"How nice to see you, Eric."

Cecily extended her hand to her in greeting. He had to shake it. Age had made her hard features even more unappealing. She looked unimpressive enough in her gray costume, her dyed blonde hair swept up into a bun, but he knew her to be devious and quarrelsome.

"Let's skip the pleasantries, Cecily. Why did you call me? I'm risking enough by seeing you in this hotel room."

She held up a data pad casually. "I read your New Year's speech. 'Worrisome alien influences.' The situation is worrisome indeed. Are you aware that we would be irrelevant in the galaxy without Andorean technology, and if we didn't staff the League's military, we would have nothing to pay them back with?"

He just wanted to shut out her high-pitched voice and get to his wife's New Year's party, but he could not quite ignore her. Not yet.

"Get to the point, Cecily."

"You know I find something interesting." She shook her head as though she was really surprised by her own discovery."I compared this year's speech with one you gave six years ago. Back then you were arguing that we would need a special task force of uniquely gifted individuals to face the dangers of the galaxy. You suggested genetically enhanced warriors. One could almost think that you knew about the Wolf Den project."

"We both knew about it. It failed. I've moved on." She was troublesome indeed, stirring long dead secrets, but he had enough blackmail to keep her from ever making public what she knew. He poured himself a large glass of whiskey.

"It needn't have failed." She leaned forward conspiratorially. He took half a step back.

"A lower does of the genetic enabling factor combined with a series five implant would have worked fine for all of them. It even would have made them more controllable."

Wheiner spit the whiskey back into his glass as though it had turned into acid. "You can't be serious. The surviving Supertroopers are causing enough trouble."

She huffed at him, strode across the room forcefully, stopped just short of the door.

"Your petty feud with with Walsh is blinding you to the facts. Currently, our most advanced special task force consists of a Martian farmer boy who manifests suicidal tendencies under duress, an ex-criminal hacker with dubious loyalties, a psychic from a planet that isn't even on the maps and an angry teenager who has lost belief in his officers." She fixed her icy gaze on him. "It can't go on like this, Eric. We need people we can trust to represent Earth's special interests in the galaxy."

"What do you suggest? An army of Gooseman clones?" He let out a choked laughter. The thought was so ridiculous that his good mood almost returned.

Cecily's next words sobered him.

"Negata was too clever for that. He put counters into their DNA that don't allow the cells to be reprogrammed to the undifferentiated state that one needs to create a clone. We had to start from scratch."

His jaw dropped.

She crossed her arms and advanced toward him again. He stood his ground, though his feet felt wobbly.

"All we need is some more funding, and I know you're an expert on that. Unfortunately, Senator Gand managed to get herself into prison by by breaking a few ground rules such as not leaving a trail for galaxy rangers and not showing up on site herself, but I know you're smarter than that."

She sauntered toward the door. "Think about it, and call my secret number when you've made up your mind." A saccharine smile spread across her thin lips. "You'll get all of the credit, and Joseph will get none. And as you said in your speech, the Andoreans may seem friendly now, but what about in 20 years?"

She closed the door gently and left him to his musings. Wolf Den had been a disaster, but it had had potential. If Walsh hadn't been running it... He distrusted genetic engineering, but the S5 were becoming a problem.

It might be good to have a foot in the door for this new enterprise.