Metamorphosis 2

By Sazzy

 

Posted February 2009

 

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Codes: uber J/7

Rating: NC-17

Setting: Various locations in the UK

Timeframe: November 2005 - March 2006

Thanks: To berlinpup (beep), solise, M-F and MercyCroft for their beta reading efforts. Also to AugustChild (AC) for some charming Swedish words and culinary advice.

Disclaimer: This is fan fiction, but some of the characters bear a striking resemblance to those that are copyright of Paramount Pictures. No infringement on their copyright is intended by the author in any way, shape or form - this is just a bit of fun. This story includes an all female relationship, so if you don’t like that then look away now.

Synopsis: It’s the end of a difficult year in the life of Andrea Hallstrom, but if she thought things were going to be easy from now on, she’s in for more than one surprise. Picking up a few months after the end of Metamorphosis, Andrea and her partner Major Kate Jarvis face a whole new set of challenges as the Superhuman Research Unit becomes embroiled in a power struggle where not everyone is what they seem. Following the trail of a mysterious organisation responsible for mutant disappearances and experimentation, they are unaware the terrible truth lying in wait, ready to ambush them and stretch loyalties to the limit. Each woman must decide who they trust as the past comes back to haunt them both.

 

 

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Chapter 1

 

It was a street like any other in the city of London. It had the rows of almost identical houses down each side, squashed into every available space. It had the cars parked nose to tail, challenging any newcomer to find a space. It had the bin bags that someone had forgotten to put out on the right day, urban foxes having subsequently savaged them, scattering fast food wrappings haphazardly down the street. All in all, it was like a hundred other ordinary streets in the sprawling metropolis. Yet this street was about to experience something extraordinary.

 

No sound indicated her arrival, the woman gliding down through the cold night air like an angel from above, blonde hair flapping in the breeze. Her measured descent shouldn’t have been possible. No one could defy the laws of gravity. Yet this woman dared to. It appeared effortless as her booted feet finally touched down onto the solid concrete of the road.

 

If there had been anyone to see the sight they might have gasped in awe, or rubbed their eyes, or maybe even wondered what on earth had been in that last drink they’d had in the pub. But the street was deserted; the young woman had no company as she ran to the fast buckling bridge at the end of it.

 

The metal girders groaned in protest as she forced them back into some semblance of shape, twisting and rending the steel with her bare hands. Again she opposed all the laws of nature with her actions, and yet she did it as if it was perfectly normal everyday occurrence, which it was when you were a genetic mutant; when you were Andrea Hallstrom.

 

If someone had told Andrea a year ago that she would soon be capable of such things, she would have laughed in their face. Then she would have been swiftly calling for the men in white coats. However, that was before she discovered she had repressed superhuman abilities. Now it seemed entirely natural to be moulding metal like it was nothing more than soft clay.

 

Once she was satisfied the bridge stanchion would hold, at least for a short time, she braced herself against it to lend some extra support.

 

“I’ve secured the bridge as best I can,” she said into the small earpiece and radio attached to her black uniform. “You’re good to go.”

 

“Understood, keep us posted of any changes.”

 

The conversation was brief and to the point, yet Andrea couldn’t help the small flutter of excitement she got from hearing the voice of Major Kate Jarvis on the end of the line. The other woman was the commanding officer of the Superhuman Research Unit where they were both stationed, and also a superhuman herself. Neither of those facts were what caused the tiny skip of Andrea’s heart though. That was due to them not only being colleagues but also lovers.

 

As she grimly held onto the bridge, Andrea’s mind drifted over her memories from the nine months since they’d first met. It hadn’t exactly been what might have been called love at first sight, more like mutual antagonism. But, as was often the case, there was a fine line between that and love. They had beaten around the non-literal bush for a few months before finally succumbing to what was a blindingly obvious attraction. Not that everything had been plain sailing since then, what with secrets, organised crime and kidnappings getting in the way, but they’d worked it all out in the end. Kate still had a tendency to work too hard and Andrea for letting her temper run away with her, but she was working on it. Things had actually been reasonably quiet for the last three months, two of which had been spent back in full operational mode at the base. Andrea tried to stop her thoughts wandering to that old adage about the calm before the storm.

 

“Everything still all right down there?”

 

Andrea smiled to herself at the call to check up on her. No doubt Kate would maintain she’d do the same for any of her operatives, but really they both knew better.

 

“Yes, fine, though you might want to hurry that evacuation up, this thing’s not light.”

 

As if to prove her point a fresh grinding noise came from the support. Andrea tightened her hold on it. Luckily she and Kate had been on a visit to the Intelligence Corps headquarters at Chicksands when the call had come in about the railway accident – a lorry hitting the bridge she was now supporting at the same moment a train was passing overhead. Their location meant they were much closer to the crash site in North-West London than they would have been if they’d been back at their normal base of operations on the island of Duransay, just off the west coast of Scotland. Both of them had been more than happy to leave their meeting to attend the scene, since it was like so many before, dragging over the details of what had happened back in August. Andrea didn’t know if the Corps was still hoping to track down Dixon and Chadwick, but from what she’d gleaned, it sounded like the trail had gone cold. That was fine with Andrea – she’d be quite happy if she never saw either man again after the way they’d tortured her. If Kate hadn’t managed to rescue her from their clutches they might well have killed her.

 

A sudden crunching from above brought Andrea back to the present, and her eyes shot upwards to the train tracks some hundred feet above. She could see a train carriage illuminated against the dark winter sky by the lights that still flickered in its windows. It was teetering precariously over the edge, held up only by its weakening connection to the rest of the train. Then it wasn’t teetering any longer, it was falling.

 

Fuck!

 

Andrea had a split second to make a decision. Then she was up, leaping from the ground and sweeping towards the plunging carriage. As with her superhuman strength, flying was entirely normal to her now, no different to walking down the street. The power just filled her naturally, carrying her up through the air.

 

The weighty object thumped into Andrea’s outstretched hands about halfway through its rapid descent. She grunted at the impact. Luckily her bones were much denser than any normal human’s, else they would easily have shattered with such an action. However, she was now plunging downwards; the force of gravity was still carrying the train towards the street. She attempted to use her powers to slow its inexorable plummet. The faint tingling in her muscles indicated the conversion of energy within her. Glancing back she saw the ground rushing up fast. She gritted her teeth and made one last almighty effort.

 

Then suddenly they were still, woman and carriage hovering about a foot off the ground. Andrea allowed her feet to touch down onto the concrete, still holding the massive carriage aloft. She carefully lowered that too. The crash as its wheels landed on the tarmac reverberated around the suburban street, which had fortunately been evacuated.

 

“Andrea? Are you all right?”

 

Kate’s voice was more urgent now, the concern in it evident.

 

“Apart from having several tonnes of train dropped on my head, I’m fine,” replied Andrea. “How are things up there?”

 

Andrea thought she detected a barely audible sigh of relief before Kate’s answer came. “We’ve just got to get the last few people out, it shouldn’t take long.”

 

“I’ll check if anyone was left on this one, shall I?”

 

“Do it,” agreed Kate. “I’ll be with you shortly.”

 

Andrea made her way round the side of the carriage, which looked odd perched in the middle of the road without a train track in sight. Its windows were dark now, cut off from the power of the line high above. Andrea was halfway along one side when suddenly a wave of dizziness washed over her. She staggered, reaching out to place a hand on the cold metal of one of the carriage wheels, bracing herself against it. For a second she thought she might actually faint.  Even though it was near freezing, a few beads of sweat broke out on her brow as she continued to strain to breathe. Each intake of air was taken with shuddering difficulty, Andrea just thankful to see the puffs of white were still issuing from her mouth.

 

She was just about to call for help when all of a sudden it was gone, the feeling quickly subsiding as if it had never been. Andrea took a couple of deeper breaths to steady herself.

 

What the hell was that?

 

Whatever it was, it had never happened before. Andrea supposed that arresting the carriage’s fall had taken more out of her than she’d realised. Also since it was evening and dark, her body’s natural ability to absorb light and fuel her powers was reduced.  It would have to be completely pitch black for her to gain nothing from the ambient light, but it would take longer to recharge than normal.

 

That must be it, she told herself perhaps a touch too confidently, Just a few problems recharging, nothing to worry about.

 

Trying to forget the odd dizzy spell, she finished up ascertaining the carriage was indeed empty. Some flashing blue lights caught her attention as she came back round the carriage. They indicated she was being joined by some other emergency services; no doubt they’d seen the falling object from back at the edge of the safety cordon. Thinking she may as well leave them to mop up, she inconspicuously made her way to the side of the road, hoping no one had actually witnessed her efforts. With any luck they would think it was a piece of massive good fortune the carriage had landed on its wheels without damaging a single thing underneath the bridge. If not, then it would be time to call in the Corps’ cover-up team again. They certainly had their work cut out for them these days. It was getting harder and harder to hide the existence of superhumans from the general population.

 

“Andrea? Andrea Hallstrom?”

 

Hiding was even harder when people recognised you, considered Andrea, seeing the single policeman heading towards her as the rest busied themselves round the carriage. He had his collar turned up against the cold, shoulders hunched as far as possible to bury his head further into his fluorescent yellow coat, but Andrea couldn’t fail to recognise his craggy face. “Hello, Frank,” she replied, identifying the man. He had been stationed at the neighbouring police station to Andrea’s own when she’d worked for the Met.

 

“I thought that was you,” he said, fixing her with a beaming smile. “How are you doing?”

 

“I’m good, thanks, and you? How are things at Barton Hill?”

 

“Same as ever,” he replied, still smiling. “Martin still barking the orders, Fredericks still after all the women, and me, well I’m still a lazy git!”

 

Andrea laughed at the comments. “Nothing changes then,” she noted wryly. She knew that in actuality he was being self-deprecating, since Sergeant Frank Mitchell was one of the most reliable and hard-working coppers you could hope to meet.

 

“Well, some things do,” he pointed out. “I heard you’d finally tendered your resignation after your extended leave. Though no one seemed to know what you were doing now. Talking of which what are you doing now?” He gave her black uniform a curious once over. It had no badges of any kind indicating to which unit she was attached. The Superhuman Research Unit didn’t like to advertise its existence. “Are you in the army or something?”

 

“Not exactly,” she replied evasively, the policeman merely waiting for her to elaborate. “It’s a bit difficult, I’m not really meant to discuss it.”

 

“Something secret is it?” he pressed.

 

This was the problem when you had friends who were in the police - they were far too inquisitive for their own good. “Sort of,” she allowed.

 

Frank’s eyes narrowed with suspicion beneath his peaked hat. “I could get out the spotlight and grill you.”

 

“Even if you resorted to the thumbscrews I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything!”

 

Frank laughed, a low rumbling sound. “At least I can put some of the unsavoury rumours to rest now I’ve seen you.”

 

“Such as?”

 

Frank looked immediately sorry he had mentioned it. “Ah, you shouldn’t pay any attention, you know how people like to gossip.”

 

Andrea did know. She’d never quite fit in with some of her colleagues, seen variously as too posh, intelligent or downright arrogant compared to them. “You may as well tell me, it can’t be much worse than some of the things they used to say to my face.”

 

“Hah! Like you cared about that!” Frank leant in and gave her a wink. “Way I heard it you gave as good as you got.”

 

Andrea smiled; she had enjoyed the challenge. “So go on, what has the rumour mill been circulating?”

 

Frank still looked unsure, but after a few more seconds of her staring at him felt obliged to carry on. “There were a few people reckoned as you’d done a bunk, been paid off if you know what I mean.”

 

Andrea sighed and shook her head. She supposed it was partly her own fault.  There had always been some behind-hands whispers as to how she could afford a flat in Islington on police sergeant’s wages, with speculation rife she was on the take in some way. She hadn’t seen fit to correct any such erroneous assumptions – she would rather be seen as bent than rich. Now it seemed her silence had only fuelled their suspicions.

 

Seeing her contemplative look, Frank continued. “Course no one with any sense believed such things! Anyone who’d actually worked with you would have known it was total bollocks.”

 

Andrea was touched by the implied compliment. “Thanks, Frank.”

 

“I’m just glad to see you’re doing well. You deserve some good fortune after that nasty business at the warehouse in docklands. MacKenzie, Madison and the others were good officers.”

 

Andrea’s face fell as she recalled her ex-colleagues who had been callously murdered by Adam Dixon. “Yes, they were,” was all she said in reply.

 

She saw Frank looking uneasy that he had brought it up and was about to say something reassuring when she was beaten to the punch by a third voice joining the conversation.

 

“Are you something to do with the rescue effort?”

 

Andrea turned to study the interloper. It was a woman, a few inches shorter than Andrea herself though probably of a similar age in her late twenties. She had shortish, slightly unkempt, dark hair. In fact she gave off a general dishevelled impression in her oversized coat, long scarf and large bag that she kept having to yank up to keep on her shoulder.

 

Andrea didn’t think it likely the woman was with the emergency services. “And who might you be?” she asked.

 

The woman swiftly removed her right hand from where it had been buried deep within a pocket and extended it in Andrea’s direction. “Christine Ferguson, pleased to meet you.”

 

Andrea took the hand, still watching the other woman. Her slightly rounded face had a warm smile on it, and though she appeared generally amiable, Andrea sensed from her dark eyes that she was more alert then she was letting on. “You’re a reporter aren’t you?” deduced Andrea eventually.

 

“Damn,” said the other woman, her face still displaying a wry smile. “How did you know?”

 

“The way you’re sniffing round a crime scene like a dog on heat is quite a clue,” remarked Andrea. She didn’t really have much time for reporters, since the police often seemed to be one of their targets. She was even less inclined to be amicable now that she had the added secret of the Superhuman Research Unit to protect.

 

“Nice analogy,” remarked the other woman whose genial demeanour was unshaken by Andrea’s frostiness, “though I prefer cats myself.” She proceeded to delve around in her bag, eventually producing a notebook and pen after a good few seconds searching. “So any comments?” she asked, flipping over to a fresh page.

 

“No.”

 

Christine took Andrea’s arm, turning her away from the perplexed Sergeant Mitchell. “Come on,” whispered Christine. “Not even one tiny hint as to what happened?” she asked. “For a fellow sister,” she added with a wink.

 

Andrea was too stunned to reply immediately. Obviously her gaydar needed a bit of tuning after having been off the scene for a while.

 

“I believe she told you there was no comment.”

 

Andrea quickly shook off Christine’s hand, swinging round to see Kate approaching.

Andrea’s gaydar was now blaring loudly and doing a merry dance in her head, joining forces with her arousal at seeing Kate looking her commanding best – hands on hips giving the reporter a glare that would melt steel.

 

Christine appeared unfazed by the look. “You must be in charge,” she deduced, looking over Kate’s uniform, “Major…?”

 

“No comment.”

 

“Interesting name.” Christine took up her pen to write it down. “Is it hyphenated?”

 

Andrea barely held back her snigger, having to put a sly hand over her mouth. The action didn’t go unnoticed by Kate who shot her a quick reproachful glance. Andrea took a deep breath to try and bury her amusement.

 

“Sergeant,” said Kate, turning to the policeman who looked like he was having similar trouble, “maybe you could escort our uninvited guest to a safer distance?”

