Storm Front

By Bel-wah

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.



I have got to be absolutely insane. Rebecca Hanson’s sneakered feet pounded along the soft, springy floor of the forest trail in the woods outside Pohassat. It had been an exhausting day yesterday with very little sleep last night, and here she was, attempting to get in a bit of a workout before the start of what promised to be another brutally taxing day.

All the more reason why you needed to get your rear-end in gear, girl. With her oftentimes-chaotic schedule as a flight attendant, Becky had found that taking the time for a quick workout would always give her an extra boost of energy, helping to get her through those longer hauls. That, and because of the way she loved to eat, was more than enough motivation to keep her committed to a fairly regular exercise schedule. Without it, Becky was sure it would only be a matter of time before she failed to make Orbis’ weight regs. Workout so I can pork out, she chuckled to herself, enjoying the feel of the cool morning air wicking the perspiration off her skin.

Unlike a certain Catherine Phillips.

There was not an ounce of excess fat on the pilot. She was energy and motion personified, and yet the woman never worked out. A genetic gift from her Irish and Greek forebears, Becky supposed a bit enviously, checking her watch. Fifteen minutes out. Time to turn around. She’d allowed herself a half-hour for the run, then just a few quick minutes to shower and dress before Freddy Comstock would be at their doorstep. Somewhere in that timetable, there had better be room for breakfast, she thought, ignoring the impatient grumbling of her empty stomach.

Rebecca dug in and quickened her pace.

She wasn’t really an early-morning riser unless she had to be, such as on days like these. And so when she’d found herself awakened as dawn peeked in through her window, she’d decided to make use of the time. Weaving through the parking lot of the ‘Lumberjack,’ filled with cars and trucks sitting silently with their fogged-over windows, she’d quickly found the scenic, multi-use trail crossing the highway about 100 yards down the road from the motel.

Becky had been happy to peel off the main thoroughfare and venture into the woods. She relished the peace and serenity she found there, and greedily drank in the quiet hum of the living forest around her.

A far cry from that hellish piece of the piney woods she’d borne witness to yesterday.

Moving at a good clip now, Becky kept up a steady, even tempo on the relatively level path, falling into an easy rhythm, timing her breathing to match her strides. As she took in the rich hues of green growth around her, the young blonde realized that a lack of rainfall in this region was clearly not a problem. An early morning mist swirled and hugged the trees at the base of their trunks, so that the great limbs seemed to rise up towards the sky not from the earth, but from dewy clouds below.

Becky passed by a small picnic area she had not noticed on the way out; a small chipmunk sat on one of the redwood tables, eyeing her carefully. He kept one beady, black eye on her while he twirled an acorn furiously in his front paws. The black and white racing stripe of fur running the length of his body quivered as he chewed at his prize with tiny, razor-sharp teeth. Beneath him, a small pile of shell-shavings littered the picnic table.

"Hi there, little guy!" Becky’s breathless voice cut through the morning quiet with all the subtlety of cannon fire to the small chipmunk. Choosing survival over a good meal in the face of this superior giant of an intruder, he skittered away with an indignant squeak, leaving the half-eaten nut behind.

The flight attendant smiled broadly, shaking her head at the chipmunk’s retreating tan hindquarters. "Have it your way!"

A few more strides, and she was getting closer to the main road now. Becky could see how the narrow trail began to widen and slope gently downhill, and the mists had nearly dissipated here. Breathing in and out the crisp, clean air, her legs pumping and arms held lightly at her side, she was surprised to feel as good as she did after so little sleep. Her run was working its energizing magic once again. That, and the fact that a certain airline pilot she knew had spun a special brand of sorcery, too.

Becky felt the heat rise to her face, setting her nerve endings aflame, at the memory of it all. Being with Kate… there was simply nothing else she’d ever experienced in her life that compared to it. The way she felt in her arms, so alive, so safe, so loved. She’d been disappointed to wake up alone, but she figured she deserved that after all, having made the separate room arrangements in the first place.


When she’d first told Kate she’d reserved the three rooms for appearances’ sake, the pilot had smiled and appeared almost indifferent, as though she hadn’t given a damn what the others thought. And if she didn’t, did that mean that she, Rebecca, did?

No. No way. Rebecca cleared the trail and turned out onto the macadam highway, heading back towards the grinning neon Lumberjack sign. It was just that this was the first time she’d had to deal with the status of their relationship outside of the comfortable aerie of Kate’s apartment, or the familiar territory of the Orbis offices.

When they had returned from Rome some months ago, Kate had thrown herself fully into her new position as head of Orbis’ strategic operations unit. And Becky had been only too willing to resume her flight schedule routine, anxious to have that touchstone of normalcy after the hell she’d been through. Other than the odd meal out, that had been it.

Although Becky had often talked about Kate meeting her family in Los Angeles, that hadn’t happened yet. There was always a reason: Kate’s busy work schedule, the timing of the flights, Becky’s own informal attitude towards it all. I need to work on that, Becky resolved, her feet slapping onto the road with driven purpose, make it happen. After all, if the tall dark pilot was such an important part of her life, shouldn’t she share that with her family? Oh, they knew about Kate, about their friendship, but they didn’t really know, other than her sister, Eileen.

And what about Kate? Rebecca knew she had a brother and a mother nearby in Queens, but she never spoke of them. There was a lot of hurt and distance there, and the young blonde still wasn’t entirely sure why. And then there was work. One thing Becky had noticed was that being an ‘out’ flight attendant was no big deal, although she hadn’t yet taken that step herself. But for Kate, working now on the executive side of the aisle, what were the professional implications? Becky simply didn’t know, and she supposed she’d had that in mind yesterday as well. Something to talk about with Kate, definitely, once all the horror of this crash was behind them.

Becky slowed to a light jog as she pulled into the gravel parking lot of the motel. The faint smell of breakfast cooking wafted over from the diner next door, getting her immediate attention. Groaning, catching her wind, Becky wondered how she’d ever have enough time to shower, change, and grab a bite to eat before Freddy arrived.

Becky steadied herself with one arm against the wall of the hotel, and pulled her leg up behind her in a stretch. Dammit, I thought exercise was supposed to kill your appetite!


A deep throaty rumble buzzed in her ear from behind.

Startled, she released her foot and spun awkwardly around. "Wha- oh God, Kate!"

"Sorry." Blue eyes crinkled in the soft morning light. "Did I frighten you?"

"Yes, I mean no, I— where did you come from, anyway?" Becky sagged back against the motel, tugging her sweaty t-shirt away from her body.

"Next door." Kate nodded towards the diner. "I heard you leave this morning to go for your run, and figured you could use some sustenance once you got back." The pilot lifted a white paper bag and dangled it in front of the smaller woman’s nose. "Coffee, yogurt, an orange," she saw Becky’s face fall, "and… a powdered donut."

