As the senior field operative, codenamed 'Husker' strode into the control center she was clearly grumpy. She slumped into a seat at the briefing table. The team leader, codenamed 'The Doctor', tapped her shoulder, three times and cleared his throat. "Oh, jeez, Doc, this isn't grade school, with assigned seats, and I sure as hell don't feel like playing musical freakin' chairs today." Nevertheless, she moved over one seat to the right.
"Aw, Husker. Did you wake up on the wrong side of somebody else's bed?" Another field operative, codenamed 'Scheherazade' said, her lilting voice snide.
"Shut up, 'Zade, before I make you less pretty," Husker said sweetly.
Scheherazade grinned at her. "Would you still love me if I weren't pretty?" She teased in a husky voice. She loved to torment the mechanical engineer, codenamed 'Tinker'.
Sure enough, his mouth gaped open and his beady blue eyes darted between the two women.
Before he could say something stupid, the team's bio-chemical engineer, codenamed 'Lucrezia' spoke, her childish voice tense. "This is not what we're here for."
"Quite right," The Doctor agreed, and since he was technically in charge, he called the meeting to order.
Of course Husker would never just let him be in charge, she had to challenge him in some way. "Aren't we missing someone?" She turned to Scheherazade, "'Zade, where's Lassie?"
Scheherazade shrugged. She was not responsible for her brother. "How am I supposed to …."
Just then, the communications operative, codenamed 'Lassie' came stumbling into the room. His original codename had been much nicer, but Tinker had started calling him Lassie, due to his inability to talk in front of their female team members. As mean as the nickname was, it unfortunately stuck. After three years, no one, except of course the Doctor with his eidetic memory, could remember the original.
Lassie held his hands up in supplication for being late. He opened his laptop and started to load something.
"What is it, Lassie," Tinker started. "Got something to show us?"
"I do not believe that such banalities serve any purpose," The Doctor said.
"Did Timmy fall…?"
"Doc's right. That's enough, Tinker." Husker interrupted.
Tinker subsided. The Doctor might scowl and give strikes. Husker would simply bust your nose if she thought you'd gone too far. Tinker liked it a lot better when they were bickering with each other. He certainly got away with more.
Lassie finished loading whatever he wanted to show them, and displayed it on the screen. It seemed that there had been an incident involving the formula for some specialized fuel that had gone missing. One Joyce Kim from North Korea, a known agent, had managed to liberate it from Caltech. A Dr. Leonard Hofstadter had been working on the project.
The Doctor spoke. "We are to determine Hofstadter's involvement, stop Kim, and retrieve the formula and fuel if it's been created." He nodded to Husker.
"Okay, Scheherazade you're on Kim. Do whatever you need to. I'll bring in Hofstadter, Lucrezia, you'll need to do your magic. I want to know how involved he is in this. We'll start with you in case he's just a dupe," here she turned to the senior interrogator, codenamed 'Sphinx', "but Sphinx be ready with something in case he's in on it. Doc, is the fuel dangerous?"
"Not if it the formula was executed correctly. It might be unstable, however, if any of the measurements are incorrect."
"Swell," Husker said. "Tinker, something to contain it then, if you would."
"As Milady wishes," Tinker said with a florid bow.
"Yeah, don't do that."
They all went their separate ways to fulfill their diverse assignments. When Tinker walked into The Doctor's lab, fifteen minutes later to get the specs for the containment unit, he found Husker sitting at the desk, going over the intel on Hofstadter. She was firing questions at The Doctor. "What's the difference between a theoretical physicist and an experimental one?"
"Experimental physicists, as a rule, take the work of other, theoretical physicists and attempt to prove or disprove what they've done. They seldom come up with anything original."
"Ah, do they serve a useful purpose?"
"Rarely, if they manage to prove something that is in question." He came over to read over her shoulder. "Dr. Hofstadter doesn't even appear to pursue even that much originality. He is running experiments that have been run elsewhere and re-creating them." There was clear disdain in his voice.
"Why?" She asked, perplexed.
"Occasionally they may stumble upon unexpected results."
"Huh," she said thoughtfully. "He must not have much self-esteem or confidence."
"It would be unlikely." Without turning his head from where he was peering over Husker's shoulder, he addressed Tinker. "Did you want something, Tinker?"
"Well, yeah, some idea on the containment unit?"
The two men wandered to the other side of the lab to discuss the specs needed. With a last puzzled glance at Husker, Tinker left. "What's his problem?" She asked once they were once again alone.
"He seems perplexed as to your presence here and apparent knowledge of basic psychology."
"Dumbass. Does he think I got this job just because I'm blonde and look good in skimpy clothes?"
"In a word, yes. You have never disclosed the nature of your discipline, or indeed, that you possess a discipline."
"If they don't know I have a degree in psychology, it makes it a lot easier to stay on top of them."
"Indeed. I often forget how sneaky you are." While his words weren't admiring, his tone definitely was.
"Aw, you sweet talker."
"Really, must you ...?" And he was off. She ignored his rant, continuing to read the dossier on Hofstadter.
Eventually, she interrupted him. "Sounds like if I show a little interest in him, I could probably get him to follow me willingly and not have to snatch him. Maybe a little judicious flattery?"
"That sounds like an adequate plan. Now, I have work to do, get out of my lab."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Please," he said grudgingly, well aware that she would have no compunction about punching him.
"I'll see ya' after while, then." And with that she left. He stared after her for a few minutes, and returned to his work.
Several hours later, Husker had Dr. Leonard Hofstadter in one of the interrogation labs. He was in a chair similar to a dentist's chair. Lucrezia was approaching him with a needle. Her high voice attempted to be soothing. "This will only hurt if you struggle, Dr. Hofstadter. Please hold quite still."
He struggled not to struggle. He was restrained in the chair, and was more than a little anxious about what was going to happen. That pretty blonde must have had something to do with this. She had walked into him at the Chinese place, spilling soy sauce on his clothes. He'd been flattered by the attention after she had bumped into him. She had fussed, offering to have his pants cleaned and to replace his meal.
His one clear thought as she'd stripped him of his pants at her apartment was that it was the most pleasant pantsing that he'd ever had (and he'd had a few). The next thing he knew, he was waking up secured to this chair. He should have known that pretty blondes don't go for guys like him.
He'd held still enough that the needle had barely stung. He felt himself growing more and more relaxed. "Hello again," he said to the small strawberry-blonde when she came back into the room.
"Hello, Dr. Hofstadter. How are you feeling?"
"Really, really relaxed." He gave a silly little giggle.
"Excellent," she turned from him, and grabbed some medical equipment. She checked his vitals and spoke to a camera mounted on the ceiling. "I think he's ready, Doctor."
"Proceed," a dispassionate male voice said.
The rest was a blur to Leonard. He knew that she had asked him question after question, and that he'd answered. Something about Joyce Kim. He gave another little giggle. He couldn't believe that a hot Asian chick had been so totally into him. Maybe that blonde had wanted him after all. After all, he was nice, he was smart, and their babies would be smart and beautiful. He was unaware that he spoke all of this aloud as a stream consciousness.
The Doctor dared a glance at Husker's appalled expression. "Not to mention imaginary," he said quietly to her.
She gave him a sidelong look. He gave her a little smile. She grinned back at him. Then her expression sobered. "I think it's pretty clear he was a dupe for Kim. 'Zade said she caught up with her in New York. She's on her way back with the formula. Kim hadn't had time to use it yet."
"Excellent." He looked at the monitor. "And Kim?"
"Will not trouble us again." She paused. "What do you think we should do about Hofstadter?"
"What do you suggest?"
"He's clearly a security risk. He's too smart to be left to his own devices, like with the fuel. And too horny. We should terminate him or bring him in. But I don't see letting him run loose."
"Let him have a small lab?"
"He's got family, and they'd probably miss him if we terminated. But with remote contact, and no unsupervised interaction… he might even be useful. On the other hand, his usefulness is limited, and we'd have to feed and shelter the little…."
"Homunculus," he finished.
"Ooh, great word, what's it mean?"
She snorted a laugh. "So the bottom line is, will the benefit outweigh the cost?"
"I don't believe that he is evil, and thus would prefer not to terminate him. However, there is one more point that must be considered; he believes that you have a romantic interest in him and may pursue you."
"Then I terminate his homunculus ass."
"Very well, perhaps I will let him test some of my theories. That might keep him out of trouble."
"That's your call, Doc. I sure as hell won't be able to use him in the field."
"I should say not."
"Except maybe as bait." Her grin was shark-like.
He gave her a disapproving glare.
Her grin softened into something more friendly. "Damn, it's been a long day. I think I'll head on home. You wanna' grab a bite?" She asked him as she headed for the elevator.
"Well, it's Monday. And as you know, Monday is…," he is interrupted by Tinker.
"Szechuan. Jeez, we all know what night it is. "
The Doctor sniffed in disdain. "Someone will have to pick it up, of course." He said as he hit the elevator button.
"Yeah," Husker continued. "They said they won't deliver until the damn elevator is fixed."
"If only they knew," Tinker laughed, as the elevator disgorged them on the 4th floor.
"If you'll call it in, Doc, I'll change and go get it." Husker said over her shoulder, as she opened the door to 4B.
"Very well," he replied from his own door across the hall. "Who all will be joining us?"
Tinker answered. "Lucrezia is finishing up with Hofstadter; Sphinx will be up in a few, so will Lassie. Just get one of the Happy Family Meals, and that should do."
