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4581[MOVIEVERSE] "Razor" - Part 2/5 - Rated R

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  • Dex
    Oct 17, 2002
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      "Razor" Part 2/5
      by Dex

      All recognizable characters and settings belong to Marvel and 20th Century
      Fox; I am using them without permission but mean no harm and am making no
      profit. The plot and original characters, however belong to me. Any and all
      feedback is appreciated at dexf@.... Redistribution of this tale
      for profit is illegal. Please do not archive this story without contacting
      me first to obtain my permission.

      Many thanks to Domenika Marzione, Mel and Matt Nute for betareading and
      technical assistance.


      NEW YORK TIMES NEWS ROOM, MANHATTAN: 2002

      "Dawkins."

      "Hi, Ray."

      "Jean. How's it going, Doc?" Ray Dawkins leaned back in his chair, cradling
      the phone between his ear and shoulder while he typed. The newsroom chatter
      around him rose and fell in unending waves, a sort of information tide that
      journalists lived in.

      "A little crazy, actually."

      "So I heard. Washington. From a girl who wouldn't even vote in a school
      election."

      "Things change, Ray," Jean said on her end, a soft smile on her lips.
      Dawkins had been the one who got away, so to speak. Their relationship had
      started in the most ordinary way. One of Jean's friends brought him to a
      party during her second year of med school. He was a slightly scruffy man
      with a lean, carnivorous look that centred in his expressive grey eyes. At
      the time, he'd been freelancing, writing for anyone in New York with a
      publication.

      "Plus de change, plus de meme chose." Ray said. Their relationship had been
      bizarre, the sort of mad chemistry that fit itself between impossible
      schedules and complications. Between classes and the endless hours of study
      that medical school rightly demands, Jean was stealing a few extra hours to
      work with Professor Xavier, starting to learn the first steps to
      controlling her powers. Somehow there was still time for late night dinners
      in tiny Chinese restaurants, quiet earnest conversations in the student
      lounge, and breathless hours in his stiflingly hot apartment. And the scent
      of jasmine oil. Ray was slightly allergic to most perfumes and his sneezing
      attack in the middle of their first date had been jokingly referred to as
      the least effective romantic gesture of all time.. After that fiasco, Jean
      had always used jasmine oil, the light scent subtle and wonderful when
      mixed with her own. Jasmine oil and musk. Jean coloured slightly at the
      memory.

      "I need your help on something."

      "She doesn't call. She doesn't write. But now she needs my help. I see how
      this goes." Ray chided her, grinning into the phone.

      "Ray--" Jean huffed. "It's only been a few months. Quit whining."

      "I'm joking, Rusty. Are you still in D.C. right now?"

      "Yes. I'm doing some leg work for the Senate committee."

      "Something to do with a secret investigation into the affairs of the Army's
      Project TEARAWAY?"

      "You aren't supposed to know about that."

      "Hence the term ‘secret', I'll bet. Rusty, we're the New York Times.
      There's nothing that stays secret from us." Dawkins grinned again. "What do
      you need from me?"

      "I've got a huge amount of information that I need someone with the right
      connections to run it down. You know, cull out the crap from the fact. At
      least figure out if everything that's been collected is pointing to
      something or if it's just another stupid conspiracy theory. The answer is
      important, Ray."

      "So I gathered. I was wondering who they had roped in for the scut work on
      this."

      "How did you find out?"

      "The Ancient Journalistic Brotherhood. The guy who started the
      investigation was a friend of mine. Little bits and pieces he dug out from
      all over the place. It's hard to keep that contained when you have to
      consult so many people."

      "Why didn't you break the story?"

      "And get a libel suit in the gut? No, thank you. Not enough solid facts,
      and less chance of getting them. Besides, a smart editor isn't moving on
      something that touchy without having a few friends in high places ready to
      take advantage of it. Otherwise, you get both barrels from a corporate
      legal team." Dawkins switched shoulders with his phone and flipped open a
      notepad. "However, I know a couple of people who might be able to stitch
      together something that at least justifies a closer look."

      "Which is all we really need right now."

      "And in exchange for doing this, I get the exclusive, plus interviews with
      Keating and Brown?"

      "Who says that they're the principles?"

      "Only way to keep a secret in Washington is to say nothing. If three people
      know, unless the other two are dead, it's not a secret." Ray grabbed a pen
      off his desk.

      "Look, I can't arrange things like that on the fly."

