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"Dude, I'm just saying, if you didn't want a terrible job assignment then you probably shouldn't have punched out your boss."
Sawyer Branson rolled his eyes and kept walking down the hall of the nondescript building that housed the offices of Omega Sector Headquarters. "C'mon, Evan," Sawyer told his fellow Omega agent. "I didn't punch him out. I tripped."
"Yeah, you tripped and your fist accidentally fell into Burgamy's jaw." Evan couldn't even say it without chuckling.
Hell, just about everyone at Omega couldn't say it without a chuckle now.
Sawyer stopped by his desk and began looking for a tie in the drawers. Okay, yeah, he had punched his boss two weeks ago, but only because it had been an emergency and his brother Cameron had been about to do much worse, like pull his gun on their boss.
So Sawyer had tripped and accidentally popped Dennis Burgamyhis supervisor here at Omegaright in the chin. But seriously, was it Sawyer's fault Burgamy had crumpled to the ground like a rag doll at the slightest tap?
Most importantly, though, due to the "accident" with Burgamy's chin, he and Cameron had saved Cameron's fiancée's life, arrested some very bad guys and pretty much saved the world.
Which had gotten Sawyer a two-week suspension without pay, thank you very much.
Sawyer rooted around in the drawer some more. Where was that damn tie? It was Sawyer's first day back and he wasn't about to walk into Burgamy's office without a tie, despite the fact that proper office dress was not high on the priority list at Omega Sector.
As a multiagency task force, Omega Sector had much more perilous concerns than whether or not the people who worked thereall handpicked and highly qualifiedwere dressed too casually. Sawyer, a five-year Omega veteran at thirty years old, especially did not worry about it. Usually.
Sawyer cursed under his breath as he continued his search for a tie, smashing a finger in one drawer while opening another. He heard a throat clear from behind his back and turned to find Evan swinging a tie from his finger.
"Thanks, man." Sawyer took the tie, figuring one with little golfers on it was better than no tie at all. "I'm just trying to do anything I can to get back toward Burgamy's good graces."
Evan gave a bark of laughter. "And also attempting to keep yourself from desk duty for the foreseeable future. Or the next twenty years if Burgamy has his way."
Sawyer rubbed a hand over his eyes at the thought of desk duty. The normal charm and charisma Sawyer counted on seemed to escape himhe had no idea what he was going to say to Burgamy in their meeting. Lord, Sawyer hoped it wouldn't come down to him being forced to a desk.
He was an agent. That was all Sawyer knew how to do. All he wanted to do.
And damn it, he was a good agent. Sawyer knew his strengths: he was likable and friendly. And peoplewitnesses, victims, hell, even perps a lot of timeshad a way of opening up to Sawyer. Unlike his brothers, who tended to be the strong, sullen type, Sawyer was the strong, charming type. And people loved him for it.
He'd used his friendliness and charm to his advantage multiple times over the years. Sawyer just hoped he could figure out how to use them now when it mattered the most.
He gave another pull on the tie, straightening it at his collar. "Do I look okay?"
Evan gave the knot a mock straightening. "Yes, dear, you look as pretty as a princess."
Any other time Sawyer would've harassed Evan back, but he was too caught up in the thought of dreaded desk duty to bother. "Wish me luck, man."
Sawyer struggled not to compare the walk to Burgamy's office to a death march, but he had to admit he was distinctly nervous knocking on his boss's door. Not a feeling Sawyer was used to.
And damn his brother for all his falling-in-love stuff that had put Sawyer in this position in the first place. Sawyer would take his confirmed-bachelor existence any day.
Cameron entered the office at Burgamy's barked command.
Burgamy sat back in his office chair, dressed in impeccable officewear. His tie definitely had not come from a desk drawer, nor did it have little golfers on it. Burgamy obviously put a great deal of stock into the saying "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have."
Evidently the job Dennis Burgamy wanted was the director of the United States intelligence and/or fashion community.