The Doctor paused, gave a tiny smile and said. "Acceptable."
A half hour later, they were all gathered in 4A, sharing the meal. Husker, from her place next to The Doctor, surveyed their team. Most of the other teams thought that they were misfits, but they had the highest mission success rate. She shared a pleased look with The Doctor, and returned to her meal.
It didn't take much convincing to get Hofstadter to give his notice at Caltech and join the Factory. Ironically, he seemed to think that he was doing them a favor by joining them.
Once his notice had been given, The Doctor and Husker had moved him into an apartment on the fifth floor of their building. They wanted to be able to keep a close eye on him, and anyone that he associated with. Fortunately, like Tinker, Lassie and of course The Doctor, he was a bit of a nerd, and liked a lot of the same things they did.
Tinker was liaising and was heartily sick of Hofstadter already. He had also been co-opted to show Hofstadter around the Factory once he'd gotten settled into the apartment.
Tinker met him at the elevator on the fifth floor. As he pressed the button, he explained, "The elevator doesn't work from the first two floors. We don't want any civilians wandering in." They stepped into the elevator and Tinker typed in a code and pressed a button. Then Tinker handed him a badge. "Wear this at all times."
Hofstadter looked at the Visitor badge. "When do I get a real one like you have?" He asked eagerly as they stepped off of the elevator.
"After your probationary period. The Doctor will sit you down and go over all of the stuff you'll need to know. In detail." The last was muttered.
"Well, that's for regular recruits isn't it? I'm a physicist, not a… ha-ha … agent. "
"I don't make the rules. Come on, I'll show you around." Tinker took him to a mid-sized lab. "Sphinx, this is Dr. Leonard Hofstadter. Leonard, Sphinx." Leonard shook hands with the diminutive brunette. She peered at him from behind plain spectacles, not unlike Leonard's own.
"Dr. Hofstadter," she said with a curt nod.
"Uh, Sphinx," he gave a nervous laugh. "That's an interesting nickname."
She drew herself up even straighter, affronted. "Nickname? That's my codename." She turned to Tinker. "Please remove him from my lab."
"Now, don't get your panties in a bunch, Sphinx. Husker said to show him around and give him the overview." He turned back to Hofstadter. "Sphinx is our chief interrogator. So unless you're extra fond of electrodes, don't piss her off."
"Oh," he gave another nervous little laugh. "Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you." He paused, "when do I get my codename?"
"Husker will assign you one about the same time you get your badge." Tinker replied.
Looking at Sphinx, Leonard could see how the dispassionate woman had been assigned that codename. But, "Husker"? "What kind of codename is 'Husker'?" He asked Tinker.
"Oh, she's from Nebraska." At Leonard's blank look. "Home of the 'Corn-Huskers'. Some kind of sports team…, football maybe." Tinker shrugged. "She's a big supporter."
"Nonsense. Who told you that?" Asked Sphinx.
"She got that when The Doctor and Scheherazade were captured, almost four years ago. Husker refers to what happened to the traitorous operative who betrayed the Factory, causing said capture."
Leonard swallowed. Tinker cocked a curious eyebrow at Sphinx. "Really? Huh, did not know that. That's our girl." He didn't sound nearly as disturbed by the disclosure as Leonard felt.
"Now, I really must ask you leave my lab," Sphinx said sternly.
"Okay, catch ya' later," Tinker said jauntily. Leonard merely gave a weak wave.
"Next lab is Lucrezia's."
"Are all the others women?"
"Well, Husker, Scheherazade, Sphinx, and Lucrezia are. The Doctor, Lassie and I are men."
"Lassie is a man?"
"He can't talk in front of attractive women."
"So with me, it's even men and women?" Leonard sounded pleased.
"Yeah, but don't go getting any ideas. There is no inter-Factory dating, romance, or just plain sex. And The Doctor will find out, and Husker will …well, do something really nasty to you. She's his Second and the only one ornerier than he is."
As Tinker spoke, they entered another lab, this one set up more for chemistry. "Lucrezia, Dr. Hofstadter."
"We've met," she said.
Leonard blushed at how he had talked and talked to her. "Um, hi," he said finally.
"Hello," she said. "Showing him the ropes, Tinker?"
"Yeah, Husker asked me to." He turned to Leonard. "Lucrezia is our bio-chemist." He paused. "Another one not to piss off."
"I'll remember," Hofstadter said. She looked sweet and was so tiny. But Leonard remembered that she had drugged him to get info.
"We'll see you at the briefing later, Lucrezia," Tinker said as they left.
The next stop was an office. A very pretty Indian woman was seated on a small sofa reading a folder. "Hello," she greeted them, her voice music to Leonard's ears after the nasal tones of Tinker, the flat voice of Sphinx and high-pitched voice of Lucrezia.
"Hi," Leonard said, standing awkwardly.
Tinker shook his head in amusement at Hofstadter's awkwardness. "Scheherazade, Hofstadter. Leonard, Scheherazade. She's a field operative."
"Which means what, exactly?" Leonard asked.
"It means," Tinker's patience was wearing thin by his tone, "that she operates in the field; gathering intel, capturing suspects, terminating those that may need it."
"T-terminating?" Leonard paled as he looked at the dainty beauty.
"Only when necessary," she said soothingly.
Tinker exchanged a look with Scheherazade. "Come on, we need to keep moving," he nudged Hofstadter out the door.
The next lab was filled with mechanical bits and pieces. They paused in the doorway but didn't enter. "This is my workspace. I'm the mechanical engineer."
They didn't linger, moving immediately to a dark cavernous room filled with computer monitors. Tinker waved to an Indian man. "Lassie, this is Dr. Leonard Hofstadter, Leonard, Lassie, he's in charge of communications, data-mining and porn."
"Dude," protested Lassie as he came to shake hands. "Do you know what Husker would do to me if she found me downloading porn?" He shuddered. "It is a pleasure to meet you Dr. Hofstadter."
"Leonard, please. At least until I get my codename."
"Yeah, I'm ready to get started."
"You're ready when The Doctor says you're ready. And he's…." Tinker trailed off, looking for the perfect word. "Exacting would be the nicest way to say it."
"Anal and dick-torial would be the less nice way," said Lassie.
The men shared a grin at the expense of their absent leader. Then Tinker indicated that it was time to get on with the tour.
The next office they stopped at was empty, "Husker's office. She's probably in with The Doctor."
Sure enough, when they got to The Doctor's large lab, Husker and a tall slim man were standing toe-to-toe, talking intently in hushed voices.
Leonard froze as he recognized the operative called Husker. She was the hot blonde from the Chinese place. He found that he was equal parts aroused by how attractive she was and terrified of what she might be capable of. When she turned to face them, and he saw her flashing green eyes, and generous bosom, he decided that the others had been having him on. No way was this girl-next-door hottie capable of any of that stuff, he scoffed to himself.
"Hi," she greeted them with a smile.
"Problems?" Tinker asked with a smirk between her and The Doctor.
"If there were would I tell you?" She answered without losing her smile.
"No, probably not," he admitted. He turned to Leonard. "Leonard Hofstadter, Husker and The Doctor. She's our senior field operative, and his second in command. He is, of course, our fearless leader."
"Nice to see you again…Husker. And a pleasure to meet you Doctor."
"You, too, Sweetie. Tinker getting you settled in?"
He glowed under the endearment. "Yeah, he's been great. But, I can't wait to get started."
"Patience, Dr. Hofstadter," The Doctor said. As he spoke Leonard recognized his voice as the one over the intercom telling Lucrezia to proceed. "All in good time, there is quite a lot of paperwork to be dealt with first." He gestured to his desk where a stack of forms lay waiting. "If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask." And with that, The Doctor seemed to dismiss Hofstadter from his mind. He grabbed Husker's wrist and gently pulled her farther away.
Tinker spoke to Hofstadter. "Well, I guess this is good-bye until later. Better get started on that." And with a final wave, he left.
"Are you crazy?" Husker asked loudly.
"No, my mother had me tested," was The Doctor's equally loud reply. He started speaking again, quietly. Finally, Husker nodded.
"Okay, but if this goes wrong I'm blaming you."
"You would have anyway," he said calmly.
"Yeah," she said with a tiny smile. "Because you're so freakin' smug when you're right. Gotta' keep the balance."
Hofstadter only heard the words, and missed her warm gaze upon The Doctor. He decided that The Doctor was probably on his way out. His mind wandered as he imagined himself and Husker leading the team of elite scientists and beautiful field agents.
"Dr. Hofstadter," The Doctor's sharp voice derailed his fantasy. "You have yet to begin the paperwork that I require."
"Oh, sorry, I was just…it's a lot to take in," he said finally.
"Indeed, for the mediocre mind I suppose that would be true. However, the fact remains that the paperwork needs completing."
"Right, I'll just…get started."
Leonard hid his resentment behind a friendly smile, and turned his attention to the papers. Beneath that surface, however, unpleasant thoughts churned. *Just who does this guy think he is? 'The Doctor', how pretentious. And that 'mediocre mind' crack. I'm a genius, not mediocre. An IQ of 152 is hardly mediocre. No wonder Husker doesn't like him. Jerk.* Still, he'd better get started on the paperwork.
Two hours later, he stretched his neck and shoulder muscles. He looked around the lab and found that he was alone. He decided to do a little exploring and see just what kind of doctor The Doctor was. As he touched the machine that was whirring on the other side of the room, an alarm blared.
