Lieutenant Hook left Redwings office in frustration.
She didnt look too happy to see him, but he couldnt be sure if it was because she was still mourning Razak, or because he had lost yet another trooper. Either way, shed told him to expect a mission briefing in the next few hours. The incident involving Allerka would have to wait reprimand for another day.
Things were heating up, and Hook instinctively knew that they were in the ninth inning, bases loaded. Game tied.
The closer he got to the decrepit front door of his barracks, the more aware he became of laughter coming from those termite-infested walls. He frowned, his blue eyes narrowed to slits. What the hell were they doing?
Outside of target practice or forced play, this was the squads first time to relax and kick some butt. Sure, they were using feather pillows against each other, but what was a little down in the humid barracks?
They were all laughing. Nanoforge, Smoke, Doc, Cyber, Spitz, Kai, and Chiquita. Not a single pillow survived to see the sun go down. But Spitz picked up Hooks anger, and she stopped, giving Cyber the chance to knock her down, pin her, and tickle her silly. Between laughter, she managed to yell, The lieutenants coming!
Cyber was off her in a split-second. The entire squad raced around, trying to collect as many of those miserable little feathers as they could. Chiquita pulled out the floor vacuum, while Kai and Doc swept the beds. Taller than the others, Nanoforge made sure there werent any feathers hiding in any nooks or crannies, or the top bunk beds.
The door opened quickly but all was organized. The squad, each trooper lying in their own bunk, looked over at Hook - who was dead certain he would catch them at mischief. He crossed his arms over his chest.
Dont look so innocent, people. I know you.
What? Kai said anyway.
Chi, youre not doing your job, Hook arched an eyebrow.
She frowned, puzzled, and then realization hit. Officer on the deck!
The squad bolted to stand at attention in front of Hook. Hook forced the smile from his face. Sure enough, he found evidence. He paced in front of them, still giving off vibes of leashed power. He stopped in front of Spitz.
Mind telling me what you did while I was in the lions den?
She swallowed tightly. We, uh, we hit the showers. Cleaned up a little.
Hook nodded and continued to pace. No one spoke, or even watched the lieutenant. All eyes were straight ahead. He stopped in front of Spitz again.
Then will you explain what this is? And he reached over, lifting one single, tiny feather from behind her ear. Spitzs eyes widened.
Youre a magician? Kai didnt mean for the whisper to slip.
Hook looked over at her, even as the first giggles began to bubble. And then they all doubled over, laughing. He tried to fume, but the smile won out, and he could feel their sighs of relief.
Chi, come into my office, and he turned his back on them.
Said the spider to the fly, Forge whispered at her back.
She gave him a look as she entered Hooks office.
Shut the door.
Chiquita said nothing, but did as she was told. Didnt Spitz do this a few nights ago? She stood at attention, as Hook swiveled in his chair.
Give me details on the squad, he said firmly.
Chiquita was surprised. Are you asking for their zodiac signs, sir?
He sighed and closed his eyes. I have a bad feeling. I think the bugs have called in their relief pitcher, and the games going to get tougher. Theres a briefing mission tonight. You guys need to eat and get as much rest as possible. But heres the thing: I need the details on the squad. I need to know your honest opinion on the chemistry of the squad.
Her green eyes widened, and she paled.
Not me, sir. You need Doc. Or Spitz!
I asked for you. Youve been prying into everyones files, I figured youd be the better judge of who works best with who. The corners of his lips turned upward when he saw the shock frozen on her face.
Dont think I didnt notice you come in here and scan our files. You could be demoted for that.
At his comment, she relaxed. There wasnt time for demotions anymore. The war was too intense. I think Spitz and Cyber work fantastically together. Shes got these ..cat-like moves. Just very quiet, but very I dont know how to explain. And Cyber seems to read thoughts almost as much as she can read ours.
Hook prodded her. Go on.
Kais got a mouth, but I think shes a terrific fighter. Shes like a kid sister to me, and Ill admit Im a tad-overprotective of her.
The way you were with Cyber when Forge came along?
No. That was more because Cyber was here first, and Forge was a lousy shot.
Tell me about Forge.
Hes a better Marauder driver than Id like to admit. Certainly better than Ashby in my former squad. I think Smoke and Doc have their own psychic link. They can feed off each other.
Hook chewed the corner of his lip, then looked up at her. What about me?
What about you, sir?
What does the squad think of me?
She suddenly wished Spitz or Kai were in her place.
Even if its brutal, Chi, I want the truth.
Well, that part was easy. At one point or another, in the quiet hours of their downtime, theyd whispered to each other how much they respected Hook. At first, it was more of a begrudging respect, but in the few short weeks they had with him, it had transformed into sheer amazement.
Especially after she had read his file security breach compliments of Cyber concerning the Hellions; not to mention his dealings with General Redwing, Lieutenant Razak, and a few standoffs with Doctor Sharaabi.
Sneak into Hooks office, sure. Lie to his face? Not a chance.
You tell us where to go, sir, well go.
He gave her a direct look.
Just like that?
She couldnt hold her own, and she looked down.
Yes, sir. Just like that.
Are you saying this about you? Or the entire squad?
That she honestly wasnt sure of. But their whispered conversations about him, they well, they liked him. And after all they had been through, finding a lieutenant that molded them into this new squad the way he had it took them all by surprise.
Yes, sir. The entire squad.