      "I know, Jean. Talk to their chiefs of staff. In the meantime, how soon do
      you need this?"

      "How soon can I have it?"

      "That's always the trick. Give me your number in Washington. I have to be
      in DC next week for a group of hearings. Send over the information by
      courier. Let me see what I can run down, and we can go over it then. Sound
      fair?"

      "Very. Ray?"

      "Yeah?"

      "Thanks. I needed someone that I could trust on this."

      "Just don't let it get out. I mean, politicos trusting a journalist? It
      would ruin the muckraking bastard image that I've worked on for so long."
      Ray's voice was so distraught that Jean had to laugh.

      "Deal." Jean agreed as Ray jotted down her number quickly and closed his
      notebook.

      "See you next week, Rusty."

      ***

      "Professor?"

      "Jean. How are your investigations proceeding?"

      "Slowly." Jean tossed the pen in her hand down on the stack of papers in
      front of her. "And it's frustrating. It's like chasing around an ocean for
      one specific fish, and not knowing what it looks like. This city produces
      enough paper to gift wrap Australia!" She huffed disgustedly and stood from
      her seat, cradling the cell phone in her shoulder as she attempted to
      massage some life back into her hands.

      "I have a certain amount of experience with that." The wry edge on Xavier's
      voice made her smile, and she sunk down on her hotel bed, trying to relax.

      "I don't. At least with medicine, if the solution doesn't work, you can
      tell because the patient doesn't get better. But this— " Jean made a
      disgusted gesture towards her table, ignoring the fact that Xavier was
      miles away. "It's like if you throw enough paper at something, you can
      doubletalk it into a solution."

      "What about the senators' staff?"

      "Limited. We can't risk more people finding out about the investigation
      before they've got any real proof."

      "And your friend in the media?"

      "He already knew. I wish I knew how he does that, too. I'm having lunch
      with him in a few days," Jean sighed. "I'm sorry, Professor. I don't think
      I'm cut out for this. I found myself wishing for the bellboy to break an
      arm carrying my bags, just so I could face a problem I can solve."

      "You're better equipped than you think, Jean. Unlike most politicians, you
      still believe in solutions." Jean let out a deep breath, and Charles
      chuckled softly. "However, if you're looking for a medical problem, you'll
      be happy to know that I'm sending you one."

      "Excuse me?"

      "Logan is coming down to Washington for a few days. With all the
      developments, I'd like him close at hand."

      "I don't need a bodyguard, Charles." Jean's tone went icy.

      "No, you don't, but he does." Charles' voice was soft, thawing some of her
      initial hostility. "Logan had a... moment of familiarity a week ago in
      Ottawa."

      "Familiarity?"

      "A place that felt right to him, as if he'd been there before. In this
      case, it was the cenotaph for the Canadian Army. Between that, the nature
      of his modifications, and his obviously trained combat skills, I believe
      our assumption that Logan was once part of the military is correct. I'd
      like him to see if he can find a similar feeling in Washington. Perhaps the
      Vietnam War Memorial. Given his mutation, perhaps the World War One
      memorial would be as effective." Xavier clucked behind his teeth. "In case
      of an episode, he might require someone to get through to him. Your
      telepathy and his own trust for you is the safest combination."

      "I'm not sure that's such a good idea, Professor. Logan is difficult for
      you to access mentality, and I don't have your control. If something
      happens, I might not be able to get through to him, or..." Jean let the
      sentence trail off.

      "You might not be able to get out of him."

      "Yes."

      "Jean, if I believed that were likely, I would not suggest it. However,
      Logan's rare trust in you makes him more receptive. In a panic situation,
      I'm confident you would be able to provide him the necessary balance. It is
      important that he continues to build new connections towards himself. He's
      been so psychically closed ever since his trauma that his own mind is
      beginning to strain. The ‘rages' he has shown are a subconscious vent; a
      highly dangerous valve to prevent his own breakdown."

      "Without doubt. But that means he should be working with you, even the
      students. I'm not... a good person to be his best friend."

      "Because of his attraction to you, or yours to him?" Charles asked softly,
      his mild voice placing the words as carefully as a surgeon.

      "Both." Jean sat up on the edge of the bed, leaning forward to brace her
      elbows on her knees.. "And it's not what I want right now. Between the
      senators, this investigation, the conference, I'm barely keeping my head
      above water. I'm sure Scott's already convinced I've dropped off the face
      of the earth."

