totally trustworthy," she ordered.

"Of course," the rest agreed.

"Tiff, I'm coming down," Nick promised.

"We've got it," she assured him.

"Maybe, but I want to check these guys out myself.   Before you say a word, I'll leave the sword at home."  He hung up.

"Damn it," she muttered.  "I'm sorry!  I had no idea where they saw them.  I've had a stable form now for years."

"You get some scales on your ear tips and the back of your neck during your estrus cycle, Mom," Muffin offered.  "I've seen them myself.  You also change colors slightly."

"Thanks for letting me know, dear.  See you tonight.  Maybe I'll let Ryan pick you up so you can answer all his questions."

"That's mean, Mom.  I might get a crush," she taunted, walking off.  "Aunt, it's nearly seven.  You should book if you're getting to the lab at eight."

"I should.  Mom?"

"Go for it, dear.  We could use those who protect us."

"Thanks, Mom.  Sorry."  She hung up and went to shower, dress, and drive to the office.  She found Charlie already there and Don yawning behind his hand while he stretched.  "Long night?"

"Charlie pounced me twice," he admitted, looking at her.  He looked her up and down then into her eyes.  "Take him into the office and calm him down before he starts to pace again."

"Both of you, guys."  She opened her office and looked at the woman in there.  "Hi, Valerian.  These are Charlie and Don Epps.  Don's our liaison so the feebs leave me alone and Charlie's a math genius."

"Hi," Charlie said, grinning at her. "I'm sorry I caused a panic.  I didn't mean to."

"I know you didn't," Amanda promised.

Valerian looked at him then sighed.  "No one dislikes you, do they?"

Don nodded.  "Right now I'm not too thrilled with him.  He woke me up twice."

She looked at him, then stepped closer and stared into his eyes.  "Better you than some idiot fed we'd have to eat."

He raised an eyebrow.  "I'm not that tasty."

"Depends on who you ask, little boy," she said with a wicked smirk.  "Not my sort.  I like big, muscled, and a bit cranky."

"I know a few of those.  Want introduced?"

"No, I had one.  Fortunately our order allows us nuns to have liaisons for childbearing purposes."  She looked at her sister.  "Tiff?"

"Panicking but you'd love the Miami lab.  Actually I think you have met Horatio Caine."  She whimpered.  "He's the head of the lab over Speed, Eric, Ryan, Calleigh, and a few others."

"I remember Horatio the last time we ran into him.  You like him?"

"He's protected our stuff and us.  He walked into the FBI building to rescue Tiff with Ryan Wolfe.  Who is one of the two who found out.  He was apparently on Tiff's couch or something."

"Probably 'or something' celebrating her ex going missing," Valerian said dryly.  She looked at the boys.  Then she nodded.  "They'll do.  If they were younger we'd put them in for being bonded ones."

"Bonded?" Charlie asked, sitting down to look at the ladies.

"Those of us who're born fully one of us, not like Muffin is but like I am, have to grow up and it's a strange thing.  We often pick someone we can go to for explanations and to be with us.  We call them our bonded but they're mostly best friends and tutors.  Some end up married to their bonded, some don't, but it's generally a very close relationship."

"Was Tiff's husband one?" Don asked.

"No, she dated someone for being pretty again," she said bluntly.  "That happens now and then in the family when we date for prettiness."

Don smirked at her.  "Thankfully you don't have to worry about that."

She snorted.  "No, baby, there's women and men in the family that make models cry with longing at their beauty.  Half of the angel pictures through the ages have been us."  Charlie smiled at that.  "What?"

"How old are you?"

"I was born in 1820.  One of four eggs in my clutch."

"So you do come from eggs?"

"Those who're purebred.  Muffin came from her mother's stomach like you did, dear."  She sat down and Valerian walked off giggling.  "She did!  She said so!"

"Miffy needs a mouth leash."  She closed the office door behind her.

"True," she admitted dryly, nodding a bit.  Don smirked at that.  "Okay, I know you have questions.  I can give you what I can but I will make this very clear.  Someone will hunt us down and kill us.  You'll go first if that happens."

Don nodded.  "That's more than reasonable."

Charlie nodded.  "I can agree to that.  Larry?"

"If he figures it out we'll deal with it."  Charlie nodded.  "Now, having said that, there are some problems that we have that you two could probably help with when and if he figures it out."

"Are we talking magic?"

She nodded.  "A few.  Valerian had been in England at White Knight earlier today."

"Okay," he said, blinking a few times while he thought then he looked at her.  "Are you native?"

"No.  Mom was sent here for her own safety during a takeover.  Mom's a princess."

"How many different families are here?" Don asked, frowning a bit.

"Ours is fairly large.  There's a few singles.  There's been a few nestmates who've come over temporarily and a very few consorts."

"The difference is?" Don asked.

"Consorts are like your marriage only there's no divorce.  Nestmates are for a single or two layings."

"Oh."  He nodded.  "That's understandable.  How many kids are in your family?"

"312.  Over the centuries we've had about sixty die in various wars, accidents, and a few from sickness."

"Wow," Charlie said, staring at her.  "So there's others in exile and ...  Does that count the ones like Muffin?"

"No.  They get a different set of heritage skills.  In about six months she'll end up inside a cocoon and she'll come out glowing and beautiful.  Then she'll go to one of our schools to make sure she's safe while she adjusts."

"Wow," Charlie said, smiling at her.  "Salette?   I, um, noticed she was very different."

"Is one of those," she agreed.  "Mom has played around with your sort too, though it did shock her when she found out that could happen.  We mostly liked her choices.  Some of her nestmates we couldn't stand.  Mom's got bad taste in flying partners.  Then again, to hide she had to take various husbands, live a life, then switch over.  Before you ask, any of the kids still underaged were deeded to the others in the family to finish raising if she had to disappear.  Usually the daughters went to the school and they were trained up to be their own strong women and lead the world under their husband's noses.  Most of the ones born that way don't have an expanded life expectancy.  Maybe they hit one-twenty or one- fifty but not like we do."  That got a nod from Don.  "It's been going for a while.  Mom came over in the fourteen hundreds at the age of seven.  La Mer was founded in 1623."

"Wow," Don said, staring at her.  "I'm ... blown away," he admitted.  She grinned at that.  "You guys have it covered."  He smacked Charlie on the shoulder.  "I told you friends don't do math on their friends."

She giggled at that.  "We knew someone would figure it out some year, Don.  We have former spouses, we have bonded who've been given up like a teddybear is when the child becomes a teenager.  We've got a few who have known.  They're usually well taken care of if they're bonded.  The former spouses are usually hated on sight and they know if they tell anyone we'll put them in for mental health evaluations for saying that they slept with an animal.  They also know it'll be a good reason for the divorce."

Charlie nodded.  "That would ruin any reputation they had."  He grinned. "Can we see?"

"In a few.  Any other questions?"

"Is there any math in the magic stuff?"

"A lot.  You can go after that subject later, Charlie.  For now I'm going to bribe you to teach a third class, dear."  He grinned and nodded.  "Thank you."  She smiled at Don.  "Do you have any?"

"No.  I can't tell.  I might look at you differently afterward so I don't want to see you in your other form."

"I understand, Don.  It's got to shake up your world a bit."  He nodded.  "I can also tell you that some of us do have other gifts, including a few who're light duty telepaths."  He stared at her and she smirked.  "It does come in handy for interviews and security clearances."

"I bet it does.  I'll remember that if I need one."  She nodded at that, leading them down to her lab.  Then through a door they thought had went to a supply closet but it lead down to a warm sand arena.  "Laying ground?" he guessed.

"Yup.  All three of my eggs were born here."  She looked at Don.  Then at Charlie.  "If you don't want to see, go outside.  You, turn around.  I'm not ruining this outfit."  Charlie blushed but turned around and Don left them alone.  She dropped her clothes and stepped away then changed.  "There we go."  Charlie turned and gasped, coming over to stroke a hand over her side.  "Itchy spot," she complained.  Her side wiggled.  He stroked harder over the area - scratching with his nails would only hurt his nails.  She sighed in pleasure.  "Want to go for a fly some day?"

"Maybe."  He went back to petting her.  "Are you comfortable like this?  Are you all about this size?"

"Some are.  A few are a bit smaller.  Too much smaller and there's something wrong with them.  One of them went after Mom.  He was a runt."  That got a nod and he went back to petting her.  "Charlie, I love you like a son, dear, but if you keep that up I'm going to have to pounce and you'd blush for real then."

He laughed and backed up, turning around so she could change back and get redressed. "Thank you, Amanda.  Think you could date my brother?"

"Sweetie, Don wouldn't stand up to me pouncing him for very long.  He'd have to start taking days off work then the bad guys would go free."  She turned around once her shirt was rebuttoned.  "Okay, I'm human and dressed."  He turned and looked at her, then gave her a hug and grinned.  "Thanks for not being freaked out."

"It's incredibly special," he assured her, leading her back to where Don was waiting.  "She's back."

"I can see.  You're untucked."  She tucked her shirt back in and let him walk her back to the office.  "We okay?"

"We're good," she assured him.  "As long as you don't tell anyone and you're not totally freaked out."

"I'm not.  I knew you were a bit different.  I thought it was because you were smarter than I am," he teased with a grin.  She grinned back and gave him a hug.  "Not like I wanted to date you, Amanda."

"Thanks, Don."

Charlie looked over. "You two would be cute together.  She's very protective and you'd finally get someone who wanted to thump someone for you, Don."

Don looked at him. "I like being the one who thumps others, thanks anyway, Charlie."  He shook his head and looked at her.  "Too much math, not enough sleep and food.  We've tried to fix that but you know how he is."

"I do.  I've got a few of them in the lab."  She gave Charlie a hug too.  "We'll see what we can work out about Larry and the other classes."

"Thank you."  He checked his watch. "I have a class in two hours."

"You go expand some minds," she promised.  "We're still good, Charlie."  He nodded and grabbed his bag, letting Don follow him.

"Thanks, Amanda.  I'll keep them off more."  He walked out, following his brother.  "You, no bouncing.  You scared Amita last time you bounced like that," he called. "She thought someone had drugged you."

"Don!" he complained.  He frowned at him.  "I'm happy, I'm allowed to be happy."

"You are but you're still scary when you're bouncy like that.  Even Dad used to hide from you now and then."  Charlie frowned at him.  "Ask him tonight.  Why do you think we couldn't ever get him up Christmas morning?"

"Whatever."  He slid into his seat in the car and let Don get in to drive.


Ryan looked up when he got pounced by Tiff.  "Not in the labs," he moaned.

She grinned at him.  "We've got to have a meeting tonight, pookie.  You, me, Speed."

"Horatio," he said quietly.

"Fine.  If he knows."

"I think he figured it out."  He grinned at her.  "Now, shoo.  I've got to help catch a person."

