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The Secret Return of Alex Mack

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This story is No. 3 in the series "A Brane of Extraordinary Women". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Alex is back from her 5-day trip to Hermione Granger’s world. But she's going to need everything she learned if she wants to survive, starting with finding her world's Willow Rosenberg. (Cross with BtVS, SG-1, HP, DCU...)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > General
Harry Potter > General
Stargate > General > Characters: Jack O'Neill
Television > Secret World of Alex Mack, The
DianeCastleFR132351,177,0232896487754,51112 Dec 1215 Nov 14Yes

Rosenberg, Incorporated

A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimers, spoilers, and other information are all in previous chapters.

Alex was grinning like a loon. It was Monday evening, and she was packing to drive up and spend three days with Willow while she pretended to be A.L. Mack, picture-hound.

Okay, she really was A.L. Mack, and she really was kind of a geek about photography, and she really figured Jack had something cool in mind for her photos, so she was determined to do a great job. A mega-great job!

She had her gymbag, just in case. After all, she needed it way too often. And she’d needed it in San Diego, and when they went to Disneyland. So she was totally taking her gymbag with her.

She had the new camera bag her folks had given her for Christmas. It was like a flat backpack or frontpack, and it had padded compartments for everything she needed: her best camera bodies, four high-end lenses, her GoPro and her cheap still camera, and all the extra stuff you needed like filters and memory cards and cables and a few extra batteries and her special charger cable and a really good flash. Plus, the bag had an outside pocket that was the height and width of the whole bag, so she had her ‘dad-steadicam’ which was only an inch thick and smaller than a steering wheel. Also, sometimes you needed a large reflector, so she had one that was about four feet by four feet, but it was just silvered fabric with a wire sewn in around the edge, so it folded up into something that was pretty much a circle a foot across and maybe half an inch thick. And she had a couple square-panel halogen lights in a big front pocket.

Then she had a hanging bag too. If she needed to go with Willow to an important meeting or two, she needed to dress nicely. She had a pantsuit, and she had a nice pair of khakis with a good blouse. Plus ballet flats she could wear with either outfit, and undies. Her dop kit was in the gymbag. Her makeup bag was in her purse. So she was good to go.

Well, she was going to be good to go as soon as she put ice and diet coke and a couple energy bars in her car cooler. And maybe some trail mix. And some of the cookies Shar baked with her the other day. And some apples her mom got in the store. And some cheesesticks.

It wasn’t her fault she had a hearty appetite.

And just in case, she had her sleeping bag and camping mattress and camping pillow in the car already, because Willow didn’t have a guest bedroom. Alex was figuring she was going to end up sleeping on the couch in Willow’s library room. And she had her bike on the bike rack on the back of the car just in case Willow wanted to go bicycling.

Crud, she needed her exercise stuff and her cross-trainers. She used her tk to pull those out of her closet and fold them up and tuck them in her gymbag with everything else. Well, the cross-trainers went into shoebags first, because they weren’t exactly Pinesol Fresh. The shoebags were the coolest thing ever, because her grandma had sewn her two sets as a really personal Christmas present, and they had sewn-in zippers so even if your shoes were dirty or had sand all over them, you could pop them in the bags, zip them closed, and toss them in with your good stuff and not have to worry about getting shoe-yuck all over everything.

Shar poked her head in the room again. “Are you really, really, REALLY sure I can’t go too?”

Alex sighed, “I’m sorry honey, but you can’t go, and there’s no place for you to stay, and it’s all going to be grown-up stuff.”

“That’s what you said the last time.”

Alex nodded slowly. “And it’s still true. Tomorrow I follow Auntie Willow at a big computer-guy meeting where they’ll sit around all day and talk about computer stuff nobody else understands. Then the next day, I watch her program on a computer all day. Then the next day, I follow her when she goes to an important meeting with lots of generals and bureaucrats, and they’ll spend all day talking about computer security. Then I come home. And maybe, if we work this right, Willow will be able to visit us sometime in the future when we set up this whole ‘Willow becomes friends with A.L. Mack’ thing. Because right now, we’re pretty sure badguys are staking out her house and following her around, so she has to pretend she doesn’t even know us.”