      "Scott knows how important this is."

      "That's not the point, Charles. You know that."

      "Whether you believe it or not, Jean, I feel that your work in Washington
      and with Logan will be more beneficial than you may think. His world is
      slowly expanding, just like yours. He has found a friend in Ororo and
      Marie. He's found an equal and rival in Scott. In this school, he has
      personal value. That has to expand to include a way to take the next step."

      "I'm not the next step."

      "No. You're the one that helps him take it. A person he can respect, even
      admire. Some one who doesn't judge him as a beast, but as a man. Neither
      myself or Scott can help him past this point." Jean rubbed her eyes
      wearily, pushing her glasses further back up on her forehead. Nothing was
      as irritating as the Professor when he was right about something you didn't
      want to do. The fact that he did it distressingly often was even worse.

      "All right, Charles. I'll do my best. I certainly can't do any worse."

      "Self-flagellation from you, Doctor?" Charles said, chiding her gently.

      "Nothing wrong with a little self-pity from time to time, Professor." Jean
      smiled and looked back at her table. "I'm off to nail myself to my desk by
      the hands and feet. I'll speak with you in three days."

      "She knows not what she does, Father."

      "Thank you, Charles." Jean said, flipping off the phone and tossing it on
      the pillows behind her. She sat back down at the pile and chewed the inside
      off her cheek. With great deliberation, she dug out the hotel menu from the
      stacks of paper and dialed the house phone.

      "Room service? I'm looking for something in chocolate. Lots and lots of it."

      ***

      "Doctor? Agent Sung is bleeding out his eyes again."

      "Really? Fascinating." Nathaniel Essex said dryly, taking the clipboard
      from the researcher. "Sedate him again and we'll take a look at the MRI."
      He made a notation and passed the clipboard back. The long room had
      originally been designed for bio-weapons testing back in the sixties, but
      had been upgraded to hold the first set of subjects in Operation KICKSTART.
      The clean rooms for bio-hazard handling had been converted into specialized
      monitoring chambers for the test subjects. The entire test area was a long
      line of rooms, plexi-fronted and air-locked to prevent any contamination.
      The scientists were arraying along stations across from the front windows,
      with their equipment bunched in little teams. Most of the scientists
      complained it looked like a prison. They were mostly right.

      "We haven't been able to stop the feedback he's receiving. It might be
      advisable to discontinue his tests. The bio-feedback is climbing directly
      in proportion to the rating level of the mutant he encounters. If this
      maintains a steady arc, an alpha-level mutant could cause a stroke or
      worse." The doctor wiped his hands nervously on his lab coat. Like most of
      the personnel here, he was one of the top men in his field, a genius in
      genetic research. But being under Essex's stare was like being studied as a
      lab rat, waiting for Essex to decide where to start cutting.

      "Doctor Wittgar, that is the reason for the tests."

      "But if the arc does continue and we run the test--"

      "We'll have ample data to apply to the next subject." Essex said, the tone
      of his voice never changing. "Shall we continue your update?"

      "Yes Doctor Essex." Wittgar picked up an electronic pad and started down
      the hall, Essex in step behind him. Technicians and scientists scurried
      back and forth, each caught up in the excitement of the cutting edge
      project, and the intense time pressures laid on them by the Army. Wittgar
      stopped at a glass partition, behind which sat Marion Watts.

      "The Ranger, correct?"

      "Yes Doctor Essex. Watts."

      "I'd say his change is moving forward rather remarkably." Essex said,
      looking at the man who writhed in his chair. Bands of skin and muscle had
      been rendered translucent, showing the movement of organs and bones in a
      patchwork view beneath them. A puddle of blood and fluid dripped below him,
      and the restraints left shimmering gall marks on his arms and legs.

      "No kidding. He's bled out almost entirely, and his internal organs are
      starting to atrophy. My theory is that they'll be eventually expelled in
      the same manner in the coming weeks."

      "Interesting. Any new developments on the lattice structures?"

      "Some." Wittgar touched the side of the wall screen and swiped a card
      through the reader. Watt's files bloomed on the large screen, and Wittgar
      quickly flipped through them. "Here's what we got from the samples." On the
      screen, a computer model of a normal human cell appeared. Wittgar touched a
      button and a net of lines spun themselves over the cell membrane, grafted
      themselves as part of the cell.

      "Full integration?"

