Slippery Like a Fox
The single shrieked syllable caused Lestrade to freeze in place in the open doorway and immediately assess the situation for threats. There had to be something. He'd never heard Boffin Hooper shout like that before. Hell, he'd hardly heard her raise her voice at all before.
"What is it?" he demanded when he simply could not identify the danger.
"Chemical spill," she replied in her normal tone, although it was coming from somewhere roughly knee-level and behind a Plexteel counter. "Nothing toxic, but it's as slick as ice. If you come any further into the lab you're likely to step in it. I wouldn't want you to slip."
Lestrade relaxed. He leaned a shoulder against the door frame. "Agreed." The last thing he needed was to fall on his ass or do a faceplant into one of Hooper's experiments. "I came to see how work's going on that Conundrum rep Doc insisted you be allowed to keep for study." He'd been against it from the start. You didn't keep reps; you obliterated them. But it wasn't his command, so it wasn't his call. The darlings had been all for it, blast their ignorant pea brains, and the Tops had caved in the end.
"Oh. Yes. Right." She emerged then from behind the counter and used it to help her to her feet. Lestrade did a double-take at the sight of her. Her ponytail was ragged and her lab coat was splatter-stained a noxious shade of mauve. She wore blue nitrile gloves, safety goggles, and one of the lightest-weight filter-masks over her nose and mouth. "Hello, Commander."
"You're sure it's non-toxic, are you?" he challenged with a frown, waving a hand at the general state of her.
"Oh yes. That doesn't mean I want my nose in it, though. And I already had the goggles on when it happened."
"What did happen, anyway?"
She gestured to the exam table that stood beyond the counter. "It...spurted unexpectedly. I must have hit an artery. My own miscalculation, I'm afraid. A dead human would have nothing pumping the fluids."
"Reps aren't human."
"No. They're more slippery than sticky," she confirmed with a nod.
Lestrade's stomach turned a little. She wasn't wrong, and balls knew he'd had plenty of experience with the gorier aspects of human frailty, but it still affected him sometimes. He didn't think that would ever change. A part of him hoped it never did. Detachment was useful in the field; once you were home and dry, however, it was a sign you were losing your soul.
Unless you were a boffin, apparently. Hooper was a good sort. Not at all soulless, in his opinion.
"So you found out they bleed after they're dead. Super," he said flatly.
"Oh, there's so much more than that. The fluid itself is fascinating! The complex molecules--"
"Spare me, please. Just tell me that the thing's homing system really is well and truly marred." He'd been worrying about it since the sweeper team had brought the bloody menace on board. He trusted the sweepers to do their jobs, but this was the exact opposite of their standard procedure. Instead of frying the rep's entire system, they'd localized their destruction to specific ones. That was more boffin-style work than sweeper-style. They could potentially have made a mistake.
"Absolutely." She nodded and pointed to a small rolling cart that stood next to the exam table. The table held the deactivated rep. The cart held a number of metal bowls. "It's in the smallest bowl there. Well, what's left of it is. I wish we could have examined it first."
He wouldn't sleep until he'd seen for himself. He started across the lab to take a look. Two steps in, his feet went out from under him and hit the deck hard enough to knock the air from his lungs.
"Commander!" Hooper called out but didn't rush to his side. No doubt she was in no hurry to mimic his gloriously ridiculous pratfall. "Are you all right?"
He would be once he got some breath back in him, but he couldn't get the breath to say so.
Before long, she'd slid carefully up beside him, kneeling and helping him to sit up. "Commander?"
He put up a hand to forestall any more questions and nodded breathlessly. "Okay," he managed at last. "I'm...okay."
"Maybe I should call John--"
"No!" He lowered his voice. "No. Thanks. I'm fine." He looked around them, noting the sheen of chemical fluid on the floor and now on him. His clothing was quickly purpling with the stuff and she was right, when you got your face close to it, it didn't half stink. "Get a proper crew in here to clean this up, will you? That's their job. Yours is dissecting that fucking Conundrum rep."
"Right. You're right. I'll do that."
Together, they stood, steadying themselves against one another as they got their feet under them.
"You can use the lab's shower. If you want to," Hooper said, releasing her hold on his upper arms.
"Thanks. I'll do that. You, call for clean up." He said it calmly, but it didn't take a soldier to hear the element of command in it.
"Good. Now, shower?"
She pointed. He nodded and gave her a tight-lipped not-smile of appreciation. He used the Plexteel counter for balance as he went in case his feet decided to go out from under him again. If he could just get to the goddamn shower without falling on his ass again it would be a minor miracle. She wasn't kidding when she said this chemical muck was slick.
One misstep took him down. His head smacked the counter as he went ass-up and landed hard. His ears rang and his head swam, but he still managed to roar out an order. "Do not fucking call Doc!"
Too late. He could hear Doc's voice through the comm. Sod it. He let himself relax against the decking, his cheek resting in a pool of synthetic chemical ooze. With luck, Doc would join him there soon. He pictured Doc rushing in, slipping, flying through the air, and landing in a slick mauve mess. He began to laugh.
Hooper's quick and nervous words reached his ears. "Hurry, John. I think he's gone hysterical."
He just laughed harder. Balls. What a morning!