Keyop watched her carefully. When she was looking, he picked up an egg, scanned it, and replaced it in the manicured bushes. When she wasn't looking, he ate it. The next egg, she made him re-hide. His average was pretty good. And he was remembering where he was putting them, to save time when the gates officially opened and he came back as a civilian.
Tiny walked by and waved.
"Done your section already?" Princess asked.
"Yeah, it was an easy one. The Rose Garden. Not a lot there."
"Try none," Princess said. "That area's off limits to the kids today."
"So that's why,... Well, I'm off."
"Tiny, you know what the Chief said. We have to finish this before the gates open. Now get over here and help."
"Sheesh, Princess, you're worse than our noble Commander."
"If our Commander were here, he'd be tearing a stripe off you. Now, back to work."
The three bird-suited teenagers worked in silence. Princess noticed that Tiny had similar work patterns to Keyop. She sighed. It was going to take a long time.
"Mark to Princess. Any luck?"
"No, Mark. Nothing. But Keyop and Tiny are going to need some Rolaids when we get back."
"Why am I not surprised? I've finished the Ellipse. I'll go help Jason with the South Lawn."
"Why don't you send Jason over here? You and I can finish the Ellipse together."
"Sounds good. Jason, you copy that?"
"Yes, Commander, I copy. I'll wait here till you show up."
Mark ran over to his second.
"The Chief's sure of this, right Mark? The message said the Easter Egg Hunt at the White House."
"Yes, Jason. The top techs all went over it. It's legit."
"But why use us? Why not get a team of dogs or something?"
"Because we're more discrete."
"Ah. Sure. Five teenagers in bird suits." Jason drew an imaginary line down the East Lawn. "Well, I've finished everything east of here; you and Princess have fun with the rest."
"What? That's all you've done?"
"Yup. Too bad you and Princess will have so much to do while I'm babysitting. I suggest you start at that end." Jason pointed.
Mark glared at his second, who left promptly, eating one of the eggs as he went.
Less than half an hour till opening. The kids were already lined up outside the gates. And, somewhere, hidden among the acres of manicured lawn and bushes, was one special egg. The note had said that, on Easter Morning, 2108, one egg would be "special". And his team had less than thirty minutes to find it.
Princess came over to him, and they started work.
"Do you think the three of them will finish the area in time?" he asked.
"I think so. Jason'll keep them in line."
"Hope so. I'll be the one explaining to the kids why they can't come in."
"Don't worry, I'll be right beside you."
He smiled at his partner. "Always?"
Twenty minutes till opening. They changed methods. Princess would crawl around the bushes and put the eggs in a basket. Mark would scan the entire basket, and dump the eggs in a pile, not bothering to re-hide them.
Fifteen minutes. Jason called on the bracelet. "Finished here, Commander. We're coming over to help you." Jason paused, then relented. "And you can stop when you reach the path to the fountain. I just remembered I did the entire area to the east of it."
Princess looked at Mark, amused at his annoyance. Jason had told them to start at the west edge, so they hadn't wasted any time checking an already cleared area, but it was the sort of thing that would annoy the Commander.
She wondered if Mark realized why Jason had made him think the two of them had so much to accomplish. Jason always tried to make it difficult for her to have time with her favorite Eagle. Mark still hadn't caught on. One of these days, ...
Five minute before the gates were due to open, the scanner beeped. Princess dropped the egg she was holding, and crawled out, ready to take over. Mark was uncertain.
"Commander, disabling devices is my job, not yours."
"It could be dangerous."
"So is keeping those kids out any longer."
She took the egg and ran to her bike. There, she used a more sophisticated scanner, and frowned.
"What is it?"
"Better keep the others away."
"Just do it. It looks like a nasty one, and there's a location sensor. I don't want to take it anywhere, in case it'll blow when taken off the grounds." She looked up, apprehensive. "You'd better go, too."
"We can get a bomb squad in."
She pointed to the crowd behind the gates. "There's no time."
He swallowed. "Princess, I ... " He couldn't continue.
She reached for his hand. "I know. Now go."
He set her bracelet for continuous transmission, and ran.
Princess put the egg on the seat of her bike, took out a small drill, took a calming breath, and began to work.
The boys waited. Mark paced. Jason leaned against his car and scowled. Keyop pranced about, trying for a better vantage point. Tiny just sat beside an empty egg basket.
The sound of a small explosion came through the bracelets.
Mark led the way, leaping over the security fence and hedges, to where he had left her.
She was sitting calmly on the ground, but there was something wrong about her helmet. It looked softer, smaller, and distinctly lavender in color. With bows and ribbons. An Easter bonnet. Her real helmet was on the ground beside her.
She stood up and held out a paper.
Mark took it, and recognized the handwriting: Zoltar's.
He was too shaken to read it, so he passed it to Jason.
Jason smiled, then grinned, then laughed.
"Have you checked the date, Commander?"
Jason gave him a website address. "Remember, Mark, it's 2108."
Mark checked the URL and relaxed:
(The contents of the URL are in Chapter Two.)