A/N: This story takes place in Season One of the TV series, after the episode in which the aliens learn of Blackwood.
McCullough bent over the microscope, turning the focus knob in and out. She moved from the fine focus to the coarse, but no matter what she did, the image remained fuzzy and blurry. She sighed and leaned back, looking at the tray of slides she had examined already. They filled three slide boxes. She rubbed her eyes, realizing that it was them, not the microscope, that would no longer focus. "This is ridiculous!" she cried.
The other three team members glanced up at her from their various positions around the basement workroom. "What is?" Blackwood asked.
"This!" McCullough waved her hand irately at the pile of slides she had analyzed, and the equally large pile still waiting. "I can't work like this. I need to find a high-throughput method for screening these samples. One that doesn't depend on my eyes. They just won't do it."
Blackwood walked over. "You know, it's funny that you mention high-throughput. I talked to this fellow at a convention a few years ago who was doing genomic PCR screening on tissue. Maybe you could chat with him."
"Yes, that sounds good," she said, leaning back tiredly. "Who was he?"
Blackwood rested his chin on his right hand and his right elbow on his left wrist, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. "Hrm. Let me see. It was two years ago, at FASEB in San Francisco. He was on the second floor in the afternoon session..." He paused. "No, it's no good. Let me see..."
Ironhorse straightened and pointed. "No, Blackwood, no. Don't you dare..." The tuning fork hit the edge of McCullough's table. A metallic wail filled the air, and Ironhorse cringed. "Dah!"
McCullough cringed, as well, as Blackwood moved the fork around the forehead, muttering to himself. "Mmm. Walking along the hallway, stepping into the meeting room. Projection on the wall. The last slide... his name is on it..."
Ironhorse rubbed his forehead with one lean hand. "I don't think it's a memory aid. I think he does that just to irritate us."
McCullough's shoulders tensed as the sound of the fork wailed through the room. "I'm beginning to agree with you." She glanced at Drake, who was grinning. "It doesn't annoy you, Norton?"
"Oh, yeah, but it's worth it just to see how hacked off it gets you two!"
Blackwood set the fork down, shaking his head. "It's no good. I can't see the name. I can see the last slide, but the name is just fuzzy." He straightened and smiled down at McCullough. "But I still have the meeting notes filed in my office. I'll go dig them up."
"You couldn't have done that right off?" she asked his back as it walked into the elevator. She pushed back from the microscope and stood. "I'm going to take a coffee break. Do you two want anything?"
"Nothing you can provide that quickly," Drake told her with a wink.
As she left, Ironhorse stood and paced. The aliens had been quiet for a week, and his restlessness increased with inaction. "Just more of his New Age nonsense."
Drake leaned back in his wheelchair, watching Ironhorse stride back and forth in the tight space. "You think so? We can check it out, you know."
Ironhorse stopped, turning to face Drake. "Check out what?"
Drake spread his hands. "I can work my way through libraries that have modem-accessible catalogs, and check filed abstracts for memory research."
"Wouldn't that be a lot of effort?"
Drake chuckled. "It's not like I have anything better to do right now! Wouldn't you like to give him some flak if it's been debunked somewhere?"
The edge of Ironhorse's mouth quirked up in a smile. "You have a point." He put his hands on the back of Drake's wheelchair, looking over his shoulder. "Let's take a look."
Drake turned his head to look Ironhorse in the face. "You might want to sit over there, Colonel. My methods aren't always exactly kosher." He flexed his fingers, then rested them gently on the keyboard.
"I'll look the other way." Ironhorse clapped Drake on the shoulder and walked away, sitting back in his chair. Drake rubbed his shoulder. Ironhorse could stand to tone down his friendly pats.
Blackwood stepped out of the elevator, a file folder in his hands. "I found it!" His bright baritone echoed through the room, generating almost no reaction in McCullough and Ironhorse, who stood behind Drake, peering at the computer screen over his shoulders. Blackwood cleared his throat. "Found something more interesting?"
