While Felice and Epps enjoyed their rare day of downtime, Lennox was sitting at his desk, going through the incident reports again.

The ambush at a raid in South Africa - six Marines dead, five wounded.

The IED explosion in Afghanistan - four injured, five missed and likely to be dead as well.

The capture and execution of two SEALs in Colombia while taking down a drug lord.

The list went on and on and with every casualty, Lennox anger and frustration grew. There wasn't a clue how the Decepticons were helping the White Ghost. Not one sighting of the Autobots' enemies had been reported at either of the locations, but Energon readings showed clearly that they had been there.

It had left not only him but Optimus and Ratchet confused, but had also raised some questions about NEST. Even though the other forces were glad to have NEST helping to catch the White Ghost; they saw the presence of the Autobots as a guarantor for a fast victory. More than once, Lennox had told them that this was hardly ever the case, but they would not listen but instead round on the Autobots for not saving their comrades.

A sudden knock on his door roused him from his gloomy thoughts. Frowning, he looked up from his files. He'd planned to get a few things done while the HQ was empty and didn't like the interruption.

"Come." he said crisply and straightened in his chair, wondering who it was.

The door opened and in came none other than Charlotte Mearing, Director of National Intelligence. Her face was stony as she watched the Colonel come to his feet to greet her.

"Director Mearing, what an honor." Lennox said coldly.

"Glad to be here, Colonel." she replied without meaning it.

Ever since Chicago they had been at daggers drawn, because she had ordered the deportation of the Autobots and if it hadn't been for Optimus and his smart mind, they would have been enslaved to the Decepticons now. Furthermore, she had made quite a fuss about Felice' transfer to his team and only when General Morshower had vouched for her, she had signed the papers.

"Please, have a seat." he gestured towards the chair in front of his desk. "What can I do for you?"

Director Mearing sat down, looking at him intently, before leaning back and commencing to speak.

"From the latest Intel of your team, I see that you haven't made any progress in locating and capturing the White Ghost, it that right?" she asked.

"Yes." he swallowed the word ma'am. She'd rounded on him for that the first time they'd met. If she didn't want him to show her that form of politeness, he more than gladly accepted it.

"Then I think you are organizing your resources wrong."

It took Lennox all his self-control to keep an impassive face. Nobody had told him how he was supposed to do his job in years. He was not stubborn and accepted any advice from General Morshower or any other military personnel when seen fit, but nobody least of all Charlotte Mearing, would tell him how to deploy his team.

"With all due respect." which wasn't much, if any, Lennox thought to himself as he spoke. "We are doing everything we can to find the White Ghost."

"But obviously, it isn't enough." Mearing replied snappishly.

"Director Mearing, what is your point?" Lennox asked, propping his hands on his desk as he looked her directly in the eyes. If it wasn't for this scumbag who had killed soldiers all around the globe he would be at Epps' place, enjoying his weekend with his friends. In short: he wasn't in the mood to play games.

Charlotte Mearing smiled coldly. Then she reached into her handbag, pulling out a file, laying it in front of the Colonel. Lennox peered at it. It had the emblem of the Navy imprinted on the cover and contained several documents.

"I think it's time to reorganize your unit." she said. "Your team has obviously made an impact on the latest alien confrontations, but it seems that since you are hunting such a versatile enemy like the White Ghost your methods seem a little outdated."

She paused, trying to get a read on him, but Lennox merely returned her stare unblinkingly. He'd served so many years; he knew how to disguise his thoughts.

"This is why we, General Morshower and I, have decided to finally commence the naval NEST program. Since the Navy with its carriers is deployed all over the world, a fighter squadron for example would act as a quick response force whereas you and your team always need a certain amount of time to reach the battle zone. And since you have a former fighter pilot in your team, we suggest that she will train and ultimately lead those teams."

Lennox looked up from the files. It was as though a stone had dropped into his stomach.

"But Commander Manning is still new to our operational procedures." he started in what he knew was a weak attempt to buy himself some time. He should have seen this coming. "It would be better, if she stayed with us for…"

"I remember that General Morshower had informed you about this program before, is that right?" Mearing cut through his speech.