"Fine.  After shift," she ordered.  She strolled off, finding Speed.  He gave her a sideways look.  "We should talk after shift."

He kissed her on the cheek.  "I already figured it out, Tiff.  Not like I give a damn.  Cooper might if you'd agree to let him go on his back for you."

"Not like it matters in that area," she admitted.  "Muffin did come from her very human father's loins."

"That must've been a hard labor," he said dryly.

She swatted him.  "You know what I mean."

"I do."  He grinned. "Still doesn't matter to me, Tiff.  You were odd and fascinating before.  You still are."

She nodded.  "Okay but we're still talking tonight."


"Thanks, dear.  If it makes you feel better, you're not the only one who knows."

He snorted, looking at her.  "You really do need some lotion or to grow the hair out, Tiff."

"I'll keep that in mind.  My daughter said it was linked to my cycle."

"Then I'll gladly hand over the steaks so you don't nibble on Ryan.  We don't like the overtime we were working."  She punched him on the arm and huffed, walking off.

Horatio stopped her in the hall, looking at her. "Are you all right?" he asked quietly.

"You couldn't let me know I was slipping?"

"I figured if you wanted my opinion you'd have asked," he offered gently.  "I have noticed it's more prevalent some days."

She nodded. "Miffy claims it's hormonal."

He smiled.  "That seems to regulate everyone's life now and then."  She nodded at that.  "Even men's."  He patted her on the shoulder. "If you wish to talk, you can come to me."

"I'm supposed to be making sure you don't talk, Red."

He smiled.  "I keep many secrets, Tiff.  What's one more?"  She smiled at that.  "Now, let the boys work and no more making Speed think he's going to have to have Eric to see the new engine."

"But it'd be adorable."

"It might but Eric would pout if he did that."  He walked off, going to get some results for his current case.

She rolled her eyes.  "Why do I find men like this?" she muttered, walking off.  She ran into Frank Tripp.  "Can I have a hug, cutie?"  He gave her a hug.  "Thank you.  I needed a hug.  It's been a crappy morning."

"I'm sorry you had a bad morning.  More fall-out from the kidnaping?"

She looked up and shook her head. "Personal stuff."  She shrugged and grinned.  "Thanks, cutie."  She wiggled free and went to check on Steph's progress.  "Hey."

"Hey.  Valerian said Charlie's too cute to dislike."

"That bodes well.  Think he'll be cute for Amanda?"

"She wasn't sure he's aware of what you do with someone of the opposite or same sex," she admitted.  "Then again, she likes handcuffs a bit too much for my tastes."

Steph looked at her.  "You always were the lighter of the lovers in the family.  Have you told Miffy about the cocoon yet?"

"Yup, we had a long talk before I came out here.  Her exact words were 'that's really strange, eww; I'll need the most major shower and there had better be some very good soap waiting on me'."  Steph laughed.  "I put her in touch with Salette.  That way she could have any questions answered by someone who was there.  She agreed, she needed bubbles when she got out.  Plus a good conditioning treatment."   That got a giggle and a nod.  "So she'll be fine."  She handed over the wire she'd need.  "That one?"

"Yup.  We still need to hijack his hummer this weekend."

"I told him I'd drop him off at home Friday night.  That way we could have it all weekend."

"I like that plan.  Shouldn't take much longer than that.  We do need to know what sort of plugs they'll need."  She slid out to go take notes with Calleigh and Speed.  They used it the most.

Tiff got everything where it should go and went to work soldering wires into place.  Someone coughed so she looked at the officer.  "We're updating this one with some test equipment."  She got back to work.

"In the parking lot?  You can't use autopool?"

She looked at him again.  "It's Caine's hummer."  He shuddered.  "The less time we have to take it from him the happier he'll be."

"That works for the rest of us, ma'am.  Carry on."  He walked off, going to make sure her story checked out but he wasn't going to make her keep Caine's hummer from him any longer than she had to.


Ryan snuck up behind Tiff and pounced her, grinning.  "You wanted a talk?" he asked, his chin on her shoulder.

"What do you think is going on?" she asked quietly.  He put a book in front of her and she looked at him.  "Not hardly, pookie."  She switched books out on him and he stared then frowned at her.  She nodded.  "Yup."


She nodded.  "Very sure of it.  Hatched myself."


"Not.  Cross-breeding capable."  She grinned.  "Whole different set of circumstances."  She waved her daughter over.  "Muffin, this is Ryan Wolfe, one of my test subjects."

"Hi."  She shook his hand.  "So, you were on the couch?"

"I fell asleep playing video games with her," he admitted with a sheepish grin.  Speed walked over and moved him then sat down, looking at the book on the table then at her.  "That's what she said."

"Beats Godzilla."

She punched him on the arm. "Behave."

"Why?  It's so very little fun."  Muffin giggled. "You must be the daughter.  I'm Speed."  He shook her hand.  "You'll probably see me on Teacher."

"I've already taken my masters in History, Speed.  Right now I'm taking some Anthro from Professor Sandburg and some lower level maths from Professor Epps, the pretty ones."   She sat down and dug into her lunch.  "'Scuse my manners, but long flight."

"It happens," Ryan assured her.  "Eat.  Please."  He looked at Tiff again.  "Can we see?"  She gave him a look.  "All I'll do is pet."

"I'm sure you will."

"Mom might pounce if you did.  Dad was *not* the best in bed.  Mom didn't even get loud."  Her mother swatted at her, making her smirk.  "You didn't.  He must've been lame."

She looked at her.  "Not at first.  Then he wanted me to do things that were fairly unnatural, including his best friend Ron."


"My feelings on the subject and making him sleep in the garage didn't help any."  Her daughter nodded at that.  "Anyway," she sighed.  "We've got you set up in a secure area, right?"  She nodded and ate another bite.  "Even in a few months?"

"Yup.  Aunt Salette did that already.  I'll be under full lockdown so no one can get to me and make me look bad."

"Okay."  She looked at the boys, who both looked curious.  "We're crossbreeding folk.  Longer story.  Speaking of, I've got bugs in my place."

"Crawling or otherwise?" Ryan asked.

"Both but the other one was taken care of today while we were gone."  That got nods and Speed put a small, soft-sided case on the table next to her.  "Thank you."

"Not a problem but Horatio said he needs it back in the morning," Speed told her. "Speaking of, he wanted to know if you wanted to talk."

"No, I'm good with what and who I am."

"Okay.  Should we submit written questions?"

"Only if you're sure they can't get into the wrong hands," Muffin told him.

"I think I can do that."  He took out a folded paper and put it down Tiff's top, then walked off smiling.

"Show off," Ryan called after him.  He looked at her.  "I can ask and not grope."

"Mom could use the groping," Muffin reminded him.  She finished her lunch and looked at her mother.  "Can I have some more?"  Her mother sighed and handed over her purse, letting her daughter go get more food.  "I'll get you a sundae."

"Thanks.  Get Ryan a pretzel or nachos."

"I'm good," he promised.  "Don't worry about me, Miffy."  He looked at her again.  "Really?"  She nodded. "I'm okay with that but I'm incredibly curious."

"You can be as curious as you want.  I can answer all the questions you want as long as you keep it silent."

"I can do that."

"Good."  She smiled.  "But I get to kill the blonde, right?"

"As long as Horatio doesn't find out."

"I think we can arrange that.  By the way, Nick's on his way down."

"Can I fawn on him for the classes I took?"

"Sure.  He'd probably laugh."

"I've been laughed at before."  He grinned at Miffy when she came back, taking the held- out nachos.  "Thanks, Miffy."

"Welcome."  She settled in to eat some more food.  "I'm stocking up for when I have to hibernate soon."


"That longer story," Tiff told him.  "At home."

"Okay."  He dug in, watching the people around them while mother and daughter caught up again.  It was nice that they could talk so easily.


Tiff collapsed on the couch next to Ryan.  "Okay, what did you want to ask?  I've answered Speed's questions."  She handed over the sheet.

He read over the other questions then looked at her. "If you can crossbreed, doesn't it bother the ones who're fully born and can they change too?"

"No, they get the human gifts we have with this form," she admitted.  He nodded slowly.  "All the ones born from human matches are like Salette and Studly.  Our human sides are all very ... alluring.  It's called the Siren effect.  Most of us aren't artistic that way but that's what it's always been referred to as in our histories.  It's how we attract bonded and help protect them.  It gets us out of trouble if we're caught and gives us a good cover to be secretive.  It also attracts us human mates, that used to be a heavy thing in the old days."

"So, maidens?" he teased.

"Who wants to have so many virgins?" she complained, looking grossed out.  "Eww.  I don't mind teaching but that's a bit too much.  Thanks though."

Ryan giggled.  "Good to know."  He gave her a hug.  "So, the scales?"

"If it is linked to my hormone cycle it means I'm about to go into heat."

"You have permanent relationships?  I ask because I haven't seen another possessive, odd person hanging around you and I'd leave you alone if you had one."

"Yes and no.  We can take consort mates.  We can also take nestmates.  They're for one or two layings.  Or, since we live so much longer, we can take a human mate and love the hell out of them until they die.  For us it ends up being like nestmates."

"Okay," he said, nodding slowly while he thought.  "If you're going into heat won't we have to worry about things?"

"Only if you catch me basking on a beach instead of one of the laying fields."


"Caves with sand, Ryan.  Nomenclature."

"Oh."  He snuggled into her side, earning a smile.  "You give good cuddles."

"I do and I can fly too," she teased.  He grinned at that.  "As for the other subject, the human born among us go into a hibernation period when their gifts fully come out.  She'll be in a cocoon.  The problem becomes if it's bothered, it can scar her.  One of the last ones who got touched ended up looking like she'd had a stroke on her left side.  Any touch, even bugs, can harm them.  So she'll be in a very well ventilated, locked room which no one can get to."

"What happens if there's a fire or a disaster?"

"She'll be in there for six months," she said quietly.  "It won't happen.  We can't move her if it does happen.  So therefore it won't.  We've been dealing with this issue for years, Ryan."  He nodded, giving her a cuddle.  "It'll be fine.  She'll come out being stunning and beautiful and then we'll get to beat boys off her with a stick."

"Hockey, composite rod, or just anything from the woods?"

She giggled.  "Hockey.  They've got good handles."  Someone tapped on the door so she got up to answer it.  "Nick."  She gave him a hug.  "Hi.  Hi, Red."  She let them inside and Ryan got up and hugged Nick.  "He loved your classes."

"I love you, man.  I never understood what you taught me when others tried."  Nick smiled at that and patted him on the head.  "She's like my little sister before you can threaten me."

Tiff looked at him and pouted.  "Does that mean you don't like cuddles?"

"I love your cuddles but you're still getting over the stupid prat you married."  He grinned at his boss.  "We're done with the bug sweeper."