 

“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied. “It would be a pleasure. I don’t know how these people get here so quickly.” He took Christine’s arm, “Come on now, Miss, let’s be having you.”

 

As she was about to be guided away by the policeman, Christine shot out a hand in Andrea’s direction, offering her a card which Andrea automatically took. “Nice meeting you, hope to see you again!” said Christine quickly as the policeman’s grip got more insistent.

 

Andrea could still hear the other woman grumbling about police brutality as the sergeant took her back past the cordon. Eventually Andrea turned back to Kate who stood regarding her keenly with her arms crossed.

 

“Made a new friend?” she asked, arching her eyebrows ever so slightly and indicating the business card.

 

Andrea smiled, unable to resist giving the answer she did. “No comment.”

 

Andrea turned and started running for the transport before Kate got the chance to slap her arse.

 

………

 

 

Callum Chadwick let out a low moan as another jolt of pain shot through him. Desperately he counted the seconds, knowing it would only be another twenty before the next fiery spike. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. Yet there was no alternative, not unless you considered death a viable option. At times like this he came close to.

 

He scrunched his eyes shut, not for the first time cursing Adam Dixon and his stupid plans. His supposed friend had landed him in this mess. Chadwick realised he should have known better than to trust a mutant. He was still laughing manically to himself at the irony of that when the next wave came.

 

It was bitterly ironic because that was what all this agony was for – to turn him into one of them. He wasn’t sure what the mechanics of it were – all the scientific speak was way over his head – but in one more week his transformation from normal human to superhuman would be complete. It had been a long and painful process, starting not long after the debacle in London when Hallstrom and Jarvis had thwarted their plot to kill half of London. He had been lucky to get out of that alive when Hallstrom had dumped him in the underground river, somehow managing to keep his head afloat long enough to swim to safety once out in the open. However, that had only been the start of his problems. When the head of The Organisation had found out what they had been doing, and more pertinently to whom, the real punishment had begun.

 

At first the pain had been almost constant, day after day of searing agony. At least now it was down to lasting only a couple of hours after the injections, the last one having been approximately two hours ago. After the final bolt of pain jabbed through him he laid back on his bed, panting heavily with his eyes tightly shut.

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

Chadwick’s eyes struggled open, seeing his tormentor standing above him. Despite the question, he knew she wasn’t concerned in the slightest about his welfare. “I’m in pain,” he replied grimly.

 

The woman smiled. Chadwick thought she got a perverse satisfaction on hearing his response. “You should count yourself lucky, Mr Chadwick,” she noted in her even tone that carried a hidden sense of threat and power. “I could have done much worse to you after what you did to my daughter.”

 

“That was all Dixon’s idea!” he wailed pathetically. “He said you two weren’t close, that we would be showing initiative by kidnapping her and using her to further our research.”

 

He knew it was the wrong thing to say as soon as he felt the tightness round his throat. It felt like a steely hand was crushing his windpipe, yet the woman was still several feet away, not touching him. “Do not make excuses to me, Mr Chadwick,” she said, sliding closer as her voice dropped to a more menacing level. “Not when you almost killed her.”

 

In his anxiety Chadwick tried to gulp, but the invisible grip of Dr Hallstrom’s telekinetic power was so strong it got caught in his throat. If he thought for a single second that he could get away alive, he would have run for the hills long ago. Yet he knew Dr Hallstrom would catch him and then, if he were lucky, she would kill him. The Organisation had eyes and ears everywhere, even in the most unlikely of places. So he had resigned himself to his fate, deciding his only option was to go through the pain and hope that he could get back in her good books again eventually.

 

“And in case you are in any doubt,” she added, now so close as for him to be able to feel her breath on his sweaty face, “no harm is to befall her in the future, not unless you want to find yourself meeting a similar fate to Mr Dixon.”

 

“No, no, I understand completely,” he said in a feeble whisper. Chadwick offered up all the prayers he had that Dr Hallstrom would never find out how he had tried to attack Andrea when they were on the base at Duransay. If she did uncover the truth then he was certain he would be joining his former friend six feet under.

 

Dr Hallstrom finally released her hold on him, seemingly placated for now. “Good. It’s true we may not have been close, but that was before I knew what she really was. Now I just have to find a way back into her life. That annoying idiot Meg gave me an opening, but I need something else to give Andrea that extra shove. Talking of which, how are things progressing with our latest recruit?”

 

“Good, everything’s almost ready to get them where we want them.”

 

“Excellent. I can foresee the Superhuman Research Unit causing us more problems in the future if their progress goes on unchecked. We need to monitor what they’re doing more closely and nip them in the bud before they become too much of a threat. And what better way than having someone right there manipulating things for us?”

 

…………

 

 

Andrea pushed open the door to her quarters and flicked on the light. For a moment she wished she hadn’t. Instead of the normal order, there were boxes and bags strewn everywhere in the open plan lounge and kitchen, some of them with their contents half out on the floor or table. She wasn’t entirely sure where the items were going to go even if she was in the mood to tidy them up – the bookcase was already overflowing, as was her wardrobe in the bedroom.

 

Ignoring the mess for now she went straight to the kitchen and popped open a can of coke. The cool drink and caffeine hit felt good after a long day of debriefings. Even though it was a Saturday, they’d spent the entire day analysing everything from the angle of descent of the train carriage to what the driver had for breakfast, or at least that’s how it seemed to Andrea. Taking her drink with her, she crossed to the sofa and managed to find a seat amongst the clutter.  Removing a journal from under her bottom, she pondered that she had way too many belongings and that perhaps it was time for a clear out. She did hate to get rid of anything though – you never knew when you might need to look up something in September 2002’s edition of Genetics Monthly after all.

 

Dismissing a tidying session for now, she decided on a quick shower instead to try and wash away the last remnants of the day. Heading into the bedroom she started to peel off her uniform. She considered it was funny how she’d gone from one uniform to another, though of course she’d ended up in plain clothes back in London by virtue of her hard work and an ambition that had perhaps surprised even her. Andrea slid off her t-shirt and thick combat trousers and lobbed them both into laundry basket before padding across the carpet in the direction of the en suite. The heated floor of the bathroom sent a warm glow up through the soles of her feet as she stepped onto it. Who said the army was all camping out in wet fields? Andrea had to admit that they took pretty good care of their operatives on the base – though of course it didn’t hurt to be sleeping with the person in charge.

 

She turned on the shower which immediately started pumping out its pounding spray and steaming up the room. Andrea removed the last item of “clothing” from her body – the power regulator that she always wore strapped round her left arm. The regulator was waterproof, but she liked to take it off every once in a while at times when she wasn’t going to need to use her powers. Wearing the armband had become second nature to Andrea, the small device required to ensure she didn’t have any painful seizures if she attempted to access her superhuman abilities. In extreme cases it was possible such an event could prove fatal. She just wished they could make it a little less conspicuous. There had already been one unfortunate incident when the former Lieutenant Chadwick had been able to rip it from her arm. Andrea had to wonder how the scientists at the Unit could make their tracking devices so tiny that they could be implanted under the skin without leaving a visible trace, yet they couldn’t make something less obvious to regulate her powers. Reluctantly she had agreed to being refitted with a tracker, thinking it best after what had happened in London, but she thought she would have to speak to Dr Todd about doing something with her regulator.

 

Once she had stepped into the cubicle, the hot spray of the shower pounded on Andrea’s shoulders, the young woman tipping her hand back into the welcome warmth so the water could drench her long blonde hair. Closing her eyes, she allowed the stream to envelop her, washing away thoughts of work so she could enjoy her evening. She ran her fingers languidly through her hair before reaching for the shower gel perched in one corner of the cubicle. As she rubbed it over her body her fingers brushed over the small, scarred area on her upper right arm. It was an unwelcome reminder of a difficult time in her life and her relationship with Kate, though she knew she only had herself to blame for its presence. The scar marked where she’d forcefully ripped the army’s tracking device from inside her own arm, shortly before telling Kate she never wanted to see her again. Fortunately Kate had stubbornly refused to accept that, else she might still be at the mercy of Dixon and Chadwick or even dead.

 

An involuntary shiver rippled through her at the thought of the two men, and she decided she’d better get on and finish her shower. Having massaged the shampoo into her hair, the rivulets of water carried the soapy bubbles into her eyes. Andrea let out a small curse at the stinging, trying to rub it away as she considered that surely she ought to be somehow be immune to such things.

 

She might have been able to rip the shower off the wall in one easy yank or pulverise the cubicle with a few well placed punches, but that still wouldn’t help her current predicament. No amount of super powers could protect her from the small annoyances of every day life. She still got worried about finding grey hairs, or the state of her love life or what was happening in her job, just like every other twenty-eight year old in the country. Though she doubted many of them had a job quite like hers.

 

She’d finally managed to wash the last of the shampoo away when a pair of hands made her jump. They made her jump because they were slowly sliding round her wet waist and up through the droplets cascading down her chest. A naked body quickly followed the hands, pressing up against Andrea’s back, melding its curves to her own. Andrea considered that she didn’t really care if she had to hide things publicly if this was what happened when she and Kate were in private.

 

A small groan of arousal issued from her lips as Kate’s now wet breasts pushed gently into her back.

 

“I hope you don’t mind that I let myself in,” whispered Kate by Andrea’s ear.

 

Andrea considered it for a moment. “Let me think…”

 

Kate’s right hand cupped one of Andrea’s breasts before giving the nipple a tantalising tweak.

 

Andrea bit her lip at the arousing contact. “Yes, I think I can forgive you,” she managed.

 

Kate’s other hand was on her left breast now, softly kneading that too under the running water. “Are you sure you don’t want to think about it some more?” she offered. “Maybe I need to persuade you of my good intentions.”

 

As Kate’s right hand started to slip back down her body, Andrea had to extend her own to brace herself against the tiles. “True, it’s never a bad time for such displays,” she managed to say, pressing back into the curves of the body behind her when the fingers reached her pubic hair. “And come to think of it, you have been working much too hard again, I barely see you from one day to the next. I think you need to convince me you still love me as much as your job.”

 

Kate’s hand paused where it was, tantalisingly close to descending further. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

 

Andrea craned her head round, staring incredulously at Kate. The look she saw there quickly banished the flutters of fear that had erupted in her stomach.

 

“Because I love you much more than my job,” Kate clarified with a sly smile.

 

Andrea carefully moved round, wet arms slipping easily around Kate’s waist. The shower poured over both their heads as she pulled Kate forwards. Andrea paused for a moment, blinking the water from her eyes so she could watch the droplets cascading over Kate’s upturned face. Kate’s eyes were closed, savouring the feel of the water over her skin. As she did her lips parted tantalisingly. Andrea could resist their lure no longer. She pressed her mouth to Kate’s, water mingling with their tongues as she probed between soft lips.

 

Their bodies slithered against one another in the warm stream from above, and Andrea had to hold on tight lest Kate slipped over as she pressed forwards.

 

A wet thigh slid between two equally lubricated ones. Kate groaned loudly as Andrea rubbed higher. The water continued to slip through Andrea’s fingers as they travelled wantonly over Kate’s body. The heat was pounding in Andrea’s head now, caused by a mixture of the steamy room and fire inside her. Her desire for Kate never ceased to amaze her. Sometimes its intensity scared her.

 

Her fingers were inside Kate now, Andrea’s own groans loud in the enclosed space as she felt the muscles tighten against her probing.  No one else got to feel this, no one else got to see or touch Kate in this way.  All they saw was the unflappable army officer. This was for her only. It was arousing and humbling at the same time.

 

Kate’s legs were starting to quiver and Andrea tried her best to hold the other woman up against the side of the cubicle. It was like trying to hold onto a bar of soap, each time she thought she had hold, Kate was sliding from her grasp again as she jerked and trembled. Then suddenly she was still.

 

“Fuck!”

 

Andrea loved it when Kate swore. Especially when it was at the point of orgasm.

 

“Oh God! Fuck!”

 

Kate’s eyes were screwed shut as her head banged back against the wall. Andrea thought it must have hurt, but Kate didn’t seem to care at that point. Kate’s brow finally flopped onto Andrea’s shoulder, the water from above spilling across her bare back as she leaned heavily against the firm body.

 

Andrea merely clung on, allowing the water to wash over both of them again. Eventually she reached over and shut off the shower. Kate’s head immediately shot up. “Hey! I was enjoying that!”

 

“Any more and I’m going to turn into one big prune!” said Andrea, holding up her hand to show her shrivelled fingertips. She made to open the door, but a hand shot out to stall her.

 

“Don’t think you’re getting away that easily.”

 

Kate was grinning. A seductive grin accompanied by equally seductive eyes. Andrea knew there was no resisting. She allowed Kate to push her back against the wall, the older woman carrying on forwards to kiss her. Andrea automatically pulled her closer as their lips met, still wet bodies sliding together again.

 

A small shiver rippled through Andrea. She didn’t know if it was due to the suddenly cooler air now the shower was off, or the feelings of arousal skittering through her. Either way her nipples were rock hard, jabbing into the soft flesh of Kate’s own chest.

 

They were freed into the cold air momentarily as Kate moved back, before a hot mouth closed over one. Andrea desperately sought out something to grip onto as Kate’s teeth grazed over her skin. Her fingers finally closed round the metal upright below the shower unit. It wasn’t a moment too soon as Kate started to slip further down her body.

 

She halted when she was on her knees before Andrea. Her head hovered for a moment, almost like she was praying. Andrea could feel each hot breath on her skin. She bowed her head slightly so she could see the top of Kate’s head, wet auburn hair lying flat against it.  God, what is she waiting for?

 

Kate must have sensed the perusal, eyes flicking up for a moment, a mischievous glint in their blue depths. Andrea thought there was probably desperation in her own, an unremitting need for Kate to touch her. Then Kate was touching her. Suddenly all the waiting was worthwhile.  Andrea gasped as the tongue slipped inside, her hold on the metal pole tightening.

 

When Kate flicked her tongue up and over the tender, hard flesh at the top of her sex, the sound of creaking from the metal was noticeable. Kate was sliding a stiff tongue back and forth across it. It was all too much for Andrea.

 

“Oh God, Kate…yes…”

 

The sound of wrenching metal sounded over her orgasmic cries. Andrea’s fingers tore clean trough the pole that was supporting her. She stumbled, Kate quickly coming up to catch her before she hit the frosted glass.

 

Kate looked at the shredded metal in Andrea’s hand as the younger woman recovered her senses. “I think you can explain to maintenance how that one happened,” she said, “though a slight deviation from the truth might be in order.”

 

“Maybe we should get out before I damage anything else,” suggested Andrea before raising a single eyebrow for her next comment. “Though perhaps we could continue elsewhere?”

 

Kate’s lips curved into a sly smile. “Now that sounds like an offer too good to refuse.”

 

Not needing any further invite, Andrea suddenly swept the smaller woman up into her arms. Kate gave a small yelp of surprise at being hefted off the floor, but quickly recovered to hook her arms around Andrea’s neck. Then her lips were on Andrea’s again, hungry to continue what had barely started in the shower. Andrea completely forgot that they hadn’t even stopped to dry themselves off as they stumbled through into the bedroom.

 

……….

