Gooseman hesitated, eyeing the crumpled ball of old newspaper stuffed between the books with suspicion. It hadn't been there when he'd packed the box for transport to the mountain yesterday. In fact, he was quite sure there were more books in the box now, too.
With a fatalistic shrug, he pulled the paper out. And stopped again. Something hard poked through the worn paper. Curiously, he tugged at the wad of paper, uncurled it, and discovered a tiny ball of crystal. No, not a ball. A... beetle?!
He turned the tiny figurine between his hands, looked at it from all sides. Definitely a beetle. The crude lamplight in his undecorated apartment caused rainbow-colored sparks to scatter off the multiangled facets. For a spellbound moment, he studied the colorful refracted light, then winced and cursed as he noticed his preoccupation. And cursed again, because he had winced at his entrancement even now that his own door was safely closed and no one was around to take advantage of his weakness.
Or was there? He frowned. Who had slipped the crystal beetle among the books and why? Maybe he wasn't as unwatched as he thought he was...
He spent the next two hours frisking the small military apartment from floor to ceiling and back for surveillance devices. He found nothing.
He flopped down onto the floor next to the book box, leaned his back against the bed, and studied the suspect beetle again, sitting on the black cover of A. C. Clarke's Tales Of Ten Worlds, still sparkling innocent rainbows. With a frown, Goose realized he'd placed the thing on the only book Walsh had forced upon him that he'd actually enjoyed reading.
He tilted his head and noticed that the figurine also erupted in a cascade of colors when he changed his angle of view rather than moving the beetle itself. Then he frowned. He'd examined the whole apartment, but not the figurine...
He snatched it, clicked sharp claws against the facets, but the tinkling it caused was that of crystal: pure and clear. He held it up against the light, searched for anything embedded in it, after a moment even risked using the energy of the still odd-feeling implant to strengthen his vision even more than the genetic engineering had already done.
Nothing. The crystal beetle was just that. A piece of silver crystal, delicately crafted with hundreds of facets to form the shape of a running beetle the size of his fingertip, sparkling brilliant rainbows across his plain, functional room.
He sighed. He had to keep working if he wanted to have his moving-in finished by tomorrow. Putting the beetle on the empty bedside table, he began piling the books from the box onto the shelf attached to the wall.
After a moment, he took ACC's book from the shelf and slipped it under the beetle, making it a sparkling rainbow star in a velvety black pool. A spot of uselessness in the iron functionality of his room.
Next day 0900
Office of Cmdr. Walsh
"The daily mail... sir." The hesitation in Lt. McIntyre's all-business voice was very brief. The commander knew she wouldn't ask.
After Sheela had returned to her desk, he prodded the figure reflecting the lights from his console, and pricked his skin on the sharp points of the crystal spines. He sucked the blood droplet from his fingertip and thought of Max' advice from long ago: "Remember, he'll never do anything if you watch him. He's too cautious for that – like a hedgehog. Whenever something comes close he curls up and erects his spines, sometimes for months. He's still more than a weapon. Help him to stay that way."
After a moment, he secured the nail-sized silver crystal hedgehog next to his monitor with a drop of glue. It was a reminder...
Big Thanks to S. 'Trivia' Blank and Elizabeth 'fatima' Bales for their help with English.