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Life Cycles

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"Dr. Ross?"

She'd been watching him come up behind her in the reflection of her microscope, but she let him think he'd startled her. She sat up abruptly, pivoting as if she was frightened. She was, but not of him specifically.

He was someone's agent, tall and muscular in a stylized suit of black body armor with an equally stylized eagle insignia at the throat. He was also arrogant as hell. He looked her lab over, looked her over, and dismissed her as a scientist, female, not up to his weight class. "You need to come with me."

No reason, no warrant, not so much as 'please.'

He hadn't even brought back-up.

Betty pivoted another few inches on her work stool, angled the Taser up, and shot him. She guided his fall just enough to keep him from breaking his skull on her desk, although she thought it was probably pretty thick. She secured him with zip-ties from the top drawer of her desk: two around the wrists, lock points ninety degrees off from each other, two around the ankles, ditto. Masking tape over his mouth would have to do. Not as good as duct tape, but less risk he couldn't get it off later if he had to throw up.

If she killed someone, it was going to be deliberately. She'd cope a little better with that if it ever happened.

One day, it probably would.

His guns went into the biohazard disposal bin; she pitched the tiny comm in his ear after them. Betty picked up her purse, locked the main door to the lab, pulled a small can out and spray-painted the security camera over the door with fluorescent orange paint. That the bear spray also contained concentrated pepper spray was a useful-side benefit; so was the five yard range.

She pushed her attacker into the chair well of her lab bench, shifting him up onto his side as she did, then headed to her locker.

The lab coat came off quickly, but it took ten seconds before Betty could take scissors to her pony tail. She dropped the scissors to the floor of her locker but stowed the coiled hair in the bottom of her pack.

She passed through the walk-in freezer which wasn't supposed to open into her lab and stopped to finish changing clothes where no security cameras were stationed. Two minutes later, a grad student strode out of the next lab over. Dr. Ross wore business casual to labs. The woman who left the biology building was wearing a brilliant red St. Louis Cardinals jacket, a backpack that had been turned inside out and was now dark green instead of navy blue, snug, faded jeans, and a baseball cap that read "Go Navy!" (Yes, her father had played a role in that choice, thank you.)

Shooting an agent before he could give her a name or some reason for going along with him should have felt like the last, irrevocable step out of this latest life she'd put together. (Whatever number she was on by now. Number five maybe? Six?) But she'd met enough of her dad's special ops people to know one when she saw one, met enough overconfident assholes who knew best to know that look in the eyes and set of the mouth. Damn right she shot first. (Han Solo would have approved, she thought, and tried not to laugh.)

The real last step out of this life had been cutting her hair. But she'd been ready to do it because of some precise instructions that had shown up in her desk at home: she had a go bag and disguise ready, she had bear spray and spare cash, and she had a burner phone. There'd been instructions on how to get it, what not to do, and a phone number. Betty had deliberately programmed that in incorrectly, each digit off by a different amount in a mathematical progression she'd picked.

Betty checked the number again, made sure she had calculated the correct number, and then waited, impatiently, through three rings and a series of clicks.

A tired, rough, exasperated – unknown – voice asked, "Who the hell is this and how did you get this number? Do you know what time it is here?

"I'm a friend of Bruce's, the number was on a page with a red hourglass at the bottom of the instructions, and it's 8:47 PM here. Someone just tried to kidnap me and I'm pretty sure he was going to pretend it was 'for my own good.' So I'm calling for help, as instructed, now that I need it, as predicted." Curiosity pricked her. "What time is it there?"

"Not too late for a call like this," he said immediately. "Okay. I'm a friend of Bruce's, I know who left you that note, and one of us will be there in the next three hours. Did the note tell you where to hide, too, or do you need to call me back in three hours and give me a location?" He sounded completely alert now, focused and competent: no arrogance to this one, just bone-deep certainty of skill and a willingness to accept others had their own abilities and might know their own limits.

Betty nodded, pleased. She could already tell she was going to like this guy. "It had suggestions on how to hide if it came to that. Three hours. Right. I'll call again then. Thank you."

"Get under cover; take down anybody you don't recognize from that mess in Manhattan. I'm told you swing a mean elbow?" That sounded admiring, not insulting, which made Betty grin under the bright purple lipstick she hadn't worn in almost fifteen years. (Ah, teenage rebellion. That spirit would be useful right now; she dug into her pack for bubblegum to go with it.) "I'll be there soon, or that red hourglass might beat me... she's closer. But someone's coming."

Betty exhaled, straightened her spine, and said pleasantly, "I'll be here. If I miss that call, look for fireworks and fluorescent paint. Therapy was very useful after the last round of trouble. I've decided it's time I start acting like my father's daughter."

Her contact didn't argue; he laughed. "Good for you. Call me back at 11:50. I've got to make a flight."

She hung up after he did and tucked the phone back in the most padded section of her pack. Three hours to burn, most of a campus not to burn – Betty had liked it here – and some arrogant people to dodge. She popped a bubble, adjusted her baseball cap farther over her eyes, and set out for her second fallback point, just in case someone had guessed the first.

Hopefully she wouldn't need to use any teenage rebellion before the rescue got here, but if she did, what the hell. It was traditional before starting a new life, right?