"Thank you."  He took it and put it into his coat pocket.  "Tiff."  She looked at him.  "He said you need to talk when he drug me out of my office?"

"I can if you want."  She settled in and Ryan sat next to her.  "Cuddle in again," she sighed.  "Miffy, Uncle Nick's here," she called.  She squealed and came out to pounce him, beaming at him.  "The other is Red, he runs the crime lab and he came to rescue me with Ryan the other night."

"Thank you."  She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  "I'd miss the stupid brat if she had been kept by them."  She looked at her uncle.  "Tell Ryan I don't need my Ph. D. yet."

He snickered.  "Fat chance, Muffin.  I've got six, you can have one."  She pouted.  "Take a year off then get it," he agreed.  She smiled and went back to her room to go to bed.  "She's very active," he told his sister, looking at first Ryan then at Horatio.  "The other one?"

"Speed submitted written questions."  She handed them over.

"I like the one about the engine," Ryan offered with a small grin for Horatio.

"I told him he's not allowed to pounce Eric for her pleasure, Mr. Wolfe," Horatio said dryly, giving him a look.  He only got a grin back.  "He's still not allowed to make Eric beg for her pleasure so he can get a better and faster engine.  He'd wreck it and then we'd be without him."

"True," Ryan agreed, slinking down some.  "It's still a cute thought.  Him stalking Eric around until he got him where he wanted him?  Calleigh trying to butt in but Speed pointing out that this was a 'guy thing' and she wouldn't understand but he'd gladly take her for a ride when he was done?"

Horatio cracked a smile.  "Don't encourage that, Ryan."

"Yes, Horatio.  So, Nick, can we set up a shrine to your brilliance?"

He looked at the young man then snorted.  "No, honey, I don't need any more high priests to bend over and accept my blessings from the fountain of knowledge."   He went back to reading, snickering at a few of them.  "He sounds like a decent sort."  He handed them to Ryan, who folded them up.  "Horatio?"  He got a look.  "Sit."  Horatio sat and he grinned at him.  "Thank you.  Hate looking up at people.  That's why I'm so tall."

"We met Studly," Horatio told him.

"He's cute but not that cute without his hair."  He shifted to look at him better.  "Does this new knowledge bother you?"

"I grew up in New York, Nick.  We see the most strange things up there.  Why would it?"

"Good point."  He looked at Tiff, who only smirked. "The other one?"

"Charlie petted her itchy spots, Don said he'd look at her funny if he saw her in scaley form.  Val said Charlie's a cute puppy and Don needs a good woman to knock him down and work him over a few times so he starts to smile more."

Nick smirked at that.  "You're in heat, aren't you?"

"Getting there," she admitted.

"Hmm, have a new bonded one, dear."  He pointed at Ryan.  "He's very cuddly and doesn't seem to care."

"I've got OCD, I'd drive her insane," Ryan pointed out.  "I cleaned her place for her earlier.  She had Miffy sit on me to make me stop."

Nick looked at him.  "Like libraries?  You could come stay with me."

Ryan blushed a bit.  "I like libraries a lot, Nick, but more for the books than the sex in them.  Sorry."

"Ryan, I don't care as long as it's not dead people or children," Horatio assured him.  "One would make Alexx scream and rant at me and the other we'd shoot you for.  Though, if you go for animals, I wouldn't tell Calleigh or Eric."

"Eww.  Slightly bi, nothing more strange than that, Horatio."

"Good to know.  I don't care if you do attach yourself to someone, as long as it doesn't interfere with your job and doesn't threaten anyone else in the lab."

"Thanks, boss."

"You're welcome."  He looked at Tiff.  "I would like to see your other form sometime."

"This place is way too tiny for that," she told him.  "But we can have a day in the lab if you want."

"I wouldn't mind.  This...heat.  Will it cause us problems?"

"Only if Ryan or Eric follow me around with their noses up my skirt."  Nick snickered at that.  "That's how I got my last husband."

Ryan looked at her. "If you want I'll help scratch that itch but I'm not for a long-term thing.  I'd drive you nuts."

"More nuts?" Nick teased.

"She's creative, I can let her be creative without judging the depth of her muse network."  She pinched him. "Ow!  Wench!"

She beamed.  "Wrong sister, pookie."

"Bet me.  Sal likes to spank me.  You're the only one who pinches."

She kissed him on the cheek.  "I'm sorry we abuse our guinea pig so much," she teased.

"Keep it up and I'll form an alliance with Greg to get you two back."

"There is a dose of prettiness I could sink my teeth into the neck and asscheek of," she mused, considering it.  "He'd be good too.  Probably a screamer when you ride him right."  She considered it.  "Then I'd have to move to the biohazard lab in Vegas though.  I'd hate that.  No more engines."

Ryan gave her a squeeze.  "Have a long distance thing."

"I can do that too."  She grinned. "Thanks, pookie."

"Welcome, Tiff."   He looked at Horatio.   "Miffy said her normal color is a bit different than the one we see peeking out now and then."

"Interesting," he agreed.  "I would like to see it.  Was Miffy born from a nesting?"

"No.  We can crossbreed but all the ones from that turn out like Sal and Studly, with the siren effect."

"Hmm."  He stared at her.  "Will it cause her problems?"

"Only if she goes into heat in a mall or somewhere.  The last one who did that got followed by about thirty guys and narrowly made an escape from them."  He nodded once.  "We can feel it coming on and we usually run for cover when it does.  I will tell you that she'll be hibernating for six months starting in about three more months.  No one will be able to get near her or else it could ruin and possibly kill her."

"They cocoon," Ryan told him.

"I would like to know more about this.  I would also like to know if I have to guard Eric from drooling himself into dehydration?"

"I'd hope not," she offered.  He smiled.  "Then again, I could let Speed pounce him for my viewing pleasure.  That way he can help ride the test bike."

"As long as he's safe and can't crash," Horatio instructed.  "I need Speed healthy and with  us.  Things go to hell when he's on vacation.  Calleigh pouts and Eric thinks he's Casanova without Speed there to make fun of his rapid turnover of women."

Nick looked at him.  "I could help the poor boy with that."

"He's straight," Horatio told him.

"Pity," Nick offered. "Ryan?"

"Thoughts but no practical experience.  Not that many thoughts either.  Have to be someone pretty special."

"Well, I am special," Nick offered with a grin.  "I'm even on the pretty professor track."

"You are," Tiff agreed dryly.  Horatio gave her a look.  "There's some very pretty professors in Teacher and some of the young women have decided there's a set list of who you take if all you want to do is stare at their videos and moon over them.  You do learn a lot from them but they're still very cute."  Ryan nodded.  "He's the one who said that they created a track within the system without letting anyone know.  Charlie gets a lot of attention to his classes because of that."

Horatio shook his head.  "I only had one beautiful teacher and she had an annoying voice."

Nick looked at him.  "You should see some of ours.  Mostly young.  Fairly handsome.  You'd like Sandburg."

"I know Professor Sandburg.  We've met," he said blandly, giving him a look.  Nick snickered.  "I take it you've met him too?"

"At a few professional conferences.  I'm a Classics and Archeology person."  That got a small smirk.  "Yes, Blair does lecture.  People stare and watch him lecture for hours on end, even forgetting to drink their coffee.  He gave a nine hour lecture at one conference and no one cared."

"He is charismatic, but he does talk quite a lot," Horatio agreed.

Ryan frowned.  "He's a good teacher but I got more from Nick's classes.  Blair's specialities confused me."

"Blair does that a lot to the department he works with," Nick assured him.  "He's helping a Major Crimes department become better."  Ryan snickered.  "It works, they're all better than they had been.  They're nice guys too," he admitted.  "But thanks to his mom and other reasons, Blair's got a 'been there, done that' attitude about a lot of things and a lot of stories.  Which he does share if asked."   Ryan nodded that he remembered that.  "We do need more teachers in Teacher."

"We're working on it.  We still need someone to work with Charlie since Willa died recently."

"What did she die of?" Ryan asked, frowning just a bit.

"She had to go out and go grocery shopping.  People annoyed her.  The annoyance from six giggling teenage girls led to a heart attack in the store.  She really hated people.  That was basically her last words."

"Some people do," Ryan agreed.  "I'm glad I've never been quite that bad."  He looked at Horatio.  "Does Calleigh have any idea?"

"No.  I asked her today if she thought Tiff was a bit odd.  She gave me this look then said she supposed most geniuses were but it was within the range of 'acceptable behavior' so she didn't care unless she came in naked some day."

"Hmm, cutie would drool," Tiff said.

Ryan gave her a squeeze.  "How about we go out clubbing tomorrow night?  Help you wear that out?  I'll make sure you don't get snatched again and you can pounce whoever you want in the bathroom."

"I can do that," she decided, kissing him.  "Thanks, Pookie."  She looked at her big brother.  "How's New Haven?"

"Good.  Kind of fussy.  A bit cold.  I should move down here.  I hate snow.  I'm always cold."

"There are a few very good schools down here," Horatio offered.  "You would have to deal with hurricanes however."

"Beats blizzards."

Ryan shook his head.  "Not always."

"Maybe southern Texas," Tiff offered.  He moaned and shifted, shaking his head.  "You don't like it down there?"

"Can't stand country music," he reminded her.  "Yes, I know that's a stereotype but no, thanks anyway.  That's the top reason on the list to avoid that decision.  The next one down being my last bonded is down there complaining about me."

"You can go to Las Vegas, go teach at UNLV," Ryan offered.  "One of the guys in the lab out there went to Croans."

Nick looked at him.  "That poor man.  I think I was a bit high and had the flu when I created that curriculum."

Tiff giggled at the look on her big brother's face.  "Before you ask, Horatio, Croans is in LA and it's a very small, dying school.  Last time I knew there were eleven girls and one boy there.  About three-quarters of the classes are taught in Latin or Greek."  He moaned and shuddered at that.

"Greg went there," Ryan told him.  "Probably one of the few not to come out in Nick's fields."

"Very true," Nick agreed.  "Not even I could pass Croans.  Only Tyler could pass there.  Speaking of, his bonded and girlfriend?  Very adorable and very strong.  Picked on me while I was playing Headmaster.  Teased him, teased the others.  Took a book from Tyler at the table," he said bluntly.

"That's one strong woman," Tiff said, looking awed.  "She's a first year at La Mer, right?"

"Going toward her second now.  They're moving the whole Scruffy contingent down to the old training suite and giving her the trainer's suite next to it since she's technically the bonded for the whole Scruffy Ones, but she clearly belongs to Tyler.  When she was hurt with Mom, he hovered and hissed at the nurses.  Refused to take a real bath.  She's got a library like his only in fantasy novels."  Tiff's mouth fell open.  "She'll be going to White Knight.  Very strong woman.  Adore the girl.  Love her mother too.  Her sister's a beauty pageant girl but she's growing some sense."