“Are they badguys I can do firebending on?”

“I wish,” Alex muttered to herself. She carefully told Shar, “No. They’re mostly people who think they’re protecting America from badguys and from bad secret agents who run around doing bad stuff they do because no one is checking up on them. So plenty of them aren’t badguys at all. We know who about half a dozen of the badguys are, and we don’t know what the deal is with hundreds of the other guys. So I can’t even go punch them in the nose, because they might turn out to be goodguys who just didn’t know badguys were telling their boss what to do.”

“That sounds way complicated. Kari Strong always knows who the badguys are.”

Alex smiled, “Kari’s world is a lot simpler than ours, because it’s written for nine year olds. We have our own Baron von Kreep – in fact we have a lot of them – and we have our own stupid mayor types even if our city’s mayor is okay, and we have jerky girls, and we have our own Terrible Tony T, and we have our own dopey classmates and stuff. Plus monsters. But we have a lot more complicated things that just aren’t that easy to handle, like people who are sure they’re doing the right thing, only they’re not. And people who might be badguys but might be goodguys. And people like Azure Crush who might be turning from a supervillain into a superheroine but we just don’t know yet.”

“Can you be a superheroine if you’re always naked?”

Alex made herself not laugh. “Azure Crush isn’t always naked. In fact, I think she’s hardly ever naked anymore. And someday she may be really sorry she let those guys take those icky naked pictures of her, because what if she wants to have people take her seriously? Or what if someday she wants to have a husband and kids and stuff, and her kids go to school and other kids make fun of them because their mom once posed naked in magazines? It could be really embarrassing.”

Shar nodded eagerly. “Plus, icky nekkid pictures! Eww.”

Alex hugged her and said, “You be good for mom and dad while I’m gone, and see if you can figure out how to stop the monster before Kari does. And ‘set it on fire’ doesn’t count. Okay?”

“Okay.” Shar gave her the big pout and the sad eyes. “I’ll miss you while you’re gone. And I don’t get to do stuff with Auntie Willow either. It’s not fair.”

Alex told her, “Just be good, and if everything goes well, we’ll get to see Auntie Willow more after this.”

Alex wasn’t even out the door before Shar was already trying to talk Uncle George into letting her watch ‘The Iron Giant’ on the big tv.

Alex had an easy drive up to Willow’s place. There was still some heavy southbound traffic on the other side of the highway that might be ‘get out of work really late and rush home’ traffic, but Alex didn’t have to deal with any of that. She got to Willow’s neighborhood a little earlier than she had planned, so she parked her car on a nice, dark sidestreet half a mile away, and she went for a walk in a dark, park-like area. Okay, she totally wouldn’t have done something that stupid before she got superpowers, but now she was doing it just to make sure she wasn’t being watched. She climbed up in an evergreen tree, using her tk to make it super-easy, and once she was hidden in the needle-y branches, she went silvery and jetted straight up into the dark night sky.

Then she headed over to Willow’s house and began flying larger and larger circles around it, looking for snooping NID jerkheads and stuff like that. She found two suspicious-looking black SUVs, one on the block behind Willow’s house and one on the block facing the house. She flew down to the first van and listened for a minute before she was convinced it was empty.

She used her tk to unlock one of the back doors. Then she used her tk to hold the little doorframe button down when she opened the door, so the car didn’t know to turn on the inside lights.

It was definitely a mom car. There were diet sodas in the front trashbag and kid stuff in the back. Soccer shoes, and shinguards, and soccer socks that desperately needed to be washed. Empty bottles of Sunny D and juiceboxes and water bottles and a ton of fun-sized M&M wrappers. She thought the really ginormous bags ought to be the ones called fun-sized instead of the teensy-weensy bags that only had like six peanut M&Ms, but no one listened to her.

She snuck back out and went to the other car, which was a great big SUV with tinted windows.

Uh-oh. It wasn’t empty. The windows were so tinted she couldn’t look through the windows and see the streetlights on the other side of the car. But there was a guy inside moving around.