The Doctor and Husker came rushing onto the room. "What the hell?" Asked Husker.
"Sorry, sorry... I was just looking around and … I'm sorry," Leonard said.
Husker sighed and looked at The Doctor. "Can you fix it?"
The Doctor was rapidly pressing buttons. "If you mean can I prevent the explosion, then yes. If you mean can I salvage the experiment, then no."
"I didn't touch anything," Leonard protested. "There must have been a problem."
The Doctor froze. "You're insinuating that my experiment was flawed and the resultant alarm was in no way a direct result of your actions?"
"Well yeah," he looked at Husker, his brown eyes widened in innocence.
"Doc?" She asked, instead of answering him.
"No," The Doctor answered shortly.
"Sorry, Sweetie, The Doctor doesn't make mistakes like that. You must have touched it without realizing it."
The fact that she was siding with The Doctor was softened by the endearment.
"Well, I'm sorry then, I certainly didn't mean to."
"Of course you didn't," she answered softly. "Still, you're done with your paperwork?"
"Yes, I am."
"Do you think that you can find Tinker's lab again?"
"Yes." He said with certainty.
"Then why don't you go find him, please? It's almost time for our briefing, anyway."
As soon as the door closed behind him, Husker turned to The Doctor. "Accident?"
"I think so, yes, but we'll check the footage to be certain."
"Starting to wish we'd terminated?"
The Doctor hesitated. He didn't share Huskers flippant attitude about such matters, and was reluctant to tease about it. However, he was quickly coming to the conclusion that Hofstadter was going to be much more trouble that he was worth. "May I get back to you on that?"
Her eyebrows flew up in surprise. "Sure, after you check the footage?"
"Perhaps before that."
She smiled at him. "Please don't make me be the voice of reason, Doc. You know I suck at it."
Only his blue eyes smiled at her. "I do indeed."
Later, at the briefing they were discussing an upcoming mission; a Bio-Chemist that they suspected was making bio-weapons.
"Lucrezia, you've looked over what we've been able to piece together. What do you think?" Husker asked the small strawberry-blond.
"As is, it's benign enough, but it would only take the addition of one, maybe two ingredients to be hazardous. And in the benign state it doesn't actually seem to do anything. At least that I've been able to determine, so far."
"Well, keep at it. 'Zade, bring him in, and we'll see if he's legit or not. Tinker, something to contain the finished product, get the specs from Lucrezia. Lassie, you've been monitoring this guy's communications?" At his nod, Husker continued. "Good, anything flaggy?"
"'Flaggy?'" The Doctor burst out. "Really, Husker, I've grown used to your rather cavalier use of the English language, but 'flaggy' is certainly…."
"Lassie," Husker interrupted The Doctor's rant. "Did you know what I meant?" Lassie nodded. She turned back to The Doctor. "The purpose of language is to communicate, which I have clearly done." She turned back to Lassie, leaving The Doctor to twitch in impotent anger. "So, Lassie, anything…." She broke off as he was already nodding and pointing to the screen.
They all looked up at the screen. There were a couple of calls highlighted, and while the conversations were innocuous, the fact that they were being exchanged with a scientist in a middle-eastern country was, indeed, flag-worthy.
"Okay, we all know what we need to do. Hofstadter, you're with The Doctor, for the rest of your orientation. "
They left on their various tasks.
Scheherazade did bring in the scientist, who admitted under chemical questioning that a foreign power had his wife and son and he had been instructed to complete a bio-weapon if he ever wanted to see them again.
Sphinx carefully adjusted his memories so that he wouldn't even realize that he'd been there. It was delicate, but she was the best. Once he'd been returned, the team started to work on a plan to get his family back, take down the enemy scientists and prevent any bio-weapons from being created.
Leonard found The Doctor to be irritating and pedantic, and couldn't wait to be able to be on his own. There were so many rules about what to do and what not to do, that he was starting to think that the job wasn't worth it.
Then he thought about Husker. About getting to work with her and her deferring to him the way she did The Doctor, she would ask his advice… his thoughts trailed off and he sighed. First he had to get through the orientation. With renewed determination he turned his attention to The Doctor.
Meanwhile, the plan was in action. Lassie managed to track the contact and lead the others to them. They were able to get the wife and kid out, although the wife was shot in the shoulder during the cross-fire. The bio-chemist burned his notes, and the enemy agents were terminated.
Once back at the Factory, the team debriefed. The debriefing was winding down, when Lucrezia said in a thoughtful voice, "it kind of reminds me of how I ended up on this team."
Leonard couldn't resist asking her to explain.
"I was in my last year and we had this horrible accident in the lab. Husker and Scheherazade came in, pretending to be with a newspaper, asking a LOT of questions. They finally determined that my lab partner had been in a similar situation and helped her the way we helped today. I realized that they weren't reporters and asked to join." She shrugged. "That was two years ago."
Leonard felt pretty good at that point. After all, they had *asked him* to join them.
A few minutes later, they were dismissed, and they all scattered. "Pizza tonight, Doc?" Husker asked as they left the room.
Scheherazade spoke up, "after all this time, Husker, why do you even ask?"
"To watch him twitch," she answered with a little smirk.
Leonard waited, but no invitation to pizza was extended. He went to his quiet apartment and micro-waved a dinner. He wondered when he would have an opportunity to prove himself. He dozed off in front of his TV fantasizing about jet-setting with Husker.
Once they'd finished eating, Husker stayed behind, supposedly to help clean up. Once the last person had left, she turned to The Doctor. "Well?"
He raised his eyebrows at her. "To what are you referring?"
"Our new homunculus and the mysterious nearly exploding experiment." She said sharply.
"Ah. It appeared on the footage to be an accident. He touched it, apparently out of no more than simple curiosity. He merely had the misfortune to hit buttons that would cause a catastrophic failure."
"Swell, he's this much trouble on accident. I shudder at what he might be capable of intentionally."
"Indeed. However, tomorrow I intend to set him some time consuming tasks. Hopefully said tasks will keep him occupied."
"Here's hoping." With that Husker said goodnight and headed across to her own apartment.
The team at the Factory had been having a quiet couple of days, catching up on projects and research of their own. The Doctor had Leonard running some fairly straightforward tests, and things were going, if not well, at least smoothly.
Husker strode purposefully into his lab. "What's up, Doc?" She asked with a sly little grin. Leonard snorted from his corner. The Doctor, however, gave her a long-suffering look.
"Yes, very amusing, and might I add it just never gets old." His eyes raked her, noting her high spirits and teasing smile. "To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of your company?"
"Bat signal." She said shortly. "You didn't answer, being tied up with your research, no doubt, so the call got booted to me. Briefing in 15 suit you?'
"Twenty would be better."
"Done. See ya' there. Bye Leonard." She said over her shoulder as left the lab.
"Bye, Husker," he said quietly, a blush staining his cheeks.
Twenty minutes later found everyone seated around the briefing table. Lassie had cued up the information, and was ready for Husker to give the word. "Are we all set?" She asked. Receiving nods all around, she signaled Lassie. "This is Dr. Leslie Winkle, currently conducting research using lasers. DARPA has asked us to check up on her, as she into some really ground-breaking stuff. There have been some suspicious characters roaming around Caltech, your old stomping ground, Leonard. Do you know her?"
"I've heard of her, but we've never actually met. She supposed to be really smart, though."
"IQ of 167, according to her dossier, so yeah." Husker turned back to her briefing. "DARPA would like is to keep her under surveillance while she completes her research. Doc, I think it's going to have to be you and me, as she might recognize Leonard. Okay by you?"
"Of course, Husker." He gave her an appraising look. "What will be your cover?"
"I'm still working on that, any suggestions?"
"I shall ruminate on it."
She nodded, and turned her attention to Lassie. "Show what CCTV has picked up, will ya'?"
Lassie brought up some footage of Dr. Winkle going about her daily routine, and a dark figure skulking around in her shadow. Then he showed the computer breaches into Caltech computer system. "Lassie doesn't think they even know they were breached." She turned to Lassie, "thanks, Lassie. Tinker, I need some of the smaller transmitters, and a backup lab readied here, in case she's in more danger than it appears. 'Zade, I want you to follow her, discreetly, don't let her see you and especially don't let her Creeper spot you. Sphinx, Lucrezia, I don't think that there's much in this one for you, yet, but stand by, in case."
"Would you prefer assistant or partner?" The Doctor asked Husker.
She pursed her lips and thought about it. "Assistant gives me more flexibility."
"True and I will be Dr. Lee Sheldon, PhD."
"Won't they figure out that you don't have a PhD?" Leonard asked. "I could go with Husker."
The Doctor started to reply indignantly, but Husker cut straight across him. "First, Dr. Winkle may recognize you and others at Caltech certainly will and question what you are doing there. Second, of course he has a PhD," she turned to The Doctor. "Actually, you have three, don't you?"
"Yes, and one of those is in physics as Lee Sheldon. Thus, Dr. Hofstadter, you needn't concern yourself."
Chastised, Leonard sat quietly for the rest of the briefing.
A few hours later, Dr. Leslie Winkle was being introduced to Dr. Lee Sheldon and his PA Amber. "It's a pleasure to meet a girl-scientist, Dr. Winkle," Amber said disingenuously.
"Yeah, come for the breasts, stay for the brains."