"You could say that..." Drake said, tapping his lip with a forefinger.
Blackwood set the folder on McCullough's desk. "Are you going to tell me about it?"
"Norton pulled up some data on memory research done in the '50s by a researched named Dr. Glastonye. All of the papers published under that name have been retracted by the journals that published them."
"Am I missing something?" Blackwood asked, trying to catch a glimpse of the screen around the other three. "So a scientist published some bogus research and got called on it. It happens." He frowned. "Why were you looking up memory research?"
"We were trying to justify taking that damn tuning fork away from you," Ironhorse replied.
Drake pushed back from the desk and turned his wheelchair to face Blackwood. Ironhorse stood back to allow him to. "It got a little strange around the edges. I found a cross-reference on that name." Drake waved at the screen, which Blackwood could finally see held a secured US governmental screen.
"What have you gotten yourself into, Norton?"
"The Joint Chiefs." Drake smiled. "The cross-reference on that name is for operation De Epice." He enunciated the break carefully.
"Deep Ice!" Blackwood rubbed his chin. "We should check this out. Where does this Dr. Glastonye work?"
"Doesn't," Drake replied. "I can't find a current reference. All of the papers were published out of CalTech, though."
Blackwood straightened and put his hands on his hips. "Well. I think I'll head down there and pay a visit. It's been pretty quiet around here, hasn't it?" He turned in a semicircle, catching carefully neutral expressions on the faces of his team. "Just a day or two. I'll stay in touch. Susan..." he pointed at the file folder, "get in touch with that fellow who does the high-throughput. It could come in handy." He turned back to the elevator, his stride purposeful. He had been battering his head uselessly against the information they had for the past week; he would welcome more data.
It took less than half an hour for Blackwood to pack. He had little enough to take, after all; a change of clothes, his dopp kit, a few papers, some general data on their project, notepads, mobile phone, and, of course, a Geiger counter. The must-have tourist accessory, these days, he thought wryly.
He clattered down the stairs, meeting Mrs. Pennyworth at the front entrance as she left the kitchen to investigate the noise. "Mrs. Pennyworth - I'll be out for a few days. Nothing big. I'll be back tomorrow, most likely, so cook those carnivores whatever they want in the meantime."
Ironhorse strode into the room. He had shed his sweats, and was now dressed in jeans and a fatigue jacket, with a rucksack over the shoulder - the contents of which Blackwood didn't particularly want to know about. "Are we ready?"
Blackwood sighed. "Paul, I'm going by myself. This is just a quick run down to Pasadena. Nothing is going to happen."
Ironhorse stepped close. Blackwood wondered how the man managed to look up at someone in such a way as to make it seem like he was looking down. "You don't know that. My job is to keep you safe. I'm coming with you."
Blackwood did not want to have the man hanging over his shoulder for the whole trip, imposing his paranoid security measures, telling Blackwood what he was and was not allowed to do. He hated to pull rank, but the man didn't listen to anything else. "Look, Paul. I know security is your job, but I am the head of the project, and my word is final. I say I'm taking this trip by myself, and that is all there is to it. Got it?"
Half an hour later, Blackwood headed south, with Ironhorse sitting stolidly in the passenger's seat. Blackwood comforted himself with the thought that at least he was the one driving.
If anyone had been near the man standing on the shoulder of Interstate 5 at that point in time, that person would have been startled at the strange noises coming out of the man's mouth. Nobody was, however, and so he twisted his human vocal cords around the alien language in impunity. "They are heading south, Advocacy," the man said into his radio. "I do not know their destination."
"Follow them," the mellifluous voice of one of the Advocates purred in response. "Keep us appraised, and be prepared to take action."
"I hear and obey." The man set the radio mouthpiece back into its cradle as he re-entered the State Patrol Interceptor, closed the door, and pulled away, following the battered vehicle south.