"Wow," she said, blinking.  "Okay, next family picnic, I've got to meet this girl.  Me and Stephni."

"We don't want to scare her," he said dryly.

"We won't.  We'll play nice.  Any woman who can take a book from Tyler, live to tell about it, and nag him about it later we'll play very nicely with."  Ryan poked her so she looked at him.  "Tyler is a compulsive reader.  Mostly humanities stuff, a lot of philosophy.  He's always got his nose in a book.  He's the most bookish of all of us.  Some of mom's older nestmates worried he'd never be a proper dragon because he doesn't like to fight."

"Oh, no.  When Roschene had Mom and her, he brought his sword," Nick assured her.  "He and I both went after Roschene to free Mom and her.  And get this, science fiction fanatic.  Passed out at the news then shrugged it off.  She's been dragon-mad for *years* before she even heard of the school.  Horses loathe the girl for some reason but she and Nick have went flying more than once already.  She can also talk to some dead people in a limited way."

"Okay, this girl we're adopting even if Tyler does get stupid," Tiff decided.

"Mom said the same," he said with a smug little smirk.  "Threatened to send Tyler away and keep her if he didn't quit bothering her recently."

Tiff giggled, leaning on Ryan.  "That's so cute.  I'm sure Tyler huffed like a teenage girl and stomped off after a few more threats from mom."

"Interrupted her having sex."

"No wonder.  How is Uncle Mal?"

"Figuring out what a dumbass he is," he said, looking at Horatio.  "How's the dating scene down here?"

"You'd have to ask Eric," he offered.  "It's been a while since I did more than see someone I worked with on a case."

"You need to get out and find someone cute," Nick told him, patting him on the arm.  "Don't worry, we can help with that."

Horatio looked at him.  "I have more important needs to be met."

"Ryan, help me out here," Nick demanded.

"He's my boss, guys.  Even if he could use some fun now and then to remind him that not everyone's a bad guy and not everything's a crisis, I can't help you set him up.  Not like I really date either."

Horatio looked at him.  "I do get plenty of that, Ryan."

"Good!  You could use it, Horatio.   You look really tired.  You have now for weeks, ever since that hit and run."  Horatio tipped his head at that.  "Greg said Grissom goes to ride roller coasters when he needs to feel alive."

"I go for long drives.  I have it well in hand, Mr. Wolfe."

"Sure, boss, not meaning to pry," he promised.  "I won't even tell Speed that they wanted to set you up."

"Please don't.  He'll have Eric send over one of his exes."

"Then there'd be a use for them outside of sucking up too much oxygen and peroxide?" Ryan asked. "Because hair doesn't naturally come in some of those colors."  Horatio snickered and nodded at that.  "And half of the rest are stupid.  If I believed in eugenics, I'd start with his dating pool of stupid girls."

Tiff patted him.  "I'm sure he wants someone smarter, but he's settling for an easy lay," she said.

He looked at her.  "He gets those at the club.  This is the ones he actually *dates*.  We're not even talking cheerleader stupid.  We're talking born without part of the brain yet somehow functioning dumb.  One of them *giggled* that people don't die, fairies come to take them away to their realm and they have sex with them until they nap and they do this forever and ever.  And that's how she said it too.  She asked Eric what color their wings were and he laughed it off.  She was sure he'd know since he saw so many people waiting to be taken by the fairies.  She accidentally met Alexx and asked her if she worked for the fairies or if she was just a bureaucratic wall between the two worlds.  Even Alexx couldn't find anything nice to say about that one.  She told Eric to do the merciful thing and send her to the fairies she loved so much."

"Okay, that's pretty stupid," she decided, nodding.  Nick mumbled something and nodded. "Reminding you of your last bonded?"

"She was sweet and nice," he defended.

"She was, but she was dumb as a rock in an earth shoe."

"Well, yeah," he admitted.  "Not why I chose her though."  He shifted and crossed his feet in the other direction.  "Just the three know?"

"Unless Cooper, Eric, or Tripp have figured something out," Ryan offered, looking at Horatio, who shook his head.  "Then we should be okay."  He looked at his pillow's head instead of the breast he was resting against.  "When's a good time for you?"

"Soon.  Pick an evening."  She shrugged and looked at Horatio then at Ryan, then at her big brother.  "You can have the couch, Nick."

"Thanks.  I don't care if you two get loud."  He looked at Horatio.  "Is this going to change the working dynamic with her?"

"I'll feel she's more able to defend herself if something happens and I do wonder why she dresses like a sorority sister on spring break now and then.  Tiff, please go easier on Cooper?  He nearly broke his nose the last time he was watching you bend over when he ran into a doorway."

She grinned.  "It's unintentional but I can't crawl around in a skirt, Red."

"I don't want you to.  I want you to wear something a bit longer than the dark blue or black jeans shorts.  Please?"

She huffed and nodded. "I'll try."

"Thank you.  I'm not asking for miracles but he was giggling about you being a brunette in other spots."

She shrugged.  "I don't know how.  None of them are that short."

"The black ones have a hole," Ryan said, grinning at her.  "A few of the patrol guys looked too.  Speed and Eric broke up their staring party when you were in the back of the hummer with your tail pointed at the door."

She rolled her eyes. "I'll replace them with something a bit longer."

"Thank you," Horatio said with a small smile.  "I do know that Calleigh got a headache from your invisible friend shirt."

"It's cute," she defended.  Nick gave her an odd look. "It says my invisible friend is smarter than all of your visible ones, that's why he's invisible, so you can't bother him with your lack of IQ."

Her big brother just nodded at that.  "Stephni?" he asked.

"My last birthday present from her," she agreed with a grin.

"Wow, she gave me a leather jockstrap and some strawberry whipped cream in a can," Ryan said, blinking at that.  "Then she said she didn't want to help me use it."  Horatio coughed to cover up his laughter.

"That was considered a subtle hint in this family, Ryan," Nick assured him.  "It meant she thought you're too uptight and needed some stress relief."

"Oh, I did and she picked on me for it."

"He got her back.   He got the clothing-eating foam and got her with it later that day then pinned her against the wall and tickled her until she begged and peed on the floor."  Nick snickered at that, bending over to laugh.

"Not in our labs, Ryan."

"Of course not, boss.  Calleigh would definitely mind if I brought in the clothing-eating foam."  He got a look from the boss and smirked.  "Can't I use it on Eric just once?"


"Fine.  I'll be a good lab boy."

"We love your off-duty mind, Ryan," Tiff assured him, giving him a hug.  "Oh, Stephni wanted help with her plans for the new bike's ideas.  She's been watching some old cartoon over and over while drafting weapons ideas.  Her scrying pool has a picture taped to the bottom."

"Okay, I can do that my next day off."  That got him hugged.  He stood up. "I'll let you guys talk.  Boss, need a ride home?"

"I have my hummer, Ryan.  Thank you."

"Welcome, Horatio."  He headed out, going home to play around on Teacher for a while.  He found a message waiting on him from Speed about their newest chemistry experiment that was due soon.  He wanted to collaborate.  Ryan decided that it'd be okay and he sent back a message agreeing and his ideas.  Speed weeded them out and added his own.  It was good and it would definitely embarrass Eric.  He mentioned that they had a few good pranks at the lab that could fit that plan.  He and Speed brainstormed most of the night.  Speed didn't have to work the next morning and Ryan got enough sleep to not quite be a zombie.


Greg Sanders pouted at his last set of grades.  How had he managed to get a 'B' in chemistry?  He went over his report and found where it was, writing to the teacher directly to correct him, adding resources he could check and citing that he had seen it on the job and the exact chemical components.  Then he carbon copied it to Amanda and the Teacher staff.  It was a glitch.  He got back an auto message about looking into it.  The teacher wrote back that he'd look at his test since the program had done the grading herself instead of him this time.  He settled in to let it happen while he watched.  A few hours later the teacher wrote back that he was correct and said he was amending his grade to an 'A'.  Greg got up and happy danced around his apartment.  He was still dancing when someone knocked.  He looked at his coworker standing there.  "Hey, Hodges.  What's up?"

"You look too happy to be undrugged.  Should I come back when you're down?"

"No, I just got an 'A' in a continuing ed online class."

"Congratulations.  I need help."

"Okay.  With?"  He let him inside and closed the door, letting him hand over the copies of the report.  "Where did this come from?" he asked, looking at him.

"Grissom's body tonight had an altar.  The formula is something we've never seen, the computer's have never seen, and Grissom thought you might have a clue for some reason."

Greg got up and put on his shoes.  "Let's go."

"You know about that stuff?"

"I do and I can talk to someone who knows even more than I do.  Plus I speak and read Greek."

"Okay."  He followed him back out, driving him back to the lab.  "Grissom?" he called, seeing him in the halls.  "I went to ask Greg, like you suggested."

"I need pictures, Grissom.   I think I know what this is."

"It's an altar with a body, Greg."  He looked at him.  "I didn't know you had an interest in the occult."

"I went to Croans Academy for high school," he said bluntly.

"They're in the system, Greg.  Please hand me a translation."

"Of course.  I've also taken continuing education classes with a few anthro people.  I can get you an email address if you need one.  One's working with a PD in Washington State."

"That's fine, if I need it I'll come to you."  Greg nodded, heading to look at the pictures.  He'd keep in his questions about why Greg had went there for now.  He did look at Hodges.  "Thank you.  Did he identify that substance?"

"No.  He saw the report and said he was coming to help."

"Ah.  So he might have a clue."  He headed to look over Greg's shoulder, finding him on his phone talking quietly to someone.  "The anthropology person you mentioned?"

"No, someone in my continuing education classes," he told him, hanging up.  He looked at him.  "She knows something about that substance.  She used it in a report she wrote once.  I was asking her for it.  Also, can I get a picture for her?  She's not sure it's not a relative."

"If we have to.  There should be one."

Greg nodded, going back to the pictures.  He found one he wanted and emailed it.  Then he got back to work.  He noted down the translation and handed it over, letting his boss go away for a while.  Then he got to work on the various symbols around the altar.  He frowned and emailed it to his professor and got back an almost instant message of 'hold on, I can be there tonight'.  He smiled and said he'd let him borrow his couch if he needed it.  Then he gathered the rest of his notes and went to hand them to Grissom.  "The anthro person coming in is Doctor Blair Sandburg."

"I know that name."