      "Yes sir. The lattice is now part of the cell membrane. It's an organic
      compound, mostly silicon and carbon. It's extremely complex in the internal
      structure. We've got a sample going out to be tested. No one here is really
      specialized in crystalline structures."

      "Possibilities?"

      "Too many to list. The translucency you see we can't yet explain. but the
      theory is that it has to do with light energy. Incidentally, it's also
      driving Watts mad. Simply put, Watt's body is converting ambient light into
      the bio-energy his body needs to sustain itself."

      "No need for oxygen, food, water... only light. An interesting application.
      Have to tested to see if he can make the light he receives lase?"

      "Not yet. We want to wait for the transformation to complete. Otherwise, it
      could cause a system shock with the still unaltered parts of his body."

      "True. Has this modified brain function?"

      "Somewhat. There are... plates, I suppose, of branched organic crystal
      growing in his head. We're not sure how they'll effect him, but early
      indicators suggest he also might be working as a receiver for various
      telecommunications."

      "If we can induce a lase ability, those plates could serve as a sort of
      regulator. He might even be able to send communications himself."

      "Possibly. If we can keep him from total insanity, Watts alone will make
      KICKSTART a success."

      "Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Doctor Wittgar. Please continue."

      "Of course, Doctor Essex." Wittgar snapped off the screen and continued
      down the hall. "Watts is the most profound change we've seen. However, we
      have had some pleasant surprises with this batch, especially considering
      the level of materials we are using and the ages of the subjects. Sagatuk
      and Sontag are both developing into energy projectors. A sort of
      bio-electrical pulse in the case of Sagatuk. Shorts out the nervous system,
      destroys computers, some heat damage. We think that if we use an amplifier,
      like a rod or a staff, we can increase the power significantly."

      "I'll speak with Colonel Wraith. The thuggery research and development is
      his department."

      "Of course. As for Sontag, it's an interesting modification. She can emit a
      pulse of pure concussive energy. We think it's an energy field that
      hypercharges the air around her fist, creating the sonic pulse we've
      already seen. She's also been experimenting on a traveling wave across the
      ground. We don't have an explanations for that yet."

      "I suggest you rectify that."

      "Yes sir. It's a powerful blast, easily on the same level as an air burst
      from a small craft jet engine. Her body is developing the quantum density
      muscle as well, but she's showing little signs of enhanced strength. High
      human range on the Williams-Shaw. We think it's to withstand the backlash,
      and perhaps support a grade jump in the power of the bursts." The
      Williams-Shaw test was a system designed to gauge the level of strength in
      augmented humans. It tested both raw strength and tensile limits on the
      quantum density muscle, grading it on a curve.

      "Concerns?"

      "Physically, none. Psychologically, she's growing more belligerent. We'll
      need more psychologists for the testing stage, Doctor. There are too many
      factors the subjects have to deal with, and some could be extremely
      dangerous if unbalanced."

      "Agreed. By next week, at the latest. If needed, keep them sedated until
      that time. We can run most of the tests whether they're conscious or not."
      Essex made a note on his clipboard and scribbled his signature beside it.
      He passed the form over to Wittgar, who stored it under his own notes.
      "What about the others?"

      "Mostly psychokinetic variants. Greenmind has an interesting twinned
      psionic ability. She seems to strike the inner ear, equilibrium and nervous
      system all at the same time. We're trying to find some way to measure it,
      but it's like nothing we've ever charted. One of the researchers believes
      that if it could be refined, you could use it on a wider spectrum of
      organs. Massive failures in the heart, lungs, liver, that sort of thing."

      "Step up that testing. It could prove as a useful variant."

      "Especially in covert applications. Baer is less promising. He's increasing
      mass and quantum density muscle. His skeleton also shows a sort of metallic
      ossification that we've never seen before. No doubt it's to support his
      growing frame, but it also should make him far more resilient to kinetic
      damage. You could hit the man with a train and not do much harm. We're
      trying to find out specific stress levels, but they won't be available
      until the process stops. Basically, we have a big strong guy. That's it."

      "Where are the metallic elements coming from?"

      "Initially, his overly enhanced diet was providing it, but along the
      acceleration we've provided, he's been wolfing down pennies and ball
      bearings."

      "Interesting. So under a normal teen growth period, the body would convert
      the needed metals from the trace elements in his food."

      "A likely theory."