"Gosh Kate, thanks!" Becky said gratefully, moving towards a bench at the end of the walkway. She dug into the bag, taking a long sip of the strong coffee before peeling back the orange. "So, where’s Mac?"

The pilot took a seat alongside her, and propped one blue-jeaned leg against the walkway railing. "Still in the diner, talking with a few of the investigators. Always working." Kate sighed, and turned to look out over the parking lot towards the forest beyond, and towards the grim day that awaited them.

Sensing her mood, Becky was quiet as she munched on her breakfast, working her way quickly through the orange and yogurt. She saved the donut for last.

"Want some?" She waved the powdery confection in front of Kate.

"Well," an eyebrow quirked, "maybe just a bite."

"Go for it," Becky replied, as the pilot leaned forward and bit into the soft dough.

"Mnnn… thanks," Kate grinned, chewing. "Mac told me they were good!"

Becky could not help herself, she reached out to thumb away a smudge of speckled powder from the corner of Kate’s mouth. "I missed you this morning, you know," she said softly, gazing up into eyes whose love and desire mirrored her own.

"Me too." Kate slid her hand next to Rebecca’s and gently stroked the back of it with her long fingers. "I hate it when we’re apart but…."

"But," Becky said with finality, as if the qualifier answered her own question.

"But," Kate hesitated before agreeing with her, "at least for now."

"I- I don’t want it to be this way forever, Kate." Becky inhaled deeply of the brisk morning air, feeling a chill creep over her dampened skin.

"Don’t you?" The pilot cocked her head and looked upon her with a fresh eye, as if filing away this piece of new information.

"God, of course not! You don’t think—"

"No… no, I don’t," Kate said, pushing herself to her feet. "It’s just nice to hear you say it." She checked her watch, avoiding Becky’s frank, blinking stare. "I’m going to go find Mac. You’d better get showered. We’ve got to get moving."

"Right," Becky replied, watching Kate’s back retreating into the glow of the rising sun, "I’m right behind you." Her appetite gone, she dropped the remainder of her donut into the paper bag and discarded it into a nearby trash can. She took a last sip of her coffee, hoping it would warm her, but it too had grown cold.


What a difference a day makes, Catherine Phillips thought, as Freddy Comstock’s balky Chevrolet Blazer deposited them in front of the FBI command post. The morning sun had not yet cleared the towering blue spruce and white pine trees, but the shimmering, golden glow that trickled in between the tall sentinels was enough to show that the Sheetz & Campbell logging camp had become a veritable mobile home park overnight. Trailers and RVs were everywhere, supplementing the aged barracks and office. A mammoth motor unit marked ‘FBI Crime Lab’ was parked near the now-silent sawmill; bright fluorescent lights lit the trailer from within, and heads could be seen moving about. Several large cranes and flatbed trucks completed the picture.

Emergency workers were pouring into the site; indeed, it appeared as though many had never left. The atmosphere in the camp was hushed, but people hurried themselves through the compound all the same, the difference being that today they seemed to move with a greater degree of organization, of purpose. Due in no small part to the rather large managerial hand of Gordon Ballard, Kate knew. It was hard enough working one’s way through a disaster site. The key was to keep busy, to stay focused, to not dwell on the immutable consequence of what had occurred. A simple, logical philosophy that was, in the heat of the moment, difficult to adhere to.

The pilot turned to Rebecca, noting how already the younger woman’s face had changed since they’d left the motel. She looked more pensive, more withdrawn, somehow. As if steeling herself for the day ahead. "Let’s really start to break down that manifest today, okay?"

"Right here," Becky smiled faintly, tapping the black laptop bag. "Rory was going to be sending some more detailed background information on the passengers and the origins of the cargo."

Mac blew out a long breath of air and gazed toward the section of trees that screened the logging camp from the crash site. "If I know that kid he’s been up all night working on it."

"Probably hasn’t left the office since yesterday, for that matter," Kate said, knowing how her Wharton School computer genius thrived on the juices of excitement and challenge. She’d seen Rory Calverton like that before, a time or three, when they’d felt they’d been close on the trail of a big lead. Cup after cup of strong coffee, candy bars from the vending machine, and Nine Inch Nails blaring from his earphones were all the young man had needed to fuel him through successive all-nighters. Nothing Kate had said had been able to dissuade him; he’d sit in front of his computer, its lights reflecting back off the unshowered shine of his face, as though he were an addict waiting impatiently for his next information fix. During those times, only the stern voice and firm hand of the motherly Dottie West had been enough to propel him out the door towards a bed and a bath.

"Well, at least Dottie’s there to keep him in Kit Kat bars and Baby Ruths," Mac chuckled.

"Ugh," Becky turned up her nose up distastefully at that.

"Really? I would’ve thought that was your speed." Kate planted her tongue firmly in her cheek.

"I do have my standards Kate," the flight attendant primly replied. "Candy bars are not a breakfast food."

"Lunch, right?" Mac stepped up the small staircase to the door of the command trailer. He rapped loudly on its battered exterior.

"Oh, definitely," Becky nodded her head vigorously. "Dinner too. And a midnight snack."

Kate cast a sidelong glance at the smaller woman. "Hmnn… I’ll have to remember that," she said in a low, mischievous tone, giving Becky a subtle poke in the side.

The door to the mobile unit burst open, revealing the massive form of Assistant Director-in-Charge Gordon Ballard.

He bolted down the steps, past Mac. "Grab some java if you want at the canteen," he said, his dark blue FBI wind-breaker flying out behind him, "we’re heading to the lab trailer." Special Agent-in-charge Marissa Bello carefully picked her way down the wobbly aluminum steps after him, carrying a clipboard. She studiously ignored the new arrivals.

Catherine used her long legs to match stride with Ballard as he moved across the compound. "Find something?"

"I think so," he replied, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Your people may want to hear this too."

"Mac, Becky!" Kate motioned her team to follow her, never leaving Ballard’s side. "The luggage pieces from last night?"

"Yup. My people have been working on it all night."

And Ballard himself probably had too. Though clean-shaven, he appeared to be wearing the same shirt and jeans as he had the day before, and his pale blue eyes were puffy and bloodshot.

Quickly, they filtered into the mobile crime lab. The trailer was huge, based out of New York, Kate guessed, and from all appearances sported the best equipment that modern forensic science had to offer. Some of the apparatus was easily identifiable: microscopes, centrifuge, heating devices, x-ray, refrigeration, and a bank of test tubes and labeled bottles and jars. Lights blipped and flashed, computers were humming away, and Kate detected a faint metallic scent in the air that vaguely reminded her of those damned required chem and physics labs back at the Academy.