"He had to lie to get his diss classified, Grissom.  His subject was going to be taken by the military when his diss got exposed against his will."  That got a nod.  He handed over a sheet.  "These are his credentials with the Cascade PD.  He's worked with them a lot.  He knows this ritual.  He recognized it from one of the symbols.  Also, this is what the ones I know are for."  He handed it over.  He checked his phone when it beeped.  "Hold on."  He walked into the hall and out to the smoking area, calling Amanda back. "It's me.  Family or staff?"  He nodded once.  "Please.  I'm at work.  That's fine, put my name on it or send it to Sandburg, he's on his way down to help.  Thank you."  He hung up and walked back inside, taking a deep breath.  He found Nick and Warrick in the office.  "Theirs too?"

"It is, why?" Nick asked.

Greg shut the door and looked at him.  "The person who just called me said your victim works at Hals Labs."

"Where's that?" Warrick asked.

"That's the biohazard lab on the other side from the college," Nick said, frowning some.  "I've heard they've got some military background there."

Greg shook his head.  "No, Nick.  They're part of DragonTech's organization.  That's one of their sub-companies."

"How do you know?" Grissom asked.

"I went to school with one of their people.  That's who I called."

"Oh.  Interesting.  At Croans?"

"College."  He looked at Nick again.  "They're not part of the family that runs DragonTech, or a spouse, but they're working on something seriously classified.  Amanda, the head of DragonTech, will be out tomorrow evening if we need into his lab notes."

"That ballistics thing you took Bobby to," Warrick said.  "Wasn't that sponsored by them?"

"It was," Greg agreed.  "They've got a lab down in Miami and Horatio's people are testing something for them at the moment."  That got an appreciative nod.  "Doctor Sandburg will be able to tell us if it's related to his work or not."

"Didn't he say his diss was a lie?" Nick asked, frowning some.

"He found a real subject and the military was closing in, Nick.  He was protecting his friend."

"Oh.  Makes sense I guess.  Exposed without his permission?"  Greg nodded.  "How do you know him?"

"I took him for a continuing ed seminar."

"Is he a good speaker?"

"Very.  Very interesting and he's been in a lot of very interesting places.  He's got some great stories," he offered with a grin.  "I offered him my couch if we need him here for more than a day, Grissom."  He looked at him.  "Right now you've got two possibilities.  It was related to his work or it was related to whatever death powering rite that was for.  Some of the symbols are still unknown by me.  Blair got one I didn't know and nearly freaked.  I'll gladly stay on as translation help if you want."

"I do," he agreed.  "How many of your classes were in Greek and Latin?"

"Everything but modern geography, psychology, and math."  That got a small smile. "Seriously.  Math we edged on it a lot.  Modern geography didn't have the place names.  Psychology didn't have anything about the theories or terminology behind them."  He shrugged.  "Prof's used to dealing with cops so he'll come in with information.  Amanda will come in upset.  The one thing we will have to watch for is Feds.  They like to break into DragonTech to steal things."

"They're agents.  Why would they have to steal?" Warrick asked.

"This goes no further," Greg noted quietly.  That got a nod.  "Because they have a working AI system, Warrick.  They also have a laser weapon that works.  Bobby saw that one."  Warrick blinked at that.  "They're a good decade ahead of the rest of the world.  Some agents got jealous.  They've got security that is meant to kill, not disable, when someone breaks in."

"Okay," he decided.  "If we need in there, we'll let her help us."

"She'll be honest about it.  She's not going to hide anything.  The main lab out in LA County is working with an agent out there to stop those break-ins.  Pray really hard this is related to the death cult stuff.  It'll be a lot less headaches."  He looked at Nick.  "You probably ran into their lab down in Dallas?"

"When it was there.  It got shut down about two years after I joined the force," he admitted, frowning some. "They had a few break-ins and a few of the people who did it died."

Greg nodded.  "Since then they've upped the resistance level.  She'll tell us who to talk to about his work if it's necessary and she'll have his full personnel file so we can find relatives."

"Thank you, Greg.  You're very helpful," Grissom said, smiling a bit.  Greg grinned back and left.  "I just found out he went to Croans Academy in LA.  It's mostly meant for people in archeology and classics."

"They really teach classes in Latin and Greek?" Nick asked.  Grissom nodded.  "Why!"

"It gives them a head start on the field probably," Warrick said, looking confused.  "I thought Greg was a science geek even back then."

"He probably was.  Croans is associated with some other private schools that have wonderful science tracks," Grissom offered. "Some of them can get you most of the way through your bachelor's degree with the advanced credits."

"So we'd be stumbling in the dark without this help," Warrick said.

"They'd probably have seen it and talked to him anyway," Nick pointed out.  "Especially if they're that close to him."  He looked at Grissom.  "Did he find anything?"

"The translation of the text on the walls."  He handed that over.  "Some of the symbols.  He said Professor Sandburg will know more."  He called the number on the sheet Greg had handed over for him.  "Professor Sandburg please.  Gil Grissom, Greg Sander's boss."  He smiled.  "Yes, the hyper blonde student."  He paused while whoever had answered called him from the other room.  "Professor Sandburg, Gil Grissom.  Yes, I am," he agreed happily.  "I didn't know anthropologists paid attention to bugs.  Ah, a rain forest speciality, no wonder.  We do.  Greg's given us what he had.  Including the translation, yes.  That would be more than wonderful, Doctor.  Greg did say you could have his couch if housing would become an issue for you.  We work graveyard so anytime after three I can be reached.  Yes, that's my cell number," he said, mentally swatting Greg for giving that out.

"A lab tech at a local biohazard lab actually.  We're working on the connection right now.  Of course you can.  He assured me you've worked with the police department up there so we can let you see it as long as you don't do more than look and point.  We are CSI and I know of your Cassie and Sam.  Some of us are better and more firm in the rules," he assured him with a small smirk.  "I look forward to it and I can meet you here at the lab, Doctor.  That's fine, I can be here then," he promised.  "Thank you, Professor."  He hung up.  "He's asking for access to the scene to make sure of some facts.  He said he'd bring the entire ritual so we can see how elaborate and see if anything in it can help us track the person who did it.  He did say that a chemist or a lab technician is an odd choice for this ritual.  He said it should have been a teenage, virginal male."

"So he's either never had a lover or the person's fudging the ritual?" Nick suggested.

"Or it was a personal choice," Warrick suggested.  "He used the ritual to cover up the desire to kill this particular person."

"Which Professor Sandburg can tell us," Grissom assured them.  "So we need to know more about this person.  See if Greg's contact can fax over his personnel file before she gets here?"

Nick called Greg.  "Can we get the personnel file before she gets here?"  He nodded.  "I can understand that.  He's coming in tomorrow afternoon.  When is she coming?"  He smiled.  "That's even better.  Thanks, Greggo."  He hung up.  "She'll be here in two hours, Gris."

"Even better," he agreed. "Okay, do what you can before she gets here."  They walked off, going to gather preliminary results while he went to lay down for a few minutes.  This case was going to drive him insane with the helpers Greg had gotten them.  It was not how things were usually done and Greg knew that.


Greg met Amanda when she came off the plane, smiling and kissing her cheek.  "I've got your ride."

"Thank you.  Anything you can tell me already?"

"Not yet.  It's not my case.  It's Gris's case with Warrick and Nick.  I butted in and Griss is not being the most patient."  She nodded, patting his arm as he walked her out to his car.  "Bag?"

"No.  I don't need one, dear.  I do need to know if I should brief Don."

"We're hoping it's nothing to do with his lab.  If it's personal it'll help a lot.  I did call Blair about it since I didn't recognize all the marks.  He'll be in tomorrow afternoon."  She smiled.  "Did you get my email?"

"I did and I gave Charlie the problem so he could look over it and see where it warped.  It was clearly a mathematical problem this time."  He nodded, opening the door so she could get in.  "Thank you, Greg."  She slid in, her briefcase on her lap.  She buckled up and he walked around to get in and drive her back to the lab.  "Is your friend still talking about the weapons?" she asked with a small smile.

"Only when it's just us.  But he is raving about them."  She grinned at that and he took off.  "Have you been to Las Vegas before?"

"My son got married here.  I spent the whole weekend drunk."  He giggled and nodded, heading out to the highway.  "It has grown since I was here."

"It's also been destroyed some since you were here.  Every year we lose some history and gain some tacky crap and other good things that bring tourists."

She nodded at that.  By the time they got there Greg was relaxed again and there were two very handsome young men waiting on her.  She sighed.  "Too bad I don't need a new man," she said before getting out.  Greg giggled as he got out, following her.  "Gentlemen."

"Ma'am," Nick said, smiling at her.  "I'm assuming here but you're our victim's boss?"

"I am.  Amanda Disher, head of DragonTech."  She shook their hands.

"Nick Stokes and this is Warrick Brown.  It's mostly our case with our boss.  He's in a meeting but if we can get started that'd be great."

"Sure.  Do we have a private room?"

"We do," Warrick agreed.  "This way, let's get you signed in."  She nodded, following them.  She got her visitor's pass and they headed back to the conference and break room.  Greg closed the door behind him once he had his copy of his notes from Grissom's office.  He put his on the table in front of Nick.  She pulled out a thick folder.  "Greg said he was a researcher or lab tech probably?"

"Actually, he's a biochemist in the field of nanochemistry and virology."

"He was working on something in germ warfare?" Nick asked.

"Anti-germ warfare," she corrected, opening the file.  "It looks like his last set of reports said he was close to something that would eat a genetically altered version of measles in a body."  They both nodded at that and Greg grinned.  "His last filed reports say his tests were about thirty percent successful so he was working on the reason why it wasn't totally successful.   I do have his personnel file in here as well.  It says he's got a very young wife, that had raised a flag.  He was thirty-six when he married the, then, seventeen-year-old Emily Boggart."  Greg sat up at that.  "Yes, she went to Croans a few years after you," she agreed with a small smile.  "She was a freshman your junior year.  I have her background as well."  She looked at Nick and Warrick again.  "Our files indicate she's in UNLV studying languages at the moment.  She's in her Masters' phase."

That got a note made by Warrick.  "It also says that they've got two children now.  One's a bit ill now and then, a weak immune system.  Not bad enough that the poor thing needs a bubble but she's the one who'll get every cold in existence at least twice."  Nick nodded slowly at that.  She handed over an index card.  "That's the address we have on record for him.  On the back is his fingerprint card from his security check so you can make absolutely sure it's him."  Nick smiled at that.  "Now, his work was highly classified.  As all work in our associated and child companies are."  She closed the folder.  "I can tell you he's a fairly devout Baptist.  Not a fundamentalist but fairly devout and usually described as quiet and uptight.  I can tell you that none of the staff have claimed anything beyond Druid or Wiccan, a few Buddhists working to get rid of biowarfare."

"So it's probably not a coworker?" Nick asked.

"Not unless they're hiding something pretty major from us, Mr. Stokes.   We don't care what religion you are unless you lie about it.  We don't encourage lying due to the nature of the work and how much stress we get when someone tries to break into the lab to steal something.  I can tell you that someone tried about four days ago."  She handed over that report.  "From the lab's security personnel.  They were handed over to your patrol girls and I'm not sure if anyone looked for deeper contacts or who paid them."