 

 

Some time later Andrea had gathered her senses enough to wander back out into the lounge area. She had been dozing and woken to find herself alone in the mussed sheets. On entering the main room, she found Kate was already making herself at home in the kitchen. Andrea detected the faint smell of coffee brewing and smiled to herself at Kate’s inability to go more than about five minutes without making one when the opportunity presented itself. Andrea knew she didn’t have to mention that she’d rather have a tea, Kate long since having given up on trying to convert her to the dark side of coffee. Instead she settled down on the sofa, where she was quickly joined by the third occupant of the room, who started happily kneading the soft cloth of her robe.

 

Andrea was still ruffling the ears of her cat, Gerry, when Kate brought the drinks over.  She was also wearing a robe, one that was loose enough so that when she bent to put the drinks down, Andrea got a fantastic view right down it. “I see my place has been usurped again,” noted Kate, casting a faintly disapproving glance at the tabby and white cat.

 

Andrea stopped her study of the way Kate’s nipple was grazing the cloth of her robe to answer. “I still feel bad about abandoning him to Tom’s tender mercies back in the summer – I think he was more traumatised by that whole affair than I was.”

 

Though Andrea liked to joke about it, she knew that was far from the truth. The physical injuries may have healed, but she still bore some of the mental scars of those dark days. Kate knew it as well – she’d had to deal with the nightmares that woke Andrea in a cold sweat too. She placed a lightly comforting hand on Andrea’s arm now as if instinctually sensing Andrea’s thoughts, and Andrea offered her a small smile of acknowledgement. The only good thing about what had happened was that it had replaced the warehouse accident as the main cause of her disturbed sleep. Those particular nightmares had faded now she had received some resolution to that incident. It also helped that she had Kate to confide in now, unlike when she had first arrived at the base unsure of whom she could trust.

 

However, she didn’t really want to talk about nightmares and bad memories at this point in time, instead picking up her tea and taking a sip. “Expertly made as usual,” she said lightly.

 

Watching Kate drinking contentedly from her cup as Gerry wandered over and rubbed against her thigh caused a small chuckle to bubble up in Andrea’s throat.

 

Kate’s brow crinkled slightly at the sudden merriment. “What?”

 

“I was just laughing at how domesticated we seem to have become,” said Andrea, “How long is it now? Five months?”

 

“Five months…six days and twenty-two hours.”

 

Andrea studied the convincing expression on Kate’s face for a moment. “You made that up,” she finally deduced, seeing beyond the outward show of confidence.

 

Kate laughed. “Ok,” she allowed, “maybe the bit about the hours. But there’s nothing wrong with domesticated is there?”

 

Andrea’s hand was already stroking over Gerry’s coat, so it seemed only natural to let it slip down onto Kate’s thigh instead. “Nothing at all,” she agreed, her fingers trailing slowly down over the silken robe. “Though it might be nice to be able to share our bliss with others.”

 

Andrea immediately felt the tensing in the muscles under her hand.

 

“It’s just an idea,” Andrea quickly added. “I’m getting a bit tired of having to try and hide my feelings when we’re in public. It’s not as if half the base doesn’t know anyway.”

 

Kate looked genuinely surprised by the revelation. “I sincerely hope that’s not true.”

 

Andrea shrugged, thinking it couldn’t come as that much of a shock. “Tom and Bel definitely know,” she pointed out, “and they probably told Harry. Plus I’m sure Doc suspects something and even Colonel Parsons has cottoned onto something if what you’ve said is true.” Andrea saw Kate’s brow furrow further with each word, but she ploughed on nonetheless. “Not to mention the highly suspicious way both of us were off the base at the same time in the summer. You know how everyone loves to gossip and I can tell you there is some choice gossip about us.”

 

“Such as what?”

 

Seeing that she was really starting to cause some concern now, Andrea decided to lighten the tone of her argument. “Such as us having a torrid lesbian affair…” she said softly, raising her eyebrows suggestively as she trailed off.

 

The change in tack had the desired effect, a smile creeping onto Kate’s face too. “How could anyone ever think that?” she wondered innocently.

 

Andrea pretended to think for a minute, tapping her fingers on her mouth. “Maybe something to do with the way you constantly stare at my chest while we’re on duty,” she finally suggested.

 

“I do not!” cried an affronted Kate.

 

“Or my eyes…”

 

Kate’s indignation was now manifesting itself in a pout. Andrea supposed it was meant to indicate displeasure, but she couldn’t help finding it incredibly sexy. She slipped closer on the sofa. “Or my lips…” she added, mere centimetres away now.

 

“Can you blame me when all those things are so irresistible?”

 

Kate closed the remaining distance, tenderly kissing the young woman.

 

Andrea had to remind herself that there had originally been a point to this conversation. With no small effort she pulled back. “Seriously though, are we going to be able to tell anyone about us any time soon?” she asked. “Surely you’re back in the army’s good books by now, especially since Kaminski’s off the scene and not stirring things up. Or is it the gay thing?”

 

Kate looked confused. “The gay thing?”

 

“Yes, being afraid of coming out of the closet,” clarified Andrea. “It’s not like you’ve even told your family yet.”

 

The stiff body language was in evidence again as Kate shifted away from Andrea, her shoulders squaring defensively. “It’s difficult,” Kate tried to explain. “I’m waiting for the right time - it’s not like I can just phone up and go…’hi, Mum, how’s things. Oh, by the way, I’m gay’”

 

It all sounded like convenient excuses to Andrea. “And why not?”

 

“Because she’ll have a bloody heart attack!” cried Kate in exasperation. She lowered her voice again as she continued. “I need to tell her in person,” she said more rationally. “So I can explain things properly.”

 

Andrea still wasn’t quite buying it. “You shouldn’t have to ‘explain things’,” she noted. “It’s not like there’s anything wrong with it.”

 

Kate was starting to look annoyed by Andrea’s persistence, a long exhalation of air sliding past her lips before she spoke again. “I know that,” she agreed, “but my mother’s from a different generation, they have a different way of thinking. I’m not saying she’s going to be against it; it might just take a bit of getting used to for her. Surely you can appreciate that after what happened with your family?”

 

The painful twinge in Andrea’s chest was immediate and unwelcome. No matter how often she told herself she didn’t care, it still hurt.

 

Kate saw the comment had hit home, quickly backtracking. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories,” she said, a hand reaching across to Andrea’s arm at the same time. “And anyway, your mother did come to see you a few months ago, isn’t that a good sign?”

 

“Yeah right,” Andrea scoffed, recalling the brief visit she had received while she was staying at her ex-girlfriend’s flat. “I’m sure she was after something, I’m just not sure what.”

 

“Maybe she was merely after a reconciliation?” reasoned Kate. “Maybe she realised she was wrong?”

 

Andrea laughed. It wasn’t a laugh of happiness though. Instead it covered up the bitter truth. “You really don’t know my mother - she would never admit to being wrong about anything.” The short, sharp answer was meant to indicate the topic was closed. Andrea didn’t want to think about her mother anymore, let alone talk about her. Her visit several months ago had brought the other woman painfully back into Andrea’s thoughts. Even after everything that had happened, and knowing her mother as she did, Andrea still had a hard time banishing stupid ideas of making up. It certainly didn’t help when she cropped up in conversation.

 

“So anyway,” she said, hoping to switch the focus back to Kate, “that excuses why you haven’t told your family, what about here on the base?”

 

Kate paused, realising what Andrea had done. “I guess I’m just a little wary of the reaction we might get from the troops for a variety of reasons,” she eventually answered. “Part of that is the ‘gay thing’ as you so aptly put it, but there’s also the fact that I’m the commander of the base and there could be questions of favouritism, especially after my previous errors in judgement.”

 

Kate didn’t need to mention what those were; they were both fully aware she was talking about her relationship with Adam Dixon. “But you learnt from that,” pointed out Andrea. “It’s not like you treat me differently than anyone else while we’re on duty.”

 

“I suppose not,” concurred Kate without much conviction. “Though sometimes I wonder if I’m completely objective where you’re concerned.”

 

Andrea knew Kate struggled with this on a regular basis – questioning whether she could sufficiently separate her professional and personal life. Seeing the contemplative look on Kate’s face, Andrea decided to cut her some slack for now. “Ok, I’m not going to bang on about it,” she said. “I’m beginning to sound like one of those activist man-hating lesbian types. Honestly, I’m not that bothered, it would just be nice not to have to keep it a secret. What really makes me happy is just being with you, and if I can’t tell anyone about it, then so be it.”

 

Kate made the small rueful smile that only ever touched one corner of her mouth. “Don’t worry,” she said softly, “I will tell everyone soon – I have a plan.”

 

“Should I be worried?”

 

Kate laughed. “You’ll have to wait and see.”

 

Andrea was intrigued, but knew there would be no more details coming from Kate if she’d set her mind to keeping it secret for now. Kate still had an amused look on her face as she picked her coffee back up, her eyes lazily scanning the room as she drank. Andrea suddenly felt very conscious of how messy it was. She didn’t normally like to leave her quarters in the state they were in.

 

“You got the last remnants of your belongings all right then?” noted Kate, taking in the disorder.

 

“Yes,” said Andrea, “I’ve finally completed the sale of my flat in Islington so all my worldly goods are here or in storage.” She considered that maybe she should have put a few more in storage. “I guess that makes this my home.”

 

Kate’s smile was different this time. This time it was the one that was reflected in her eyes, the one that always caused a tiny flip of excitement in Andrea’s heart. “I like the sound of that,” Kate said, her voice soft and husky.

 

“Me too.”

 

Andrea cupped Kate’s face in her hand, drawing her forward into a kiss. When they parted both of them were smiling, soft contented smiles.

 

“Talking of things coming to completion,” said Kate, resting back on the sofa once more, “I’ve finished the first draft of my book, so I guess that means I can finally let you have a look at it.”

 

Andrea didn’t think it was a good idea to confess that she’d already had a peek at it some months earlier. “That would be great,” she said instead. “So what’s it about?” she asked with interest, though she knew the answer already.

 

“You have to promise not to laugh,” Kate warned.

 

“I promise, not even a titter will pass these lips,” replied Andrea, thankful that she’d had the forewarning of prior knowledge to help her. Not that the subject was particularly comical, but it could be considered a little…geeky.

 

“It’s a sci-fi novel, set in the future,” Kate explained. “I used my own command experiences to write about the female captain of a starship and her trials and tribulations while trying to protect her crew in a hostile region of space. It’s meant to be quite a gritty depiction of what it might be like, none of this sterile, perfect future.”

 

“It sounds…interesting.” Andrea knew the pause had been far too marked.

 

Kate didn’t seem particularly offended though, chuckling to herself instead. “It’s all right, I realise it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Why don’t you just read it and then you can tell me what you think?”

 

“Ok,” agreed Andrea, “though I’m surprised you’ve had time to finish it with all the work you’ve been doing recently.” She hadn’t meant the comment to slip out with quite such an admonishing edge to it. She was starting to sound like a nagging housewife – why are you always at work, where have you been… and so on and so forth.

 

Andrea could tell Kate had caught the tone, but she let it slide for now. “We could always find you something else to do if you’re getting bored,” she said, surprising Andrea by turning the discussion back on her. “I can see how your current duties might not be the most intellectually stimulating,” she added, her eyes taking in the pile of scientific journals on the corner of the coffee table. “Maybe you could get more involved with Dr Todd’s work, if you’d like?”

 

Andrea wasn’t sure if she would like that or not.

 

Kate studied her face as she thought. “Too close to your university days or parents’ work for comfort?”

 

Kate did have a habit of hitting the nail right on the head. Andrea nodded. “I thought I’d left all that behind. But you’re right, as interesting as training and learning about my powers is, it might be nice to have something a little more mentally challenging to do.”

 

“Well, think about it,” offered Kate. “Alternatively there are actually some ‘mentally challenging’ aspects of the Corps work you could explore if you’d rather.”

 

“Ok, though right now I have to say mental stimulation isn’t foremost on my mind.”

 

Kate laughed out loud. “Is it ever when we’re alone?”


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

A snowball crashed into the side of Andrea’s face, shocking her out of her distracted thoughts. Those had been centred on the events of two evenings previously in her quarters. Wiping the remnants of the ice away, she looked balefully at the thrower.

 

Belinda Tardelli was currently weighing a second projectile in her hand, having formed it from thin air using her own superhuman power. She grinned at Andrea. “What?” she asked innocently. “Is it my fault you were daydreaming again? Good night was it?”

 

“Yes, thank you,” replied Andrea coolly.

 

The frosty answer didn’t discourage the woman though. Instead she nudged Tom in the arm as he stood next to her. “That’s the sort of look you sometimes get on your face too, just after I’ve caught you staring at various parts of my anatomy.”

 

Tom didn’t seem in the least bit embarrassed by her candid talk. “Hey, who wouldn’t want to stare? I’m sure Andrea would agree?”

 

Both of them looked at her now. “I wouldn’t dare comment,” she said diplomatically.

 

Tom laughed, knowing all about Bel’s fiery temperament as well as Andrea. “A wise decision,” he agreed.

 

“Anyway, I’m sure she’ll be concentrating in a moment,” continued Bel, “once the Major gets here.”

 

Tom nodded, joining in the teasing. “And quite possibly staring too.”

 

The doors opened at that moment and the subject of their conversation entered the underground training room. Kate was in military training gear like them and flanked by the remainder of their usual training group – Harry and the doctors Whitman and Todd.

 

“Just shut up, both of you!” Andrea quickly hissed to the still sniggering Tom and Bel.

 

Kate greeted them all, her eyes lingering ever so slightly when she reached Andrea. It was a Monday morning, so Kate suggested that they’d be taking it reasonably easy in training. Andrea knew her far too well to put much credence in those words though. Training was always serious and intense when Kate was involved, which wasn’t always. Often her other duties would keep her occupied and one of her lieutenants or one of the doctors would be in charge. However, she liked to come and join them whenever she could. Not that she really needed to learn how to use or control her own powers since she had absolute control over them already, but she liked to show solidarity with the other super humans.

 

The two doctors disappeared to the monitoring room and the exercises started. Andrea was so used to them now she could have done them in her sleep, soaring round the room with ease. She had almost completed her required course when she caught sight of Bel and Tom, trying to add a bit of spice to proceedings and catch her out. Andrea pretended she hadn’t noticed, though she knew she would need some fine judgement to avoid the speedy Tom. She took her time at the last target, waiting on the ground. The whoosh of the air indicated the impending man. At the last possible moment Andrea shot straight up. Tom looked surprised as he swept past where she had been standing and crashed straight into Bel who’d been coming from the opposite direction.

 

Andrea hovered high in the air, feeling decidedly smug as Bel and Tom tried to disentangle themselves from one another below her.

 

Suddenly something cannoned into Andrea’s side. It threw her across the room, slamming her into the wall.  The force of the impact made a few cracks in the concrete. Then she tumbled to the floor, landing in a heap. She was still on her knees as a pair of boots paced into view before her.

 

“Don’t get too cocky,” came Kate’s voice. “You never know what surprises might be in store on a mission.”

 

Andrea glanced up at the other woman. She was standing with her hands on her hips, her stance the very epitome of cockiness if ever Andrea had seen it. Andrea made a show of rubbing her elbow where it had banged into the wall. “You could have seriously hurt me, you know.” In fact it didn’t hurt at all, her dense bones had seen to that.