No, there were two guys. If she pressed her silvery form against the roof, she could hear them.

“This is the most boring fucking assignment on the planet. Watching a programmer program all day? The big news was when she went out and bought some fucking diet coke instead of the usual.”

“Ours not to question why-“

“Shut up, I don’t wanna hear that fucking quote again. She’s not just a nerd, she’s the most boring nerd on the planet. If she programmed in lingerie, at least we’d get to look at her.”

“What’re you complaining about? We got to see her when she went jogging. That was hot.”

“Once. One stinking time, because we’ve got the shit shift most of the time, because you couldn’t keep your mouth shut in front of Deakin.”

“That wasn’t my fault!”

“Yeah, yeah, you just keep tellin’ yourself that.”



Oh crud, if they had cameras in Willow’s house, this trip was going to be so awful! She’d rather go get a motel somewhere than have these creeps trying to be Peeping Toms around her.

She used her tk and smacked one of the streetlights. It went out with a loud cracking noise.

One guy quietly opened a door and slipped out to take a look. She puddled in behind him and carefully checked out the inside of the SUV, making sure the second guy didn’t see her.

The back seats and everything had been yanked out so there was a driver’s seat with a shotgun seat, and then behind that there was just a big open area with tv monitors and stuff. They had four monitors turned on, one for each camera. But all the cameras were set up outside the house, looking in through windows. One monitor was on Willow’s computer room, and you could see Willow was working away on a computer. One was on the closed curtains of her bedroom. Eww! One was on the frosted glass of her master bathroom. Extra eww! One was looking into Willow’s kitchen because her kitchen curtains were open.

Alex ducked back out and flew over to Willow’s house. It took her like ten minutes to find all four cameras. Two were mounted on the back fence, but one was on the utility pole sort of in front of her house and a little off to the side, and one was on the second story roof of the house across the street.

These guys were such jerkheads. At least they didn’t have sound, except on Willow’s computer room. As far as Alex could tell from looking at the equipment, they had a little laser beam mounted on Willow’s back fence with a little sensor on top of it to catch whatever signals bounced back. She thought she’d read something once about catching the vibrations off glass using a laser and turning it into eavesdropping, so that was probably what this was.

She flew back to near her car, searched all around for anyone watching, and puddled in through the back right window, which she’d left open about an inch. Then she used her tPhone to send Willow a text: u r surveilled from outside w sound on yr computer rm. Then she called Graham.

“Miller here. What’s the situation?”

He sounded really worried, so she said, “Not a crisis. But the NID or someone just as creepy has Acid Burn under surveillance. Outside cams pointed at her computer room, her bedroom window, her bathroom window, and her kitchen window. And a laser sound detection system pointed at her computer room too. Can you call her up and announce that the DHS is doing security checks at a bunch of their important civilian cooperators and you’ll be there tomorrow? She’ll tell you she’s got something big going on, but you can still do the outside stuff, or you can re-schedule for Wednesday when she’ll be home.”

“So you suspect her landline is tapped as well?”

She admitted, “Umm, I didn’t think about that just now, but we’ve been pretending it is when we did the set-up for our meet.”

“And you called me instead of the colonel because I was closer? Or because you thought he might go postal on the NID?”

She confessed, “Well really, it’s because he’s three hours ahead of me, and I was hoping you’d still be up even if he wasn’t.”

Graham said, “I’ll call her right away. Can you monitor the red team and see what they do? And be sure to get their license plate number, and their VIN if you can manage it.”

“On it,” she told him. “Over and out.”

She went silvery again and flew back to the badguys’ SUV. She needed a name for it. Jack would call it something really funny. She thought about it while she was flat on the roof listening, and she decided she was going to call it the Hydra-mobile.

“Shut up! She’s got a phonecall!”

“I wasn’t making any noise.”

“SHUT UP!” And after maybe a minute, the same guy muttered, “Oh crap. We’ve gotta yank the cams and the tap on the phone line. DHS is doing a security audit on key civilian cooperators and contractors, and a computer security expert with access to the whole DHS gets put on that list automatically.”