"Dr. Sheldon says that you're awfully smart."
Dr. Winkle peered at Dr. Sheldon. "I'm not familiar with your work, Dr. Sheldon."
Dr. Sheldon named several papers that he had published under the pseudonym.
Dr. Winkle's eyes lit with interest. "Oh, I didn't realize that was you." They spent twenty minutes discussing the merits of one of his theories. Meanwhile, Amber, out of apparent boredom, wandered around the lab. Under the guise of disinterest, she planted a few tiny cameras with audio capability. She was also looking for anyone else's bugs. She found one, but it was too awkwardly placed for her to get it.
Seeing that Amber was done, Dr. Sheldon brought the conversation around to Dr. Winkle's current work. "I'm attempting to expand on the work of the INL." Seeing Amber's blank look, she elaborated. "The Idaho National Laboratory."
"Not something you expect, really, from Idaho." Amber offered.
"Perhaps not," Dr. Sheldon said, "but Bob Fox has made great progress there on lasers."
"Yes," Dr. Winkle retook the thread. "Lasers can be used to degrade bio-hazards, including bio-weapons."
"Wow," Amber said sincerely impressed. "And that's what you're doing? Expanding on that, improving it?"
"Trying to. I've had some success, but it hasn't gone quite the way I expected from my early testing."
"Are you focusing primarily on photochemical or photothermal?"
Dr. Winkle's eyebrows flew up. "You really are familiar with the work. I thought you were just blowing smoke up my skirt."
Dr. Sheldon's face went blank, and he turned to Amber. "She means that she thought that you were just trying to flatter her when you said that. Not having the pleasure of knowing you well enough to know you're incapable of flattery." There was a wry look on her face as she said this last.
"It seems to be a pointless exercise." He said to Amber. He returned his attention to Dr. Winkle. "Please continue Dr. Winkle."
She had a small smile on her face. She stared into his big blue eyes for a few long seconds. "You can call me Leslie, Dr. Sheldon."
Amber's eyes widened in surprise and then began to twinkle madly. She eased back a step.
If Dr. Sheldon had any reaction, it didn't show. "Thank you, Leslie. You may call me Lee. To reiterate my question, are you focusing primarily on photochemical or photothermal?"
"I am pursuing the photothermal avenue."
"Which is better?" Amber asked.
"Either is efficacious, the difference is in the way they are utilized and on what type of contaminants they are most effective." Dr. Sheldon replied. "Some chemical agents are susceptible photochemically, others photothermally." He paused to gather his thoughts. "In photochemical decomposition, high-energy laser photons blast apart chemical bonds, slicing the agent into pieces. In photothermal decomposition, photons heat up the target surface enough to speed along natural degradation reactions. In some cases, the intense heat by itself can cause contaminant molecules to fall apart. Knowing how chemical contaminants fall apart is very important, as much of their degradation products can themselves be hazardous. That is, at least according to Bob Fox's research, which I have no reason to doubt."
Dr. Winkle gave him the once over and gave a little sigh. "Dr. Shel…Lee, I would love to be able to discuss this with you at length. Perhaps over dinner?"
He barely blinked. "It would be my pleasure…, Leslie."
While The Doctor and Dr. Winkle were at dinner, Husker and Scheherazade suited up and went back to the lab. They were able to take reading from the bug Husker had located earlier, for Lassie to track where it was transmitting to. They left it in place, deeming it safer than precipitating a hasty reaction from whoever had placed it.
When they were done, they grabbed a bite and discreetly watched The Doctor and Leslie Winkle finish their dinner. "I never would have expected him to be good at the flirting and such," Scheherazade said quietly to Husker.
"You know Doc, 'Zade. Anything he puts that enormous brain of his to, he can do. It is rare though, usually women are put off by his cold demeanor."
"Last time was a man, as I recall."
Husker grinned in memory. "Yeah, and he was so charming to the poor guy. I think that he still get Christmas cards from him."
Scheherazade giggled softly. "It makes you wonder what is deal is, he can charm that guy and Dr. Winkle equally well."
"Not something we should really be…."
"Come on, Husker; are you not a little curious? Between the two of us, we can always get a reaction from a man. But not him."
"He reacts. In annoyance. He doesn't like distractions, from any gender…look, they're on the move."
They quietly followed the couple to Dr. Winkle's car. As she was unlocking the door, two large shapes disengaged from the shadows. "You two will come with us." One of the men said. The Doctor pulled Dr. Winkle behind him.
"I don't think that we will," he said.
Before the guy could do more than take a threatening step forward, Husker and Scheherazade were on the scene and dealing with the men. Husker rammed into the midsection of the larger man, knocking him to the ground, as Scheherazade performed a roundhouse kick that took the smaller (less large) man down. Once he was on the ground, Scheherazade put her dainty arm around his throat until he lost consciousness. Meanwhile, Husker kicked hers in the head until he passed out.
"You okay?"Husker asked Dr. Winkle and The Doctor.
"Indeed, Husker, we are fine. Your timing was even better than usual," The Doctor answered calmly.
"Who are you?" Leslie Winkle demanded. She shot a look at Lee. "I knew you were too good to be true. Are you …?"
"DARPA requested that we keep an eye on you, Dr. Winkle," Husker replied.
"So what, somebody fed you all that about the INL and…?"
"No, the degree is his, he knew all that…," here Husker waved vaguely. "We really should get off of the street. I'm going to call for clean-up. 'Zade, you stay with Doc and Dr. Winkle, take them back to her lab, grab whatever she'll need then bring her home."
Scheherazade and The Doctor led the protesting Dr. Winkle away.
A couple of hours later, when Husker returned to the Factory, she found Dr. Winkle subdued and set up in a lab of her own. Scheherazade was explaining to her about the arrangements made. "You are not under arrest, Dr. Winkle. We merely wish to protect you until you have completed your research." Her head swung in Huskers direction. "Everything went all right?"
"Smooth as silk. Dr. Winkle, we really are sorry for the inconvenience."
"I am curious about the timing of the attack." The Doctor said.
"That was kinda' our fault. We made it too tempting for them. Two for the price of one." Husker gestured between The Doctor and Dr. Winkle.
"Oh," he said.
"Yeah," Husker replied quietly. "Poor Dr. Winkle, they might have let her finish in peace."
"If wishes were horses…," he started.
"Then beggars would eat steak." She finished with a tiny grin at him. He smirked back at her. "Yeah, can't change anything now." She turned her attention back to Dr. Winkle. "Well get you anything you need, and we even have someone to give you a hand." She gestured to Dr. Hofstadter standing indecisively just inside the doorway. "Dr. Leonard Hofstadter, Dr. Leslie Winkle. Leonard knows his way around the Factory, and can get you anything you need. We'd like you stay here, we have apartments upstairs, and you should be pretty comfy."
Leslie turned calculating eyes on The Doctor. "I could stay with you?"
He blinked at her in surprise. Then his eyes hooded. "That would, unfortunately, be counter to Factory policy, Les…Dr. Winkle. Otherwise…." He let his voice trail off, allowing her to take what she would from his silence.
Husker gently nudged Scheherazade in the ribs. Then Husker addressed Dr. Hofstadter. "I know it's not really your job, Leonard, but it would be awfully helpful if you could assist Dr. Winkle. Do you mind awfully?" She bit her lip, as she looked at him hopefully.
He preened under her gaze. "No, I don't mind. Anything to help, Husker."
"Thanks, Sweetie." She smiled at him as he puffed up even more at being called "Sweetie". He'd never heard her call anyone else that. She turned her attention to The Doctor. "Doc, ready to debrief?"
"Of course," he replied, ignoring or not noticing her innuendo.
Scheherazade returned Huskers rib nudge from earlier. A few minutes later, they were seated around the briefing room table. Lassie had managed to trace the transmitter, and federal agents had raided the site, taking 5 foreign nationals into custody. They may never get the biggest fish, but for now Dr. Winkle was safe to complete her research.
"You could have knocked me over with a feather," began Scheherazade, "when The Doctor commenced to flirt with Dr. Winkle." Her pretty face bore an impish grin.
"Doc's full of surprises." Husker said, shortly. She grinned suddenly."Do you remember when you first got here. You were such a noob," her eyes were warm, but The Doctor unaccountably flushed. "It was his first mission as Fearless Leader, and we were in the field. Got caught by some kind of bio-hazardous fallout, and had to hop into one of those makeshift showers. No privacy in those damned things. I had thought he was all kinds of prissy, and that we'd have to hog-tie him to get him there. But he stripped right down and got in, calm as you please."
"You had no trouble in doing so, I fail to see why my acquiescence should amaze you so." He retorted, still flushed.
"I already said why, you were prissy and straight-laced. Also, you peeked." She said with a tiny grin, conveniently not mentioning that so had she. Her grin grew in memory.
Scheherazade had a puzzled expression on her face. "I hadn't realized; you were both here before I was, and my five years are nearly up."
"Team Leaders sign up for six." Husker answered.
"Still, your time must be nearly up." Sphinx said with her eyes focused on Husker's face.
"Almost, 'Zade will go before we do. We came in about the same time." She failed to mention that her time was already up, but she didn't trust Doc not to get himself killed without her there to watch his ass. She'd wait the extra 7 months for his hitch to end.
The others nodded their acceptance of that explanation. Only Sphinx looked dubious. But as usual, she kept her own counsel.
"You guys hungry?" Husker asked.