"They might've been looking for drugs," Warrick offered.

"We do those in Chicago," she told him.  "It's fairly well known that we don't make drugs there.  Most people think we're doing plastics and things actually.  It's a weak cover to protect our more necessary works."

"Did he keep a diary?" Nick asked.

"I asked his supervisor if he did.  I did not tell him that you think he's dead.  I did say that the police had a question about someone's identity and thought it might be him.  He said he keeps a work journal on his computer but he's not sure if there's personal information in there.  He did say that he's been stressed recently. Apparently she's writing her thesis and they need a nanny was how he put it."  That got a nod from Warrick.  "May I see any of the crime scene photos?"  Nick pushed a good shot of the altar over.  She frowned then shook her head.  "No, this doesn't ring any bells to me and we've had a few odd people doing things in the past."  She handed it back.  "Last year one of our people in Chicago was burned at the stake after being sacrificed by a Satanist."

"Prof Sandburg said he recognized it," Greg offered.

"Okay, that means it's probably Central or South American.  Possibly Pacific Islander.  Those are his concentrations.  I'll gladly help you and him all I can, gentlemen.  I want this solved for his family as much as you do."

"Thank you," Warrick agreed.  "Let's start with his fingerprints first, just to make sure."  She nodded and closed the folder.  "You'll give us access to his work journal?"

"I will as long as you can vow that nothing gets out of this lab."

"We can agree to that.  The three of us would be the only ones looking."

"More than agreeable on my end," she promised. "I know better than most about Greg's skills in the regular lab."

Nick looked at him. "Do work for them too?"

"No," he said dryly.  "One of her sisters helps run Croans and La Mer in France.  They're associated.  I went to Croans and I've worked and studied with a few other members of the family.  That's why I got to invite Bobby to Miami for that demonstration they put on."

"Oh."  He nodded.  "Okay."  He could ask more questions later.  He looked at her.  "Anything else we should know in a preliminary sense?"

"If it was him I can have his wife and daughters brought in very quietly or tell them if you wish," she offered.  "It's not the first time."

"We can do that.  She might know something about who would've been against him if this is personal," Warrick told her.  He shook her hand.  "Thank you.  We'll leave you here with Greg while we run his fingerprints."  He took the card and headed to do that.  He smiled at the fingerprint tech.  "His boss showed up with his personnel file."

"Sacrificed guy?"  He nodded and she took the card, running it against the ones they had pulled in the morgue.  "A perfect match."  She handed it back.  "It's your boy."

"Thanks."  He walked off, going to see what Hodges had from Trace.  "Anything yet?"

"Two things, one left," he admitted, handing it over.  "The red stuff was sucrose syrup.  Bird feeder filling."  He handed that one over.  "The blue stuff was a sterilizing solution."  He handed that over.  "He shouldn't have been able to bring that out of the lab but it was taken off his shoes by the swab.  The stuff on his pants I'm not sure."  He pointed at the machine.  "That is still running and should be ready soon.  What was he working on?"

"Anti-biological warfare."

"Wonderful.  Was he successful?"

He shrugged.  "Can't tell yet."  He walked off, looking at the reports.

"You're welcome," he called after him.  Greg waved as he walked past him.  "Sanders!"  He leaned in, still smiling.  "Can I know anything?"

"He worked for Hals Labs," he said quietly.

"Never mind.  I don't need to be pounced by some idiot federal agents who think I know something."  The machine spit out a paper.  "To Warrick please."  He glanced then at him.  "Someone got taken out of the lab."

"Or right outside it," he said, looking at it.  "Thank you."  He finished his trek to get something to drink, handing that to Nick as he walked past him.  "From Hodges."

"Thanks."  He frowned.  "Isn't that a sterilizer?"

"It is.  It's usually sprayed on clothes just in case before you go into a sterile room to change into a biohazard suit.  Are we thinking he was taken from the lab or right outside?"

"It's more likely with this on him.  Depends on his personal habits."  He walked off again frowning some.  "Grissom?"  He found him being briefed by Warrick.  "Greg said it's usually sprayed on clothes as a disinfectant.  He thinks he was taken from the lab or right outside."

"It's looking more likely, depending on if he changes to clothes he keeps in the lab or not," Grissom agreed.

Warrick nodded.  "We can ask his supervisor that."

"I'm still wondering if Greg works with them," Nick offered.

"I think he has something to do with other areas of DragonTech," Grissom offered.  "We can ask him or her."

"We should ask her," Warrick agreed.  They walked out, going to find Greg and her chatting about some teacher.  He smiled at Greg.  "Go make an appointment for us to talk to his supervisor and get his family here."  Greg nodded, taking the index card to go do that.  He looked at her.  "Is Greg an employee?"

"Guinea pig."

Grissom frowned.  "For what?"

"We're testing a new educational system.  Greg's been testing it for us."

"That's how he knows Professor Sandburg?" Nick asked.  She nodded, smiling a bit.  "Is it fully accredited?"

"We have teachers doing classes from Yale, Cambridge, Harvard, Rainier University, Cal Sci, UCLA, and UCSF.  We're actively recruiting other teachers at the moment.  This is how Greg did his forensic classes he had to have to get out of the lab and other educational credits post graduation."

"I saw he had updated his files," Grissom admitted.  "Where did they come from?"

"His forensic classes mostly came from Cambridge.  A few came from Ranier.  He's also taken some humanities and some continuing education in his own fields.  You could ask him."

"I'll do that later."  He looked at her.  "He said he did it online."

"That is part of the educational system."

"He got the credits from those colleges?" Warrick asked.  She nodded.  "Better than I can do."  Greg strolled in.  "They on their way?"

"They are.  I told her something had happened and we needed to talk to her about her spouse.  She wanted to know if his mistress had assaulted him."  He handed her back the index card.  "What's going on?"

"Talking about your education, Greg," Nick said.

Greg looked at her, getting a small nod.  So he closed the door.  "They have a computerized educational system that put me in touch with a lot of very excellent teachers.  I've done projects with Miami's new tech.  He's my fellow guinea pig."

"You can tell them, Greg.  If they spill it, I'll throw fits and maybe you can join Ryan in Miami."

He grinned at her.  "Bikinis all day," he teased back.  He looked at them.  "It all goes through a very nice artificial intelligence called Teacher."  They stared at him.  He nodded. "I've worked with students all over the world.  Including some child geniuses.  It's self- paced so some kids surge ahead in their favorite areas and lag behind in their others.  Ryan and I worked on a lot of stuff together."

"Video lectures?" Grissom asked.

"A few," he agreed.  "Some were notes that she read to me.  Once a test is graded she'll know how to grade it in the future for the human teacher so she can take over classes.  My laptop's at home or I'd show you guys."

"Laptop?" Nick asked, looking at her.  "It's on a laptop?"

"We've redesigned the harddrive as well," she admitted.  "Making it more compact so we have more space to work with."  She pulled out the laptop she had with her and logged into teacher, letting Greg put in his id and password.  "Ah...  It's fixed.  He must've found the problem."  He grinned. "He passed his last class with an 'A' after finding a problem with Teacher grading for the human teacher."

Greg pulled up his transcript history, letting Grissom see it.  "There you go.  Classes, teacher, college."

Grissom looked at it then at him. "This is very impressive.  If you walked onto the campus would they recognize this?"

"They would.  We have agreements with them," Amanda assured them.  "There's someone there who records the grades in their continuing education office.  Greg and Ryan have been wonderful test subjects and they both enjoy Teacher so much.  Them and the newer students on it all adore Teacher.  Horatio keeps complaining that Speed's taking too long at lunch doing lessons."

Greg grinned.  "I've done that.  Spent all of my day off in front of the laptop doing calculus the last time."

"I'm impressed," Warrick said, even looking it.  "How long did it take you to do this?"

"I set my own pace," Greg told him.  "Some weeks I got through some of the easier classes within a few days if I had some time off in a row.   Some weeks I didn't get to sleep for a few days in a row so it took me longer.  I generally try to do at least a lesson a day, if not more.  I started on the forensic classes in the system a year before I started to press my way into the field."

"Wow," Nick said.  "How soon before that's commercially available?"

"We're using it as an alternative education and for geniuses at the moment.  It'll be going to schools after that.  Kids who're out for long illnesses or who're being home schooled for whatever reason.  We're still expanding our offerings.  We've even got cooking classes on here from some pretty famous chefs.  Some require some hands-on classes and you can borrow specific equipment from us or go to a lab we've cleared to do them and send them in.  She's a quirky choice for our first AI but she's a great program.  Even if one of the kids using it in Scotland keeps having her undress and hit on him.  He's fourteen," she explained at the amused looks.  "He's in a school that's eleven miles from the nearest road.  They have to helicopter the kids in every year.  He's bored."

"He's got good taste in clothes.  Tasteful evening gowns, bikinis that flatter her figure.  A few slinky shirts and skirts.  Lower heels so she doesn't complain.  His lines need work," Greg offered with a grin.

"St. Sebastian is eighty percent female but he still can't get a date there," she told him.

"He's fourteen.  He's an early admit because his scores got him into the other school faster," he reminded her.  "Have Professor Epps or Sandburg mentor him.  They were both in college way too early according to what they've said."

"Charlie's not very comfortable with people and Blair's extremely busy helping his partner at the station," she said, giving him a look.  "I've asked.  Want a little brother, Greg?"

"Sure.  I can do that.  He's not in my fields but okay."  She smiled and patted his arm.  "As long as he never puts in the VR thing that he did the one day so he could have virtual sex with her."  Nick snickered.  "My field blood and fluid analysis class got interrupted by her moaning.  She went from 'this is blood in the various forms it can be found in the field' to 'this is semen in its various field stages and under various lights' to 'give me semen, baby, so we can do a test'.  And that was a quote," he finished dryly.  Amanda laughed but nodded. "Ryan and I both ganged up on the kid that night.  Ryan's where he got the horrible lines from."  He looked at her.  "I still think his 'I've got six sweater vests I'd like to see you model for me' line was a joke."

"I'd hope so.  That poor boy must never get laid if not."

"He's OCD.  That might make him uncomfortable," Greg pointed out dryly.  "Okay, she should be here by now, guys."  They went to do that.  Grissom gave him another long look. "Yes, you can bitch me out later for calling for help."  That got a frown. "You are."

"I'm not."

"Bull," he snorted.  "But that's okay because I'll go work for Mac in New York.  They have techs who have fun.  No stick-up-the-butt patrol we have here."  Grissom frowned more and walked out.  He shut the door again and looked at her.  "You're sure you wanted that exposure?"

"I could use some new guinea pigs," she admitted.  "When are you going to take your mandatory cooking class?"