 

“If I’d wanted to hurt you, you’d know it.”

 

Andrea knew it wasn’t an idle threat. The concussion blast that had shot her across the room was a mere fraction of the power Kate was capable of wielding. Still, Andrea thought Kate might be taking the ‘no favouritism’ adage a bit too far. If so, two could play at that game.

 

Kate had already turned round to face the others. “Remember to…”

 

Her sentence was cut off as Andrea took Kate’s legs from beneath her with a well-judged foot sweep. Kate crashed to the floor and Andrea was on her in a flash, pinning her wrists above her head so her hands couldn’t be directed in Andrea’s direction. Kate struggled for a moment as Andrea held her fast, straddling her across the chest.

 

Andrea dipped her head. Fear flashed in Kate’s eyes, like she thought Andrea was about to kiss her in front of everyone. Instead Andrea put her mouth by Kate’s ear.

 

“I’ve got a piece of advice for you too,” she whispered haughtily. “Never turn your back on an opponent.”

 

Kate favoured her with a sardonic smile as Andrea pulled back, still keeping hold of Kate’s wrists. “Have we finished training now?” asked Andrea innocently.

 

“Yes,” replied Kate, a slight edge to her tone. Andrea could tell she would be paying for her show of defiance later, but that was half the fun. “You can let me up now.”

 

Andrea released her hold, clambering up off Kate who also got to her feet. Kate’s eyes were still narrowed warningly, though Andrea could sense she was also trying to hide her enjoyment of the playful sparring behind the look. Since her back was to everyone else, Andrea risked a small wink and Kate’s lips thinned as she fought to hold back a smile.

 

The sound of the door relieved her of the need to try and keep her amusement hidden further. All eyes automatically swung to the soldier hurrying in towards them.

 

“Major!” she said, coming to a halt in front of Kate and making a quick but unnecessary salute. “We’ve just received word, the Colonel’s on his way.”

 

“The Colonel?” said Kate incredulously. “Coming here, now?”

 

The soldier nodded furiously.

 

“What’s his ETA?”

 

“He’s about twenty minutes out.”

 

“Shit!”

 

Andrea supposed the curse was meant to be under Kate’s breath, but she was sure she wasn’t the only one who had heard it.

 

Kate was already halfway to the door as she turned to call back to them. “I’ll see you all for training tomorrow.” Then she was gone, hurrying off to meet her commanding officer. Andrea wondered what the sudden visit was in aid of – it wasn’t like the Colonel to just randomly turn up.

 

Still mulling it over, Andrea went over to pick her towel up, finding Tom by her side as she reached down for it. “I’m sure she’ll be seeing some of us before tomorrow,” he whispered suggestively, “especially if that little performance on the floor was anything to go by. I was getting quite turned on myself actually. All you needed was a bit of mud and you two could’ve had a full-on wrestling match.”

 

Andrea shot him a look, but before she could actually say anything a sudden, sharp pain shot through her chest. She gasped as it tightened, her breathing coming in short, painful bursts. She had to lean against the wall, it being the only thing keeping her up at that moment.

 

“Andrea? Are you all right?”

 

Andrea’s head was swimming alarmingly, preventing her from answering Tom’s question. The feeling was like the one she’d had three days ago, after catching the train carriage. Only this time she had no excuse of darkness to reason away the lapse.

 

“Andrea?” Tom was in front of her now, worried by her lack of response.

 

Then as suddenly as it had come the feeling was gone, the pressure on her chest disappearing as quickly as it had struck. “Yes, I’m fine,” Andrea managed, catching her breath. She straightened up, brushing away his concerned hand.

 

“Are you sure? You look awfully pale.”

 

“Yes, I’m all right,” she stated more forcefully. “It’s nothing.”

 

“Maybe you should go see Doc anyway?”

 

“I said it’s nothing!”

 

Andrea turned and strode from the room, leaving behind a bewildered Tom. She was sure he was as unconvinced by her words as she was.

 

 

……………..

 

 

Kate hurried out onto the helipad, wondering why the Colonel was dropping in unannounced. Such visits usually only meant one of two things – there was trouble or there was about to be. She subconsciously straightened her tie as she saw the helicopter approaching beneath the low, grey clouds. She’d had to make a swift change of clothes before coming outside, since it wouldn’t be proper to be meeting her superior officer in her sweaty training gear. Not that he would probably mind, since they were good friends, but she didn’t know if anyone else was accompanying him. Unfortunately, she hadn’t had time to shower and the material of her starched shirt stuck uncomfortably to her back under her uniform jacket.

 

The wind whipped harshly in off the Atlantic and over the island, tugging at Kate’s pressed trousers as she stood waiting at the edge of the exposed pad. She was beginning to regret not bothering with an overcoat as the chill November air bit into her. When the helicopter began its final descent, Kate had to hold onto her hat to keep it from blowing off.

 

Swaying slightly in the stiff breeze, the vehicle finally touched down safely with a solid thump. The door was quickly open, three people clambering out onto the tarmac. First was the Colonel, holding fast onto his own peaked hat that covered his white hair. Behind him came another person Kate recognised immediately, also in uniform. It was her long-time friend, Sophie McAllister. Then Kate caught sight of the final diminutive figure and her heart sank. She forced an even expression onto her face as all three of them approached. Kate made the customary salute to her superior officer.

 

“Morning, Major,” he said, returning the salute. “Sorry to drop in unannounced like this, but we have some urgent business. You already know Lieutenant McAllister, I believe,” Kate made a quick nod to Sophie who smiled back, “and of course Anna Kaminski.”

 

Kate looked to the other woman, receiving a frosty stare for her trouble. “How could I forget?” said Kate with a steely edge to her voice. The government bureaucrat had been a thorn in Kate’s side for several months earlier in the year. Kate had hoped that she’d seen the last of the officious woman after the debacle in London when Kaminski had refused to come to her and Andrea’s aid. Unfortunately, it seemed, as was often the way, you couldn’t keep a bad woman down. “How are you Miss Kaminski?” she asked amiably, ice-cold eyes making it clear the other woman’s health was completely irrelevant to her.

 

“I’m fine thank you, and yourself?”

 

Kate could tell Kaminski really wasn’t interested in her well-being either, despite the overly polite tone. It was all part of the verbal dance they were required to perform around one another. If they didn’t do it this way, then they might just come to blows instead. Kate didn’t care one bit for the woman, and she knew the feeling was mutual.

 

“Couldn’t be better,” answered Kate. “I suggest we go inside,” she said, turning back to the Colonel. “Then you can tell me what this is all about.”

 

They exchanged small talk about journeys and the weather as they made their way to the second floor conference room, just down the hall from Kate’s office. Every now and then Kate would glance at Kaminski, who wasn’t joining in the conversation, trying to discern anything from the inscrutable expression on her face. The official strode confidently beside the three army officers, looking as smart as ever in a plain grey suit. Kate considered it remarkable that she looked so neat and tidy; there wasn’t a hair out of place on her blonde head, despite the inclement weather outside.

 

When they reached the conference room the Colonel automatically took up Kate’s usual place at the head of the large table that sat in its centre. Kate removed her hat and ran a swift hand through her flattened bobbed hair, taking the opportunity to delay and wait to see where the others sat. Once she had, she took up a seat on the opposite side from Kaminski. After a bit of preamble and drinks ordering from the private who had been waiting for them, the Colonel got down to the real business of the day.

 

“I’m sure you’re wondering what we’re doing here,” he began, “and I just want to say before I start that this isn’t any kind of reflection on you, or how you’re performing. We’re very happy with your work here ever since you took charge again.”

 

He paused for a moment. Everyone’s eyes automatically tracked to Kaminski since it had been she who’d had a brief, unsuccessful attempt at running the Unit during Kate’s enforced absence earlier that year. Kaminski met the stares without shame.

 

The Colonel cleared his throat, drawing the focus back to him. “However, it has come to our attention that there might still be a few…problems.”

 

“Problems?” queried Kate, getting ready to defend her personnel.

 

“With information finding it’s way off the base.”

 

“I assure you we don’t have any leaks here, sir,” Kate stated emphatically. “We’ve been very thorough with security ever since Chadwick was uncovered as a mole.”

 

“Nevertheless, the government has some concerns about leaks,” the Colonel continued. Kate guessed what he was telling her had come from above, that he had no choice but to go along with it. “Miss Kaminski is here to do a security audit on the unit.”

 

“Why is she doing it?” asked Kate, trying to keep her personal feelings out of it. “Surely someone from inside the Corps…?”

 

“My superiors felt that would be like asking the police to police themselves,” interjected Kaminski. “In case you’d forgotten, though the Superhuman Research Unit is managed by the military, it is meant to be a government operation. As such, I think it’s only appropriate that we’d like to check up on our investment.”

 

Kate ground her teeth together to suppress a wholly inappropriate retort. The condescending tone was truly maddening. “And they deemed you were best for job did they?” she asked instead.

 

Kate wondered whom exactly Kaminski had been cosying up to in order to get the posting. Last Kate had heard the woman had been disgraced, shipped off to push papers in some backwater of the Home Office. Yet here she was back again like a bad smell. Whoever her friends were, they must hold a fair degree of power to swing this. Then again Kaminski had always been ambitious, it would have been too much to ask that she disappear for good.

 

“The reasons for my appointment are no concern of yours,” stated Kaminski haughtily. “The fact is I’m here to carry out this audit and I will be expecting your full co-operation. Can I count on that, Major?”

 

Kate didn’t reply immediately, catching the eye of the Colonel again. She saw him give a small shrug of apology. It seemed she would be getting no help from his direction.

 

“Major?” prompted Kaminski.

 

“Of course, we will help the government in any investigation it sees fit to undertake,” answered Kate evenly. “Is it just you, or will you be bringing in other staff to help carry out this review?”

 

“I will be running a small team, including Lieutenant McAllister.”

 

Kate glanced at Sophie in surprise. She’d wondered what her friend was doing there, assuming she was accompanying the Colonel for some reason. It hadn’t occurred to her that Sophie was with Kaminski.

 

The Colonel spoke up again. “It was our one caveat in agreeing to the audit – that there be at least one member of military personnel on the investigation team. Lieutenant McAllister kindly volunteered.”

 

Sophie had volunteered to work with Kaminski? Kate really needed to talk to her later and check she hadn’t gone insane.

 

As she tried to digest the prospect of being spied on by Kaminski, something else occurred to Kate. “Why the sudden urgency about this, surely you could have scheduled a proper visit?”

 

“There have been a couple of incidents that lead us to believe this matter requires urgent investigation,” the Colonel said.

 

Kate looked at him curiously, waiting for him to elaborate, while Kaminski opened her briefcase. She brought out two files and slid them across the table in Kate’s direction. Kate opened them, finding they were personnel files after a fashion. Kate didn’t recognise either of the mugshots on the first page, nor the names underneath them. It was obvious both people were civilians though.

 

“Who are these people?” she asked, eyes flicking up to Kaminski.

 

“To save you from reading, I’ll summarise shall I?”

 

Kate wished she could blast the patronising Kaminski out of her chair. One small concussion wave would surely be enough to do it. Unfortunately it wouldn’t really be an appropriate use of her power.

 

“If you would,” said Kate, keeping the even expression pasted on her face with some effort.

 

“The files relate to Richard Carlton and Melanie Martin. Both of them were identified as being of interest to the unit.”

 

“They’re superhumans,” deduced Kate.

 

“That’s correct. As you know, we like to accumulate background information on these sort of people, watch them for a while and then approach them with an offer to join the unit or be fitted with a monitoring device.”

 

“Because we can’t have superhumans running around unchecked of course.”

 

Kaminski ignored the sarcastic edge to Kate’s tone. “Precisely.”

 

“So these are potential new candidates for the Unit?”

 

“They were,” said Kaminski, “but they went missing.”

 

“Missing? Weren’t you watching them? Where did they go?”

 

“That’s the question isn’t it,” said Kaminski solemnly, “along with who knew about them and how?”

 

“You think they were kidnapped…or worse?” queried Kate, perturbed by the thought. “Is this anything to do with what happened to Andrea Hallstrom?” she asked, remembering to add Andrea’s surname on the end since it was an official discussion. She certainly didn’t want Kaminski to know about her and Andrea’s relationship. No doubt it would be used as ammunition against her. Thankfully, it seemed Kaminski hadn’t made any connection so far, despite the events of the summer. “Do you think it’s the same organisation, that Chadwick and Dixon are involved?”

 

“I don’t want to make any assumptions at this stage.”

 

As always with Kaminski, Kate got the distinct impression she had a hidden agenda of some sort. Maybe it was just the fact that Kaminski was a pen-pushing bureaucrat that raised Kate’s hackles. She was the sort who was more interested in numbers and money than real people. If she couldn’t assign a monetary value to something, then to her it was worthless.

 

“But you do have some idea?” pressed Kate. “If there’s any sort of danger to my operatives then I should know about it.”

 

“We don’t think there’s any immediate danger,” said Kaminski evasively.

 

“But?”

 

Kaminski didn’t answer, obviously not liking having to tell Kate more than she deemed necessary. It was the Colonel who stepped in instead.

 

“I think the Major has the right to be kept informed.”

 

Kaminski glanced at him, but still seemed reluctant to divulge anything. “We don’t know what the source of the leak is yet,” she pointed out, “what level it came from. In those circumstances it’s best to keep information restricted.”

 

The implication was clear to everyone – that Kaminski suspected it could be Kate herself who was leaking the information.

 

“I don’t think I like what you’re suggesting, Miss Kaminski,” said Kate in a low voice.

 

“And do you deny that you were…’close’ to Adam Dixon? Who’s to say how…’close’ you remained.”

 

Kate silently fumed at the obvious insinuation in the other woman’s deliberately chosen words. Under the table her hands balled into fists on her thighs. “I can assure you, we are most definitely not ‘close’ anymore,” she said in a voice so icy it could have frozen the water in the jug before her. She would hardly have remained friends or anything else with the man who betrayed her and then later tortured Andrea. In fact part of her wished she had killed him on that rooftop back in August.

 

“I think the Major has proved her loyalty to the unit and the Corps,” said the Colonel to Kaminski. He turned to Kate. “The government does believe it may be the same organisation that’s responsible for these disappearances,” he said, taking the initiative since Kaminski seemed so tight-lipped, “which is why Miss Kaminski will be investigating them too as part of this audit. As you know, we’ve suspected for a while that there may be private groups interested in superhumans and what happened to Miss Hallstrom along with these latest developments make that seem all the more likely.”

 

Kate caught the brief look of annoyance on Kaminski’s face at the way the Colonel had overridden her, taking a perverse delight in seeing it. “You realise you may need our help if you do get close to these people,” Kate pointed out. “Adam Dixon has powers himself. Maybe more of the people in this organisation do too.”

 

Kaminski didn’t look like she relished the prospect of needing Kate’s help in any way. “I’m sure we’ll call upon you if and when we need you,” she noted with an air of disdain.

 

“And we’ll be glad to help,” said Kate, enjoying having Kaminski on the spot for once.