Lennox nodded, perplexed.

"And am I informed correctly that you have agreed to her transfer back to the Navy as needed and requested only a few months to train her?"

"Yes, but…"

"Then I see no reason why she is not ready for this job. She's been with your team for over a year and now she will start the job we had originally in mind for her."

"She's a valuable part of this team and…"

"She's an asset." Mearing snapped, fixing Lennox with her steely grey eyes. "And this is why she will be deployed as we see fit. Tell her about the job. We await her reply ASAP."

And without another word, she rose and left the office, leaving Lennox standing there, the whole magnitude of this information sinking in slowly, pulling him into an abyss.

"Hey, you don't look well. Is everything all right?" Felice asked worried as they met at Epps' place to watch the football game together later that evening.

"I'm fine." Lennox assured her while busying himself with a beer, surprised that he'd lied to her so smoothly, because quite the contrary was the case.

Ever since Charlotte Mearing had left his office, despair seemed to drown him and he could not think about any solution for this mess. He knew he'd pushed his luck by accepting the deal Morshower had offered him for Felice' transfer, but what fool had he been to think that the General would never collect this debt?

He simply did not see the reason why the Navy and especially the fighter squadrons should be involved in any conflict. They were the first to die when fighting the Decepticons. He'd seen it twice; in Egypt while they were trying to revive Optimus and in Chicago when the 'Cons had taken over the city. The enemy had shot down the aircrafts one after one, leaving the pilots no chance to eject themselves from their planes but facing instant death. It had been the very reason he'd sold Felice away from her fighter squadron and now he was forced to push her back into a cockpit to meet the fate he'd wanted to protect her from at all costs.

You better come up with a plan, Lennox told himself grimly as he watched the football game not paying the slightest attention to it. And you better do it fast.

The week began with the dull routine of weapons maintenance followed by their usual training circuit the Autobots had set up for their human allies at an abandoned airstrip west of DC. But since their most recent deployments had clearly been a fail, nobody was in the mood to practice what evidently had not been good enough to safe those now dead soldiers.

"Hey! What the hell was that supposed to be?" Lennox hollered as he turned towards Paul, one of their most recent additions to the team.

Their team mate had just missed a lot more targets than usual, causing his fictional enemies played by Jones, Mitchell and Felice to shoot him with their toy guns – as they called the weapons filled with paintballs – with ridiculous ease.

"Get a grip for fuck's sake!"

Felice put the safety back on her gun as she watched the Colonel round on their comrade. She'd witnessed this kind of situation a few times in the past weeks during training. Those men who had joined NEST after Chicago somehow thought that even though it had been a close call back then, winning a fight against the Decepticons seemed the only possible outcome. But Felice knew better than to take their victories for granted. With every failed attempt to catch the White Ghost, she and her team mates who had fought in Chicago, Ray Jones, Scott, Epps and Mitchell among them, worked more fiercely, trying their hardest to improve, get better, come up with a new strategy.

Now, the young woman heard the man mumble some apology followed by another outburst from Lennox for not answering him in a manner fitting a spec-ops soldier and sighed. She could see how frustrated he was about the recent events because he usually was not the one to shout, but rather give calm objective advice to the ones serving under him.

They had to catch that guy or Lennox would not let one of the newbies live long enough to even pass their final NEST qualifications. But before she could pursue her thoughts, she saw him walking away, talking to somebody on the phone, an expression on his face she knew all too well but didn't like at all. Unconsciously tightening the grip around her weapon while she mentally readied herself for what was about to come: another deployment. The White Ghost had struck again.

"We need to get to Andrews right now. Move! Let's go!"

They piled into the Autobots and when they exited their allies alt modes a short while later, jogging towards the hangar to get their gear, Lennox shouted after them: "I want everyone ready to leave in 30 minutes!"

His look fell on Paul, who'd deliberately chosen not to be in the same car as his CO.

"Now, you get to prove if you've practiced enough." he growled before he turned away, heading to Ops to be briefed on the situation.

Roughly an hour later they were airborne, flying towards – Felice still could not believe it, so much it had surprised yet shocked her – North Korea. They gathered in a half circle around the makeshift table in the cargo area of the C-17 that stood at their use 24/7, looking at the maps displayed in front of them.