Smaller worktables and stools were placed in front of the hardware, and a large, stainless steel table stood in the center of the trailer. Several blackened segments of aircraft debris rested on the shiny, silvered tabletop, and lab technicians in white FBI smocks busied themselves over the items, conversing softly among themselves. One gentleman was jotting notes down into a tablet, while another appeared to be staining a microscope slide for analysis.

Agent Bello smoothly moved past Kate and Ballard to join the techs’ conversation.

"Wow," Mac said, gazing with wonder around the trailer. "Things sure have changed since I left the bureau."

"You mean your waistline?" Ballard chuckled.

"Hey! I resemble that remark!" Mac’s face took on a mock hurtful look.

"Actually," Ballard admitted, raking fingers through his red buzz cut, "I can barely keep up with this crap myself."

Kate crossed her arms across her chest as she took in the high-tech gadgetry. "It certainly is impressive. To think that all this… stuff, is mobile."

One of the white-smocked techs broke off from the huddled group and snapped off his rubber gloves. He was a slight man, middle aged, with thinning light blonde hair. His bespeckled brown eyes sparkled and his cheeks were flushed a rosy red, as though he’d just returned from a bracing walk through the woods, rather than having just pulled an all-nighter.

"It’s the nature of the discipline. The science we’re doing here today rivals the best that the central crime lab was able to do just three or four years ago." He smiled brightly and held a hand out to Kate. "Dr. Farley Leber. Welcome to my playground."

The pilot was surprised at the firmness of the scientist’s handshake. "Catherine Phillips, Orbis Airlines Strategic Operations. These are my associates, Jim MacArthur and Rebecca Hanson." She could not help but return his smile. "And I promise not to touch any of your toys."

Dr. Leber continued to hold Kate’s hand in both of his, grasping it firmly. "Oh, you can," he replied, his dark eyes twinkling, "as long as you ask permission first!"

"You got a deal." Kate’s eyes widened as she realized that the little man was flirting with her. She didn’t mind, not really. In fact, she admired his chutzpah. Like the old story of the Dachshund ruling the domestic roost over the German Shepherd; the little dog had never looked in a mirror, and so it simply figured that it was a German Shepherd, too.

Obviously, Dr. Farley Leber could not be bothered with mirrors.

"All right, gather ‘round, folks," the doctor said, in a warm voice that sounded as though he were gathering friends to a campfire. "This way… you’ll want to take a look at this." Leber barely came up to Kate’s shoulder, but he took her elbow lightly in his fingertips, guiding her towards the central table.

The door to the trailer suddenly opened and slammed shut, admitting Robert Joseph, vice-chairman of the NTSB. The official cast a peevish look at Ballard through his owl-framed glasses. "You weren’t going to get started without me, were you, Gordy?"

"Not at all, Bob." The big man’s tone was cordial, "C’mon in."

"And where’s Eric?" The older man huffed in irritation as he swung his head about the trailer.

"Dunno," Ballard replied, speaking as to the whereabouts of the FAA administrator, Eric Brown. "Must be sleeping in. I’ll fill him in later. But we’ve got to get started now."

Kate examined Ballard’s face carefully, there was no malice there that she could detect. The man simply could not be bothered with side-bar issues that had nothing to do with his goal: to find out what the hell had happened to flight 180.


Gordon Ballard had it. Kate’s respect for the assistant director ratcheted up a notch.

"Farley!" Ballard nodded a ‘let’s go’ towards the diminutive scientist.

"Well," the doctor adjusted his glasses and smiled a bit self-consciously, "we’ve been quite busy here over the last 16 hours, as you might imagine."

"You guys have been working your tails off, Farley, and we slugs out in the field appreciate it."

Dr. Farley Leber beamed at his superior. "Thanks, Gordy." He pulled on a fresh pair of surgical gloves and stepped closer to the cold metal table. "Now, what we have here is… or used to be… a section of a luggage rack or pallet from the ill-fated flight, as well as material – baggage, cargo, what-have-you, that we recovered in the immediate vicinity."

Ballard turned to Kate and spoke. "We’re fairly certain these items came from the rear baggage hold, but we’ll need to wait for more information to come in to confirm that."

"From the flight data recorder."

"Yeah. That, and when we get our arms around the airframe reconstruction."

"What kinds of… tests have you done on this material so far?" Bob Joseph was barely able to contain his impatience. Kate was nursing a rapidly growing dislike for the man; it was obvious to her that he was all about power and bluster, rather than getting things done. Leave it to the Federal Government to keep promoting arrogant jerks like him up the ladder.

"Oh yes!" Leber referred to a nearby tablet. "We’ve been able to do all sorts of interesting analyses here of the physical evidence. "Let’s see now…." He scanned the list, refusing to be hurried. "We’ve been running testing protocols on the pallet and collateral material… including fiber analysis, electronic image scanning, chemical testing, spectroscopy, x-ray powder diffractometry, residual stress and…" his eyes peeped over the frame of his glasses, "trace element analysis for accelerants and explosive residues."

"And you’ve found something." Kate’s heart pounded in her chest. Her blood rushed through her ears like a freight train, threatening to drown out the scientist’s words. Here was her worst fear in this whole mess, about to be realized.

"As we in the forensic science community like to say," Leber put down the tablet and rubbed his hands together, "Yeppers. Big time."

"Talk to me, Farley," Ballard pressed closer to the table, his voice all business. "What have we got?"

"Needless to say," Leber laid a hand on the largest blackened artifact, it looked to be a shorn off rung of a ladder, "these bits of debris will be subjected to additional, lengthy chemical and metallurgical forensic examinations. Scientific method and all that neat stuff."

"But right now?" Ballard’s patience was wearing thin with the little doctor.

"Right now, Gordy," Leber gently patted the debris as though he were coddling a newborn puppy, "I’d say your plane was brought down by a high-performance plastic explosive. At least, that’s what the residue indicates."

"I knew it," Ballard smacked his fist in the palm of his hand, his blue eyes blazing.

"Sounds a bit far-fetched," Bob Joseph loudly protested. "How can something like that get on-board a plane today? With all the security checks we’ve got?"

"It can happen," Kate was surprised at the deceptive calmness of her voice, in spite of the chill she felt tickling the small of her back. "Remember the hijackers on flight 2240 used some sort of polymers that got past detection at JFK. God knows what might’ve happened in Lisbon or Paris." The pilot could see Rebecca paling at her side. "Some plastic explosives can pass undetected through normal airport security checks. The plastique itself can be molded or even flattened into a variety of shapes and sizes… concealed in carryon luggage, for example, and you wouldn’t even know it."

"You’re right, Catherine!" Leber spoke as though to a star pupil. "Plastique gives tremendously high destructive power to what otherwise is a relatively compact bomb."