“Well fuck. I can get the ones on her back fence really fast, but the one on the utility pole and the one on that roof? No way we can get those down overnight.”

“We’ve got all day tomorrow. They’re scheduling for Wednesday.”

“Great, that gives us time to get the fake utility truck down here to get the cam and the phone tap off her utility pole. Call Deakin and ask him how we can get that cam back off that roof. Second story like that? We’ll need an extension ladder and a good excuse.”

“Great, I get stuck calling Deakin.”

“Quit whining and call!”

Alex flew back to her car and called Graham again. “Hey Graham, guess what? You scared the crud out of ‘em. And they’re calling a guy named Deekin or Deekins or something like that who’s their boss. They’re pulling the cams on the back fence as soon as they can, and they’re pulling the ones on the utility pole and the neighbor’s roof tomorrow. Any chance you can catch ‘em on video?”

Graham said, “Not only are we going to catch ‘em on video as they take them down, we’ll wait and catch ‘em live putting them back up so we can arrest them on the spot. Can you grab one of your cameras and catch ‘em taking their gear down right now?”

Jack would have made a ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ Pokemon joke. She just knew it. She didn’t say anything about that, because Graham wasn’t Jack. She just told him, “I’m on it.”

She grabbed the correct camera and made sure it was set for infrared. She smiled as she remembered how well it had worked on Grover. Then she flew back to Willow’s house. She went down and got really tight footage of the cameras and the bugging system. Then all she had to do was float within the branches of one of Willow’s fruit trees on her back property line until Thing One snuck through the neighbor yards and retrieved everything. Alex got some pretty good images of him, although she could so use a Starlight Scope that would mount on a Canon body.

Were there Starlight Scopes that would mount on a Canon body? And how much would they cost? And could her dad build something just as good if she asked him to try? She knew Sam Carter could, but she didn’t know her world’s Sam Carter, and her world’s Sam Carter was busy studying comets and asteroids and stuff.

After that, she flew back to her car and drove up to Willow’s driveway. She grabbed her purse and her tablet, and she walked over to the front door. She tried to look as nervous as she could when she rang the doorbell.

Willow opened the door and glanced at her wristwatch. “You’re nearly late. Come on in.”

Once Alex was inside and the door was closed, she whispered, “You’re under surveillance. I’d probably better get a hotel room.”

Willow frowned but just said in a normal voice, “I did get your text. And I’ve got countermeasures up.”

Alex explained, “But what about cameras set up outside, like on the utility pole and pointing at your bathroom window, or on your neighbors’ roof and pointing into the kitchen?”

Willow said, “The kitchen? Okay, let’s go in there. I’ll pretend to fix you some tea. You pretend to show me your work. That way, they’ll see us doing what they expect.”

Alex asked, “But can’t they hear us? They had a laser beam thing pointed at your computer room windows.”

Willow smiled wickedly. “That only works if your windows vibrate from the sounds in the room. I’ve got a little wireless transponder on every window, and one of my computers has them all generate random vibrations to thwart that kind of bug.” Then she frowned, “But the cameras pointing in from way outside the house? That’s all kinds of the creepy.”

Alex said, “I got the license plate off the Hydra-mobile so we can trace it.”

Willow tried not to laugh. “The Hydra-mobile?”

Alex made sure she didn’t smile, since they were moving into the kitchen. “If Pinkie Pie can make up wacky names for stuff and Acid Burn can do comic book refs, then so can I.”

Willow made some tea, and while she was putting some stuff in the sink, she closed the lace curtains over the window. Then she sat down with her back to the window and smiled, “Okay, now they can see we’re talking and having tea, but they can’t really monitor us or even get a lip-reader in to try and figure out what we’re saying.”

Alex made herself not smile, because she was sitting with her side to the window and so the badguys had a profile view of her face, even if it was through a lace curtain. “You are so totally smart.”

