Office of Cmdr. Walsh
"No! No. FUCKIN'. Way!!!"
Commander Joseph Walsh sighed audibly. The boy was taking this even worse than he'd expected. "Gooseman," he said sternly, with just the proper amount of icy disapproval. "Calm down. It's just a transformation like any other."
The young ST stared at him in utter disbelief.
"You've done far more complicated ones successfully."
"As if that were the point," Gooseman muttered under his breath.
"Then what is the point?" The commander asked briskly, deciding to either force Goose to admit his problem or give in and accept the job. Joseph just hoped he judged Goose's reaction to the matter right and it would be the latter.
The ST in front of him ground his teeth and said nothing.
"Look, Goose. We have to get the batch back. We can't risk having it put to use or worse, being used to produce more metallo bacts. I doubt I have to remind you what happened the last time some of those escaped." Walsh made a dramatic pause. "Pensacola isn't called 'Plastic City' since then for nothing."
"If it's so important, why don't you send my senior officer instead of me?" Shane grumbled, stuffing his hands into his pockets, giving a perfect impersonation of a sulking teenager.
"He wouldn't be immune to the bacts if he's exposed to them, and the criminal behind the theft is known to be especially distrustful towards men in general."
"Then send Niko."
"They took a military batch, Gooseman." Walsh bit off, his patience wearing out.
The trooper groaned. "So the critters produce botulinum."
"Exactly. There's no one but you able to get into Wondermir's secret labs and reclaim the batch. Now stop playing the sissy. Here are the specifications for your transformation. They've been double checked. Appropriate clothing is supplied at the charging platform. Negata and QBall–"
"No!" Green eyes flared with panicked fury. "I'm not going to do this–" he waved with the datapad holding the transformation specs, "–with that gossip nearby." He shuddered. "Negata will do. He doesn't see me as human anyway."
"Are you sure to go with only one supervisor?"
"You won't be there?"
"Can't." Walsh shook his head.
"One will be sufficient." A muscle in Goose's jaw twitched. "And if anyone else ever learns about this..." his eyes turned to threatening frost. "He's not bloody going to live to tell about it."
"Babysitting?" Walter C. Hartford crumpled his nose in displeasure. "For a state service duffer?"
Zach shrugged. "It's your turn, Doc. So stop complaining. It's not like this will take long. You don't want to tell me an afternoon in downtown Phoenix is too much to ask of you, do you?"
"Doc, I'm not going to repeat myself. The state service asked us to back up one of their agents who has to retrieve a stolen bacteria test culture. They need help with the building's security system, so you're the best choice anyway. Besides, according to their dossier, this agent Shawna Frost seems to be very competent. There shouldn't be major issues if you don't create them. Now hurry. I expect your verbal report this afternoon."
~late in the afternoon
"It went smooth as silk, Captain," Doc finished his report with a summary. "She wasn't a minute late and we entered the building without a hitch. You should have seen her," he whispered dreamily. "A regal beauty if I've ever seen one. So cool, so courageous when she distracted the guards so I could tap into the surveillance system to forge her a building clearance and direct her down to their security labs." He shook his head. "Marvelous."
"What does she look like?" Niko asked. "Maybe we've seen her after all."
"She's tall, at least my height with endless legs – though that's hard to tell with the high heels she wore – and moves fluidly, like a goddess. I'm sure she must have some kind of martial arts experience the way she handled the guard that surprised her when she took the batch out of the safe." He mulled a moment. "She could teach self-defense for women with that style, believe me."
Behind him, Shane rolled his eyes and returned his attention to the report he was trying to write.
"Her hair's light blonde, flaxen..." Doc fidgeted a bit while searching for a description that did justice to it. "A wee bit lighter than Goose's."
The ST snorted. Audibly.
"She wears it extraordinarily short, so that it looks like icecrusted fur, and reveals her slender neck. And she had the most stunning eyes: somewhere between ice-green and grey-blue." Doc was obviously a bit carried away with recalling his impressions. "You just couldn't help but notice her the moment she walked in the room." He hesitated. "I have a surveillance picture of her, did you want to see it?"
Niko bent over his desk and looked at the screen. "Strange." After a moment she cocked her head and studied it from a different angle. "Somehow, she looks familiar but I can't place her."
"Have you tried to find her, Doc?" Zachary took a seat on the edge of Doc's desk. "I mean, you have her name, you know what she looks like and even have a decent picture of her. She shouldn't be too hard to find."
"That's what you think–" Doc sighed, much less tragically than he felt. "She seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth after she entered LongShot to hand in the batch. I tried everything, everything – do you read me? – to find her. But zilch." The hacker snapped his fingers in frustration. "Nothing. Nada. The only Frost I could find was an 'Emma Frost', a rich industrial magnate, running an academy for mutant children somewhere in Massachusetts. And no, she definitely isn't Shawna."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." The hacker snorted, frustrated. "Even checked her alibi."
Zach patted his teammate's shoulder comfortingly and said nothing.
Doc ranted on. "The way she disappeared, she seems to be secret service, not state service." He shook his head, throwing a longing look at his console's monitor still displaying the image of her his tweakers had drawn from Wondermir's surveillance systems. "Or even one of these supersecret military projects like–"
"Now stop it!" Goose snapped in, actually growling. "Definitely not."
"And if she was," the ST cut him off, "then you're never gonna find her there. So stop whining, it's useless."
"Shane!" Niko protested. "Show a little compassion, will you? Doc's hurting."
"No, he's not. But he will be if he doesn't stop getting on my nerves."
Niko glared at him. Behind them, Doc continued dreaming aloud of Miss Frost's various wonderful attributes. And the telepath blinked. Why on Earth–