"When I get a free week or so.  Never seems to happen," he said bitterly, sitting down.  "You want an uptight person like Ryan with a superiority complex or someone nicer?"

"That sounds like he'd be checking each test very carefully to make sure we don't have any problems with the algorithm.  Can I meet this person?"

Greg got up and opened the door.  "Hodges?" he called.  He leaned out of his lab.  "C'mere.  Got a proposition for you."

"I'm not posing nude for your female friends."

"Not that.  They wanted Archie anyway.  No, I have someone here who wants to let you try out her educational system so you too can get credits from Cambridge without the long plane flight."

Hodges frowned, blinking at him.  "Like distance learning?"

"Like I'm four credits from another Masters in a little over a year," he admitted.  "Colleges all over the world and a lot of subjects.  Everything from cooking to advanced maths that make my head hurt."

"Huh."  He walked out of his lab and came to look.  "How are we doing this distance learning?"

"With an AI," Greg said as he shut the door.  Someone tapped and he grinned at his buddies Bobby from ballistics and Archie from AV.  "She needs more testers.  Come on in, guys."  He let them in and shut the door again.  "My profile's pulled up if you guys wanted to get into that course list or she can get you out to see the full one.  It removes classes you've taken and passed."

"You have credits from Yale and Cambridge, plus Rainier University," Hodges said, looking at him.  "How?"

"That.  Click on the right button, the blue one."  Hodges did that and they got into the overview of each class's refresher section.  "Some are video lessons, some are put in so the AI itself teaches you.  It's got a lot of fields and they're looking for very excellent teachers to add classes.  Sandburg teaches great Anthro lectures, complete with stories, and he's got about seven on there at the moment."

"Wow," Bobby said, looking at Amanda.  "You're with DragonTech."

"I am.  I'm the head of DragonTech," she admitted with a smile.  "That's our Teacher AI."

"How much does it cost per semester hour?" Archie asked.

"You'd be guinea pigs.  Now and then the algorithms get a bit funky thanks to the hacker in Scotland who's also using it," Greg told him.  "He's fourteen and he likes to make her flirt and change clothes."

Bobby grinned but Archie nodded.  "Sounds like a teenage hacker to me."  He got back into the class lists and stared at it then at Greg.  "You're not kidding."

"No, I'm not kidding.  Each degree does come with a mandatory cooking class.  That's two of my last four hours.  Then I've got an elective I can pull out of thin air."

"Wow," Hodges said, looking at him. "You've taken some fairly difficult classes, Sanders."  Nick walked in and gave them a look.  "He offered us a chance to look at the education system."  He looked at Amanda.  "Can it be hooked up at home?"

"You'd be leant a laptop of your own," she assured him.  "We have things ranging from elementary level to Ph. D. level."  He smiled at that.  "You'd be able to make suggestions for future classes, do continuing education that's fully accredited, and learn a lot of neat stuff.  Some of the siblings are on there teaching some classes.  My big brother Nick teaches classes in Archeology and Classics from Yale."  She looked at Nick.  "Need me or Greg?"


She stood up.  "Excuse me for a minute, gentlemen.  Let Greg answer questions."   She walked out with him, smoothing out her jacket.  "Sorry, we do need more highly educated people in the system to help out."

"I understand.  They're good choices.  Hodges is a bit of a know-it-all."  He opened the door and she walked in first.

"Emily," she sighed, giving her a hug.  "Are you all right, dear?"  She pulled back to look at her.  "I'm letting them into his lab to see if they can find any clues there.  At the same time I'll let you in to do his personal effects."  She nodded, sniffling.  "Our HR people can help you with any arrangements and we do make all our people carry life insurance.  At least enough to cover a very elaborate funeral.  You and the little ones are like family.  We'll take care of you."  She sat down and looked at her, holding her hand.  "Now, they do have to ask you some things.  One of them being does he change clothes at work?  He had some of the sanitizing solutions on him."

She shook her head.  "No, he doesn't.  I thought he was sleeping around on me."  She sniffled again and took the tissue to blow her nose.  "I don't know what I'm going to do."

"For right now, you're going to have a lot of help from some very nosy and supportive people," she assured her, patting her hand.  "You're not alone.  We'll do what we can, Emily."

"How do you know me?"

"I looked in his personnel file.  It's very comprehensive because of the subject he was working in."  She nodded at that, staring at her.  "You'll be well taken care of.  You and the girls."

"Yes, Miss Disher."

"Good girl, Emily, but call me Amanda."  She gave her another pat.  "He didn't change clothes at work?  Something sterile to wear in the labs?"

"No.  He had some there in case he had to, but no.  He was working in a safe suit most of the time."

"That's perfectly reasonable.  Has he been talking about any of the other researchers in the lab?"

"Erica Smiley."

"I know her.  She's in toxic wastes I think."  That got a nod.  "Did you think he was sleeping with her?"

"He was always going on about how great she was and how he should look up to her, even if she was a bit grumpy."

"We'll talk with her too," Nick assured her gently.

"If he was I don't want to know now," she told him.

"If that's what you want.  Unless it's related to his murder."  She nodded and took another tissue to blow her nose.  "Have you gotten any threatening letters?  Has he mentioned anyone threatening him at all?"

"No, everyone liked him," she said, looking at him.  "He's a nice guy.  He's sweet and nice and gentle.  We didn't plan on getting married and Mary isn't his but he married me anyway.  I was his research assistant at the time and he found out my boyfriend had walked off from me.  He had loved me even then so he married me and became her father.  Our other daughter is his and he's never shown her any favoritism."

"He sounds like he was a wonderful man," Warrick agreed.  "Did he have anyone he hung out with, someone he might've told something that would've worried you?"

"Just her.  His best friend in the lab, Gregory Blisterns, died last year in a car crash.  He went quiet for weeks," she said, looking miserable.  "He took it really hard."

"I get that," Nick agreed, reaching over to hold her hand.  "It'll be okay.  We'll do our very best to find out who did this."

"How did he die?" she asked quietly.

Nick coughed but Amanda answered.  "There's indications of some strange ritual.  We're not sure if it's some serial asshole or something odd.  Have you gotten any odd presents?"

She nodded.  "I got sent a raven's feather two days ago.  It's at home in the kitchen.  I tossed it out."

"We'll need that," Nick told her.  "In case it's related."  She nodded, swallowing.  "It'll be okay.  We'll do our best to find out who did this, Emily."

"Thank you.  I don't know much about what happened at work.  My field is languages, not science.  I worked for him because it paid well, not because I'm good in there.  He knew that so we didn't talk much about work, only a few things about his friends.  He talked more about my studies than his work."

"That can happen," Amanda assured her.  "We've been there."  She nodded, blowing her nose again.  "Good woman.  I'll make sure that Tammy is out here in the morning to help you with whatever you need help with.  He might've preplanned, that would be in her office with his insurance information and she's in Hawaii this week.  She's coming back tomorrow," she promised at the look she got.  "She won't mind."

"If you're sure.  I don't want to cut her vacation short."

"It won't be.  If it's going to be difficult, she'll have her assistant temp in until she can get here."  That got a single nod and a hand squeeze.  "Good woman.  Now, let these nice boys take you home so they can get that feather and look for anything else, all right?"

"That's fine.  They can follow me home," she promised.  That got a small smile.  "What about the lab?"

"I'll be in there tomorrow.  They'll need to look through his things for clues but I'll have his supervisor hold his lab and locker until you're ready to come clean them."  She nodded at that, sniffling again.  "It'll be hard but we'll be okay," she promised more quietly.

"Yes, ma'am.  Thank you, Amanda."  She got up.  "We can go there now?"  Nick nodded and helped her gather up her daughters so they could get home and look at that feather and through his home office.

Amanda watched her go then went back to the lab.  "That poor woman."

Greg looked at her.  "I see grieving spouses every few days.  It never gets easier."

"Not unless you lose some humanity," she agreed, giving him a hug.  "Thank you, Greg."

"You're welcome, Amanda.  I got an email from Professor Epps."  He let her see it.  She smiled at that and he walked her outside so she could call him in peace, then he went back to helping his buddies figure out if they wanted to play on Teacher with him.  Archie's 'it's better than role playing' was a giggle fit in the making but it was true.


Don looked at his little brother the next night.  "I may have to go to Las Vegas.  One of the people in the lab there just got killed.  Amanda told me to tell the paranoid guys underneath me that they're not allowed to invade now either since she's got a pregnant lab tech who'll kill them all then cry on them."

Charlie looked at him.  "The probability of them trying is pretty high."

"I know.  I knew that earlier.  Which is another very good reason to go to Las Vegas."

"Gambling?" his father asked as he came out of the kitchen with a bag of popcorn.  "Or are you going to take a real vacation for a change?"  He sat down to watch the game.

Don looked at him.  Then shook his head.  "Don't get your hopes up, dad.  We think there's going to be another assault on DragonTech."

"The people that Charlie teaches for on their computer thing?" their father asked.  Charlie nodded, smirking just a bit.  "Why?"

"Because they've got technology that's a bit farther ahead and some people are jealous," Charlie told him.  "Since one of the other associated companies just had a tech die, Don may be able to take his team and hide there until the destruction is done."

"They can't do that," Alan pointed out.

Don sipped his beer.  "They have in the past, Dad.  They've tried before and lost.  Every time they try, the security system at the lab gets worse.  Last time it fried them so badly you couldn't get anything but ashes and bones.  This time....  I'm thinking Vegas might be safer."  He called Megan, the lone female member on his team.  "If, and I do mean if, there is an assault planned on DragonTech, I want you to take the guys and Larry and hide.  Do not go on it.  Disobey orders if you have to.  Because you'll die," he said bluntly.  "There's no valid warrant, Megan.  I'm very sure. Because Charlie teaches for their educational software.  That Amanda woman?  That's the head of the company.  Yeah, her."  He reached over to steal some of the popcorn, nibbling on a piece while he listened to her complain.  "I don't care.  Because their security system is set to kill anyone who's trying to break in.  No matter who they are.  Agents have in the past," he assured her.  "The last time we got ashes and bones.  This time, it'll be worse."  He hung up and looked at Charlie.  "Call Amanda, see if she needs us?"

"I just sent an email to her phone, she said to hide, don't come out there.  It's looking occult and strange."

"Wonderful.  I don't like that," he agreed.  He settled in and then looked back at him.  "Warn Larry."

"Sent the same message to him. He's hiding in his office.  He's not moving."

"Good."  He went back to watching the game, watching as a news special interrupted the last inning about a suspicious fire at a lab complex just outside the city.  He sighed and got up, heading to his car once he had his badge clipped back in place.  "I'll be back after I clean up the chunks."  He drove out there, getting out already shaking his head.  "I told you so!" he yelled at the remaining agents.  He walked past their IAB officers.  "You know, Miss Disher is not going to be happy that they tried it again."  He stopped in front of the usual second-in-command.  "What did they supposedly do this time?"