"I could eat," Tinker allowed.
They all trooped upstairs for pizza, and Halo. After all, it was Wednesday. And Wednesday is Halo night.
A/N Leslie's research is based on this research by Bob Fox at INL:
In fact, The Doctor quotes this article directly :D
Dr. Leonard Hofstadter was walking down a hall at the Factory, looking for Tinker. Lassie had found some pirated video of an upcoming Marvel Comics movie and was willing to share. He found Tinker, standing in front of an open door. From within came the sound of a fight of some kind.
Leonard peered over his shoulder and bit back a gasp. Husker and Scheherazade appeared to be working out. They were both wearing loose shorts and sports bras, their taut bodies each covered with a light sheen of sweat as they traded punches and kicks.
Leonard slid back a step and punched in the code to Lassie's lab. "Get down to the gym, now," he said urgently.
Less than a minute later, Leonard heard Lassie's feet padding down the hall. He skidded to a halt next to Leonard and Tinker. Lassie looked at what had their attention and stepped back.
"Dude, that's my sister," Lassie hissed.
"Oh," Leonard blushed. "I didn't realize that. Sorry?"
"While I appreciate that you have not fallen into the stereotype of assuming that the two Indian persons must be somehow related, it is very awkward to watch you two ogle my sister. Please, stop, both of you." Lassie's brown eyes were narrowed in irritation.
"I am sorry, Lassie." To his credit, Leonard did look contrite. He stared at Lassie for a long moment before puzzlement crossed his face. "I'm surprised that they let you work with your sister. Since The Factory is so against fraternization and all."
"She was here first, and when the communications person that was here retired, she told them that she knew the perfect person. And she suggested me."
"Hunh." Was Leonard's response. Before anyone could comment further, The Doctor strode up. Leonard watched to see his reaction to two hot women working out. He had his suspicions regarding The Doctor's deal, and wondered if he were correct. The Doctor's response was unenlightening to him.
"Husker, you are dropping your right," The Doctor said after observing for a few moments.
Seeing that Husker's attention had swung to The Doctor, Scheherazade made her move. A flurry of moves, and Scheherazade found herself flat on her back with Husker's heel a mere half-inch from her face. Husker pulled back and offered Scheherazade a hand up. "Very good, Husker, but you could improve your timing a bit." The Doctor offered. Husker approached them. "Also, you need to shower, as you are quite malodorous."
"I'll go up to my place…."
"We have a briefing, so please be quicker than you usually are in your ablutions."
"Aye, aye, Captain Bligh." She said with a mocking salute and a half-grin at her rhyme. He merely quirked an eyebrow at her. "Come on 'Zade, I'll race ya'."
Twenty minutes later, Husker strolled into the briefing room, a few steps ahead of Scheherazade. "Quick enough, Doc?" She asked him as she passed him to her own seat.
"For you, indeed, yes." He cleared his throat. "Our next assignment should be fairly simple…."
"You know you just jinxed it, doncha'?"
The Doctor gave a long-suffering sigh in response, before continuing. "Dr. Elizabeth Plimpton, the world-renowned quantum cosmologist, will be staying at the Factory for a few days, while she is in town for some lectures."
"I know her!" Hofstadter exclaimed excitedly. All eyes swung to him. "Well, I mean that I know who she is. She does amazing work. I'm a huge fan."
"Indeed," The Doctor said chillingly. "Is there anyone else of whom you are a fan? Perhaps…."
Husker cut him off before he could get really mean. "Are we running a hostel now?"
"Dr. Plimpton is reluctant to stay at a hotel for a variety of reasons, in which I'm quite certain that you have no interest. The bottom line is that Dr. Plimpton has requested, as a personal favor, that we offer her the sanctuary of the Factory for the duration of her visit, and I have agreed." His tone brooked no further argument on the subject.
"How does she even know about this place," Lucrezia asked.
Hofstadter's eyes lit with even more excitement. "Did she work here?"
Husker's lips tightened in annoyance. "She was the team leader before Doc." There was a lot unsaid in her tone, but Hofstadter missed it, enthralled as he was by the looming arrival of one of his idols.
Sphinx, however, was not blinded by awe. "While you were the brawn? That is highly unusual."
"In what way?" Tinker asked out of idle curiosity.
"Normally the so-called Brain and Brawn start together to allow maximum team integration. For Husker to have been the Brawn for both… that is unusual."
"Dr. Plimpton left before her contract had expired to pursue other interests." The Doctor replied. His eyes met Husker's. Something definitely passed between them, but only Sphinx and Scheherazade caught it.
"That means that you were here before The Doctor, Husker." Sphinx said.
"Only by a little bit," she hedged. "We'll go out together, when his contract ends."
Sphinx gave a tiny satisfied smile, as if a mystery that had been bothering her had finally been solved. Husker narrowed her eyes at Sphinx in suspicion, but only received a smug grin in reply.
"At any rate," The Doctor started awkwardly, "She'll be here tomorrow. I'll need someone to liaise with Dr. Plimpton."
Hofstadter all but bounced in his seat, "I'd be happy to."
"Are you certain? You only just finished helping Dr. Winkle. "
"It would be a pleasure," Leonard enthused.
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea." Husker cautioned.
"I'm certain that Dr. Hofstadter will conduct himself in a professional manner, Husker." The words were said to warn Leonard as much to reassure Husker.
"Your call, Doc," she shrugged fatalistically.
"Why thank you, Husker." His tone was snide. She narrowed her eyes at him, and he blinked nervously. "Thank you, Dr. Hofstadter. Your assistance will be much appreciated." Leonard was still beaming when the briefing broke up.
The next morning Dr. Plimpton was escorted into the Factory by a large Neanderthal-looking man with dark eyes and hair. He delivered Dr. Plimpton to The Doctor and Leonard and took a step back from them as The Doctor introduced Leonard to Dr. Plimpton, who eyed him speculatively.
Husker caught sight of the big guy who'd brought Dr. Plimpton. "Dude!" She exclaimed happily from further down the hallway.
"Husker," he said sweeping her up into his arms. Leonard watched with some jealousy as they hugged.
"It's good to see you, Dude."
"You, too. Lookin' good."
"Thanks." She pulled back and he let his arms drop to his side. "And thanks for escorting Dr. Plimpton on your way, it helped us out." She paused. "But you're looking for Sphinx, so I'll let you get on with it." She grinned up at him as she spoke.
"Miss her." He admitted.
"Really? I hadn't guessed." Her grin softened into a smile. "Tell her that she's to take the rest of the day off, okay, Dude? I'll see you guys tomorrow."
"Really? Awesome, thanks Husker." He turned to where the others were still standing at the other end of the hall. "Thanks, Doctor." He waved. The Doctor gave a small nod in acknowledgement.
Dude went off with a bounce in his step to look for Sphinx. With a wave at The Doctor et al, Husker left in the same direction.
"I thought that there was a policy," Hofstadter asked querulously once Husker was out of sight.
"Dude is not part of the Factory; he works for one of the other offices. Thus the rule does not apply to him." The Doctor explained.
"What rule is that?" Dr. Plimpton asked.
"The prohibition of relationships between Factory employees, and those under our protection," The Doctor provided.
"There was no such policy when I was here," Dr. Plimpton said haughtily.
The Doctor was extraordinarily glad that Husker had not opted to join them. There was no way she'd have been able to refrain from pointing out that Dr. Plimpton's short reign was the origin of that particular policy. He found it ironic that Husker was the one who had taught him about social lies, including those of omission. Then again, Husker always had been better at preachin' than she had been at practicin'.
"As you say." The Doctor cleared his throat. "However, you did not come here to discuss current policies. We have set aside one of the apartments upstairs for your use. It is my hope that you will find everything that you need. Should you find it lacking in some way, please do not hesitate to let myself, or Dr. Hofstadter know and we will remedy the situation immediately." With that The Doctor left her in Leonard's care.
Dr. Plimpton had lectures scheduled throughout the day, and transportation had been arranged. All Leonard had to do was get her settled into the apartment, and make sure that she was downstairs at the proper time. He managed to accomplish both tasks.
When Dr. Plimpton returned to the Factory, it was after dinner. Leonard gave her access to the building, and walked up the stairs with her to the 5th floor, which they were both on.
He had just finished his nighttime ritual when there was a knock at his apartment door. He opened it to find Dr. Plimpton there in her nightgown. "Did you need something, Dr. Plimpton?" He asked politely.
It was quickly made clear to him that what she "needed" was him. His heart leapt. He spared a thought to The Doctor's probable reaction to his infraction of the rules, but dismissed it. How often does a moment like this come along? One of his heroes wanted him to make love to her.
Dr. Plimpton, Elizabeth, was gone when he woke up in the morning, and he didn't actually see her again until they were getting on the elevator. They stared at each other in silence for one floor, until Husker and The Doctor got on, bickering.
"I do not understand how you can consistently fail to lay in sufficient provisions, Husker."
"It was two spoons of milk, Doc."
"Today! Over the last five and a half years…." He trailed off realizing that Husker was not listening to him.
She was staring, narrow-eyed, at Drs. Plimpton and Hofstadter. Her pretty face darkened in anger. "I can't believe you two!" She burst out.
The Doctor looked between the other three in confusion. Husker was livid, that much was abundantly clear to him. Dr. Hofstadter was hanging his head in what appeared to be shame. Dr. Plimpton was staring defiantly back at Husker.