She scowled, “I wasn’t smart enough to figure out I was a genetically engineered freak. And I wasn’t smart enough not to get blindsided by Larry and my cousin. And-”

Alex frowned at her, “Stop it! You are smart. Just totally super-smart. And just because you didn’t want to face awful stuff when you were a kid, that doesn’t make you dumb. It makes you… normal. There was sure a ton of stuff I didn’t want to have to deal with when I was younger, only I had a psycho hunting me down and making me face facts. And just because you trusted someone in your own family, that doesn’t make you dumb, either. Unless you’re in the Mafia. Your cousin is just a big loser, and Mister Ellison is a greedy jerk. A super-greedy super-jerk, because think how much better your software would be if you were happy with him and you kept working on it and making it way better.”

Willow shrugged unhappily. “That probably wouldn’t have worked out, anyway. We don’t really see eye-to-eye on a lot of things like software design methodologies and pricing structures and all kinds of stuff like that.”

Alex rolled her eyes. “Even I know that. You wrote amazing software that you gave away and told people you just wanted them to use it to make their computers better, and lots of people think it’s the greatest stuff ever. He’s never given away anything decent for free in his life.”

Willow smiled at her. “I’m glad you’re more like me and less like my cousin.”

Alex nodded, “Me too. I was pretty selfish and me-me-me when I was younger, but having my powers and having Danielle out there pretty much made me grow up and stop being such a… a…”

“A kid?” Willow teased. “Okay, so show me the kinds of pictures you think you can take, because so far I think following me around taking pictures is going to be the dullest thing since watching paint dry.”

Since they knew Willow was being watched, they decided Alex needed to stay at a hotel. And Willow needed to not go running in the morning, since she had a big meeting and she couldn’t afford to get kidnapped or waylaid or anything. So they had a great time just talking about stuff, including about Willow’s meetings and her plans for the week and where Jack wanted to take Willow on their next dates and stuff like that. Then Alex drove over to the closest Marriott, where Willow already had a room held for her.

And naturally, Willow totally overdid it on the room, so Alex had a suite with a kitchenette and a California King bed that was big enough to have an entire sleepover on. And the bellman brought in a fruit basket so big you could have hidden Shar in it. So Alex just hung her clothes up and arranged for room service in the morning and went to bed.

In the morning, Alex made sure her clothes were ready and her camera bag was ready. Then she took a quick shower and ate a normal-sized room service breakfast. She also ate one little box of crackers out of the fruit basket. And one little box of cookies. And two bananas, two apples, and five pears.

Well, the pears were already really ripe and she didn’t want them to go bad. That was her story, and she was sticking with it.

She was waiting in the lobby downstairs when Willow drove up in her little electric car, and they whooshed off to the meeting, which was in Cupertino. Alex spent the whole way there pretending to work on her makeup, but really peeking in her makeup mirror at the cars behind her and making notes on her phone of all the ones that looked like they were showing up pretty regularly.

Alex thought it was pretty cool that Willow had this electric car that was perfect for getting around in Silicon Valley. The fancy building where the meeting was being held even had a special parking sector for electric cars and every parking place in the sector had a connector to charge up your car. Alex was surprised Willow’s car didn’t also have solar panels like one half of her home’s roof did. Maybe they weren’t really practical for a regular car driving on interstates and stuff.

Alex made sure to hop out and start taking pictures before Willow had the car turned off, because Willow was wearing a really elegant business outfit with a tailored blazer and a really pretty pleated skirt and three-inch heels so she looked as tall as some of the guys, because Willow was not exactly gigantic. Alex was wearing ballet flats, so Willow was actually maybe a hair taller for the day. And Willow was wearing more makeup than she usually did, even if it was really expertly done like Willow had been practicing a lot so she had that ‘all made up but made up so she looked almost not made up’ look. Alex figured Willow had been working a lot on her makeup skills so she could turn Jack’s brain into a big hormone factory.

Still, Willow looked fabulous as she stepped out of the car and walked over to the building for the meeting. And Alex made sure she had enough depth of field to capture just how fabulous everyone else thought Willow looked, because plenty of guys were doing everything except the cartoon thing where their eyes bugged out of their heads and their tongues unrolled down to the ground and they made ahh-ooh-gah noises. And Willow was totally oblivious. She was busy being Serious Business Willow, even if she looked like Movie Starlet Pretend-Businesswoman Willow too.