"They sell weapons to foreign nationals!" he complained.

"Yeah, countries like the UK," Don said, glaring at him.  "Because she won't sell to idiots who do things like this."  The other agents glared.  "Do you really think, with the way you guys just tried to break the law and have been trying to break the law now for years, that they're ever going to help us with anything?  I wouldn't.  Not with the lack of intelligence shown every time this happens."

One of the FBI's internal affair's people coughed.  "You're familiar with this company?"

"My brother Charlie teaches for them on some educational software stuff and she's letting me have medium level access to the labs so I can prove that they're not doing anything wrong.  That way they can step down their security systems."   He looked at him then at the idiot agents left standing, then back at the internal affair's asshole.  "As you can see why they're tired of it.  The cleanup's getting tiring according to some.  Especially since it was a Special Agent out of the DC branch who broke into their labs and stole a potential anesthetic, which then got sold on the streets as Blue Acid."  The agent shuddered.  "Exactly.  This has been going on now for a while.  Now, do we actually have a warrant this time?"  The surviving agents all looked down.  "That's what I thought."

"They do sell to other countries?"

"Amanda's comment on that was 'as long as there's people like the idiots who decide to break into the lab to steal what they think is theirs by right of the researchers being american, even if it's not theirs, then she'll continue to sell to non-hostile countries who have good human rights records'.  End quote," he finished blandly.  "She sells to England, she sells to Canada.  She sells some stuff to Japan."

"But not us.  Which is reasonable with the problems we've had."

"A few days ago, one of her sisters was kidnaped out of a Sears in Miami because she works for them creating new lab testing equipment and engines.  No warrant, no arrest, no anything legal.  They brought her back to the building down there in cuffs without doing any of the protocol we have to do.  The crime lab down there stepped in to save her sister.  They've been doing this for a while now.  She's tired of it and that's why she's letting them come to me so I can check on things."

"Fine.  Can you check on this one weapon?" he asked, handing over his notes.  "That's what they said they were going in to confiscate."

Don looked at it then at him. "It's in storage in England."  He handed it back.  "It got pulled out for a demonstration for a few lab techs and then it went back into storage because they decided the world's not ready for it yet."

The IAB agent nodded.  "Okay.  That's actually fairly reasonable at this point in time.  You're sure?"

"I checked the tapes of it being moved myself."

"Where's the storage building?" the second-in-command sneered.

"England."  He looked at the IAB agent again.  "How many more people are we going to lose because they have to protect themselves from agents who're greedy and trying to take things so they can steal the money after they sell it on the black market?"

"I'm hoping this is the last batch."

"I was hoping me being appointed would mean it wouldn't happen again."

The head of the local bureau stomped over.  "What happened?"

"This is DragonTech, boss," Don said, trying to sound respectful.  "No warrant, breaking and entering, the usual."

He muttered a swear and looked around.  "Where's their folk?"

"It's ten at night.  I'm hoping most of them are home," Don told him.  "Miss Disher's in Las Vegas.  One of their researchers out there just got killed in an occult manner and she's helping by giving over the personnel files."  He looked at the agents being babied. "You know, this is a good reason for them to switch the main office to another country, guys.  Just think about all these goodies going to... oh, I don't know, France."  That got more glares.  "You did it to yourselves.  Congratulations.  I hope you all lose your badges."  He looked at his boss again.  "She's having me be the person who's allowed to come in and investigate."

"I saw that memo.  Works for me.  The thing they're trying to steal?"

"A prototype laser weapon," Don told him.  "It's back in storage in England."

"Everyone inside okay?"

"I can go check," Don assured him, heading that way.  He pulled out Charlie's pass since he still didn't have his own, then waved.  "Let me in."

"You're not Charlie Epps," the guard noted.

"No, I'm his brother Don."  He was let in.  "I still don't have my badge yet."

"We sent it to your house, Agent Epps."

"I'll look around for it tonight.  Everyone okay?"

"The one pregnant woman is crying.  I don't know why and we can't get her out of her lab."

Don nodded, following him back.  He tapped on the door.  "Ma'am.  It's Don, Charlie's brother Don.  Are you all right?  There's ambulances if you're not."  The door opened and she flung herself at him, crying on his chest.  "Shh, it's all right.  Let's let the paramedics check you over," he soothed, walking her off.  "Let me know if we need more."  That got a nod and he walked her outside.  "Boys, she's a bit shaken up and she's pregnant."  They came over to pry her off his chest so they could look at her away from the others.  He looked at his boss.  "Did someone intercept my mail?  They mailed my pass to the house."

"I'll see, Don.  At least this time only two died."

"Two too many.  Their thieving is giving us all a bad name.  I don't want to be associated with guys like that, boss."

"I agree.  Let Internal Affairs do their job, Don."  He walked off to talk to him.  "They're going to be disciplined?"

"They're going to be in jail," he said bluntly.  "As well as two in Miami are.  My boss is tired of this too.  Before they got moved to Alaska and their own unit.  We've had enough."  That got a nod.  "Epps complaining about wearing the same badge?"

"Yup.  You need him?"

"No, we know what's going on and it's a good plan to have an agent who can go in and check on things when someone's got a worry.  Is she paying him?"  Don's boss shrugged.  "Epps?"  He walked over.  "Are you getting a second paycheck?"

"No.  If it gets that labor intensive she said I could," he offered.  That got a nod.  "I got to investigate when their receptionist disappeared with some classified materials.  I was pretty fair, I wasn't pushy, and they liked my team.  They worked with us because we didn't want into their toys.  Then they found out my brother's a math genius and they recruited him to work on some educational software stuff they're doing.  He's still doing that and he does get a second paycheck for that.  Me being the one who can come in to look at the files only started a few weeks back.  It got suggested by one of the guys down in Miami's crimelab from what she said.  After her sister got snatched."

"I've been handling that one too," he admitted.  "They sent me since it's the same underlying cause."

"Greed," Don agreed.

"Basically.  That and jealousy.   Miss Disher is in Las Vegas?"

"A lab person in their satellite lab got killed in an occult manner."

"So she's helping.  That's fine.   Is there anyone here who can get us tapes?"

"I can introduce you to their security guy."

"Please."  He followed Don back to the lab, letting the pregnant woman walk over to hug Don.  "Ma'am," he said respectfully.  She glared at him.  "I'm Internal Affairs, ma'am.  They'll be in a cell for this."  She nodded and let them into the foyer but disappeared into the higher security areas.  "Sir."

"This is Internal Affairs," Don told the head guard.  "He needs stuff to ruin the other guys and take their badges."

"We keep all the attempted assaults on file," the guard offered.  "My office is this way, Agent...."


"Agent Piers.  You were handling the issue in Miami?"

"I was.  It's the same case so I got sent."

"Decent by us.  This way.  Agent Epps, did you brother get Teacher's algorithm fixed again?"

"Yeah, he said something about the kid in Scotland messing up a variable to give himself a backdoor.  He told her and Tiff so she can update it."

"Oh, good.  My son's doing his history test tonight and I wanted to make sure it'd grade him fairly since it's his weakest subject."   He walked off with the agent, talking quietly about what had happened recently.

Don looked around then up at the person leaning down off the second floor railing.  "Everyone up there okay?"

"Just fine.  How much longer will we have the flashing lights?  We've got a person in here who has seizures from them."

"Hopefully most of them will be gone soon and we'll be down to one."  That got a nod.  "My boss is out there and I'll let him know."

"Thanks, Epps.  What did they want?"

"The stuff that went to Miami for the demonstration."

"Pity."  She walked off.

Don went back outside to talk to his boss.  "Sir, we've got someone inside who has seizures from strobing and flashing lights," he said quietly.

"We'll be clear here within an hour," he assured him.  "The ambulances are finished checking people and they're heading off in a few minutes.  We'll get it down to support cars.   Your team?"

"I told Megan to disobey if she was ordered to come on this stupidity.  They're all hiding."

"Good idea.  You sure it's in England?"

"The one they wanted was an older prototype.  They might have the newer one upstairs, I don't know."

"That's understandable."  He looked at the building then at him.  "You like them?  No funny feelings?"

"Not a bit.  Amanda treats Charlie and me like we're family.  Charlie bounced up to her the other day smiling and happy about something and she understood his math babble better than I did.  Besides, some of her siblings really like Charlie and they understand him better than anyone but Larry does."  That got a small smirk.  "Some of the siblings are seriously dangerous people, boss.  I wouldn't want to piss some of them off."  He nodded at one stomping up.  "Internal Affairs is in there looking at the tapes.  We're almost done."

"Thank you," the fuming man said. "Amanda?"

"Las Vegas.  One of the guys in the lab there got killed."

"Oh.  Poor man."  He shook his head.  "Anything touched?"  Don shook his head.  "You sure?"

"As far as we can tell.  I've talked with security a few times and they haven't said anything yet.  Which one are you?"


"Ah.  I'm Charlie's brother Don."

"The one she said can investigate.  Pleasure."  He shook his hand.   "Does she know?"

"I'm assuming so.  Charlie's at home watching the news.  That's how I found out."  That got a nod and he headed that way, getting in with his ID card.  "One of her younger brothers.  He's in school right now.   Just found a very good girlfriend from what she said."

"Interesting.  Okay, I'm leaving it in your hands."

"I'm staying out of it unless Internal Affairs needs me, sir."

"Even better.  Safer for your sanity and badge."  That got a nod and they watched as ambulances pulled away with the two former agents and the rest were taken to the hospital to be checked out by armed agents.  "This is going to be a headache tomorrow," he sighed, heading back to his car.

Don nodded.  "Which is why I don't want to lead more than a team," he muttered, going to ask the other guys to turn off their flashing lights.  "Guys, we've got someone inside who has seizures at flashing lights," he announced.  That got most of them off, all but one car's and the driver was looking at the building.  So Don reached in and turned them off.  The building's lights came on and it helped a lot more than strobing blue and red lights.  Agent Piers came out.  "Need me?"


"I'm going to bed then.  Thank you for handling this efficiently."

"Oh, it's not an issue.  You're right, the prototype is gone but the new one is here."

Don shrugged. "It's their toy."

"True."  Don headed back to his car, going back to his father's place for the night.  His was having a plumbing problem at the moment.  Agent Piers looked at the guard beside him.  "Having him has helped?"

"Having him has helped a lot.  He's already cleared up two others who wanted to know things.  It was nicer.  A lot nicer."

"Then I'll let it be known in a wider circle.  Hopefully it'll end this problem."  He walked off, heading for the hospital to finish arresting the agents.  He had more than enough information, even if they thought they were saving the world they were finished in the bureau.

The End.