      "Do we have him charted on the Williams-Shaw yet?"

      "Not accurately. Best guess is the thirty ton range, unless he plateaus
      prematurely."

      "A large hulking strongman should make Colonel Wraith happy. What about the
      final subject?"

      "Quested? Wild psychokinesis. He's got a bizarre control/chaos dynamic with
      his power. Obviously we were trying for a pure telekinetic; but with
      Quested, it's more as if he can control a limited field around his body.
      There is roughly a three-foot radius where he is very strong, but outside
      of that there's nothing. His power level is high, but absolutely no fine
      control. Even at three feet, he can't lift a pencil from a desk and set it
      back down."

      "A failure. Have you initiated termination procedures?"

      "Not yet, Doctor Essex. You might want to see what he can do with that
      pencil before you give the order." Wittgar walked over to a metal rack of
      shelves and pulled down the metal backrest of a folding chair. Hammered
      through the middle, like a small stake, was a number 2 pencil. It had
      punched halfway through, wedged firmly in place. Wittgar returned the
      backrest to the racks and handed Doctor Essex another file. "You see,
      Quested can hold and accelerate articles within that three foot field. A
      sort of whirlwind of debris. We've charted it at over one hundred and fifty
      miles per hour. Consider it, Doctor. He's a human bomb, all shrapnel and no
      bang. We're working on the accuracy of the accelerated items, but that's
      just a matter of practice. A bag of roofing nails could take out a squad.
      Shove him into a hardware store and you've got a slaughterhouse."

      "Interesting. Excellent work, Doctor Wittgar. I'll expect a full outline at
      tomorrow's briefing section, with a test projection for the coming week.
      The Colonel is pushing for an overview and briefing for the top brass in
      two weeks and I'd rather like to meet that. Considering this batch is set
      for disposal anyway, pushing their limits will nicely shape the test
      regimen for the Alpha tests in six months."

      "Alpha's been approved?"

      "Tentatively. Back to work, Doctor." Essex handed over the clipboard with
      his notes and walked out of the chamber. Wittgar smiled hugely and mouthed
      ‘we're on' to his assistant. His assistant made a thumbs up to the other
      stations in the long chamber and an excited ripple swept through the room
      as Essex walked out. Returning to his own lab, he sat down and quickly
      scanned the updated files, to imprint Doctor Wittgar's overview in his
      mind. Alpha was the first major step for the military, but what they didn't
      know was that it was also the key he needed. His eyes drifted over to the
      picture on his desk.

      "Soon, Adam." He said quietly, displaying a rare hint of emotion before the
      dead cold dropped back behind his eyes and he returned to his work.

      ***

      "Looking good, Rusty." The voice in her ear made Jean jump, sloshing white
      wine over the rim of her glass. With a scowl she blotted at the damp
      splotch on her blouse. Ray Dawkins sat down across from her, his grey eyes
      twinkling in amusement. "Daydreaming?"

      "Something like that." Grey said sharply, annoyed that Dawkins had caught
      her drifting. Normally, a psionic resonance, a ripple of sorts, announced
      the presence of someone around her. It was like a mental sonar and provided
      her with all sorts of useful applications, like finding out when the
      bathroom was clear. She'd been staring out the window, trying to digest all
      the information she'd been studying when Ray had come up behind her. Any
      power was useless if you're not paying attention to it. It didn't help that
      the man moved like a wraith, soft and quiet.

      "A bottle of the same." Ray said, pointing to Jean's glass. The waiter
      nodded and left as swiftly as he appeared. The restaurant wasn't one of the
      most exclusive places to eat in Washington DC, but top level service was
      the only way to survive in the capitol. Jean tried to set her features in a
      suitably angry glare but failed. Finally, she shook her head and laughed.

      "You could at least give a girl some warning."

      "Where's the fun in that?" Ray's lazy grin matched the boneless sprawl in
      his chair. "Did you know that Washington was built on a malarial swamp?
      Diplomats used to claim hazardous conditions for extra pay when coming
      here. Nice to see some things haven't changed."

      "What do you mean?"

      "Bloodsuckers still thrive here."

      "I see you've mellowed." Jean said sarcastically, holding out her glass for
      the wine steward.

      "Aged, like a fine wine. By the way, the Lindemans is a unique selection.
      One of the Professor's suggestions?"

      "No, a friend."

      "The friend?"

      "Yes, the friend. Scott."

      "What's he like?"