Alex was pretty sure Willow was going to be shocked when she really looked over some of these pictures.

And there were really important computer industry people there. Alex knew they were important if she recognized them without someone having to tell her who they were. So Alex got photos of Willow shaking hands and smiling and greeting everyone. Because it was pretty obvious who was a really great programmer who happened to be an important player in the industry. Everyone who was a real computer programmer acted like the best programmers were the coolest people there. And it was pretty obvious that lots of people there thought Willow was one of the very best programmers, and hence one of the coolest people in the room. It took a lot of work to get the pictures Alex wanted, because of all the people milling about and getting in her shots, but she managed to get a couple dozen shots, and at least some of them should show what she really wanted: big name computer industry names really wanting to shake Willow’s hand and talk to her about programming.

Then the meeting table was a huge hollow square of narrow tables inside an even bigger square of narrow tables, with the more important people on the inside square, and on the outside square were the not-as-awesome computer people who were still awesome enough to get invited. Even though there weren’t any nameplates or anything, pretty much everybody just knew whether they were ‘inner square’ or ‘outer square’ people. And then there were the people like Alex, who didn’t even rate a chair, and were just standing around the edges of the meeting.

Alex was sort of surprised she knew some of what they were talking about. Okay, a lot of it was marketing and business instead of computer programming, but a lot of the computer programming talk was stuff she knew something about. It wasn’t like she could contribute anything to the meeting, but at least she wasn’t totally lost, like a couple of the reporters she met.

Alex helped herself to a bagel and a really good cup of coffee. This was the kind of meeting where they had a real barista making the drinks, and a real baker baking the bagels and croissants, and a real chef preparing the bagels with fancy stuff like a lox mousse with a sprinkling of caviar. It was way better than she thought it would taste. And seriously, lox mousse? Wasn’t mousse supposed to be either hairgel or else chocolate pudding? She had to get out her tablet and google it.

And duh on that. Plus extra duh for wondering if there would be decent wireless connections in here. Because it was like the world’s greatest wifi in the building, because of the computer gurus in it.

And, just because things were going too well, a security guy walked up to her. A guy who had obviously been taking fashion lessons from K in ‘Men in Black’ because he was even wearing the sunglasses and the skinny black tie. And the really big gun under the black suit jacket.

She gave him a big smile. “Hi! Let me guess. You’re either security, or else someone around here is making another ‘Men in Black’ sequel. I’m gonna go with option A here.”

He gave her a stony look and asked, “Do you have a security pass?”

She almost said, ‘no, because your guys at the front doors are total incompetents who were too busy staring at Willow’s legs.’ But that would make things a lot worse, and they weren’t incompetent, and it wasn’t their fault they stared at Willow’s legs, because Willow looked totally fab. Instead, she said, “Sure I do.” She showed him her pass on the icky little neck-thing and said, “A.L. Mack. I’m shadowing Willow Rosenberg for a news article. But there’s only so much tech stuff about computers I can take before my ears start to bleed.”

He actually smiled a little at that. “I understand that completely, ma’am.” But he still pulled out a really nice smartphone and checked that A.L. Mack was supposed to be there, and also that she was really A.L. Mack.

Okay, when the heck did A.L. Mack get a Wikipedia entry? They even had a picture off that Today Show interview. Alex grabbed her tablet and looked herself up, which seemed totally narcissistic.

SAT words for the win! Poor Narcissus. Why did Greek and Roman gods have to be such jerkheads?

Ooh, someone had even put in the stuff about the meatpacking plant and the San Diego Comic Con robbery and the sports videos she’d shot for high school football and basketball. And KPVC nominating her for a couple Pulitzers, which made her sound utterly amazing, instead of someone taking advantage of superpowers to film herself.

The more she read that Wikipedia thing, the more she was sure Louis had written it. And Robyn had added to it. And probably Nicole too. Sometimes really good friends could embarrass the crud out of you.