Understanding dawned unpleasantly for The Doctor. "You engaged in coitus?" He queried. "After being reminded that it was counter to Factory policy?"
Husker had taken several calming breaths. "Dr. Hofstadter, we'll deal with you later. Dr. Plimpton, we are rescinding the sanctuary of the Factory. Please find somewhere else to stay tonight." The elevator disgorged them, and Husker took possession of Dr. Plimpton's Visitor's badge.
"Dr. Hofstadter, please escort Dr. Plimpton up to street level and then come directly to my office." The Doctor's voice was dispassionate.
Once the other two had left, The Doctor turned to the still fuming Husker. "As per our partnership contract," here he cleared his throat, "I was wrong and you were correct."
"You might want to trust me on interpersonal matters, Doctor." Her voice was formal, making it clear to him that she was not happy with him at the moment.
"Indeed, Husker, I'll remember."
Her face softened. "Duh, eidetic memory."
He smiled a little in return. "I fear that your other instinct will prove to be correct as well."
"That we should have terminated him instead?"
"I'm still hoping to be wrong on that one." They started walking towards The Doctor's office to wait on Hofstadter.
His office was a seldom used part of his lab, and Husker perched on the edge of his desk, while he took his seat behind it and began filling out a form. When Hofstadter shuffled hesitantly in a few minutes later, he was met with nearly identical cold glares.
He took the seat that Husker gestured to as The Doctor pushed the form across the desk. "This is your official reprimand outlining the infraction. Please sign and date it."
Hofstadter complied with this instruction. "I'm really sorry." He said piteously.
"Not only have you caused me to have to tell Husker that I was wrong, a situation abhorrent to me on many levels, but you have earned your second strike in as many months and all you can say is that you are sorry?" The Doctor was clearly exasperated.
"Well, what was I supposed to do? She let me!"
Husker saw the vein in The Doctors neck start to quiver dangerously, and took over. "I don't care if she stripped naked and did a belly dance, you were 'supposed' to control your damn libido and act like the professional that we trusted you to be. This behavior is unacceptable, Dr. Hofstadter, and will not be tolerated."
"What about her?" He asked trying to deflect some of Huskers anger.
"She is no longer a Factory employee and not someone that I can punish. Unfortunately. She was, however, under our protection."
Hofstadter hung his head again. "I really am sorry."
"You say that frequently, Dr. Hofstadter." The Doctor's voice was pitilessly cold. "This time I intend to ensure your regret. I will give you a list of unpleasant, yet necessary tasks later this morning. For now, please leave."
Hofstadter left with alacrity, leaving Husker and The Doctor to stare at each other in consternation. "I am seriously beginning to doubt whether one scientist is worth so much trouble." The Doctor said seriously.
Husker's eyes were warm. "That really depends on the scientist, I think."
His expression softened a little in response. "You are correct, again."
Hofstadter wandered into Tinker's workspace, and unloaded the story to him. Tinker called Lassie and Hofstadter told it again. And while they both wanted all the gory details, neither was particularly sympathetic to his plight.
Tinker put it bluntly: "You made your bed, now you have to lie in it."
"Hope it was worth it, Leonard," Lassie said.
Hofstadter made a so-so motion with his hand.
"Too bad," Tinker said. "Doctor's gonna' make you suffer and Husker will never forgive the breach of trust. It should have at least have been Earth-shattering."
Leonard Hofstadter sighed. He was starting to suspect that he and Husker were never going to be together. They he perked up as a thought hit him. Maybe she was jealous?
With that soul-bolstering delusion, he went to face his punishment from The Doctor.
Later that night, after Dr. Plimpton's things had been removed to the hotel she had selected, and she had rebuffed Hofstadter's overtures to continue their affair now that she was fair game (her reply had been along the lines of "been there, done that, no thanks), the rest of the Factory sans Sphinx and Hofstadter, were having dinner in The Doctor's apartment.
The earlier events had been common knowledge within a half hour of Hofstadter's reporting for punishment. The others could see that Husker and The Doctor were both still pretty angry about it, and were reluctant to bring it up.
After a rousing game of Super Mario, The Doctor seemed to be regaining his usual calm frame of mind. And once he calmed, Husker did as well. By the end of the evening, everyone seemed to be on even keel once more.
At least for the time being
Dr. Leonard Hofstadter came slinking into the briefing room at the Factory. Ever since the Plimpton Debacle, as The Doctor had taken to calling Leonard's short-lived liaison with Dr. Elizabeth Plimpton, he had felt the coldness from the team leaders.
Tinker and Lassie still spoke to him, but the women on the team were more distant. He felt that he really needed to do something to redeem himself. Hopefully this new mission would provide him with that opportunity.
He looked longingly at Husker as she took her seat next to The Doctor. He could feel the future that he was so sure that they were destined for fading further and further away.
He sighed quietly, just as The Doctor began the briefing. "We do not have a mission per se. However, the Physics Symposium is next week, and I believe that it will behoove us to attend and put our respective ears to the proverbial ground."
Husker took over. "Doc's idea is that since a lot of the trouble we face germinates at these symposiums that just maybe we can get ahead of one for a change." She looked like she approved.
"That being said," The Doctor continued, "Husker, Scheherazade, Hofstadter and I will go in undercover to the Symposium. Lassie and Tinker you'll run the surveillance. Lucrezia and Sphinx; you will be 'holding down the fort'." He did air quotes. "The rest of you will all find that appropriate travel arrangements have been sent to your workstations. Please follow them precisely."
"Dr. Hofstadter and 'Zade please see me after lunch for details regarding your cover," Husker said. "Lucrezia and Sphinx, please see me after this meeting."
Leonard was elated as the meeting broke up. Here was his chance. He could prove himself to the rest of the team, and maybe re-win the respect that he felt that he had lost from Husker.
He went to his workstation and looked over the arrangements. The symposium was in New York, and he was leaving on the Thursday, using his real name. He was so eager for his cover story that he was at Husker's door waiting before she returned for lunch. The Doctor walked her to her door, and with a stern look at Hofstadter, left. A few seconds later Scheherazade joined them.
Husker sat at her desk, and nudged two packets across it. "You are going to be boyfriend/girlfriend. Leonard, you'll be yourself, and 'Zade, you're a reporter, which will justify all the questions that you'll be asking. Your name will be Rani," here Leonard grinned. "You guys met while you were doing a story at Caltech, 'Zade. A copy of the article is in there," Husker pointed at Scheherazade's packet. She turned to Leonard. "The two of you will be sharing a room, and I cannot stress this enough, no funny business. If you try anything, and I mean anything, procreation will no longer be an option for you. Do you understand?" Leonard crossed his legs and nodded. "Good. Your packet also includes your invitation to the symposium, airline tickets and hotel information. If there is any of your own work that you want to take and have as a topic, feel free to run it passed The Doc." She looked at each of them in turn. "Any questions?"
"I just want to say," Leonard started. "I won't let you down, Husker."
She smiled at him, "if I thought you would then you wouldn't be going."
He smiled back at her and excused himself. Once the door closed behind him, Scheherazade looked seriously at Husker. "And if he does?"
Husker's eyes were calm. "If he puts you or the mission at risk, end him."
"You are certain …?"
"Doc and I are agreed. If it's him or you, or him or the mission, he loses. Cap him. Or bring him back and I'll deal with him." Her smile reminded Scheherazade of a shark.
"Very well." Scheherazade left.
On Thursday, Dr. Leonard Hofstadter and his beautiful and exotic girlfriend Rani boarded a plane for New York. Tinker and Lassie had left on Tuesday as they were driving a tricked out Factory vehicle. The Doctor and Husker left on Wednesday as they were inexplicably taking a train. Leonard was not sure what arrangements had been made for Sphinx and Lucrezia, as they were not at the Factory when he'd left with Scheherazade. Rani. He had to think of her as Rani, or he'd screw up.
Once in New York, Leonard and Rani got checked into the hotel, and settled onto their room. It was a nice room, with a large bed. By the time they'd unpacked, and Rani had swept the room for bugs, they just had time to check into the symposium and then grab lunch. As he looked around at the other scientists, he smugly noticed that Rani was definitely the most beautiful woman present. He hadn't seen Husker (and The Doctor) yet, though.
He spent an awkward night with Rani, and consequently, didn't get much rest. He was afraid to fall too deeply asleep and do something inappropriate. After breakfast, they returned to the symposium, where he finally saw The Doctor. It took a few seconds to realize that the plain, frumpy blond next to him was Husker. She was wearing bulky layers, no make-up and she had her hair pulled back in a ponytail.
"Stop staring," Rani hissed as she discreetly nudged him.
"Sorry," he mumbled. "It's just…I didn't recognize Husker."
"You're not meant to." Her brown eyes were not judgmental, merely quizzical.
"You're so beautiful, Rani." He said sincerely, if a little randomly.
"Thank you, Darling," she replied as she took his hand in hers.
They decided to wander around and see what gossip they could pick up. There was some talk about a laser, which they assumed was Dr. Winkle's research. Finally their circulation took them within The Doctor and Husker's orbit. A professor that Leonard knew introduced them once he introduced him to Rani.
"Rani Patel and Dr. Leonard Hofstadter, allow me to introduce Dr. and Mrs. Sheldon."
The men shook hands, and the ladies exchanged polite nods. "What is your discipline, Dr. Sheldon?" Leonard asked with some interest.