      "Why?" Jean said. Ray was always questioning; always challenging.

      "Is he a secret?"

      "No, but--"

      "What, I'm not supposed to ask? Would it help if I said it was because I
      was jealous and do the ex-boyfriend dance of mighty testosterone?" Ray said
      lightly. The joke earned a weak smile from Jean.

      "I'm sorry, Ray. There's a lot going on. It's so much, and none of it is
      what I'm used to." Jean said, angry with herself. "I don't think I'm cut
      out for this."

      "Hey, Rusty. I know that you're a brilliant doctor. So does everyone else.
      Do you think I'd expect you to be any less brilliant at what you set your
      mind to? Look," Ray grinned and squeezed her hand once, where it lay on the
      table. "If you're going to take on Washington, than do it. Spit in its eye
      and grin at its ugly face. The politicians, they're trapped here, but you
      aren't. As for Sean--"

      "Scott."

      "Scott. I'm sure he knows how lucky he is. Everything else is a detail."

      "A peptalk from the press?"

      "I'm an ally until your next Senate appearance." Ray grinned. "And I'm
      hungry."

      "Agreed." Jean took a long sip of her wine, and felt herself settle. It was
      a mark of their old relationship that she could open up to him, the same
      way she could with Scott. The same way she wanted to with Logan. Jean
      firmly put that thought away in the back of her mind and picked up her menu.

      "For someone who was supposed to be running down information for me, you
      don't seem to be carrying any papers with you."

      "Waiting for a friend."

      "Really?"

      "A reporter is just a man with more numbers on his Rolodex than the normal
      guy. Let's eat." Ray said, picking up his menu. They chatted about
      inconsequentials after ordering, waiting for their food to arrive. The
      restaurant was filling up rapidly, as the staffers and lobbyists crowded in
      for lunch. Their mains were served swiftly and they settled into small
      talk, catching up on old friends and events over the last few years. Jean
      was halfway through her vegetable stir-fry when another man sat down at
      their table.

      "Ah, just in time. Doctor Jean Grey, meet Leonard Yu." Ray said, with a
      wave of his hand. The smaller Asian man nodded at them, accepting a glass
      of wine from Ray.

      "Mister Yu."

      "Doctor Grey. I saw you on television during the Kelly hearings, Very
      convincing."

      "Thank you."

      "Ray asked me if I'd tackle your files this week."

      "Are you a private detective?"

      "Lord no. I'm a market analyst."

      "Ray..." Jean growled.

      "Just let him explain."

      "Quickly, it seems." Leonard smiled, shifting his glasses nervously. "One
      of the first things you learn is that people can be defined by where they
      spend their money and what they buy with it. Now, most of your information
      about the genetic details is way beyond me. But the personnel lists from
      your unidentified source have some compelling market points."

      "Excuse me?"

      "I'll try to explain. Everyone has market habits. The more particular your
      habits, the easier you are to track. Fortunately for us, scientists are
      about as specialized as you get. This list of personnel that your files
      claim work in this facility, all are specialized researchers in a range of
      scientific fields. I did a check directly with Army personnel, and received
      a chunk of information about their placements. They're spread around the US
      in a variety of military and public labs." Yu took off his glasses and
      wiped them clean. "That part, in any case, is a lie."

      "How do you know that?"

      "Doctor, you subscribe to six different medical periodicals, correct?"

      "Yes. How did you... never mind." Jean said. Obviously Yu had checked her
      out as well.

      "How many of those have a casual distribution outside of your field?"

      "Very few."

      "So, if I wanted to market to a specific type of doctor, the easiest way
      would be to find the subscription list from one of those very specific
      journals."

      "That would make--" Jean stopped, suddenly understanding. "Mister Yu, I
      think I see where you're going."

      "Good. That makes things easier. We can start to track down some of these
      people by their habits, and those habits are not corresponding to the
      official Army records. Either your list of scientists each decided to stop
      keeping up with all their journals at the same time, or they've moved
      somewhere ‘unofficially'. That installation receives five copies of most
      specialized journals. That's an awful lot for the fourteen officially
      registered staff."

      "They could claim it's a coincidence."

      "There is some back-up. I pulled a few strings with some telemarketing
      firms. They did a lead search on their lists. None of the scientists whose
      numbers are on those lists have picked up a phone in five months. In fact,
      according to the phone companies, their landlines have had no outgoing call
      activity. Not an order for a pizza, call to Mom, nothing."