 

The meeting descended into talk of logistics and personnel, Kate keeping a watchful eye on the devious Kaminski the entire time. It was settled that Kaminski and her team would requisition one of the teaching rooms located in the underground part of the base. From there they would run their security audit and investigation.  All anyone else was to be told was that Kaminski and her team were there to carry out a review of procedures. Kate wasn’t entirely happy with having to keep anything hidden, but if there was a leak then she had to concede it was necessary. She didn’t want to think security could be breached, but it was a possibility. Callum Chadwick had successfully managed to ship information off the base, so it was best not to be complacent, no matter how tight they thought their security might be.

 

Eventually the meeting broke up, with Kaminski heading off to survey her new domain, accompanied by Sophie. Kate herself remained behind in the room with the Colonel. She waited a few seconds after the door had closed before she swung round to her superior officer.

 

He held up his hands before she had a chance to speak. “Before you say anything, this came from over my head.”

 

Kate sighed. “Who the hell does Kaminski know? I thought we’d seen the last of her.”

 

“I wish I knew,” he said ruefully. “But don’t worry, I’ll be keeping a close eye on her. The first sign of anything untoward, we’ll have her back in Whitehall quick smart.”

 

Kate’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, wondering exactly how the Colonel was intending to police Kaminski.

 

“I was thinking I’d probably be needing to have a closer involvement in the unit in the next few months,” he added, answering her unasked question, “increase the frequency of my visits.”

 

Kate groaned internally. She supposed he was only trying to be helpful, but having to deal with Kaminski, as well as having her superior officer breathing down her neck made it sound like she was in for a difficult time ahead.

 

…………

 

 

The doors slid open, but it took Andrea a moment to realise and exit the lift. She had been lost in thoughts of what might be causing the disconcerting lapses in her power. She knew that the sensible thing would be to mention it to someone, yet that would be admitting she had a problem – not something she was keen to do. It was bad enough that she couldn’t control her abilities as it was without the help of the regulator. She could feel it now, pressing up against the skin of her left arm where it was always wrapped, taunting her with her inadequacies.

 

Andrea took the right turn out of the lift towards her quarters, deciding on those rather than the tempting left route to Kate’s office. Andrea wasn’t sure she would be there anyway; she might still be in her meeting with the Colonel. No doubt Kate would fill her in on the details of that later, as long as they hadn’t been discussing anything too sensitive. Andrea had learnt that there were some things Kate just wasn’t at liberty to discuss with her. She knew it was part of Kate’s job, and she wouldn’t be the person she was if she just went blabbing such things at the drop of a hat. Yet it was always slightly galling to be cut out nonetheless, even if the things Andrea was being cut out of were most likely boring army issues.

 

Before Andrea got to the retina scanner that marked the entrance to the superhuman quarters, she was surprised to see two people approaching from that direction, and even more startled when she recognised both of them. The people had spotted her too. One of them offered a smile while the other gave her what could only be classed as a look of feigned indifference. By the time they reached her, Andrea was still trying to take in the incongruous sight of Kate’s friend Sophie McAllister and Anna Kaminski together, and right there on Duransay.

 

Sophie was still smiling amiably. “Andrea, it’s nice to see you again.”

 

“Sophie,” acknowledged Andrea. She wasn’t quick to return the greeting in kind since it wouldn’t have been entirely true. Andrea got the distinct impression that Sophie harboured more than friendly feelings towards Kate, despite what either of them might say. The two of them had shared a brief fling years ago, but Andrea thought it still burned brightly in at least one person’s mind. With those reservations in mind, her interaction with Sophie tended to be slightly stilted and forced.

 

Andrea turned to the second, smaller woman, who she was even less pleased to see. She wondered if the day could get any worse. Maybe if she got back to her quarters and found Gerry had been tearing up her clothes again. “Miss Kaminski,” she said frostily, “to what do we owe this pleasure?” Her tone made it clear there was nothing pleasant about it.

 

“I’m sure the Major will have a full briefing for all of you later.”

 

Andrea didn’t like the sound of that. If Kate needed to brief them it was more than just a casual visit by Kaminski. “Can I take that to mean we might be seeing more of you? I’m surprised you wanted to return after your…” she pretended to be tactfully searching for a way to describe it, “…success last time,” she finished sarcastically.

 

Kaminski paused for a moment before answering Andrea in Swedish, a language Andrea had been surprised to discover the other woman could talk earlier that year. “I could see that my services were needed again to rein you people in. You seem to think it makes you untouchable, having these powers. Like you’re better than the rest of us, and this is your own private playground where you can do what you like.” Andrea guessed the lapse into the foreign language was so Sophie wouldn’t understand the disparaging content of Kaminski’s remarks. “Well, I’m here to make sure the government’s interests are still foremost in everyone’s minds.”

 

“And what might those interests be?” asked Andrea in fluent Swedish too. She was willing to play along for now. Plus the look of bemusement on Sophie’s face was worth it alone.

 

“Whatever we see fit,” replied Kaminski cryptically. “You are all merely our employees after all.”

 

Andrea let out a derisive laugh. “Are you sure you don’t mean servants, or maybe lab rats?”

 

“Those are your words not mine.”

 

“But they’re what you think aren’t they?” Andrea was getting annoyed with Kaminski’s nonchalance. She knew it was all part of her act, designed to make others uneasy, but she couldn’t help rising to it. “You think we’re all some expendable resource that you can just leave to anyone’s tender mercies if it gets too expensive to rescue them?”

 

They both knew she was referring to the incident when Andrea had been kidnapped by Dixon and Chadwick. Kaminski had been reluctant to offer Kate help in rescuing her at the time.

 

“I…regret what happened earlier this year.” If Kaminski was trying to be sincere, Andrea didn’t think she pulled it off very well. “Whatever you might think, I am interested in protecting the Unit and seeing it prospers.”

 

“As long as you’re the one in charge, right?” asked Andrea pointedly. “And you only regret what happened because you got your arse busted because of it. How did you manage to worm your way out of that one and back here anyway?”

 

“It required no ‘worming’ as you so colourfully put it. Some people value my expertise.”

 

“You actually have some?”

 

“Ok, ok, time out!” Sophie had finally stepped in, perhaps sensing that an argument was brewing. “As much fun as it is listening to this Abba reunion, we should be getting downstairs.”

 

“Thank you, lieutenant,” answered Kaminski for both of them, before switching her eyes back to Andrea. “I’m sure I shall be seeing you around again, Miss Hallstrom.”

 

The remark would have been an offhand farewell coming from anyone else, but from Kaminski the loading almost crushed it. Obviously Kaminski had plans. Who and what they involved Andrea was yet to determine. After Kaminski and Sophie had disappeared in the direction of the lift Andrea contemplated continuing on to her quarters before turning and heading back in the opposite direction.

 

……..

 

 

Kate’s fingers slid over the top of her coffee cup. The drink had long since gone cold but she hadn’t noticed. Her mind was elsewhere, raking over the words of her earlier meeting with Colonel Parsons and Anna Kaminski. She hated the sense that she was being kept in the dark, especially when it came to matters to do with the Unit. She knew that sometimes in the army you just did what you were told without question, followed orders as part of a command structure. However, she’d gotten used to the independence she’d received as part of her remit to run the base. Perhaps a little too used to it. Now it seemed that independence was about to be severely curtailed.

 

A knock at her office door roused her from her quiet musings on the potential ways for disposing of annoying bureaucrats. She’d gotten as far as an unfortunate accident on the firing range.

 

Kate contemplated not answering the knock. It was most likely just Kaminski come to gloat some more or the Colonel to tell her of some other important piece of information he’d neglected to mention. If she ignored it maybe they’d just go away and she could pretend the day had never happened. That was if she was the type to shy away from a challenge.

 

“Come.”

 

When the door opened she was glad she had called out admittance after all. Seeing the familiar blue eyes that waited in the doorway always managed to lift her spirits.

 

“Is that an invite or an order?” asked Andrea as she started crossing the carpet towards the desk.

 

Kate was so caught up in her thoughts that it took her a moment to get the joke. She made a wry smile, but she wasn’t really in the mood for humour. Andrea took up the seat opposite her. “I’m guessing your meeting didn’t go well?” she surmised from Kate’s expression, “nothing to do with a certain government official?”

 

Kate leant back in her chair and raised her eyebrows. “You’ve seen our guests?”

 

“Yes, I just bumped into Sophie and Anna Kaminski. I take it they came with the Colonel.”

 

Andrea appeared remarkably calm given the identity of the visitors. Maybe she had changed more than Kate had realised. Once upon a time the young woman would have been charging into the office and demanding to know what they were doing on the base. On the other hand that might have been her intention before she witnessed Kate’s morose mood. Either way it was a welcome change.

 

“So what are they here for?” asked Andrea when Kate failed to add anything.

 

Kate pursed her lips for a moment. “Miss Kaminski is here to do a security audit.”

 

Andrea’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “And really?”

 

Kate sighed; it was hard getting anything past Andrea. She rose from her chair and crossed over to the more relaxed couch by the expansive window. It took up most of one side of the room and at the moment offered a view of rain driving down onto the windswept island. Andrea followed Kate over, waiting for an answer once they were both seated.

 

Kate looked out at the rain for a few seconds, deliberating on how much to reveal. “The security audit is the official line, and it is partly true,” she turned back to Andrea, “but there are…other things she’ll be investigating while she’s here.”

 

“Other things?” repeated Andrea. Her blue eyes scanned Kate’s face, trying to discern what it was she wasn’t saying. “This isn’t anything to do with Dixon or Chadwick is it?”

 

“Not directly.”

 

“But indirectly?”

 

Kate didn’t answer. Sometimes she hated her job. Who would know if she did tell Andrea everything they had discussed in the meeting anyway? It wasn’t like Andrea was the mole. Yet she couldn’t quite bring herself to disobey orders in this instance. It was hardly a matter of life or death.

 

Andrea made her own assumptions from the extended silence. “This is one of those cases where I shouldn’t press for more details isn’t it? It’s all right, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea anyway. My guess is it’s something to do with investigating this secret ‘organisation’ that Chadwick and Dixon were part of, am I getting warm?”

 

“I couldn’t possibly comment,” replied Kate evenly. She couldn’t help it if Andrea guessed correctly, could she?

 

“And I’m also thinking Kaminski is suspicious of pretty much everyone which is why there’s this ‘security audit’ to hide behind,” continued Andrea. “She’s not sure which of us might be in league with them, since we’re all on the same side in her eyes, being mutants. Actually I’m surprised you were allowed to know – you’re hardly top of her Christmas card list.”

 

“Believe me, if she could have got away without telling me, she would have done,” noted Kate ruefully. “Not that I’m either confirming or denying your suppositions,” she quickly added.

 

Andrea made a tiny wink. “No, of course not, you never said a word. I have to say I actually hope she catches those bastards if that’s what she’s doing here. Then again you never know what the hidden agenda is with that woman. Who’s to say that’s really what she’s here for either?”

 

Kate nodded. “Precisely. Which is why I shall be keeping a very close eye on our government ‘friend’. Unfortunately I won’t be the only one.”

 

Andrea looked intrigued by the cryptic comment.

 

“The Colonel has decided he needs to spend more time here,” clarified Kate.

 

“You don’t think he has an ulterior motive too? Maybe he’s checking up on you?”

 

Kate sighed as she leant back on the sofa, tipping her head to rest on the top of the cushions as she gazed at the ceiling. “The thought had crossed my mind,” she agreed.

 

Kate felt a gentle stroking up her left arm. “I’m sure you can handle both of them with your usual diplomatic touch.”

 

Kate’s head flopped to the side so she could see Andrea also offering a supportive smile. “And you? You managed to speak to Kaminski without punching her through a wall?”

 

“Oh, it was tempting, believe me. One thing holding me back was that I’m sure she’d secretly love it, and take it as a sign she’d managed to press all the wrong buttons.” Andrea paused for a moment before introducing the next subject. “So what’s Sophie doing here too? They seemed awfully chummy when I saw them in the corridor.”

 

Kate sat up straight again, noting the sly dig against Sophie in Andrea’s words. “I’m not entirely sure myself, I haven’t had the chance to speak to her privately but I intend to find out. It might actually be useful – she could give us an insight into Miss Kaminski for a change rather than us always having the impression she’s spying on us.”

 

“That is true,” agreed Andrea, “a mole in the enemy camp.”

 

Kate rubbed at her face thinking that sometimes it would just be easier if everyone just came out and said what their intentions were without this need to constantly spy on one another. Yet she had chosen this life of secrets and subterfuge, even if it was partly an accident of fate.

 

“Anyway, enough worrying about Kaminski for now – we could always be completely wrong and she’s just here to do her job.”

 

All Andrea needed to do was raise her eyebrows to show what she thought of that suggestion.

 

Kate put up her hands. “I know, I know, it’s ridiculously unlikely but it’s what I’m going to go with until proved otherwise.” She got up from the sofa and held out her hand. “Now, how about lunch?”

 

Andrea grinned as she took the warm fingers. “Your place or mine?”

 

 

…..……

 

 

A couple of days had passed without incident when Kate found herself down on the firing range. The butt of the L85 rifle recoiled into Kate’s shoulder as she resolutely gripped it and fired a round at the target. Several more followed before she stopped to inspect her accuracy. She noted with some satisfaction that the faceless target displayed a nice concentration of marks about the centre.

 

Kate reloaded and hunkered down once more against the wind. There were a few spots of rain hitting the brim of her cap too as she released a fresh volley of fire. The repetitive rat-a-tat echoed over the hills of the island, carrying faintly all the way to the mainland on the strong winter breeze.

 

She realised she could just do away with the gun completely, and blast the target to smithereens with a focused concussion wave from her hand, but that would hardly be sporting. Whatever other powers she might have, she liked to keep grounded in the day to day world of army life. That included joining some of her troops for target practice. However, whereas everyone else had long since disappeared out of the inclement weather, she remained outside shooting round after round. If she squinted she could pretend the amorphous blob at the end of the range was Kaminski.

 

Stopping for a moment she supposed that was slightly uncharitable. Since her arrival two days previously, Kate hadn’t even seen the other woman. Though Kate wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. The sound of feet on the loose gravel of the range drew her attention and she turned to find out who else was crazy enough to be outside late on a chilly winter’s day. Kate was somewhat surprised to discover it was her friend Sophie McAllister, wrapped up in thick camouflage gear like Kate herself and also carrying a gun.

 

Kate rose to meet her, wiping the rain out of her eyes under her hat. “I was beginning to think you were avoiding me,” she noted.

 

Sophie made a shrug of her broad shoulders. “Not at all,” she replied in her thick Scottish accent.

 

“Only you got here two days ago,” continued Kate, “and this is the first time I’ve managed to grab you for more than a minute.”

 

Sophie shifted uneasily on her booted feet before answering. The action was odd because normally the other woman was the epitome of confidence, sometimes verging on cocky over-confidence. “I wasn’t entirely sure if you would want me impinging on your time…”

 

Kate looked at her bemusedly as she trailed off. “What are you talking about?”

 

“I got a rather frosty reception from Andrea,” explained Sophie. “It was practically arctic conditions in that corridor in fact. Though I suppose that might have been more to do with Kaminski than me, given that they launched into a tirade of Swedish right in front of me. I felt like a right spare part. I can only assume the conversation contained a few choice words.”

 

“More than likely,” agreed Kate, “they’re hardly best of friends. I’m sure Andrea doesn’t have a problem with you.”