"Ah… can we talk a little about the evidence?" The NTSB executive sported a sour, pinched expression on his face.

"Certainly. Lights?"

As the interior of the trailer grew darker, Dr. Leber flicked on a screen attached to the wall behind him. Immediately, an image popped into view of an object that looked like the surface of some far-away planet; pitted, shadowed, torn apart by some unseen force.

"What the…." Mac’s jaw dropped.

"This," Leber produced a laser pointer, "is a section of luggage pallet framework."

Ballard shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Looks like it’s really been worked over."

"Oh yes," Leber enthused, "we were very excited by this particular item. See…" He skipped the pointer along the deep, grooved pits in the image, "…here it shows conclusive evidence of a detonating high explosive. Again, our preliminary residue tests confirm it. What you see are pockmarks from flying metal shards, consistent with what a strong bomb blast within the aircraft would inflict."

"And that matches what the EMTs were saying about the victims," Mac said, his voice low.

"Correct," Agent Bello confirmed, her head down, jotting a note on her clipboard. "With the force of such an explosion, the thousands of rivets that held the fuselage together would’ve shot through the plane like tracer bullets. The trauma, the power of such a blast—"

"Would’ve torn the plane… and everything in it… apart," Ballard finished.

"Instantly," Leber said, switching off the screen and motioning for the lights. "They didn’t feel a thing."

"Maybe," Kate swung her piercing blue eyes from the doctor to Ballard. "When will you be able to listen to the cockpit voice recorder?"

"Not until a member of the pilot’s union gets here, Right Bob?"

The NTSB executive nodded. The CVR and flight data recorder were under his auspices. "Right. They have to give approval before we release any kind of transcript."

"Kate’s a member!" Becky proudly volunteered the information, turning and giving her tall friend a self-satisfied smile.

"Really? How fascinating!" Leber suavely edged closer to the pilot.


"Yes," Becky continued, "Kate is also a captain with Orbis airlines."

"Not anymore," the pilot muttered under her breath, taking a step away from Leber’s advance.

"Well it has to be an authorized rep," Ballard said. "Sorry, Catherine. I’d use you if I could. Meantime," he captured the room in a blistering glare, "we’ve got a shitload of investigative work that needs to be done here. More data analysis. Witness interviews. We’ve got to establish the nature of the explosive device, what it was contained in, its location, and the sequence of events immediately following detonation."

"And all this has to be correlated and independently confirmed," Bob Joseph added firmly, still unwilling to commit to a terrorist event. "It could take a year or more, if ever, before we know for sure."

Ballard bristled at that and had opened his mouth to reply, but a soft, cultured voice beat him to it.

"I’m sorry, you are--?" Farley Leber slowly removed his spectacles.

"Robert Joseph," the older man sputtered, taken aback, "Vice-chairman of the NTSB."

"Well Bob," Leber offered the executive a benign smile, "with all due respect…."

Uh-oh, Kate chuckled to herself, here it comes. This doggie has teeth!

"I don’t need a year. A month. Or even a week, for that matter." His words were biting, yet the scientist’s tone was something out of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. "I can tell you within a 98% degree of probability that my conclusions will be confirmed. If you care to drag your heels and put your fellow investigators – not to mention the victims’ families – through hell for that last 2%, then be my guest."

"Wha—" Joseph recovered quickly. "How dare—"

"Okay, that’s it for now, people." Gordon Ballard jumped in to salvage the meeting. After all, these people still had to work together, even if Joseph persisted in bulling his way through the investigation. "Thanks again, Farley. We’ll let you get back to your… microscopes." He began to usher the visitors towards the door.

"Thank you, Gordy!" The little man fairly clicked his heels. "It’s always nice to have a some company once in a while."

Before Catherine knew what was happening, Dr. Farley Leber, he with the heart of a giant, swept up her hand and gallantly brushed it against his lips. "Enchanté, Captain Catherine Phillips."

"Ditto," the dark pilot replied, gazing down at the small man and giving him a playful wink.

The group tramped out the door of the lab trailer and down the steps, with Kate and Rebecca lagging behind.

Casting a quick glance around the compound, Becky grabbed her companion lightly by the arm. "Okay… I am a bit slow on some things, but do you mind telling me what that was all about?" Her green eyes flashed with good humor in the morning sunshine.

"Hey!" Kate feigned indifference, but her eyes danced merrily at the young flight attendant. "What can I tell you? Good things sometimes come in small packages." A pause. "You ought to know!"


The day wore on with Kate, Mac, and Becky hunched over in the command trailer, poring over printouts of the manifest and the supporting reports that Rory Calhoun had fowarded. Gordon Ballard popped his head in occasionally, but most of the time the big FBI man worked over at the actual crash site, supervising the removal of the larger pieces of flight 180’s fuselage. A dreary, painstaking process at best. The reconstruction of the downed aircraft in the empty hanger back in Bangor would be critical in the analysis and visualization of just what had happened to the doomed flight. The physical evidence had to be consistent with any theory that Leber, Ballard, or the NTSB, for that matter, developed.

Sometime after 1 p.m., Becky had stepped out into the fresh air and gone to the canteen truck, retrieving coffee and chicken sandwiches for herself, Mac, and Kate. She and Mac had greedily devoured theirs, but the young flight attendant noted how Kate’s sandwich sat virtually untouched amid the snowdrifts of paper. Now, it was past 3 o’clock.

It would never do, Becky knew, for Kate to deplete her energy resources, not now. She understood how driven her partner was, how her complete focus was centered on pinning the crash on the responsible parties. Still, that could take days, weeks, even longer. And during that time, even the most superhuman among us need to eat, she thought.

"Kate, aren’t you going to eat that?"

"Why, do you want it?" The pilot never lifted her eyes from the paperwork in front of her as she slid the sandwich in Becky’s direction. "Here."

"No," the young blonde sighed, "I mean you need to eat it. Now." She pushed the chicken sandwich back.

"Not hungry." Kate took a pencil and began scratching little check marks on a list. "Can you believe all the stuff this plane was carrying? Besides all the passengers’ luggage, I mean. Cases of wine. International mail. Crates of shoes. Collectible porcelain." Kate wore her hair loose this day, and she absent-mindedly pushed a stray piece of it back behind one ear. Sighing, she pushed back in her chair and tossed her pencil down. "We need to look at who had access to the shipments. Who packed them and loaded them—"

"Right," Becky said, "and we will. Meantime," she captured the taller woman in a green-eyed reprimand, "you will eat this sandwich. Now. Mac has no intention of lugging your butt around this place if you pass out from lack of food, right Mac?"

"Uh… right!" the investigator agreed, enjoying this exchange between the roommates. He never could have gotten away with it himself. Catherine sometimes didn’t take care of herself the way she should when they were working, and there was nothing really he could do about it. Becky, however… that was another matter. Let her go for it.


