The brandy glowed a rich amber by the firelight, the aroma alone a heady draught at the close of the day. Blackwood swirled the liquid thoughtfully while he listened to Ironhorse's report; the jeans clad soldier took a moment to sip from his own glass before continuing. "Dr. Belinda Lindstrom from Princeton was also approved as team leader at the Thompson BioLab. The rest of your recommendations went through, too; all except for Dr. ..." He consulted a clipboard balanced on one knee. "...Emil Burnstein. He's suspected of having Communist affiliations."

Blackwood carefully marked the page of the book in his lap before closing it. "He probably does." He counted off the number of biologists approved by Army Intelligence for the new facility. "Belinda with Marshall and Lipman bring the count to seven at Thompson and another four working independently through the liaison."

"Right." Ironhorse tapped the clipboard with one finger. "I'm assigning Lieutenant Rivera to implement security measures at the new site. He'll follow the same guidelines that we use here and at Omega base."

Blackwood drew off his glasses and began to polish them absently on his flannel sleeve. "Did you ... hear back on my request to have Katya brought in on this?"

Ironhorse dropped his eyes to his own drink, then raised his head, facing Blackwood's oblique inquiry directly. "Communique came in this morning. Your request was refused." He shifted uncomfortably. "I didn't impede the request," he asserted, answering the unasked question. "Dr. Rodchenko's people feel she could better serve as head of their domestic research program. All requests for her assistance were forwarded through the GRU."

In the act of peering through his now smeared glasses, Harrison paused, his brow furrowed. "That's military intelligence, isn't it?"

Ironhorse tossed over a box of tissues from the table. "It's been classified a military project, Harrison -- by both sides. That's why the clearance is so high."

Pulling out a wad of kleenex from a box on the end table, Blackwood resumed his polishing, attention focused on the task. "Looks like Dr. Dickenson and I are going to have to muddle along alone."

"Look, I tried...."

That earned an apologetic smile. "I know you tried. I'm not blaming you for the stupidity of the military."

Ironhorse paused, mouth open, then closed it again, unsure how to take that. "Where is Dr. Dickenson?" he asked, snatching at a safe subject.

Blackwood gestured at the staircase with his glasses. "Went to bed. It's been a long day -- the old guy said he wanted to be up early to compare what we found out on that last mission to some of the questions we have on Q'Tara's physiognomy. He thinks he might see a correlation between the two technologies we can use."

"I'd like to talk to him about that tomorrow." Ironhorse sipped his brandy again. "Tastes good."

"It's not moonshine," Blackwood grinned, eliciting a shudder from the other man.

"Don't even say the word, Doctor. I haven't recovered from the last of your hairbrained schemes yet."

The tall physicist laughed out loud at that, the first time he'd done so in weeks. "Neither have I." He paused. "Paul? I was thinking about spending a few days at Clayton's cabin next week. Maybe do a little hiking before the snows come."

"Do you want me to do a security check on the area?"

"I'd rather you came with me." The scientist's invitation was quiet, still unsure. "We've both been working non-stop for the last couple of months now. Besides, I'd ... like some company."

Both men jumped at a loud crackle from the open hearth, Ironhorse actually leaping to his feet. He studied the dancing flames for a moment, then drained his glass and set it carefully beside the box of tissues. "I'd be happy to join you, doctor," he replied formally. "You may need someone to watch your back while you're up there." So saying he turned and climbed the stairs.

"Any excuse, Colonel," Blackwood murmured, warming the brandy between his palms. "Until we don't need them anymore." With that, he redonned his glasses and returned to his book.

end