Burgamy was always prepared in case he had to take an unexpected meeting with someone important. And often, Sawyer and his three siblings thought, went out of his way to make those meetings occur. Burgamy had butted heads with each of the Branson siblings, all of whom worked or had worked at Omega at one time or another. None of the Bransons liked Burgamy much. Although Sawyer was, to his knowledge, the only one of his family to have ever knocked his boss unconscious.
"Branson, come in and sit down," Burgamy told Sawyer without any pleasantries. Burgamy's nasally tone negated whatever credibility the man built with his impressive fashion sense.
Sawyer entered the room and sat at one of the chairs across from the desk.
"I want you to know that if it was up to me, you'd be fired right now," Burgamy began. Sawyer nodded; he didn't doubt it. "But since I'm the bigger man, and because your brother Cameron swears you actually tripped, I am willing to not push for your termination."
Sawyer didn't relax. Burgamy still had the authority to take Sawyer off active duty.
"Not to mention we have bigger problems than your lack of coordination or outright insubordination, or whatever you want to call it," Burgamy continued.
Sawyer nodded. "It won't happen again, sir. I can assure you of that."
Burgamy's eyes narrowed. "It best not, Branson. That little stunt you and your brother pulled? Well, you're damn lucky it all worked out the way it did or being fired right nowwhich you both would've been, believe mewould be the least of your problems."
Burgamy continued without even giving Sawyer the chance to speak. "The Ghost Shell technology in the wrong hands would be a disaster. Thousands of lives could be lost if terrorists got their hands on it."
Sawyer decided he better stick up for himself before Burgamy spun into a complete tizzy. "Absolutely, sir. But there was never any danger of the Ghost Shell technology falling back into DS-13's hands."
Sawyer didn't mention what an utter lie that was. Telling Burgamy that he and Cameron had basically delivered the encoding technology to the crime-syndicate group definitely wouldn't help Sawyer's case for non-desk-duty.
"Ghost Shell is in our custody, sir." Cameron continued with his most engaging smile. "So, all's well that ends well, as they say. And I really am sorry about the" Sawyer made a popping sound with his tongue as he mimicked a punch to the chin.
Burgamy's eyes narrowed. "Well, Branson, I found out yesterday that all isn't as well as we think. You and your brother arrested Smith and some of the other key members of DS-13, but it looks like some others within the organization have taken Smith's place."
Sawyer wasn't surprised. In a crime organization the size and caliber of DS-13, removing one head usually just caused another, uglier one, to grow in its place. DS-13 was more than any one person; eliminating a single personno matter how high upwould not bring the organization down.
"And we've found out that Fred McNeil, the FBI agent on DS-13's payroll, has gone completely off the grid," Bur-gamy continued.
"That's not surprising. McNeil had to know we'd be coming for him next. He's probably with DS-13 full-time now."
Burgamy nodded. "Intel confirms that he is. That's not the problem. Ghost Shell is the problem. We were able to trace Ghost Shell back to the company that made it." Bur-gamy slid a file across his desk to Sawyer. On the outside it was marked Cyberdyne Technologies.
Sawyer shook his head. "Cyberdyne. Can't say I've really heard of them."
"No reason you would have. They're a tech-development company based in North Carolina. Evidently, earlier this year one of their senior computer scientists got concerned about some software they were developing."
"Yes. They were actually working on encoding technology for medical records and account-security type stuff. Then they realized Ghost Shell was something that could be used as a weapon if tweaked."
Sawyer nodded. He wasn't sure exactly how Ghost Shell worked, but he knew the results if it was used by a terrorist group: shutting down communication and computer systems within law enforcement and first-responder groups. Basically it turned the computers against themselves. If Ghost Shell was used in conjunction with a terrorist attack, the results would be devastating. Thousands of lives would be lost.
"One of Cyberdyne's computer scientists got concerned that something weird was going on at Cyberdyne. So, this" Burgamy referred down to his notes. "Dr. Fuller contacted the FBI. Unfortunately the person put on the case was Fred McNeil."
"And Fred McNeil took the information given by said scientist and sent Ghost Shell straight to DS-13."
"Pretty much. Dr. Fuller had no idea Fred McNeil worked for DS-13. Of course, nobody did. Just bad luck all the way around."