"What is it this time, Lennox?" Jones asked, but obviously worried about their destination more than the actual op.

"Twenty-four hours ago, CIA lost contact with one of their assets of their special activities division. The person was part of a mission investigating the progress of North Koreas nuclear weapons program. The CIA and SAD informed JSOC and they sent SEAL Team Six, but shortly after they touched down, they lost contact with them too."

There was a collective intake of breath as they processed the news.

If SEAL Team Six is not able to extract the asset... Felice forbid herself to pursue her gloomy thoughts though she could read similar sentiments in her team mates' faces.

"However," Lennox continued, "Energon readings suggest Decepticon activity in the area around here." He marked a point on the map with his finger. "We will airdrop in here…" he gestured to another location, approximately one mile west of the first one. "… and continue on foot. Optimus, Ratchet and Sides will come with us while Bee and Dino secure our exfil route. Any objections?"

He looked up in each of his soldiers faces but found only grim determination reflected in it.

"OK. Our ETA is in 16 hours. I suggest you get some rest now. Dismissed."

Felice watched her team mates returning to their seats, getting comfy. She still found it hard to sleep on a plane while being deployed; a habit so deeply engraved from her job as a fighter pilot, she could hardly ever overcome it. She strolled over to Lennox, who gazed after his men, a particularly sinister look on his face as he watched Paul, whom he had scolded earlier, sit down.

"Hey, can I talk to you for a sec?" she asked tentatively.

He turned to her, relaxing immediately as he looked at her.

"Sure, what's up?"

"Have you thought about the teams yet?"

Normally, they would split up in two teams and because Lennox thought that they should all be able to fulfil every task, he mixed them frequently. Technically it was a good idea… if Felice hadn't found herself on the Colonel's team every time. First, she didn't mind, but after some time it had started to annoy her. She could not shake the feeling that he was doing it to keep an eye on her and she clearly remembered him taking some quite unnecessary risks just because she was with him.

It is time for a change, Felice thought. His most recent outburst at Paul had given her a perfect chance. And even though she could not influence the Colonel's decision, she could at least ask for what she had in mind.

"No, why?" he replied, looking suspiciously at her.

"Well, if Paul puts another toe out of line today, I think he will not survive the anger of Colonel William Lennox." she stated with a smirk.

"Felice, what is your point?" Lennox frowned, though returning her smirk.

"Put him on the second team and let me lead it, Will. Please."

Lennox looked intently at her for several seconds. He knew Paul was just a welcomed excuse for her to persuade him for what he should have done weeks ago. Everyone on his team had taken the lead at some operation except for Felice. He'd postponed it the longest time for the sake of her own safety, if one should ever use the word safe in the context of their work. But as he looked at his men and then back at the young woman standing in front of him, her eyes blazing with determination, he found it very hard to deny her request. But he wasn't prepared to let her lead that team of rookies on her own.

"Fine, but Jones will be with you. Just in case."

Felice rolled her eyes at him, but not without a genuinely thankful nod.

"I have a whole team with me. I think they will watch my back."

There was a flicker of sadness in his eyes as Lennox thought back at the Hatch-incident that had caused Felice so much trouble. But as if Felice had read his thoughts, she smiled reassuringly.

"They've learned their lesson. Trust me. You made it very clear."

Lennox returned her smile grudgingly, not entirely convinced. But he could not pursue the matter any further because the pilot had called him and he had to go.

"Get some rest." he said before turning around and while he headed towards the cockpit, Felice sat down, closing her eyes, eventually dozing off while listening to some music.

She was roused from her dreams a few hours later by a slight shake and slowly opened her eyes to find Epps standing in front of her.

"It's time to get ready." he told her, already fastening the straps of his parachute.

Felice nodded and got to her feet, starting to gear up as well. Fifteen minutes later, she walked towards the open hatch of the cargo plane, the icy wind prickling on her face as she peered into the darkness. She turned her head to see Lennox standing a few feet away. They exchanged a look, then nodded their good lucks and as the operator gave them the thumbs-up, stepped forward, vanishing into the dark night.