"I'm a theoretical physicist. And yourself?"
"Experimental physicist. "
"Ah," Dr. Sheldon said in a non-committal tone.
"I've brought some of my work, I'd be happy to show it to you."
"Indeed? What are your particular…?"
"Honey," Mrs. Sheldon interrupted.
"I don't think that Professor O'Connor is interested in this."
"Not interested? What do you mean? Why wouldn't he be interested?"
"Lee, Dr. O'Connor is a Quantum Physicist, and probably has little interest in this." She said soothingly.
Professor O'Connor gave a self-deprecating shrug.
"I find that difficult to believe Kitty, but will, as always, defer to your judgment in these matters. What would you like to talk about Professor?" His blue eyes focused on Professor O'Connor.
"I'm a little curious as to how you met your wife, Dr. Sheldon." Leonard blurted out, to abate the awkwardness.
"We share an interest in Science Fiction. We met at Comic-Con. Kitty was dressed as Rose Tyler from 'Doctor Who.'" Here he sent a tiny smile at Kitty, who beamed back up at him, her green eyes warm.
Professor O'Connor grinned with a slight nod of his head. "I recently became engaged, myself."
Kitty Sheldon rested her hand briefly on Professor O'Connor's shoulder. "Congratulations. I'm sure that you'll be as happy as Lee and I are." Dr. Sheldon and the others echoed her sentiment.
Professor O'Connor had a fatuous expression. "She couldn't make it this weekend. "
"That's too bad, but we'll meet her another time." Kitty's eyes were kind.
Shortly after this, the group split up. Kitty threaded her arm through Lee's and they wandered off to talk to another group of scientists. Leonard was only peripherally aware of them for the rest of the day. During dinner that evening, however, they heard more talk about a laser, which apparently was being unveiled early the next morning, by a Dr. Kripke. Leonard was vaguely aware that Kripke had once worked at Caltech, but had been let go for 'accidently' poisoning another scientist during what was supposed to be a prank. Leonard had no idea what had happened to him after that.
Sleep that night was a little more comfortable, as Leonard had relaxed a bit. He did wake up pressed against Rani, but eased himself away as soon as he woke up. He didn't know if she was asleep, or pretending to be to spare him the embarrassment, but he scurried into the bathroom. When he came out Rani was sitting up in the bed, texting someone on her phone. Had he only known that she was currently telling Husker, in code, that there had been no problems, he might have been a little less awkward.
After breakfast with some of the other scientists, they trooped up to the ballroom where Kripke was making his presentation. After a pompous speech, made ridiculous by the man's speech impediment, he removed the cover from his laser.
Leonard saw The Doc…Dr. Sheldon and Kitty standing slightly apart from the others. Dr. Sheldon had a dubious look on his face as he studied the shape of Kripke's laser. Torpedo-like, with a ring of openings around the top. Leonard hadn't heard the explanation for the acronym S.H.A.R.K., but suspected that it had been nonsense, just to get the word SHARK from it. With a slightly crazed look, Kripke threw a switch to demonstrate what his laser could do.
Apparently, what it could do was fore random laser beams, burning anyone they hit. In perfect synchronicity Kitty and Rani overturned a table, and pulled their partners behind it. Dr. Sheldon poked his head up over the top of the table, and appeared to be timing the shots. Finally he nodded and ducked back down, barely missing being zapped. "I need a mirror," he said.
Kitty pulled a compact from her purse and handed it to him without a word. The other three watched him count down and raise the mirror above their makeshift bunker, the laser reflecting off of it, and frying the control panel of the SHARK. It immediately began to spark, and burst into flames. But it stopped firing.
The four behind the table gave a collective sigh of relief. Suddenly, Leonard gave a girly giggle. The others looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "The last thing," Leonard explained, "that I expected was a SHARK attack." He ended on another giggle. Rani and Kitty both grinned, and Dr. Sheldon gave a breathy laugh as they all stood to exit the room. Dr. Sheldon offered his arm to Kitty, who grinned up at him. Rani tucked her hand into Leonard's and they quietly left the mess for others to clean up.
A/N For those of you who didn't recognize it, Rani was the name of the Indian girl on "The Sarah Jane Adventures" who wanted to be a reporter. I am aware that it's also the name of a baddie on Doctor Who. I'm just ignoring that, in favor of the "SJA" and the late, lovely Elisabeth Sladen.
Also, thank you SpaceAnJL for the suggestion of a Shark Attack. *smirk*
Leonard became aware of voices as he struggled to consciousness; a woman's voice, sharp and vicious and The Doctor's voice, high and pedantic. They appeared to be disagreeing about something. Leonard brought his fuzzy eyesight more into focus. The woman was a hot, leggy blonde. Leonard blinked, trying to clear more of the fuzziness up, even as he strained to hear what was being said. He was certain there was something important going on, he just couldn't remember what. He decided to hold very still until he could figure out what was going on.
The blonde spoke, "You should have come to work for us when we tried to recruit you, Dr. Cooper."
"I had then, as I do now, no interest in working for a pseudo-patriotic, marginally legal organization. "
"Well, your choices are pretty limited right now, sweetie. You work for us or you die, here with the rest of the Factory in about 10 minutes. It's your choice, of course." Her smile was mean, and Leonard wondered why he'd ever thought she was hot.
"I think, Alicia, that you'll find that you've overestimated yourself, unsurprisingly, and underestimated the skilled team with which I work."
'Alicia', thought Leonard. 'That's a nice name. I met an Alicia once. At the….' His vision suddenly cleared as his foggy memory focused. He had met Alicia at the comic book store. He had gone because he was still feeling kind of left out from the rest of the team. Scheherazade's going away party had been yesterday, and while he was happy that her contract was up and she was getting to go home, he was going to miss her. She'd been nice to him, especially after the New York symposium.
Alicia had started to talk to him at the store, calling him cutie, and asking him questions about comic books and action figures. He'd been flattered, of course, when she'd asked to see his collection. He hadn't seen any harm in it; she didn't work for the Factory, nor was she under their protection. No rules were broken.
They got to his apartment, and she kissed him. That was the last clear memory he had, until waking up…wherever he was. He chanced a look around the room. Briefing room. He pretended to still be unconscious while he debated on what to do. He tried to watch The Doctor and Alicia through squinty eyes.
She sashayed over to The Doctor, and ran her hand up his chest. He stared at her stoically. "Husker is not going to be happy with you, Alicia." He said finally, his voice still calm.
"Husker, huh? Are you banging Husker, sweetie?" She asked in a silky tone.
"If by the crude term, 'banging', you mean coitus, then certainly not. That would be highly unprofessional."
"Well, that was a missed opportunity, because she'd never look at you outside of this place." She gave a harsh laugh. "Can you imagine, Husker all dressed up and you try to talk to her? She'd laugh in your face." She eased a step closer to him, and let her hand start to drift downward.
"Where is Husker," he asked, a bit of concern working its way into his voice.
"Dead; couldn't have her ruining my moment, could I?" Her hand rested just above the zipper on his pants. "If you join us, I'll take very good care of you."
"That's because you're a whore." Husker's voice sounded from the door. "Step away from the Doc, and I'll kill you quick. Stay there and I'll take my time." Her voice was steady and her eyes cold. For the first time, Leonard believed what he'd heard about how she'd gotten the name "Husker".
Alicia turned to face her. "How are you still alive?" She asked incredulously.
"Because your men suck." Seeing that Alicia was far enough from the Doc, Husker took her shot. Two quiet shots and Alicia dropped like a stone. The Doctor immediately checked her for a pulse. Husker dropped her gun at his nod, and leaned against the wall.
"You're bleeding," The Doctor said with concern as he crossed to her.
"Yeah," she pulled up her top to show him two bandaged bullet wounds, both bleeding sluggishly. "They also cracked one of my ribs; think it's nicked a lung. Hard to breathe. "
Without hesitation, he carefully swung her up into his arms and gently laid her on the briefing room table. "I will call for assistance," he voice was deep and twangy, a sure sign that he was worried.
"No need, Honey." She tried to take a deep breath, "Lucrezia called for backup, Sphinx fixed me up enough to take out that bitch, Tinker and Lassie have already defused the bomb," she paused for a breath. "Lucrezia, Sphinx and I took out her stupid cohorts. Tinker was shot in the thigh, he's fine, and Lucrezia has a dislocated shoulder. They're all gathered in Lassie's lab, waiting. Just… please just talk to be until the medicos arrive, would ya'?"
"Of course," he folded his hands and stared at her with big blue eyes. "I have no idea what to talk about, Husker." He admitted quietly.
She sighed. "How did she get in?"
Leonard, who had intended to make his presence known, thought it wise to continue to pretend to be out cold.
"Leonard." Seeing Husker's eyes narrow, he continued. "I believe he was once more duped, not complicit. "
"Yes, I agree. However, perhaps this is not the best time to discuss that."
"Okay, smarty-pants." She paused for a breath. "How about this: do you think she was right?"
"Probably not. To what specifically are you referring?"
She looked at him fondly. "You and I outside of here?"
"Ah." He paused awkwardly. He was aware that he was far out of his depth. "I do not feel adequate to make that determination. This is your area of expertise; what is your opinion?"
Outside the room they could hear the backup team clearing rooms. Husker paused to listen before replying. "I think she was dead wrong. I *can* see it. Me lying on a beach," she paused for another breath, "and you come up to me and say something geeky but sweet."