"Kaaaate…!" Becky lifted her chin to the pilot, the steadiness of her gaze telling her she would brook no argument.

Kate tried to hold her stare, to challenge her into backing down, but she knew she’d already lost. Damn! "Okay… okay!" Kate grumbled, dropping her eyes and reaching for the wax-paper wrapped sandwich. "She’s pushy, isn’t she, Mac?"

"Oh yeah," the burly Irishman quickly agreed. "In fact, I’d do whatever she says if I were you!"

Becky smiled broadly, basking in the glow of her victory. "Thank you very much, both of you," she said primly, clearing her throat before she returned to her paperwork.

Mac yawned and reached his arms up towards the ceiling, stretching to the sound of several audible pops and cracks. "So no one’s officially come forward yet, claiming responsibility?"

"If it’s El-Yousef, and I know it is," Kate said in-between bites, "then he won’t. For him, it’s not about getting the attention, the international spotlight for committing a terrorist act. The act is his end in itself. His satisfaction. This guy is a filthy cockroach," her voice was hard, "he likes to do his business in the shadows. And that’s where we’ll find him." Kate paused, surprised at the unexpected fierceness of her last statement. She self-consciously dropped her gaze to the sandwich she was eating, eyeing it cautiously.

"Nice visual," Mac grinned, reaching for his coffee cup. "Glad I’m not the one eating."

"So? What’s your point?" Kate smirked and lifted an eyebrow at her older colleague, resuming her attack on the sandwich with a gulping chomp.

"Not a thing, not a thing!" Mac chuckled, raising his hands in surrender. He knew when to leave well-enough alone.

"Where are we on the passenger list?" The playfulness left Catherine’s voice as she swung her eyes from Mac to Rebecca. Back to business.

"Well, Becky and I have split it up and broken it down."

"Yes," Becky reached for a sheaf of papers. "Of the 210 people on the plane when it crashed, 200 were passengers. We know of course that the aircraft originated in Lisbon. There were 160 people on that flight: 7 crew and 140 passengers."

"Hmn, nowhere near a full boat," the pilot said thoughtfully.

"Typical for that run, from what I understand," Becky replied. "Anyway, the plane landed in Paris, refueled, and reserviced."

"Three crew were added at that point," Mac took up the story. "A jumpseat captain for the overseas leg, and two flight attendants."

"The ones who originated in Lisbon stayed with the flight?"

"Yeah," Mac’s eyes skipped down a list in front of him. "18 Passengers remained on the plane, connecting through from Paris to Montreal. Plus 182 new passengers, boarding in Paris. That brings us to our 210 total when the plane went down."

"Have you got those reports on the security in Lisbon?" Kate made room as Mac handed her several sheets of paper clipped together. "Thanks," she said as an afterthought, flipping through the paperwork. "I know the security at Charles deGaulle is very tough. They’ve had their share of terrorist problems in the past. But Lisbon… I just don’t know. All it takes is one small breakdown… a lapse along the way--"

"What about the 3 ˝ hour delay in Paris?" Mac massaged the back of his neck. "What was that all about? Could something have happened then?"

"Possibly," Kate allowed, "I don’t want to rule it out. But the delay was due to problems with another carrier – Air Marianne – with whom Orbis shares gates. Took a while to get that straightened out."

"So it was nothing mechanical?" Becky wanted to know.

"No. Not the delay, at least," Kate said. "Now tell me about those passengers who boarded in Lisbon and stayed on through Paris. Theoretically," the pilot stared at the ceiling, "the 122 passengers who deplaned in Paris would’ve had all their luggage removed with them."

"Yes, unless it was a carryon piece," Becky reminded her. "They’re easy enough to leave behind, and the flight attendants might assume it belonged to one of the passengers traveling on."

"Right. But for the sake of argument, and based on Dr. Leber’s initial findings, let’s suppose that the device was definitely in the cargo hold. Passengers flying on to Montreal might have gotten off the plane in Charles deGaulle to stretch their legs, but their actual luggage would’ve remained on board. Correct?"

"Yes," Becky said, casting a sideways glance at Mac. She could tell where Kate was going with this.

"So, for those pieces that remained in the hold, what kind of security check did they undergo prior to departure – in Paris, I mean. Was there any additional baggage scanning for fly-throughs?"

Mac consulted his paperwork silently for a time before raising his eyes to his boss. "No. Not that I can see here."

"Okay then," Kate’s eyes flashed. She leaned forward into the table. "I want us to concentrate on the passenger profiles, with a particular focus on those who checked in at the Lisbon airport. Let’s look for individuals who were traveling alone, or who paid for their ticket in cash. Cross-reference them with Interpol. And let’s check the passports of these people. Remember, we’re looking for links to El-Yousef and his associates. That could mean Saudi, Sudanese, Afghan, hell, even European, if you consider the network of legitimate businesses that help finance his terrorist activities.

"There’s a Saudi Arabian man who boarded in Lisbon, Kate." Rebecca circled a name on her list. "Khaled Sadek. He worked for an import/export company. Plus several others… two more Saudis and a Sudanese, who checked in for the Paris-Montreal leg.

"Okay," Kate’s voice was grim. "Then this is where we get started. Intensive background checks. Financials. Interviews. The whole nine yards."

"We?" Mac proceeded cautiously, not wishing to spark the dark pilot’s infamous temper. Still, it needed to be said. "Listen Catherine, we have to watch our step here, and let the FBI do their job."

Blue eyes flamed to deadly life and burned a hole through Jim MacArthur. The former FBI agent shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "What I mean is—"

"The FBI can do their job," Kate said, sounding like the threatening rumble before a thunderstorm, "and I’ll do mine. Understood?"

Mac swallowed hard and nodded. "Got it." Uh-oh. There was trouble in store ahead, he just knew it. Lead, follow, or get out of the way, his father had always taught him. And to his great misfortune, Mac knew in his heart of hearts that he’d follow Catherine Phillips wherever she might lead. God dammit all!

"Okay," Kate said, the anger still apparent in her voice. She returned her attention to the printouts, shuffling papers without really looking at them.

The awkward silence in the trailer was broken when the hulking, breathless form of Gordon Ballard burst through the door. "Shake a leg!" he cried, ducking his head so that the tips of his red buzz cut just missed clipping the top of the doorjamb. "The cockpit voice recorder… we’re ready to go."


"Aaah. How’s it look?"

"That’s Dick Resnick, the captain," Kate said softly. The faint sound of a cockpit door closing could be heard in the background. Listening intently, huddled around the recorder in the NTSB’s trailer, were Gordy Ballard, Bob Joseph and Eric Brown, as well as Kate and her team. A tall, thin-nosed gentleman was from the Orbis pilot’s union; Kate had recalled seeing his name on various correspondences she’d received in the past

"Same-o, same-o. Maintaining flight level three zero zero."

