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Until recently, outpost worlds were scanned by Watchers only every few years. Which was how Dillon and Sean had not been identified until just before their eighteenth birthdays. But since then the alien enemies had changed tactics. They had targeted Sean and Dillon, the first-ever assault on an outpost world. Now there were Watchers on constant duty for every world that did not specifically forbid the Assembly's presence.

Sean asked, "Do I need a tie?"

"Probably a good idea, since you'll be meeting with the senator," Dillon replied.

Sean selected one of knitted silk, then returned to the loft's living area. Dillon stood between the dining table and the stairs, looking out the French doors to the balcony, the sunlit lawn, and the main house almost hidden beyond the summertime green.

Sean asked, "How long since you were back?"

"Six months. Longer. Not since Carey and I..." He shrugged. "No reason to return and a lot of them to stay away. You?"

"Dinner with Carey and her dad. Couple of months, maybe longer." He inspected his brother. "Are you changing clothes?"

"No. I won't be going in."


"The uniform also serves as body armor."

"So... we're going after the bad guys."

Dillon gave him five seconds of tight focus. "You have a problem with that?"

Actually, Sean did. Not so much from the standpoint of doing what it took to bring Landon home. But Dillon's attitude troubled him at a deep level. "Anything more I should know going in?"

"No time." Dillon reached out his hand. "Grab hold."

They transited to the back garden of Senator Teddy Evans's Georgetown residence. Dillon remained behind the derelict shed and motioned Sean forward. "Find out what you can. When you're ready, I'll be here." He seated himself on a rusting lawn chair. "Go play diplomat. It's what you're good at."

The house and rear patio were fashioned from crumbling firebrick. Dillon had been here once for an awkward family gathering. The wife of Senator Evans was a Washington socialite who had put Dillon into a total snooze with her description of the home's history, how it had belonged to a signatory of the Constitution whose barges had plied the canal that framed the back garden. The house had been burned in the War of 1812, then rebuilt and expanded. Now it belonged to Senator Evans, his party's rising star and presidential hopeful.

Carey spotted Sean through the living room's French doors and rushed out to greet him. "Where's Dillon?"

"Sulking behind the shed."

She bit her lip and shook her head, but all she said was, "Come inside."

Sean heard an argument through the open doorway. "What's going on in there?"

Her response was cut off by the senator's wife. "Carey, how did your boyfriend get in our backyard?"

She kept a firm grip on Sean's hand, like she was afraid he'd bolt. "This is Dillon's brother, Sean."

"Oh, I'm sorry, you look just like..." The senator's wife rapped blood-red fingernails on the pearls strung around her neck. "Why ever didn't you use the front door?"

Carey's father, John Havilland, sat in a padded window box, partly hidden by the massive brick fireplace. He leapt to his feet at Sean's arrival and came rushing over. "Thank heavens. I was getting worried."

"I don't understand, John." The senator's wife wore so much hairspray it reflected the light. "What possible difference could this young man make?"

"Let's just say Sean and his brother have become experts at the impossible."

The living room swarmed with an alphabet of Washington security. FBI, police, Secret Service, even some bespectacled geek from NSA handling the phone tracking. Their gazes were laser tight on Sean, and they radiated a unified hostility. The senator with the boyish good looks rose from his position on the sofa. "That's just not good enough, John. I want to know what this fellow brings to the table."

"Maybe nothing." John led his daughter and Sean into the front hall. "Where's Dillon?"

"Out back."

"How absurd. Carey, go invite him in."

"Dad... please, no."

John grimaced at his daughter's response, but he merely asked Sean, "What do you need?"

"Privacy," Sean replied. "And something to eat. I missed a meal."

John led him to an upstairs bedroom. Carey brought a ready-made sandwich from the kitchen, and they took turns filling Sean in as he ate.

This excerpt ends on page 22 of the paperback edition.

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