"I fear melanoma; it is highly unlikely I would be on a beach."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You're wearing SPF 5 million, and you're there because you're looking for me." She gritted out.
"Oh." He said. Then "Oh," in comprehension. Suddenly a lot of things made sense to him, such as why Husker had elected to wait the additional months from her contract's expiration to his. "That makes sense. What beach would I seek you on, do you suppose?"
She relaxed, seeing that they were finally communicating. "That little one where we had our first real mission together."
"You'll be in the hospital for awhile."
Her breath caught. "Yeah, and rehab for even longer."
Finally the medics came in to remove Husker. "I will visit you in the hospital, Husker."
"No Honey, they won't let you. In fact, this is probably the last time, The Doctor and Husker will see each other." Blue eyes and green locked in complete understanding.
"Be careful, then Husker."
"You, too, Doc, I won't be there to watch your ass."
He allowed the tiniest of smiles. "Indeed, then I shall have to use extreme caution."
"Yeah." Her eyes caught on the slumped figure of Leonard as the medics carried her out of the room. Her eyes were cold and did not bode well for Leonard when she was released from the hospital. The Doctor might never see Husker again, but he was certain that Dr. Leonard Hofstadter would be receiving one final visit from the Factory's own Avenging Angel. The Doctor saw a tell-tale twitch from Hofstadter.
"Leonard," The Doctor said firmly, once Husker had been taken away. "I know that you're awake."
Leonard lifted his head in defeat. "It wasn't my fault, Doctor. She tricked me, and I'm sorry."
"I see." The Doctor studied Leonard's unhappy expression.
"How do you even know Alicia?" Leonard nervously rushed into speech.
"When I was a child, I attempted to purchase yellow-cake uranium. Unsuccessfully. I wanted to provide electricity for my family and neighbors. Men from the government showed up, and decided that I was too dangerous to be left to my own devices. I spent the next several years finishing school, and earning my first PhD. Once I had acquired that, I went to work for DARPA for five years. After that I spent several years in what was optimistically called a 'Think Tank', but was closer to prison. Then came the offer from the Factory. Six years of my life, and then I could go my own way, be my own man. At the same time, another organization made a similar offer. Alicia's, of course."
"The Factory sent Husker?"
"Yes. And I found Husker to be more trustworthy. Of course I researched both organizations, but eventually decided on the Factory. "
"So you've spent…what 15 years working for the government against your will?"
"Not completely against my will. I wanted to use my brains for good. And I was very well funded, naturally. But… there are projects I wish to pursue that, for whatever reasons, were not permitted."
"You must be really smart." Leonard said morosely.
"MY IQ, although truly unable to be measured by current means, is 187."
"Husker knows all this?"
"Of course, as a team leader she has access to all the information."
"She's going to be pissed at me."
"Yes." The Doctor agreed. "She is."
"Think she'll kill me quickly?" Leonard joked.
"No. I do not."
Leonard's eyes widened in shock, and he started to panic. "You'd let her? Don't you have any mercy?"
The Doctor appeared to consider this and then nodded. "Yes, you're right. I will show you mercy." He picked up Husker's discarded gun and pointed it at Leonard.
"That's your idea of mercy?" Leonard was starting to hyperventilate, and wondered if he could make a break for it.
"Husker will not let someone that she believes betrayed us die quickly; a quick death is the only mercy I can offer you."
"But, I can be useful." Leonard's voice rose. He wondered if anyone would save him if he cried out for help.
"Your usefulness was rather limited and far outweighed by the amount of trouble that you, however inadvertently, caused. I'm sorry, Dr. Hofstadter, this really is for the best."
Leonard looked for cruelty in his eyes, but saw only compassion. The Doctor fired once, and Leonard's head fell forward onto the table. A pool of blood oozed from the gunshot in the middle of his forehead.
The Doctor sat the gun upon the briefing table. Dude walked in and took in the situation. "You okay, Doctor?" He asked.
"Yes, Dude. How are the others?"
"Well, Tinker will be in the hospital for a few days, but will make a full recovery, ditto Lucrezia. Husker will be in longer, but they're 'cautiously optimist'."
"Husker will be fine; she is strong, healthy and far too stubborn to allow Alicia et al to be victorious."
Dude snorted a laugh. "True enough." His gaze settled on Leonard. "He let her in?"
"Lucky for him he's dead; Husker would have flayed him alive."
"Indeed. It must have been his lucky day." The men exchanged a long look before leaving the room.
Chapter 7: Epilogue
The tall, slim man approached the beach. He had been on this beach every day for the last seven days. She'd been released from the hospital, and he'd come straight here to wait for her.
He'd decided that he had misunderstood what she'd been saying to him. Where he had believed she was saying to meet her here, it was becoming obvious to him that she had only been delirious from her injuries and rambling about beaches.
Today was the last day he was going to sit here and wait. Of course, he had been saying that to himself for the last three days. Every day was going to be the last.
But today, he saw her. She had strolled onto the beach like a sun goddess, and staked her claim on a lounge chair. She was wearing a pretty yellow one-piece suit, oversized sunglasses and a gauzy cover-up. Several of the men who hung out on the beach had attempted to engage her in conversation, but she had gently rebuffed each. He watched her for almost an hour, before believing the evidence of his own eyes.
He quietly approached her, not noticing the dismissive looks the other men were giving him. He wouldn't have cared about their opinion of his actions had he noticed. Only hers mattered. He stood over her, his shadow caressing her. He studied her for a few seconds. She had pushed her sunglasses up to act as a hair band, and her eyes were closed. He could see the tiniest hint of the pain she'd endured in the new little lines around her eyes and mouth.
She spoke suddenly, without opening her eyes. "Took you long enough, Sheldon."
"Me?" He protested. "Penny, I have been here for an entire week. I was beginning to believe that …." He trailed off, overwhelmed now that she was actually here.
Her green eyes opened and smiled at him, all traces of pain washed away. "I'm sorry, Honey. I had to go see my family." She threw her legs over the side of the lounge chair and sat up. She indicated the next seat.
He settled himself, and met her eyes. "Are you well, Penny?"
"Yeah, almost back to 100%. How are you?"
"I also am doing quite well." He stopped, unsure what to say next.
"I didn't think we'd be this awkward," she admitted.
"I suspect that is my fault."
"We're partners, Honey. We'll share the responsibility, okay?"
He gave her a rare smile. "I have missed seeing you every day."
"Yeah, we saw each other every day for six years, and then went cold turkey. Quite a shock to the system."
"Indeed." He cleared his throat. "I believe that I am now supposed to say something 'geeky but sweet', although I'm uncertain as to what that might be."
Her eyes studied him. "When did you know that you … liked…me?" She asked finally.
He hesitated. "I suspected that I liked you when you told me that Alicia was "more fulla' crap than a prize bull", but I started to fall in love with you the first time that I was ill, and you brought me soup and sang "Soft Kitty" to me."
A big smile had blossomed on her face. "And I knew when you and 'Zade got kidnapped and I ended up with a dislocated shoulder. Not only did the thought of letting you out of my sight for even a minute literally nauseate me, but you sang "Soft Kitty" with me. You stayed the whole night and never …. I knew then."
They shared a smile. He stood, and offered her a hand. She hesitated for just a second, and then placed her hand in his. She led him down to the shoreline, and tucked her arm in his.
"What do you want to do now, Sheldon?"
"I had thought that being more experienced in these matters, that you would take the lead."
She stared at him blankly and then gurgled with laughter. "I meant as a job, you Whackadoodle, not when are we going to have sex."
"Oh, I see." He was curiously disappointed. He had long denied his carnal needs, basic masturbation notwithstanding, and had actually been prepared to let Penny guide him through a sexual relationship.
She must have read that on his face. "Just to be clear, Sheldon, we *are* going to, just not today. I've never…." She blushed and then squared her shoulders to continue. "I've never cared about anyone the way I care about you. I've never had a man know me as well as you do."
He cocked his head to the side, silently disputing the latter claim.
"Sheldon, you've seen me at my worst. No make-up, no coffee. You've seen me when I've been shot, beaten up, and just after I've terminated someone. You've sat by my side when I was injured, and tried, badly, to comfort me. You know how I take my coffee, what my favorite colors are. Hell, you know when my period is. You know ME. You also know you're always going to be smarter than me, but you don't talk down to me. You respect me, and I don't want to ever endanger that. You mean far too much to me to rush into something you might not be ready for. So we will take our time, and get there together. Okay?"
"Yes, I find that acceptable." His voice was deep and twangy due to the emotions running rampant through him.
"So, to be clear, what were thinking of as a job now that you're a free man?"
"I have many projects that I would like to pursue, although I lack funds for many. The funds could be obtained, but I fear I would have to indenture myself to get them. What of your plans?"
"I have a couple of ideas that I've been playing around with. Although they might be a byproduct of all the meds. While I was recuperating, I saw a TV show, and there was an assassin. He would find very bad people, and then find someone who was willing to pay him to kill them. We could do something like that. Or maybe more like high price bounty hunters, or something."
"Hmm," he said thoughtfully. "Those possibilities are not without merit, however they may be impractical. We should discuss it."
She grinned up at him. "Let's discuss it then."
They slowly strolled along in the sand, the rushing surf erasing their footprints almost as soon as they passed. The wind carried random words back as they headed off into their future.
A/N The TV show referenced was "Bones". Which I also do not own.