"And Tommy Hall, the co-pilot," she added. "They’re at 30,000 feet."

"Roger, good sir. Suzie’s got some of the hot stuff brewing back there if you want some."

"Resnick again," Kate said.

"I want some, all right, and it’s got nothing to do with coffee."

Kate noticed Rebecca blush at lewd laughter sounding from the tape. And it didn’t help matters any that they all knew from the crew profiles that Hall was married.

A tired sigh from Resnick, and then, "They’re all sleeping like babies."

"Can ya blame ‘em?" Hall paused. "When are you out of Montreal?"

"Tomorrow night. Not cutting me too much of a break on the legal rest period. Anyway, I’m on to Vancouver. You?"

"Not ‘till Sunday."

"You lucky bastard!"

"Yep. Heading down to DC. Fits in perfectly with Suzie’s schedule."

The sounds of more laughter filled the cabin, and by now all those gathered around the recorder were shifting uncomfortably. Flight 180 had been an older 747, and so the CVR was running on just a 30 minute magnetic tape loop. It was self-erasing, so that only the most recent 30 minutes could be heard at any one time. The problem was, that it would pick up any conversation, personal and otherwise, occurring in the cockpit or over the intercom. The people who flew planes were only human. Other cockpit voice recordings Kate had listened to and read transcripts of in her career, had proved that often enough.

"Contact Montreal Approach yet?"

"Still about 5 or 10 minutes away, I’d guess. Ooooh… I can feel that featherbed now."

"Yeah. Long day." Resnick again.

"Shit – long night too, with that goddamned delay."

"Yeah. That gate-sharing crap. Why don’t they just lease out what they need and be done with it?"

"Dollars and francs my friend," Hall laughed aloud, "it’s what it always comes down to."

"No kidding."

An extended period of silence followed, there was nothing save for the hum of the 747’s big engines. It went on for at least three or four minutes, Kate estimated. Not unusual in long overseas flights, she knew, when the big birds very nearly flew themselves.

"Raining down below." Co-pilot Hall’s voice sounded faintly.

"A bit. But it sure is pretty up here with that moon."

If Captain Resnick had anything more to say, or if Hall ever answered him, they would never know. A sharp crack… a clicking noise, sounded on the tape.

Then… nothing.

"That’s it," Bob Joseph said to a solemn gathering. "After that split-second sound, the recording ends." When it came to cockpit voice recorder analysis, this was the NTSB’s specialty, and Joseph was clearly in his element. "It’s nearly identical to the sound picked up in the cockpit at the conclusion of Pan Am 103’s CVR."

"An explosion," Kate said, eyeing the vice-chairman carefully.

"Sadly, yes."

"So there was no indication from the crew prior to the end of the tape that there was a problem," Gordy Ballard stood nearly at attention, his great size dwarfing the others around him. "No sign of engine or mechanical failure, or an aborted mayday."

"You’re right, Gordy," the older man agreed.

Now it was Ballard’s turn to play devil’s advocate. "But the sound burst itself, could it have come from a mechanical or structural cause?"

"To the human ear, yes," Joseph said, moving to a large computer screen. "We can’t distinguish between the sounds of an explosion; whether it’s from a bomb, mechanical failure, or even a fuel problem like TWA 800 had. But this computerized oscilloscope can." He nodded to the lab tech who then typed a several commands into the computer. "Show them, Jimmy."

The young tech looked over his shoulder at the group. "Well, as Bob has stated, our ears can’t distinguish between high frequency sounds. But here," he tapped the keyboard a few more times and seemed satisfied with the results, "we can see the difference plotted."

Jimmy stepped aside so that the group would have a good view of the screen. "The digitized sound of a bomb produces a sharp spike, at a very high frequency. Other explosive sources: mechanical, fuel, for example, occur more slowly. They plot along a sloping line. Here’s a digitized fuel explosion." He pressed a key and, sure enough, a gentle, sloping curve appeared on a graph on the screen.

"And here’s what we got when we fed in the sound from flight 180’s CVR." Another touch of the keyboard, and there was a sharp spike of a line, exploding upwards, nearly off the graph.

"Wow." Kate could hear Mac’s low whistle behind her.

The NTSB vice-chairman stepped back to the computer and flicked off the screen. He turned to Ballard, his face drawn and tired behind his owlish glasses. "I guess I owe you… and Farley Leber an apology."

"Don’t worry about it Bob," the big FBI man said graciously. "You were just trying to do your job. We all are."

"Well," Joseph cleared his throat before he continued, "we’re still looking at the flight data recorder information. But it too shows no instrument malfunction before the tape went dead. And it indicates that many electrically powered devices on the aircraft went dead at nearly the same instant."

"Consistent with a catastrophic explosion," Kate said in a flat, emotionless tone.

"Exactly." The vice-chairman fussed with some papers on a nearby table. "Of course, we’ll be releasing this transcript shortly, so you’ll want to be prepared for the public’s reaction."

"It’s gonna get ugly," Ballard said, running a hand over his face and pressing against his eyes. Just the thought of the backlash made his head spin.

Kate turned to Rebecca. The young blonde’s mouth was open, a stunned look on her face. The pilot realized this was probably the first time she’d ever heard – in person – a cockpit voice recording. At least one that ended with such dire consequence. It had been a rough weekend on the smaller woman, she could tell, and yet she’d performed admirably, without complaint.

Kate dipped her head next to Rebecca’s ear. "I’ve heard enough," she said quietly, surrendering to her frustration. "I want us out of Bangor tonight."


Once Catherine Phillips had made up her mind to leave the crash scene, she couldn’t get away quickly enough. As though the devil himself were on her heels, she offered a quick goodbye and thank you to Gordon Ballard, assuring him that the Orbis team would stay in close contact with the ongoing investigation. They both agreed to share information as it was developed, but for Catherine, she had all the facts she needed from the site. Dr. Farley Leber would forward to Rory Calhoun the final results of the chemical residue and metallurgical testing, as well as any additional details on the origin of the bomb. But piecing together the trail of it would be a bit more difficult, and Ballard was not optimistic in terms of how long that might take.

"Could be months, Catherine," he’d said before they parted, but the pilot had her own ideas about that. She was anxious to start using the… alternative resources she had at her disposal to move the investigation along. Skills and contacts she’d developed in her past with the military, an expertise she thought she’d never have any use for again.

She’d been wrong.