Mister Security looked pretty impressed. He said, “Sorry, Ms. Mack, but we have to be pretty careful, given who all’s in the meeting today.”

Alex smiled, “That’s okay. I’d rather you guys were a little too conscientious than not conscientious enough.”

“Thank you,” he beamed. “You have a good day, and if you have any problems, just give me a call.” He handed her a business card with his name – Michael J. Barnes – and company and phone numbers and half a dozen ways of contacting him over the net. This was a seriously computerized security company. They probably had to be super-computerized just to get jobs in Silicon Valley.

It suddenly occurred to her that the more these guys looked like ‘Men in Black’ the more the serious nerds would like it. Maybe he was playing to his audience, in a way.

Alex glanced again at the card and smiled, “Thank you, Mister Barnes.”

Alex went back in and got some good pictures of Willow talking about heterogeneous networks and next-generation IP protocols. Alex knew what all that meant because of her on-line linux administration course, but otherwise she would have been totally lost. But that wasn’t the important part. The important part was capturing the expressions on the faces around Willow. Because there were several guys who were listening to her like she was the professor and they were students. And there was one guy who was listening to her like ‘we’re not worthy!’ Alex totally needed to capture that.

Okay, given that there were people like P$ychon4ut and The Collective out there, it made a lot of sense to Alex that a better IP protocol that couldn’t be spoofed would totally rock. But she figured everyone in the world would have to change just about everything to make it work really right, and everyone in the room knew the odds of that happening. They were about the same odds as Maggie Walsh having an attack of conscience.

Lunch was cool, because there was a huge buffet on a dozen tables around a big, fancy dining room, and in the middle of the room there were elegant eight-person round tables with fancy place settings, so Alex spent most of the lunch hour walking around eating stuff off every buffet table while getting photos of Willow chatting away with the seven luckiest men in the room. And every guy at Willow’s table plainly knew just how lucky he was, because he could have been stuck looking at other ugly guys, and instead he got to look at the smartest programmer in the world who just happened to be amazingly gorgeous too. Alex wanted pictures of Willow interacting with guys who had just the right expressions on their faces, and it took most of the hour to get a few that were just what she wanted.

Then it was back to the conference room, where the afternoon was turning from ‘here is what I think we need to do’ into ‘here is what is wrong with HIS software’ which was not as productive and not very nice. At least no one was ragging on Willow’s software. Alex just didn’t get why some of Bill Gates’ products were supposed to be part of an evil conspiracy, because Alex had seen real evil conspiracies, and software with a couple bugs was just not a real evil conspiracy.

So she took another break. Maybe when she came back, she could try to get some photos of Willow being Miss Moderator and people around her looking really respectful and appreciative.

She spotted the tables of mid-afternoon ‘snacks’ that were being set up. Twenty dollar imported chocolate truffles were not mid-afternoon snacks in her circles. And those weren’t even the fanciest stuff they were setting out. Alex had been thinking about a diet coke and a couple granola bars. This was like a buffet of miniature desserts from a five-star restaurant. At least there was a ton of caffeine-related goodness, because there was a huge urn of coffee that a waitress was standing by, with a ton of things like flavors and sugars and cream to serve people fancy coffees.

She glanced around the area, looking to see if there were any especially good backdrops for photos, and especially good lighting for what she wanted. And that was why she noticed the female security guard walking toward the waiters as they set stuff out.

The woman was dressed like all the other security people, in a solid black suit tailored so she could carry a big handgun under her armpit. That went with the mandatory pure white shirt and skinny black tie and dark glasses and black oxfords. The woman had her hair pulled back in a French braid that didn’t manage to hide how strikingly attractive she was.

Alex’s immediate thought was ‘Orphan!’ So she looked closer. And Alex recognized the woman, despite the dark glasses. Jack had sent enough pictures and stuff, and Alex had even studied the stuff Jack sent her.

It was definitely Clare Tobias.

A member of The Collective had just infiltrated the meeting.

A/N: Michael Barnes the security guy is an OC and not an obscure ref to someone in an obscure fictional source. I just thought I’d save you ten minutes of frustrated googling.
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