      "How did you get their phone information?"

      "It's amazing what a hundred dollars to the right person will get you."

      "So, we have a list of scientists, supposedly in different facilities, all
      of whom can be reasonably considered as absent from their officially
      registered posts. It's still thin."

      "That's where I come in." Ray grinned. "Your facility is in the backwoods
      of Maryland. It's all farms, secure facilities, and think-tanks up there.
      On the map, you can see where the road branches off from the main access
      road that goes to the highway, and turns south to the facility. The only
      other thing on that road is a pig farm. Employs six people. At the
      turn-off, there's a little market and craft shop. I spent the day
      interviewing the owners. Heard all about their crocheted American flag
      coasters and how you can make charming dolls out of dry pine needles..
      Front page material."

      "Very helpful."

      "I thought so. Especially since I got to watch everyone turn off on that
      street in the morning, and leave that night. Either the pig farm is getting
      a lot of business from the US Army, or that facility is much larger than
      they let on. Government plates mostly, or the direct military registry
      ones. No way to tell, but I doubt that the USAF has dumped a lot of test
      pilots out in the middle of Maryland." Ray sipped the last of his wine.
      "Unless it was visitor's day, I'd estimate forty to fifty staff in there. A
      couple of the names on your list are regulars at the market. Morning coffee
      and a pastry, and a few minutes to chat with Earl."

      "Earl?"

      "Runs the shop. By the way, I got you a coaster."

      "You horrible man."

      "And with that, I should be off." Leonard stood up and smiled. He placed a
      large, bulky envelope on the table. "Doctor Grey, a pleasure to meet you.
      Good luck with your investigations. This package contains the results of my
      studies, plus as much backup information as I could provide. Obviously my
      name will not be mentioned connected to this."

      "Of course, Mister Yu. If there is anything I can do, please let me know."

      "Well, since you mention it, the new bidding for the Department of
      Agriculture's market report is coming up. Perhaps a word with the senators,
      if you have the time." Yu said smoothly, and Jean nodded. She had almost
      forgotten that everything had a price in Washington. "Afternoon."

      "Smart man."

      "In his field you have to be." Ray nodded, watching him walk off. "So, I'm
      guessing this is enough for the senators to launch an inquiry?"

      "From the overstaffing alone. At the very least, they've got forty extra
      staff in there. That's four times what they were cleared for. I have no
      doubt that the possible budget infractions will make the senators salivate.
      Of course, the key will be to get there before they have a chance to cover
      everything up."

      "I have no doubt you can make that happen. Lyle Brown is not the man to let
      something this big slip between his fingers. Old bastard will be all over
      this like white on rice." Ray grinned. "You've got some fun days ahead,
      Rusty."

      "I suppose," she said, not really looking forward to the coming frenzy this
      would certainly set off. "Are you staying long?"

      "My flight out is in about five hours. I'll be back for the hearings next
      week."

      "I'll have the senator's aides get in touch with any information." Jean
      finished her wine and toyed with the edge of the glass. "This is really
      happening, isn't it?"

      "Looks that way." Ray said, suddenly serious. "Jean, be careful. Stepping
      on the Army's toes can be a lot of fun, but they do have a pool of very
      unpleasant people who aren't on the enrollment lists anymore. Let this come
      through the senators, and stay in the background. I'm not going to start
      crying conspiracy and crap, but this is a multi-billion dollar project with
      serious international repercussions that you're dancing around. Some people
      are not going to be happy and some of them have enough power to make your
      life hell.."

      "Thanks Ray. Still worrying about me?"

      "Well, it's that whole ‘separation from the one you love' thing..."

      "Ray, I--"

      "I wasn't talking about you, Rusty. Geez, ego..." Ray laughed.

      "You horrible man."

      "I think I heard that before. No, she's visiting family in California right
      now. Next time you're in New York, I'll introduce you. In fact, bring Steve--"

      "Scott."

      "Whatever. We'll make a night of it."

      "Thanks." Jean smiled and stood up. "I needed this."

      "I try. Look, get the senators in motion and stay low. You'll do fine."

      "Got it." Jean gave Ray a brief hug and turned for the door.

      "Jasmine oil."

      "Yes." Jean coloured slightly.

      "Thanks. Give my best to Stu."

      "Scott."

      "Details, details." He said as she walked out into the afternoon sun.

      ***