 

“Are you certain? After what happened back in August…”

 

Sophie trailed off, not having to spell it out. When Kate thought she’d lost Andrea for good, Sophie had come to see Kate on her boat. Kate had been drunk and in a moment of stupidity had kissed Sophie. Kate had known it was a mistake immediately.

 

“We both know that was a silly misunderstanding though,” she re-iterated now, “right?”

 

Sophie made a rather unconvincing nod. “Of course, I wouldn’t have even mentioned it again, but after the way Andrea was…well, I don’t want to make things difficult; we do all have to work together.”

 

“As I said, I’m sure that’s not why she was a bit off with you.” Kate was sure because she’d never actually told Andrea about what had happened back on the Dorset Flyer with Sophie. There hadn’t really been an opportune moment immediately after she had rescued Andrea and the young woman was recuperating. Then as time went on there seemed less and less reason to mention it. It hadn’t meant anything, so why bring it up? At least it hadn’t meant anything to Kate. However, now she was getting the distinct impression that the memory was a bit more vivid in Sophie’s mind. Kate wondered if she should mention the incident to Andrea before she found out some other way. However, she couldn’t see it going down particularly well, what with the time gap and the fact that Sophie was now on the base. It would all sound a bit too suspicious and convenient.

 

Sophie broke her out of her inner deliberations. “All right, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt this time,” said the Scottish woman.

 

“Well, you know, if you’d rather spend all your time with Miss Kaminski…?”

 

Sophie laughed at the gentle teasing. “God, don’t! I’m not sure why I volunteered to be her army liaison in the first place!”

 

“So why did you?”

 

Sophie paused for a second. “It seemed like a good idea at the time, for various reasons.”

 

Kate could tell Sophie was skirting around something. Normally she was completely open and honest. Is she avoiding something to do with our past, or is there something else she isn’t telling me? Considering it could well be the former, Kate didn’t press.

 

“Well, I’m glad to have you here, especially if you’re going to help me keep an eye on the devious Miss Kaminski.” Kate made a small nod to the gun that was still in Sophie’s hands. “Come to fire off a few rounds then?”

 

“Yes, I didn’t expect to find anyone else out here this late, but I should have known you might be. Cadet Jarvis never knew when to quit and it looks like Major Jarvis isn’t any different.”

 

“Which is why I’m the Major and you’re still the lieutenant.”

 

“Ouch!” Sophie made a play at clutching at her chest as if wounded. “But I don’t mind admitting it, you were always more dedicated even back at Sandhurst…or was that more of a brown nosing swot, I can never quite decide.”

 

It was Kate’s turn to look at Sophie indignantly. “That’s fighting talk. Care to put your money where your mouth is?”

 

Sophie arched a dark eyebrow. “A little spot of competitive shooting?”

 

Kate nodded. “Though I hope you have plenty of money, because you’re going to be losing…a lot.”

 

“You’ve got no chance,” scoffed Sophie in return as they both prepared their weapons. “You’re too busy using those fancy powers of yours these days.”

 

“I still know my way round a gun a darn sight better than you, McAllister.” Kate shouldered the rifle. “Now let’s shut up and shoot.”

 

 

………….

 

 

Andrea paused at the door, as she did every time she had to keep this appointment. She knew the weekly Friday morning meeting was for her own good, and deep down she could see the benefits, but every time she arrived, she just got the urge to turn round and make up some excuse rather than enter. As always she pushed down her irrational anxiety and walked into the office.

 

The single occupant immediately met her eyes and gave a warm smile. “Andrea, come in, have a seat.”

 

The owner of the smiling face was Dr Shalini Shah, consultant psychologist to the Unit. She visited once a week to attend to any mental health issues of those stationed at the base. Andrea had been a reluctant patient herself, but Kate had eventually persuaded her that after all that had happened with the warehouse accident and then being captured by Dixon and Chadwick, some independent counselling might not go amiss. Andrea wasn’t really into all the touchy, feely claptrap, but she was willing to give it a go, if only to make Kate happy.

 

The doctor swivelled her chair to face Andrea as she took up a seat opposite. She was at least a few years older than Andrea, though her smooth asian complexion made it hard to assess exactly how old she was. Dr Shah’s soft brown eyes fixed on Andrea. “So how have you been?”

 

“Fine.”

 

Dr Shah pursed her lips, though they held a hint of a smile too. “I thought we’d moved past the monosyllabic answers? And while you’re at it you can relax you know. If you were sitting any more straight and upright I might suspect you had a broom handle down the back of your shirt.”

 

“It’s called keeping a good posture.”

 

“Or a defensive one,” countered Dr Shah. “Is there something wrong? I know you hate coming here and only do it because Major Jarvis wants you to, but you’re not normally quite this closed.”

 

Andrea sighed. She supposed Dr Shah was as good a person to tell what was bothering her as anyone. At least she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone else about it. Dr Shah merely waited patiently in her practiced quiet way, not giving the sense that she was rushing or pressing Andrea into anything.

 

“There is something…”

 

Dr Shah leant forward slightly to show interest. “Go on.”

 

Andrea licked her lips nervously before taking the plunge. “I’ve been having these…dizzy spells.”

 

Dr Shah’s black eyebrows immediately creased in concern. “What sort of dizzy spells?”

 

“Just…dizzy spells,” replied Andrea with mild frustration at her own lack of knowledge, “A couple of times after using my powers I’ve suddenly found it hard to breathe, my chest gets tight and I almost pass out. Then it just goes away again.”

 

“I’m guessing you’ve not told anyone about this.”

 

“No.”

 

“You should.”

 

“Oh great, that’s your advice?”

 

“What exactly did you expect me to say - ‘oh, that’s nice, Andrea, but I’m sure it’s nothing even though you’re a super powered person with a history of medical issues with those powers’?”

 

Andrea didn’t answer, crossing her arms in annoyance instead. She knew the doctor was right. She had come to the same conclusion herself already. It still didn’t make it any easier to stomach.

 

“Look, I know you don’t like admitting you might need someone’s help, but it’s not necessarily a sign of weakness. In this case I think it would be more a sign of good judgement, don’t you? Unless you’re just going to ignore it and hope it goes away?”

 

Andrea still remained obstinantly silent.

 

“Why don’t you tell the Major? Unless there’s some reason you’re keeping it from her particularly?”

 

Dr Shah left that one hanging. In an uncharacteristically candid moment in one of their previous sessions, Andrea had confided in the doctor about her relationship with Kate. Again she supposed it was the safety of knowing the doctor wouldn’t be able to mention it to anyone else that had led her to. The doctor also had an uncanny ability to extract information, but then it was her job and she had many years practice at dealing with even the most tight-lipped of patients. Andrea sometimes wished she hadn’t let it slip, since the doctor seemed to think every small issue was related to it.

 

“No, there’s no particular reason I haven’t spoken to her. She’s been busy what with Miss Kaminski arriving and I just didn’t want to bother her with something insignificant.”

 

“I’m sure she won’t think it’s insignificant.”

 

Andrea sighed. “All right, I’ll tell her, next time I get the chance.”

 

…….

 

 

Next time Andrea got the chance proved to be later that same day. She found herself summoned to the large lecture room on the fifth underground level of the base. A good deal of the base lay hidden beneath the ground with only two floors visible to any prying eyes above it. Anyone sailing past outside the exclusion zone that surrounded the rugged island would be totally unaware of the labyrinth of meeting and training rooms under the surface.

 

The rest of the superhumans were also present as Andrea entered, as were several of the medical and scientific staff. From the hubbub of chatter that filled the room, Andrea deduced that whatever the meeting was for, it hadn’t started yet. Andrea’s eyes homed in on the figure standing at the front of the room and currently talking to Dr Todd.

 

Kate was wearing her number two uniform of olive shirt and crested tie, under a dark green jacket, all pressed and starched to oblivion. Andrea guessed that meant official visitors were on the way.  The timing probably wasn’t brilliant, but Andrea supposed she might as well attempt to speak to Kate.

 

Andrea edged closer, drawing Kate’s attention away from the doctor. “Major, have you got a moment?”

 

Kate’s eyes automatically swung to the door before they fixed on Andrea. “Not really,” she said apologetically. “The Colonel will be here any minute. Can it wait?”

 

Andrea shrugged. “Sure, no problem.” She was faintly disappointed but also relieved she didn’t have to bring it up yet. Normally procrastinating wasn’t in her nature, but this time she was willing to make an exception.

 

Kate’s assessment of the Colonel’s imminent arrival proved accurate as he marched into the room seconds later. He was flanked by Anna Kaminski, Sophie and a third woman Andrea didn’t recognise. Andrea guessed she was in her early twenties, the enthusiasm of youth obvious on her face as she eagerly scanned the room and its occupants. The young woman was of average height, a few inches shorter than Andrea herself, and her looks couldn’t have been any more different to Andrea’s. Andrea guessed she was of Pakistani or Indian descent, with long, straight, black hair and equally dark eyes.

 

The room had hushed at the new arrivals and Andrea quickly took up one of the many spare seats in the room.

 

“Good afternoon everyone,” began Kate, silencing any remaining talk with her commanding tone. “Thank you for joining us at such short notice.”

 

Andrea couldn’t fail to notice Kate’s quick sideways glance at the Colonel and Kaminski – had they been springing things on her again? While Andrea pondered, Kate continued on addressing the room.

 

“I’m sure you’re all wondering who the new face among us is, so I won’t delay in introducing Nisha Tendulkar. She’s joining us as a new operative.”

 

“You mean she’s a superhuman,” piped up Tom.

 

Kate shot him a brief reproachful look for the interruption. “Thank you, Mr Parsons. Yes, Miss Tendulkar was indeed picked up by the governments monitoring program and agreed to join us here at the unit. There’ll be time for proper introductions later, but I’m sure you’ll all join me in extending her a warm welcome.”

 

There were a few murmurs from around the room as they young woman stepped forward. She certainly didn’t seem to lack confidence in front of strangers. “Thank you, Major,” Nisha smiled at Kate before turning to everyone else. “I look forward to meeting and working with you all.”

 

As soon as Nisha spoke her broad northern accent was obvious. Andrea couldn’t pin it down exactly; she guessed Nisha was probably from somewhere in Yorkshire such as Leeds or Bradford. Andrea continued to study her as Kate made a few more general comments about training the following day. Then the meeting was breaking up already - it seemed that was as far as the introductions or information were going for now. Some of those present filed immediately out while Kaminski was quickly in and talking to Nisha, who seemed interested in what the official had to say. Andrea supposed she shouldn’t hold it against the young woman – she didn’t know what Kaminski was like yet. No doubt Kaminski was hoping to make a good impression and win Nisha over, since all the other operatives were fiercely loyal to Kate and wary of Kaminski. Kate was obviously aware of that possibility since she swiftly joined the conversation. The three of them started heading for the door when Kate swung back round to Andrea.

 

“Oh, Andrea, did you have something you wanted to speak to me about?”

 

Andrea noticed both Kaminski and Nisha hovering close by. The young woman was practically bouncing up and down in her barely contained excitement. Every once in a while she would glance expectantly at Kate.

 

Andrea shook her head. “Never mind, it’ll keep.”

 

Kate caught her eye and held the look for a second, checking Andrea really meant it.

 

“Go on,” insisted Andrea, adding more quietly. “You have an eager new pupil to attend to.”

 

“I’ll see you later,” whispered Kate before she turned to Nisha who beamed enthusiastically as they exited together.

 

Andrea remembered how once upon a time she had been the new one at the unit, the one who Kate had to devote more of her time and attention to. Though she ruefully considered most of that time had been required to castigate or discipline her. Hopefully the latest new addition wouldn’t be quite so troublesome. The initial indications were she wouldn’t, in fact she was just a touch over keen if anything. Perhaps that was just to make a good first impression, particularly with Kate. Andrea hadn’t failed to notice how Nisha could barely keep her eyes off the older woman during the briefing. Of course Andrea was the first person to acknowledge the magnetic allure of Kate’s presence, yet at the same time she resolved that she would need to keep her own eye on the new operative.

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Andrea didn’t see Kate or the new arrival for the rest of the afternoon, and come evening she found herself walking alone into the recreation room on the ground floor. It was used by all of those stationed on the base as somewhere to relax and socialise in their off hours. The room was surprisingly busy, a good deal of people crowded round the large screened television at one side of the room. Andrea herself crossed to the bar where she was quickly spotted by Tom.

 

He sidled over to the stool next to her as she sat down. “On your own, Sherlock?”

 

Andrea frowned at Tom’s insistence on using the nickname he had taken it upon himself to give her soon after she had arrived on the base. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t be?”

 

“No, of course not, I wouldn’t expect to see the Major with you at all,” he said sarcastically, “apart from the fact you’re normally joined at the hip at this sort of thing.”

 

Andrea glanced at the crowd round the television and ignored his comments about Kate. “What sort of thing is that?”

 

“You mean you don’t know?” He rolled his eyes in disbelief. “It’s the World Cup draw isn’t it. I thought you’d be doubly interested since you kind of have two countries to root for. By the way, who would you support if England was playing Sweden?”

 

England of course – it’s my parents who are Swedish, not me.”

 

“But I bet you won’t be saying that if Sweden reach the final and we get knocked out by Germany…on penalties…again.”

 

Andrea made a wry smile, knowing that England were renowned for being useless at the lottery that was the penalty shoot-out. “I reserve the right to switch my allegiance at that time.”

 

“So where is the Major?” asked Tom. “I thought she might be interested too, being a footy fan, even if it is that bunch of donkeys at Liverpool that she likes.”

 

Andrea shrugged, trying to be dismissive. “I guess she’s still busy with our new arrival.”

 

Tom didn’t appear to buy into the outward show of disinterest. “Uh-huh.”

 

“What?”

 

Tom held up his hands as Andrea pinned him in place with a stern look. “Nothing, nothing. No green eyed monster there at all.”

 

Andrea scowled at him. “Just shut up and get me a drink.”

 

Tom smiled to himself, realising he had hit a nerve, but thinking better of continuing with the teasing. Instead he attracted Lister’s attention behind the bar and ordered them a couple of beers. Andrea swigged silently on hers as she distractedly watched the football draw on the television. Having resolved to tell Kate about her dizzy spells, it now seemed as if things were conspiring against her. She might lose her nerve at this rate. The programme was part way through when someone else entered the room. Andrea was disappointed to see it was Nisha and not Kate. The young woman immediately saw them, beamed, and walked over to join the pair of them at the bar as if they were old friends.

 

“Hi, we met briefly earlier, you must be Tom and Andrea, right?”

 

“That’s right,” replied Tom, hopping off his stool to offer his hand. “Nice to meet you properly, Nisha.”

 

“Thanks.” Nisha stuck out her own hand in Andrea’s direction. “And you too, Andrea.”

 

Andrea took it and resisted the temptation to squeeze tightly. Something about Nisha just raised her hackles. She was too upbeat, too cheery - almost as if it were an act.

 

Tom didn’t appear to share Andrea’s reservations, though, being his normal extrovert self. Andrea supposed that might also have had something to do with the fact that Nisha was rather attractive. Not that she was really Andrea’s type – she was far too brash and cocky by half – but she could see the superficial attraction.