Sawyer grimaced. The only bad luck was that Fred McNeil was still out there. Sawyer would like to take that treasonous bastard down. "But at least Cameron got Ghost Shell out of DS-13's hands before they could sell it to anyone."
Burgamy shook his head. "That's what we all thought. But we found out yesterday through a call to Cyberdyne that two versions of Ghost Shell were given to Fred McNeil."
Sawyer sat up straighter in his chair, his attention focused on Burgamy's words. "But we only recovered one."
Sawyer clenched his jaw. "And McNeil still has it?"
"We've had no intel of him trying to sell it. Evidently even other members of DS-13 didn't know there was a second Ghost Shell. This second version wasn't entirely complete. McNeil needs somebody who can finish it for him."
Sawyer's thoughts spun. A not-working Ghost Shell was definitely better than the fully functional version; it gave them a little bit of time. But Omega Sector needed to begin active measures right away to keep Ghost Shell from becoming sellable by DS-13. An undercover operation would be the best solution, but difficult at this late a time. It had taken Sawyer's brother Cameron nearly a year of undercover work to truly infiltrate DS-13.
Omega didn't have that kind of time now.
"Okay, what's the plan?" Sawyer asked Burgamy. "I can try to set something up, call in a few favors to see if I can get in deep undercover with DS-13 quick. It's risky, but"
"No, you won't be going undercover, Branson."
"Sir, I really think a quick, deep undercover mission is critical if we want to get Ghost Shell back."
"I agree that we're going to need to send someone in. But that someone will be Evan Karcz."
Sawyer knew his best friend, Evan, was highly qualified and even had an established cover that could probably work well in this situation. But Sawyer did not want to be left out of the action.
"I'll go in with him. He can use his buyer cover and I'll"
Sawyer began to argue his case but then saw Burgamy's raised eyebrow and the way his boss sat back in his oversize office chair. The man wasn't interested in anything Sawyer had to say. Whatever was about to come next was Burgamy's retribution for Sawyer punching him two weeks ago.
Damn. Sawyer just hoped it wasn't a desk job at an outpost in Alaska.
"You will be heading to Swanannoa, North Carolina, for protective duty of Dr. Zane Fuller, the head of Research & Development at Cyberdyne Technologies."
Babysitting. Almost as bad as a desk job in Alaska.
Sawyer knew he had to make some sort of case against this assignment. "Sir, respectfully, I feel as if my talents may be better used somewhere else. Somewhere a little more
active." There was no way Sawyer wanted to spend the next couple of months babysitting some geriatric computer scientist. Not when there was real work that needed to be done.
"What's happening at Cyberdyne is active, Branson. Dr. Fuller at one time was working on a Ghost Shell counter-measurea decryption system. That system being finished will be key if DS-13 finishes and attempts to sell the new Ghost Shell."
Sawyer grimaced. "I understand that and agree, but I just think someone else might be better suited for this particular job"
"Someone who, say, isn't coming off unpaid leave for striking his superior officer?" There was the raised eyebrow again.
Sawyer shook his head and slumped back in his chair. All right, so Burgamy wasn't going to cut him any slack. Looking at his boss, Sawyer realized he wasn't getting out of this.
"All right, Cyberdyne it is." Sawyer spoke through his teeth with forced restraint.
"You'll be bringing Ghost Shell with you. Dr. Fuller needs it in order to complete the countermeasure system. Downright adamant about that. You'll have to explain what Fred McNeil did, and convince Dr. Fuller and the Cyberdyne team to help us." Burgamy didn't even try to hide the delight on his face. The thought of Sawyer having to deal with a grumpy computer scientist for the next couple of months in the middle of Nowhere, North Carolina, made Burgamy practically gleeful.
Burgamy had chosen Sawyer's punishment well; he knew how much Sawyer would hate this.
Burgamy filled Sawyer in on a few more detailsnone of which made Sawyer any more excited about the operation ahead. But fine, Sawyer would pay his dues, protect some old head of computer-nerdom for a couple of months, then get back to Omega, where he could do some real good.
And he would damn well make sure he never punched his boss again.