"There's nothing I can do about it, Abs."
"So you're just going to let the Air Force walk away with the case?"
Gibbs' expression hardened. "I don't know what's going on any more than you do." He shifted his glare to include Kate as well. "And I hope I never find out that it was one of my people who went behind my back. Meanwhile, when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs himself calls to order me to turn an investigation over to his hand-picked team, I listen. Drop it."
Abby dropped into her lab chair in full sulk. "Ok, fine, I'll forget it ever happened. But we were onto something big, Gibbs. Whatever they're covering up is huge."
He pinned her with his stare until some of the anger in her posture was replaced by resignation. "This one's over, Abby," he said in a tone that could almost have been apologetic.
"I'll be good," she said, not quite penitent.
Abby and Kate watched silently as Gibbs turned and walked out of the lab. As soon as he was safely out of earshot, Abby bounded out of her chair and turned to Kate.
"Why aren't you upset?"
"You're not angry about any of this! You saw how thorough they were about taking anything that could possibly have to do with those two bodies. How could you not want to know what happened?"
"Have you seen the stack of paper in my inbox? If AFOSI wants to handle a case for us, I'm not going to argue."
"That's just it! I don't think they were from OSI."
"What do you mean?" Kate asked with practiced nonchalance.
"I printed my lab table."
"Abby," Kate said reprovingly.
"Hey, if they wanted to be secretive, they should have been more careful about touching nice, shiny surfaces. It's just asking for trouble."
"I don't believe this," Kate muttered. "Actually, I do. What did you find when you ran the prints?"
"Well, I only got prints for two of them. The guy with the glasses - Dr. Jackson? - he kept his hands to himself. But the other two... I couldn't find Murray's prints in any database, which is seriously weird if he works for the Air Force. Lieutenant Colonel Carter is who she says she is. Her prints popped up right away in the database, but there's something hinky about her record. She's not attached to OSI or even the Air Force JAG Corps. It says she's a researcher at NORAD doing something with radar telemetry, but she has an Air Medal and some other combat citations that she definitely didn't earn by crunching numbers."
Kate willed herself to relax. "Abby, Gibbs is probably right. Just let this one go. Please, for me, before you get yourself in trouble."
Abby's eyes narrowed as she pointed an accusing finger at Kate. "You know something."
"You do," Abby said firmly. "You're not surprised by anything I'm saying. Come to think of it, you weren't surprised when they showed up this morning, either. You were relieved. Hey, I wonder if Gibbs noticed...."
Kate closed her eyes in defeat. "I think he probably did, and I'm dreading tomorrow's conversation. If I tell you what I can, will you promise me that you won't try to look into any of this further? No questions, no research, no hacking into the Pentagon servers again. Nothing."
"Sure." Abby sat down on the stool next to her and waited eagerly for Kate to continue.
Abby gave her a hurt look. "I promise!"
"Thank you," Kate said apologetically. "It's not that I don't trust you, Abby, because I do. It's just that I shouldn't be telling you any of this at all. You're good at what you do, but there are other people out there that are just as good. I worry that one of these days, you're going to be curious about the wrong thing and hack your way into pissing off the wrong people." She sighed. "For what it's worth, I honestly don't think Gibbs knows what's going on. He's not hiding anything from you."
Abby blushed at Kate's description of her. Kate studied her carefully for long seconds before she spoke. "I recognized the tattoos."
Abby blinked. "That's it? I thought you said you didn't know anything about tattoos. You were all confused when I took you to get yours." She ran a finger over Kate's hip, tracing the design's location. Kate took her hand to stop her and squeezed affectionately before letting go.
"I was. I mean, I don't, for the most part. Look, after I joined the President's security detail, I was briefed on some... unusual things we were expected to watch for. The forehead tattoos were one, and the abdominal trauma on the two corpses matched something else I'd been told. Ducky confirmed what I was thinking with the autopsy."
"Ducky said he couldn't identify what happened to them," Abby said slowly. "It looked sort of like someone went after them with the business end of a flame thrower, but that would've roasted them all over instead of just carving out their stomachs. Or did you mean the part where he said it looked like their frontal lobes had been cooked?"
Kate pursed her lips. "I shouldn't say, but it's not like you can't guess the answer." Abby smirked at that, and Kate couldn't resist smiling in return. "SOP for the Secret Service would have been to get the president to safety, then inform my superiors and place calls to the Pentagon and to a hotline in Colorado Springs. I assume it goes to an office at Peterson, but it's not something I ever looked into. Frankly, I was scared enough to hope I never had to use it. Anyway, last night I made the calls, but Gibbs doesn't have clearance. If you want to be technical, I don't have clearance now that I'm working here."
Abby finished the story for her. "And whoever you called contacted the Pentagon, and they called Gibbs."
"I guess so."
"Wow. Major phone tag." Kate moved to get up, but Abby grabbed her wrist and pulled her back to her seat. "They really tell the Secret Service to look out for tattooed guys walking around with flame throwers? Shouldn't you be doing that anyway?"
Kate laughed. "You'd think so."
They both stood, and Kate waited while Abby gathered her things to go home. As they turned to leave, Abby paused, a calculating expression on her face. "Kate? Colonel Carter's record said that she has a PhD in astrophysics."
"Really?" Kate used the hand she'd rested on Abby's back to urge her toward the door.
"Yup. Astrophysicists don't care about terrestrial missile systems. They care about stars. And when I ran the tox screen on the two bodies, there was something in their blood I couldn't identify. I didn't get to finish my tests on it, but the closest matches I found in my references were elements from the bottom end of the periodic table."
Kate didn't answer.
"Those elements only exist in laboratories right now, and they have a really short half life. These guys weren't in a laboratory, and that element was stable, Kate."
Kate watched as Abby's eyes widened in shock as she put the pieces together. "Let's go home," she said. She didn't dare ask Abby what conclusion she'd come to. She was sure they'd both be better off not knowing the truth.