When they were ready, Freddy Comstock took them back to the Lumberjack Motel so they could check themselves out. As the sun slipped behind the gently sloping western mountains, the Chevy Blazer wound its away along the country roads from Pohassat to Bangor, the highway stretching out before them like a faded ribbon in the dying sunlight. Rebecca had phoned ahead and found that there was an Orbis Express flight departing at 2030 hours, and Kate was determined that she and her team would be on it.

The truck rattled up to Orbis’ departures drop-off at 2010 hours; plenty of time to spare.

"Thanks, Fred." Kate took the young man’s hand firmly in her own. "You’ve been a great help."

"Yeah," Mac grunted from the back of the Blazer where he was gathering their bags. "Thanks buddy. Go ‘Sox!"

"Ayuh!" Freddy agreed, pushing the bill of his Pohassat Red Sox cap back off his forehead. "Havin’ a respectable year so fa!"

Rebecca stepped up to the tall, thin volunteer fireman and smiled. "I know it’s been kind of… crazy for you these last few days. Thanks for lending us a hand."

"Not at all, Miss Hanson," the youth replied, his face flushing. "Glad to be of service."

"Once we’re gone," Becky continued, "I’m sure things will get back to normal eventually."

"Oh, I’m sure they will." Freddy lowered his eyes to the pavement. "But things ‘round here will nevah be the same."

Becky swallowed, her mouth suddenly gone dry. There was nothing she could say. Freddy Comstock had spoken the truth for them all.


It was a quiet ride back to JFK, there were only a handful of travelers on the small jet in addition to the Orbis group. Kate had wanted to detour by the office before heading home, but Rebecca was able to dissuade her. A rumpled Mac tiredly agreed with the flight attendant.

"It’s after 9:30 on a Sunday night, Kate," he said. "It’ll all be there in the morning.

"All right," the tall pilot finally agreed. "See you tomorrow, then." She offered Mac a crooked smile. "I’ll make the coffee."

Outside the airport, Kate and Rebecca flagged down a taxi whose shock absorbers, as it turned out, had evidently been left behind somewhere on the Queensboro bridge. The two women rattled and jounced their way back to Manhattan and Kate’s high-rise, while the indifferent driver studiously ignored them. The pilot angrily slammed the door to the cab shut when she departed, throwing a few crinkled bills into the driver’s lap. She had half a mind to report the cabby to the department of inspection. Good god, she felt as though a kidney was lodged somewhere near her ear.


"What’s the matter?" Kate punched the elevator button for the 42nd floor.

"My stomach hurts after that cab ride," the young blonde groaned, clutching at her middle.

"No kidding," the pilot muttered. "I think I lost a filling."

"I’m sure if I get something to eat, I’ll be okay." Rebecca cast a hopeful look up towards her companion. "How’s that sound?"

Kate sighed and leaned back against the wall of the elevator car. "I’m sorry, Rebecca," she said, shaking her head. "We should have stopped somewhere. Or we could call for takeout. Or—"

"Or don’t worry about it," Becky said, reaching out and brushing the back of her hand against Kate’s cheek. "I’ll fix us something from what we’ve got."

Kate laughed tiredly. "Good luck." The doors whisked open and the two women padded down the carpeted hallway to Kate’s apartment.

"Wow," Becky led the way in and flicked on the lights, "it seems as though it’s been ages since we’ve been home."

"I know," Kate agreed, secretly delighting in the fact that the young flight attendant considered the high-rise apartment her home. Now that Rebecca was in it, it was home to Kate, too.

They cast their bags aside and Kate quickly moved past Becky and into the living room, where she immediately tapped the blinking red light on her answering machine. There were only a couple of messages, including a final one from Cyrus. He’d heard she was coming back tonight, and wanted her to call him. She reached for the phone.

"Oh no you don’t." Becky came up behind her and took the phone from her hand. "It’s late Kate. Tomorrow."


"Please." Green eyes gazed into blue. "Let’s just have tonight… what’s left of it, for us."

Kate thought about that for a moment. "Okay," she said at last, watching Rebecca place the handset back into the receiver. "Unpacking… and Cyrus… can wait."

"Thanks," Becky placed a light kiss on Kate’s cheek. "Now. About dinner."

Rebecca whirled around and fairly skipped towards the kitchen, with Kate trailing after her like a puppy dog.

"Okay, let’s see…." Becky ran a hand through her short blonde hair and searched the darkened interior of a cabinet. "A-ha!" Out came a box of pasta and a jar of tomato sauce. "Not home-made, but it’ll do."

Kate crossed her arms and leaned against the stainless steel double sink, smiling, watching her roommate go to work. Rebecca put a pot of water on to boil, and then headed for the refrigerator.

"Be afraid. Be very afraid," Kate warned. "Remember, you haven’t been home for nearly ten days."

"Well, this has got to go," Becky scrunched up her nose and pulled out a carton of Chinese food. Leftovers from their dinner of several days passed.

"Whaddya mean?" Kate took the carton from her and sniffed at it. "I was counting on that for breakfast tomorrow."

"Omigod, Kate! No way! You wouldn’t—" Becky’s scandalized rant sputtered and died into laughter when she caught sight of the wicked gleam in her partner’s eyes. "Why you…!" She gave Kate a playful poke in the ribs. "Garbage disposal. Now."

"Yes ma’am!" Kate meekly complied, grinning.

Behind her, Becky salvaged several fairly crisp leaves of Romaine lettuce from an otherwise wilted head. From the rear of the produce drawer she produced a tomato and a green pepper that were within hours of reaching the limit to their shelf life. Still, they would do.

"Hey! Where did they come from?" Kate moved behind the smaller woman and dropped her chin on her shoulder, circling her waist with her arms.

"An accident, I’m sure," Becky replied, closing the refrigerator door with a nudge of her knee.

"Mnnn… you smell nice," Kate nuzzled a soft bit of neck, feeling the tension leak away from her body, enjoying the contact.

"It’s the olive oil," Becky sighed, closing her eyes for an instant and feeling a shiver of desire race down her spine. "And if you don’t stop doing that, there will be no supper!"

"I’m willing to pass if you are," Kate planted a light kiss on Rebecca’s temple.

"Kaaaate, you know how cranky I get when I don’t eat!" Becky pulled a cutting knife from its butcher-block holder and waved it threateningly in the air.

The tall woman instantly released the object of her assault, her arms raised in the skyward. "You got me. What can I do to help?"

"Stand back," Becky pointed knife at Kate, barely containing her laughter, "and watch a professional at work."

Kate obediently did as she was told, taking up a seat on a stool next to the island. In a few short minutes, a delicious aroma of garlic and tomato filled the air. One drained pot and some chopped vegetables later, Rebecca expertly produced two steaming plates of pasta, together with a light salad. As a final touch, she grabbed a bottle of Chianti from the wine rack.

"Are you sure that’s a good idea?" Kate looked doubtfully at the bottle Becky had handed her to open. "This is gonna make me sleepy."

