Chapter 4

"Just think of it, Suzanne -- an antimatter laser!" Harrison swirled his brandy, warming the aged liquor between his hands. "The destructive power of such a weapon is virtually inconceivable!"

Microbiologist Suzanne McCullough leaned back in her chair, crossing long, sleek legs at the knee. "I'm afraid to imagine how close we came to losing the entire war. We're having enough trouble fighting the aliens with what they have, but an antimatter laser...." She shuddered theatrically. "It's a good thing you discovered them in time."

"What makes you so certain they're stopped, Doctor?" Ironhorse shifted uncomfortably in his position on the sofa, bruises protesting the movement. "We may have stopped them this time but there's no reason they can't simply start over somewhere else."

Suzanne too raised an inquiring brow. "Paul has a point. If the basic elements are as common as you said, this could be reproduced by another triad anywhere in the country."

"They're out of contact with their people for at least another year." Harrison spoke the words triumphantly, beaming at the light the phrase brought to the others' eyes. "The whole reason they were working so deep in the woods was to get directions for building the device."

"How do you know that?" Ironhorse asked, honestly impressed.

"I asked them."

"Oh."

Harrison smiled reflectively. "We had quite a conversation going. Another few minutes and I might even have found out where that Advocacy of theirs is hiding."

"Yeah, I'll bet." Ironhorse reached for his own brandy glass then grimaced, both hands going to his temples. "One thing you can say about them -- that alien could throw a punch. My head still hurts." Harrison forestalled the attempt and handed him both snifter and aspirin produced for the occasion. "Thanks. Did you learn anything else while you were ... uh ... chatting with the girls?" he finished snidely.

"Not much." The scientist sighed regretfully then rose, inborn nervous energy impelling nervous motion. "I spent most of the time acting pompous to avoid suspicion. The alien army doesn't seem to be that much different from our own military, from what I could see."

Ironhorse opened his mouth to let loose an offended retort, then shut it with a snap. Instead of speaking, he sat quietly, regarding Harrison with so thoughtful an expression that the scientist retreated suspiciously. Rather than a quip, the soldier said, simply, "I didn't thank you for getting me out of there. I appreciate it, Blackwood."

The physicist made a dismissive gesture, a rare flush suffusing his cheeks. "Nothing you wouldn't have done for me." He scowled as a new possibility presented itself. "Or nothing you didn't do for me." He sat down lightly on the coffee table, meeting the puzzled black eyes with a look of enlightenment. "How did you get captured? Watching out for my back?" Ironhorse cleared his throat noisily, answering the question clearly enough. "I thought you were a little clumsier than usual." Harrison smiled warmly, disconcerting the soldier further. "Thanks."

"Guess we're even then." Ironhorse met the smiling blue eyes and a spark flashed between them, warming the room like a shaft of light.

Suzanne primly adjusted her hemline, drawing a glance from the two males. "Now that you two have started a mutual appreciation society, I expect to hear a little less arguing -- especially at six in the morning." She tossed back a strand of long brown hair, dimpling slightly. "Some of us need our beauty sleep, you know."

"Some, perhaps," Harrison returned gallantly. "But not you." He wiped away her flattered smile by adding, "No more than six or seven hours, anyway."

As though embarrassed by his own congeniality, Ironhorse's gratitude faded into a scowl. "Be that as it may, about future reconnaissance...."

Harrison drained his brandy in a gulp. "I'd better go see how Norton's making out with those scraps I managed to salvage."

Ironhorse tried again. "The next time I...."

"He's pretty fast with these things you know." Harrison deposited his glass with a clink, and gained his feet.

"The next...."

"Good night, Colonel," the scientist called, stepping over McCullough's legs and disappearing around a corner. "See you later, Suzanne."

Ironhorse struggled to follow but the lanky figure was gone before he could escape the couch. He emitted a frustrated snort, then faced the smiling woman with spread hands and lopsided smile. "Do you think it was something I said?"

***