 

“So has the Major being saying bad things about us then?” Tom asked of Nisha. “Since you know who we are?”

 

Nisha laughed. “Not at all, she was bigging all of you up.”

 

Andrea couldn’t help glancing behind the young woman at the mention of Kate. “Is the Major not with you?”

 

Nisha looked slightly bemused by the rather abrupt question but answered anyway. “No, she had some work to do apparently.”

 

Perhaps sensing the chill in the air, Tom jumped in again. “So how did your first day go?”

 

“Good thanks, but it would be better with one of those.” She indicated their beers.

 

Tom grinned. “Anything for a pretty lady.”

 

Nisha laughed at the unsubtle flirting. “Does that line actually work?”

 

“Not often,” admitted Tom. “I have a few others if you don’t like that one?”

 

Nisha smiled, sizing Tom up at the same time. “I just bet you do,” she said, getting his measure, “but I think I’d prefer the drink for now, cheers.”

 

Once Tom had procured the drink for her, the conversation turned to idle chit chat about Nisha’s first day. Andrea joined in at intervals, though she wasn’t particularly interested. Every now and then she would glance at the door, but there were no new arrivals in the room. Instead Andrea turned to studying Nisha’s interaction with Tom. He was being his usual friendly self and she appeared equally gregarious and chatty. Several times they burst out laughing as they shared a joke. She noted that Nisha wasn’t overly forthcoming with details about what she did prior to joining the unit and Andrea made a mental note to ask Kate about it when she got the chance. Unfortunately, that was looking like it might be some time. Meanwhile, Andrea noted that every time Tom touched on something maybe a little too personal, Nisha steered the conversation onto something else. It was all done smoothly and if Andrea had been participating in the discussion a bit more she probably wouldn’t have noticed.

 

Nisha was also evasive when Tom got on to asking about her powers, though Andrea thought that was just part of the flirty teasing they were engaging in rather than anything more sinister. Everyone was going to find out what her powers were pretty soon one way or another. The conversation then worked its way back onto Nisha’s impressions of the base.

 

“So is it what you expected?” asked Tom.

 

“I wasn’t keen when those suits turned up on my doorstep, all hoity-toity big words and shit,” confessed Nisha. “And then there was the army thing - I was expecting being woken up at the crack of dawn by some numbskull sergeant and everything, but it’s not too bad. And the Major’s been really nice.”

 

Andrea seized on the last comment, especially as it had been said in a faintly suggestive way. “Oh yes?”

 

Nisha swivelled back to her, taking the interruption as a sign Andrea was interested again. “If I’d known army officers were like that I might have shown a bit more interest in them before,” she added conversationally. “I just thought they were all morons with muscles for brains. But I might have to change my mind, especially as the whole uniform thing is a big turn on, don’t you think?” Nisha followed up the remark with a small wink.

 

“I suppose so.” Andrea kept her answer short. She wasn’t sure she could trust herself to utter anything longer without appending some choice words. The sheer arrogance of the young woman was irritating in the extreme.

 

Nisha turned to the fair-haired young man since she wasn’t getting far with Andrea. “Come on, Tom, you must agree with me at least, since you’re a red-blooded male – the Major’s a bit of a hottie isn’t she?”

 

Tom gagged for a moment as he cast an uneasy glance at Andrea. “Er, yes, I guess she is, though…er…we don’t tend to think of her that way, you know, what with her being our commanding officer and everything.”

 

“Oh, give me a break!” exclaimed Nisha. Andrea wished she could, preferably several to various limbs. “You can’t tell me you haven’t thought about it?”

 

Tom looked like he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole.

 

Eventually Nisha gave up waiting for an answer with a roll of the eyes. “And here I thought you were one of the boys – or is it just that I’m a bit too close to the truth for comfort? The Major certainly likes to get close doesn’t she, wandering hands an’ all.” She was leaning close to Tom now, showing him what she meant. “Or is that just me - maybe she just finds me irresistable?”

 

Nisha laughed at her own words, not noticing that no one else was joining in. Tom’s eyes flicked to Andrea again, able to see the fury written all over her face. He quickly stepped in before the oblivious young woman found herself knocked into the middle of next week. He took hold of Nisha’s arm and directed her away. “Perhaps I should introduce you to some of the others?”

 

Nisha still appeared ignorant of the reaction she had stirred in Andrea as Tom guided her over to a group of soldiers. Andrea stood silently seething for a moment as she watched the young woman laughing and joking with them too. It appeared she was a hit with everyone. Obviously they couldn’t see her crass immaturity like Andrea could. Andrea told herself that it was ridiculous to even contemplate that Kate would be interested in someone like that, whatever the deluded Nisha might think. Kate was just doing her job of welcoming the new operative. Sometimes Andrea just wished she wasn’t quite so good at her job.

 

Andrea waited a few more minutes to see if Kate would make an appearance, in which time she decided that she would have to add Nisha to the list of people to watch after Sophie and Anna Kaminski, though those two were on her hit list for entirely different reasons. What camp Nisha fell into, she had yet to determine.

 

 

…………

 

 

The following day was a Saturday, which would normally have meant a break for the superhuman operatives, but instead a special introductory training session had been scheduled for Nisha. Andrea had risen early and joined Tom, Bel and Harry for breakfast in the canteen. The others were buzzing with speculation about what Nisha’s powers might be, but Andrea’s thoughts were more on her own and the fact that she still hadn’t had the chance to speak to Kate about her dizzy spells.

 

After the World Cup draw had finished the night before, she’d gone back to her quarters to find those empty save an expectant Gerry. She had been secretly hoping Kate might be waiting to surprise her, but it seemed work commitments meant otherwise. Andrea had lain in bed hoping for the telltale sound of the door for a while, but it hadn’t come before she’d finally drifted off to sleep. She was alone when she woke too, Andrea supposing Kate must have gone back to her own quarters since it was late.

 

After breakfast, they made their way downstairs to find Kate and Nisha already waiting in the underground training room, along with Kaminski, Sophie, Colonel Parsons and several of the scientific staff. Andrea couldn’t quite remember getting that much attention when she had first arrived at the base.

 

As Andrea scanned all those present, she finally reached Kate who was staring right back at her. Kate gave a small smile of acknowledgement that Andrea automatically returned despite her troubled thoughts. She resolved that she would grab Kate afterwards, one way or another.

 

It was Kate who took the lead role in the session, despite the Colonel’s presence as a superior officer. He appeared to be observing only as Kate described what they’d be doing. Amongst her instructions was a note that they were supposed to take it fairly easy since it was Nisha’s first time, though Andrea considered that she really ought to get a proper taste of things, especially since that was what had happened to Andrea herself. In fact she recalled Bel had almost killed her in one of their first training sessions. From the way Nisha was acting and talking it seemed like she thought she could handle anything, and Andrea saw it as her duty to take her down a peg or two. Never mind that she was still smarting from some of the young woman’s comments from the night before. The nasty little jealous demon raised its head again as Nisha asked some question that garnered a laugh from Kate.

 

Eventually the scientists disappeared off to the safety of the monitoring booth leaving just the superhuman operatives on the training room floor. Still Nisha was staying close to Kate as the countdown begun and they took up their starting positions. The final bleep sounded but it took a moment to register in Andrea’s mind. She started when she realised Tom had already gone and she belated sprung up into the air. The ceiling was a good fifty feet up in the cavernous room and she had plenty of room to soar. Not that anything could beat being outside in the open air, but she didn’t often get to do that since the risk of being spotted was high.

 

Andrea knew where all the obstacles or projectiles might fly out at her as made her first pass along the wall. She avoided each danger spot with some deft twists and turns.  Then suddenly the wall sprang out at her unexpectedly and careened into her side. It didn’t particularly hurt, but the shock was enough to bounce her off course and send her pin-balling between the next several obstacles before she managed an ungraceful, skidding landing on the floor. An indignant Andrea was quickly on her feet and dusting herself down. She turned back to see Nisha with a hand on the wall. She was grinning at Andrea.

 

“What the hell was that?” demanded Andrea.

 

Nisha took her hand off the wall and shrugged nonchalantly. “I just warped the molecules of the wall slightly to change its shape. At least that’s what the boffs tell me it is I do. Between you and me I just stick my hand on there and it kind of happens!”

 

“And it ‘kind of happened’ right into my path,” noted Andrea frostily. She walked up to the younger woman imposing herself over her, but Nisha appeared unapologetic.

 

“I thought that was the object, to stop you getting to the end?”

 

Andrea realised she had a point but wasn’t about to concede it. “It is, though we’re not meant to actually hurt one another.”

 

“Oh right, did it hurt then?”

 

Andrea could tell the young woman was deliberately goading her. It was done with an air of feigned innocence, but it was definitely done on purpose. Why she was doing it, or what she hoped to achieve was a mystery to Andrea, though. The arrival of Kate at the young woman’s side prevented the conversation descending further into bickering.

 

“Is everything all right?” she asked both of them, before turning to Andrea in particular. Kate’s arm twitched slightly, as if she was going to raise it to touch Andrea but though better of it. “Are you ok?” she asked instead, keeping her hands resolutely at her sides.

 

Andrea saw Kaminski and the others watching intently from the booth and understood Kate’s holding back. From where she stood, it looked like Kaminski appeared just a little too pleased that Andrea had come a cropper.

 

“Yes, I’m fine,” Andrea reassured Kate, “just a little surprised,” she added indicating the wall that was now back to its normal shape.

 

“It’s good to have something a little unexpected in these sessions, once in a while,” reasoned Kate. “We don’t want you getting too complacent after all. That’s why I didn’t tell you what Miss Tendulkar’s powers were before we started.”

 

The other woman was quickly in, correcting Kate. “Please, it’s Nisha.”

 

Andrea gritted her teeth. She had the strongest urge to punch those in Nisha’s currently grinning mouth in. It was obvious Kate had spotted Andrea’s annoyance too, but she didn’t question it at that point.

 

Andrea managed her own question through tight lips. “So what else can you do that we might not know about?”

 

“That was basically it,” replied Nisha. “I can do the warping thing with pretty much anything that ain’t living, as long as I’m in contact with it.”

 

“And animate objects?” queried Andrea.

 

“You mean something alive?” asked Nisha, seeking clarification of the long word. Andrea nodded. “I’ve never really tried,” confessed Nisha. “We wouldn’t want anyone ending up with one arm about two feet longer than the other would we?”

 

“Or worse,” remarked Andrea grimly.

 

“Which is why M…Nisha is here,” stepped in Kate, “to learn how to use her powers to the best advantage, just like the rest of us.”

 

“Though I think I’ve got a pretty good idea already,” mentioned the cocky young woman.

 

Kate glanced at Nisha, but didn’t comment. Perhaps she was waiting to see if it were true or not. Andrea was determined to show it wasn’t. The room was reset and everyone returned to their positions, but this time Andrea made sure she kept a close eye on what their precocious new arrival was doing.

 

Once past her, Andrea made a tight turn and swept back towards the other woman. Nisha had no time to react as Andrea flew past and upended her with an outstretched arm. The younger woman was dumped resoundingly and satisfyingly on her backside. Andrea briefly caught the look of annoyance directed her way. Then she couldn’t see much at all; she was in too much pain.

 

This time was worse than any of the others. The tightness shooting across her chest was so intense as to be unbearable. She clutched futilely at it as she cried out. Her breath came in ever decreasing bursts until she couldn’t catch one at all. Then she was falling as the spots clouded her vision. She had passed out long before her body whacked into the floor.

 

………..

 

 

The horrified gasp from Kate’s lips echoed round the room. It was quickly followed by the sickening thud of Andrea’s body as it crashed hard into the floor. Kate was too shocked to move for an instant. Andrea was very still; frighteningly so. Then Kate was running across the training room, desperate to reach Andrea.

 

The knees of her trousers slid across the smooth floor as she flung herself down by Andrea’s side. Kate hardly dared touch her though, in case she was injured in some way, and her hand merely hovered by Andrea’s arm as Kate tried to control her surging emotions. The relief on hearing the Andrea’s quiet breaths was overwhelming, and Kate rested her other hand on the floor as she inhaled deeply herself. Her fingers brushed over a couple of cracks in the floor under Andrea’s left shoulder which had impacted first. The damage to the floor was evidence of her dense bone structure. Kate was more thankful than ever for that, else Andrea certainly wouldn’t have been lying there now without an apparent mark on her.

 

Kate leant down. “Andrea, can you hear me?”

 

There was no sign of response and Kate sensed the others crowding round too. They had all come into the room from outside – Kaminski, the Colonel, Sophie. Doc was crouching down by her and several other bodies were leaning in close as well. Too close. Oppressively close.

 

“Give her some bloody space!”

 

Looking rather stunned by the sudden outburst, the others stepped back a few paces so it was just Doc and Kate knelt by Andrea’s side. Kate was aware of some of the bemused looks, but ignored them for now - she could deal with that later when she didn’t have something much more important to worry about. Andrea’s eyelids fluttered a couple of times before struggling open. Confusion sullied their blue depths as she scanned around her, finally settling on the anxious Kate.

 

“Andrea, are you all right?” The question was utterly ridiculous – it was obvious something was seriously wrong. Yet Kate couldn’t think of anything better to say right now. She could barely think coherently at all.

 

Andrea closed her eyes again for a second, composing herself before answering. “I’m ok,” she said, though the hoarseness of her voice suggested otherwise. She struggled up into a sitting position, cross-legged on the floor. “Really, I’m fine.”

 

“I think I’ll be the judge of that,” interjected Doc. “Is this the first time anything like this has happened?”

 

From Andrea’s sheepish look, Kate could tell it wasn’t. “Andrea?”

 

“I’m sorry, I was going to say something, I just didn’t get the chance.”

 

“How many times has this happened before? When?” Kate’s tone was verging somewhere between frustration and frantic concern.

 

“Only a couple of times – once in London after the train accident, and once earlier this week after training, but I never passed out before.”

 

“In London? But that was over a week ago, why didn’t you mention it before now?”

 

Andrea’s eyes met hers but she didn’t answer. Most likely because she knew as well as Kate how stupid and dangerous it had been not to say something. Kate sensed Andrea wanted to say something along those lines, but was perhaps wary of their rather large audience, several of whom were unaware of their relationship.

 

The doctor saved them both. “Look, we can deliberate over who should have said what and when later, right now I think we should get Andrea to the medical bay.”

 

“I’m all right, really.” Andrea went to get up, only to wobble as she reached a standing position.

 

Kate caught her arm before she fell. “Of course you are,” she admonished. “You’re going with Doc, that’s an order!”

 

A sudden bleep from Kate’s communicator cut off any objection from Andrea. A brief interchange gave Kate the details of the call. When she had finished she pinched the bridge of her nose for a moment – why do these things always happen at the same time? She wanted to stay, find out what was going on with Andrea, but she knew where her duty lay. She turned to address them all. “Right everyone, change of plan, you’re with me - we’re needed at an oil depot fire in Hemel Hempstead.”

 

Andrea automatically fell in with the others as they started for the door, but Kate put a staying arm on her shoulder and hung back for a second to speak to her. Unfortunately several others were still in earshot so she had to keep her tone formal.

 

“Not you, Andrea,” she said, “not until we know what’s wrong with you.”

 

“But you might need me,” Andrea attempted.