"That’s the idea," Becky said, her hands on her hips. "You’ve barely slept at all this past week Kate – no don’t argue with me, I can tell!" She cut off the pilot’s protest before she could get a word in. "It’s late. You’ve got to work tomorrow. And it looks like I’ve got some serious food shopping to do," she said, swinging her eyes around the rather barren kitchen. "Sleep. It’s an ‘okay’ thing. You should try it once in a while!"

"You just want to get me tipsy so you can have your way with me," Kate challenged her, pouring the light burgundy-colored vintage into a pair of glasses.

"Well, that’s another reason, hot stuff."

They sat side-by-side, at a small table tucked in the corner of the kitchen, eating and talking. Words flowed easily from Kate, and it wasn’t simply because of the wine. She didn’t normally consider herself a talker, far from it. But in spending time with Rebecca Hanson, she’d gotten used to sharing her thoughts, her feelings, her dreams. It was an easy intimacy that in the past she never would have imagined for herself, and even now she would never have known its joy were it not for this slip of a girl who had wormed her way into her heart.

"So I’ll have to get with Linda Furey sometime this week," Kate said, turning the conversation to business. "Based on what we found out in Maine, I think there are some new security measures we need to put into play at JFK."

"Good luck," Becky took a stab at her salad, remembering the times she herself had been witness to the airport manager’s violent temper. "And remember, be nice."

"Always!" The pilot grinned in spite of herself. "Then, I want you to start working with Rory in putting together a database of the passenger manifest, cross-referencing level-of-risk factors and such. And we’ll need to start putting together an interview timetable. Mac can help with that. The Saudi prospect you mentioned who boarded in Lisbon – what was his name?"

"Sadek," Becky slowly lowered her knife and fork. "Khaled Sadek."

"Sadek. Right. We’ll definitely want to get in touch with his family and contacts, do some investigation there."


"And then there’s the cargo point-of-origins. We can’t overlook that either. Let’s put together a parallel database for—"


The pilot finally stopped talking, and noticed for the first time the quiet, somber tone of her partner.

"Rebecca," a knot of fear welled up in Kate’s gut, and she let her cutlery clatter to her plate. "What is it?"

"I… I want to fly again. I need to fly again. I’m calling in tomorrow to get a new schedule of assignments."

"Why?" Kate fought to keep the confusion within her from turning into anger. "You did great this weekend. We work well together! I just thought—"

"But you never asked me," Becky replied, her eyes gone dark and still. She reached out across the table and grasped the dark haired woman’s hand. "I have to do this. For myself."

"Rebecca," Kate turned her head away, feeling the despair, the hurt creeping into her voice, and hating herself for it, "I need you with me."

Becky lifted her hand to Kate’s cheek and forced the pilot to face her, "I love you. I need you. And I want you to support me in this, okay?"

No! No! No! Her mind was screaming. "Okay," she replied, her voice a hoarse whisper.

Not knowing what else to say, Becky stood up and began to load the pots and plates into the dishwasher. By the time she turned around, Kate was gone.


Kate lay huddled far over on her own side of the king-sized bed, utterly miserable. She knew she’d been unfair in the way she’d treated Rebecca. After all, the girl had a career of her own. Who was she to assume that after only one weekend of working together, she would want to make a more permanent change? Hell, at first I didn’t even want her along in the first place!

She owed the girl an apology, she knew that. It was just that after such a pressure-filled weekend, placing so many demands upon herself, she’d gotten used to the idea of relying on the younger woman’s assistance. It didn’t come easily to her, that willingness to trust, to delegate with confidence, but Rebecca, in her simple, guileless way, had made it easy for her to do so.

And now you’ve gone and fucked it all up, Phillips, haven’t you?

Kate heard Rebecca patter into the darkened bedroom. She blinked open one eye, and watched as the young woman walked over to the blinds and opened them a bit, allowing luminescent streaks of moonlight to paint the room’s interior. Quickly, she shrugged out of her clothes, donned a long tank t-shirt, and slipped under the cool, crisp sheets next to Kate.



"Sssh – me first," Kate rolled over and threw an arm across Rebecca’s middle. "I’m sorry. I acted like a presumptuous, possessive ass. What makes you happy, makes me happy. Do what you need to do. Whatever that is, I support you."

"Really?" Kate could see the moistness of Rebecca’s eyes in the moonlight.

"Really." Kate sealed her promise with a kiss. "Now you, Champ."

"Okay," Becky sighed, blowing wisps of hair out of her eyes and facing the ceiling. She seemed to need to gather herself before she continued. "I… I guess what I’ve been thinking about, is that those people on that plane… the passengers, the crew… they could have been us, Kate." She turned towards her partner. "We… could have been them!"

"I know," Kate’s voice was soft, reassuring. She lifted her hand higher, to Rebecca’s shoulder. And there she let her fingers trace around the still-rough edges of the scar that had formed there. A stark, vivid reminder of what could have been – and nearly was. "But we’re here. We’re alive. And we have each other now, don’t we?"

"Yeah," Becky released a shaky laugh and scooted closer to the pilot’s warm body. "I just need to be up there in the air again. Prove to myself that I can do it."

"I know you can," Kate assured her. "Piece of cake."

"And when I’m away—"

"Yeessss?" Kate tried to control the breath of hope that blew into her soul.

"I’ll think about it. And you think about it too, okay? How embarrassing if you had to fire me after… like a week, because I re-organized your office and you couldn’t find anything!

"Not a chance," Kate vowed, a smile creasing her face in the darkness.

"Oh, that reminds me," Becky’s lips were mere inches from Kate’s, "Did you get that 2nd quarter budget pro-forma done?"

"Hmnn?" Kate’s eyes were drooping closed; the combined result of her exhaustion, the wine, and the soothing presence of the woman nestled by her side.

Becky jabbed Kate in the tummy. "Don’t you ever read your e-mail?"

"That’s what I want to hire you for," Kate mumbled into her pillow, " Miss UCLA business major. My offer is on the table."

"My people will talk to your people," Becky yawned, letting her hand rest lightly on Kate’s hip.

"They’d better," Kate growled, tightening her hold on Rebecca as the two of them began to drift off to sleep.

Silence, for a time, and then, "Thanks for understanding," Becky’s voice sounded low and muzzy in the dark, "it means a lot."

"You’re doing the right thing." Kate kissed the top of her head. "There’s nothing to fear, you’ll see. You’re one of the bravest people I know."

A soft, satisfied sigh from Rebecca, and then deep, even breathing.

Damn El-Yousef and the seeds of fear he sows, Kate thought. I owe it to those poor people to make it right. Somewhere, some way along the line, He’ll make a mistake. And I’ll be there, waiting."


Continued..Part 4

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