 

“We’ll manage,” insisted Kate. “Your health is more important than joining us on this mission.” She tried to impart the fact that it was of concern to her in particular by holding eye contact more than was necessary. “Go with Doc, I’ll see you when I get back,” she added in a softer tone.

 

Andrea looked crestfallen, but didn’t argue in front of everyone else, something else that had changed over the course of the year. Part of Kate almost wished she would; give her some reason to stay that bit longer. Instead she could only give a final reassuring nod before she departed the room.

 

………..

 

 

Andrea closed her book and placed it down on her bedside table, giving a small sigh of exasperation as she did. She was bored. She’d been stuck in the sickbay ever since her public collapse with only a fussing Doc for company. He’d obstinately refused to let her go before he’d completed his tests, despite her protestations that she was fine. He’d also insisted they wait for Kate’s return from the oil depot fire, so he could get her approval on any decision. Obviously he was more scared of her reaction if he let a sick Andrea out of his sight, than he was of Andrea’s bad mood.

 

Andrea supposed there was a small upside to embarrassingly passing out in front of everyone - she didn’t have to worry about how to tell Kate anymore. However, all things considered she would have preferred not to have ended up looking like an idiot in front of everyone, and particularly Kaminski and Nisha. Glancing at the clock on the wall, she wondered how much longer Kate might be. Andrea hoped the mission was going all right. She hated having to sit it out, especially when she considered how dangerous it might be. She realised Kate was more than capable of handling herself, yet Andrea couldn’t help the fluttering anxiety in her chest or the visions of what might be happening in her absence.

 

As the hours and minutes ticked by she became more and more impatient. Eventually Doc gave up trying to prod and poke her further and disappeared to the far side of the room to study his computer screen from behind his glasses. Andrea watched him intently, hoping he might eventually nod off and allow her to sneak out, but he remained frustratingly alert.

 

Finally a movement at the door drew Andrea’s eyes, only for her to see Dr Todd entering and not Kate as she had hoped. He went over to Doc and started talking in hushed tones with him.  Andrea flopped back down on her bed, but she didn’t have to wait long before the door opened again.

 

This time it was Kate, stepping wearily into the room. Her face was blackened with soot and dirt as was her normally bright auburn hair. Her blue eyes stood out even more against the grime as they met Andrea’s across the room. The two doctors had also noticed Kate’s arrival and quickly joined her before she’d gotten a chance to approach and say anything to Andrea alone.

 

Instead she had to ask her question with them hovering. “How are you feeling?”

 

“I’m fine,” replied Andrea in equally even tones.

 

The silent communication passing between them said so much more than the staid words. Kate looked tired and Andrea just wanted to get out of the sterile sickbay and back to either of their quarters where she could run a nice hot bath for them both. “But what about you?” she asked. “You look like shit!”

 

Kate made a small chuckling laugh. “That good, eh? It was hard work,” she added by means of explanation as she ran a hand through her hair. A shower of soot and dirt was dislodged and fell onto the white floor. “But we got it under control in the end. Anyway, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.” She turned to Doc who was looking aghast at the mess on his formerly pristine floor.  “I’m hoping you have some good news for me about what caused Andrea’s sudden collapse.”

 

“Not exactly,” he admitted.

 

Kate pinned her eyes on him in a forceful stare, not having time for the evasive answer. “Some news then?” Her hands were on her hips as she pressed him. “Like what caused it or at least what we might do to stop it happening again?”

 

“I wish I could tell you, but I’m in the dark at the moment.”

 

Kate didn’t seem impressed by the answer, and Andrea shared those feelings. “Is it anything to do with my power regulator?” prompted Andrea. “Maybe the dosage is wrong or something?”

 

“No, I’ve checked that, it’s working fine. I have noted a slight imbalance in your blood chemistry, but what’s causing it or why that would make a difference or cause this sort of reaction I don’t know.”

 

Kate was in again, demanding answers even though it was becoming increasingly obvious Doc didn’t have them. “Then what do you suggest?”

 

“All we can do for now is continue to monitor her condition.”

 

Andrea threw her hands up in exasperation. “Oh great! I sincerely hope that doesn’t mean you expect me to sit around here all bloody day!”

 

Andrea made to move off the bed in a show of just exactly what she thought of that idea. However, a gentle hand from Kate on the shoulder prevented too much progress.

 

“Can I have a private word with Andrea please gentlemen?”

 

Neither of them argued, though Doc looked rather put out at being dismissed. Once they were both out of earshot Kate turned her attention to Andrea once more. Only now her expression was much different. Now she didn’t have to put on any pretence or show for anyone else, the concern etched into her features was obvious.

 

Andrea felt a corresponding pain in her chest, knowing she was the one who had caused the extra worry lines. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before,” she began. “I really was going to, but then Nisha turned up and I didn’t really get the chance to catch you alone.”

 

“It doesn’t matter now,” Kate said softly. She risked a small touch of Andrea’s arm. Her fingers were warm as they slid gently over the bare skin. “All that matters is making sure you’re all right.”

 

 

Andrea gave a wan smile. “It’s just so frustrating now knowing what’s wrong. Sometimes I feel like these powers are controlling me rather than the other way round. First the seizures and now this! It would have been better if they’d never been bloody activated – I was quite happy before without them.”

 

“But then we would never have met,” pointed out Kate.

 

“True. I guess some pain is a small price to pay for that blessing.”

 

Kate dipped her head as a knowing smile touched her lips. When she raised it again and fixed her eyes on Andrea, the young woman knew her previous words had been absolutely true. In fact she would gladly run through the gates of hell if it meant she could spend just a moment with this woman. Needing to reach out and show it in some way, she merely took the hand that was still resting on her arm. Kate’s fingers were covered in soot too, Andrea realising the other woman must have come straight to the sickbay on returning from the fire.

 

“You managed all right without me on the mission then?” It wasn’t what she really wanted to say right now, but it was too public a place.

 

“I would have preferred to have you there, of course,” replied Kate, “but we did fine.”

 

“And no doubt Nisha did well,” added Andrea.

 

Kate paused, sensing the edge to the words. “She wasn’t there. You really think I would take a new operative out on her first full day?”

 

Andrea shrugged. “She is the new golden girl after all.”

 

Kate’s eyes scanned Andrea’s face, studying her intently. “Do I detect a faint hint of something?”

 

“No.”

 

Kate laughed out loud and Andrea spotted that Doc and Dr Todd had glanced over in their direction at the sudden outburst. The two men quickly turned back to studying their computer readouts when they realised both women were staring back at them. Kate turned back to Andrea when she was satisfied they weren’t listening in. “You can’t stand her can you? I saw the way you were looking at her during the training session.”

 

“She had just knocked me for a burton, if you recall.”

 

Kate nodded, though her expression showed she didn’t believe a word of the genuinely offended act. “Maybe, but I don’t think that was all it was, was it?”

 

Andrea sighed. “I don’t know, there’s just something about her I don’t like. She’s just too…keen to please.”

 

“Makes a nice change…”

 

Andrea merely narrowed her eyes, causing Kate to chuckle again. Andrea was most perturbed – it was meant to be her “you’re not funny” look and yet Kate was still laughing.

 

Eventually she controlled her mirth. “All right, sorry for teasing you. It’s just funny the way you take an instant dislike to some people.”

 

“My gut instincts are usually right though – you had to be able to develop a quick assessment of someone in the police, and most of the time I was right.”

 

“You mean you were actually wrong on some occasions?” queried Kate in mock surprise. “Surely not?”

 

Andrea gave her the look again, but it was obviously defective that day because Kate still appeared amused. Her lips were turned up at one end in the half smile that Andrea found unbearable cute.

 

Andrea exhaled slowly. “Ok, I admit it might be just a personal clash of personalities, but I’m not sure. I got the sense that she was hiding something too.”

 

“Such as what?”

 

“I don’t know, something about her past maybe.” Andrea wasn’t really sure what it was that was tickling her curiosity bone. “How much do you actually know about her?” she asked Kate, “She was a bit of a sudden arrival wasn’t she?”

 

“Yes, first I knew about it was yesterday morning when Kaminski sprung her on me.”

 

“And that’s not how it’s normally done when you have a new operative?”

 

“There isn’t exactly a blueprint,” admitted Kate. “You were a sudden arrival too, remember. But with all the others we had a couple of months of watching them and gathering information before we approached them, all of which I was in on.”

 

“You think they’ve been watching Nisha for a while and just haven’t told you?”

 

“Maybe. It’s strange Kaminski didn’t mention Nisha in our meeting the other day if that was the case, she was quick enough to tell me about the other ones that got away.”

 

Andrea waited for Kate to elaborate on the new bit of information.

 

“I suppose there’s no reason not to tell you that at least,” Kate continued. “Apparently there were a couple of other superhumans the government had been watching who subsequently went missing.”

 

“Perhaps Kaminski thought you had a hand in their disappearance and didn’t want to tell you about Nisha until she’d safely got her here,” reasoned Andrea.

 

“In which case the fact that she did get her here safely only adds weight to her suspicion of me.”

 

Andrea nodded as she considered the assessment could be correct. It was obvious Kaminski didn’t trust either of them; Andrea doubted she trusted anyone. “Though of course we know it’s not you behind any leaks,” she said to Kate. “Which begs the question - how did Nisha manage to avoid the same fate as the other two?”

 

“I presume because whoever is leaking information didn’t know either.”

 

Andrea sucked in a thoughtful breath. “Possibly.”

 

Kate noted the air of doubt. “You have a different theory?”

 

“No, not really,” confessed Andrea, “just some unfounded suspicions. I’d definitely like to know more about our new arrival before I come to any conclusions.”

 

“Just don’t go judging her too quickly,” requested Kate. “At least give her a chance. I’ve got enough to deal with at the moment without two of my operatives fighting amongst themselves.”

 

Andrea considered it for a moment – be nice to Nisha? She supposed she could give it a go, since she was already forcing herself to do so for Sophie’s benefit.

 

Kate had noticed the hesitation. “Andrea?” she prompted.

 

“All right, I’ll give her a chance,” she conceded. “Anyway, enough about her, when do I get out of here?” She asked with an imploring look over at the scientists. “Can’t you talk to Doc, I mean surely I can sit around in my quarters just as easily as I can here?”

 

Kate chuckled again at Andrea’s impatience. “I can imagine he’ll be glad to see the back of you too,” she commented, reading between the lines. “Let me go speak to him, I’ll be back in a minute. I can trust you not to sneak out while our backs are turned?”

 

Andrea gave her withering look one final try. “Yes, I’ll still be here.”

 

 

………..

 

 

Kate turned from Andrea’s bed to head over to the two men who were still chatting on the far side of the room. She didn’t like the situation any more than Andrea did, particularly the uncertainty. All the playful banter regarding Andrea’s opinions of Nisha was a way to disguise and dampen her anxiety over what had happened the day before. Even now she could still replay the moment Andrea crashed into the floor with sickening clarity.

 

Doc was the first to notice Kate’s approach, raising his bespectacled eyes from the computer.

 

“Did you have any luck, Major?”

 

“Sorry?” asked Kate, caught off-guard by the question.

 

“Persuading our obstinate patient it would be in her best interests to stay here?”

 

“Actually I was going to ask if you would consider releasing her to her quarters.” Kate quickly held up a hand to stop his objection. “I know it’s not what you would prefer, but do you also really want a bored and restless Andrea hanging around here for the next God knows how many days? I’m sure you can monitor her if she’s still on the base?”

 

Doc made a few grumbling noises to himself. “I suppose it should be safe enough to release her to her quarters as long as she doesn’t do anything silly like going for one of those off island jaunts she seems so keen on.”

 

Kate couldn’t be bothered to pull him up for his sarcastic tone. It had been a long day. “Thank you,” she simply said instead.

 

“I’ll just go and run a few final checks and she’ll be free to go,” added Doc.

 

As he did so, Kate realised that Dr Todd was still loitering in the room, as if he had been waiting for something. That suspicion was confirmed once Doc had disappeared over to Andrea’s bedside and Dr Todd took the opportunity to speak to her.

 

“Major, can I have a word, about Miss Hallstrom’s treatment?”

 

Kate thought it slightly odd that he wanted to discuss it with her rather than with Andrea and Doc too, especially as she didn’t believe Theo was aware of her and Andrea’s relationship. Then again, she and Theo had always been close confidants, at least in terms of work related matters, so perhaps he wanted to sound her out about something. “Go ahead.”

 

He glanced over at the other two, seeing they were safely out of earshot before he continued. “I have a suggestion for a possible course of action.”

 

She immediately wondered why he hadn’t said anything before in front of the others, but wasn’t going to look a potential gift horse in the mouth. “Great, let’s hear it.”

 

“Though there might be a slight problem,” he added cryptically.

 

Kate rubbed roughly at her temple. “Why don’t you tell me what it is, then I can decide about how much of a problem something is?”

 

“All right,” he agreed. “I know someone that might be able to help, a specialist in this specific area of genetics, but they’re an external consultant.”

 

Kate shrugged – they had other outside contractors who consulted with them from time to time. As long as they passed the security checks there wasn’t usually a problem. “If that’s all it is…”

 

“There’s something else, to do with who they are.”

 

Kate was getting annoyed by Theo’s continued evasion, especially as he wasn’t normally one to beat around the bush so. “And who might they be?” Kate didn’t really care if they were Saddam Hussain, as long as they could help Andrea.

 

When Theo promptly told her the person’s identity she contemplated that Saddam Hussain might have actually been better.

 

Theo noticed her furrowed brow. “I was right to think it might be a problem?”

 

“Yes,” agreed Kate, “but I’m not going to let anyone’s personal feelings put me off, not if this person can help. Can you arrange a meeting?”

 

Dr Todd looked surprised she was proceeding so rapidly, but didn’t question her decision. “I’ll get onto it right away.”

 

Kate called him back momentarily. “Theo - let’s just keep it between us for now. I don’t want to cause any unnecessary trouble if it turns out they’re not appropriate anyway.”

 

Dr Todd nodded his understanding and left the room. She knew she could rely on him not to mention it to anyone. Part of Kate hoped the person wasn’t appropriate, it might be easier that way. However, if there was a chance they could help Andrea then she was willing to make a pact with the devil himself.

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Andrea scuffed a boot through the loose earth as she paced back and forth. Why she had to hang around out in the cold, watching while the others engaged in their training exercise was beyond her. She was all for team building, as long as it didn’t involve her freezing her butt off as she kicked her heels on the sidelines. She hadn’t had any more problems with her powers in the last couple of days, and really didn’t see why she couldn’t join in. It just wasn’t right to be forced to stay on the ground. She maintained the urge to join in was nothing to do with her huge competitive streak; one that couldn’t bear to see Nisha giving an impressive display of her own capabilities much to everyone else’s congratulation.

 

“You know if you stare at her long enough like that you might develop some laser eye power and fry her.”

 

Andrea turned to her colleague Belinda Tardelli who had taken a break to come over and make the flippant remark. “Do you think so?” Andrea asked with hopeful sarcasm.

 

Bel laughed at Andrea’s obvious hostility. “And I thought I was the one who was meant to give all newcomers a frosty reception?” she remarked. “No pun intended,” she added as she coalesced some moisture from the air into a shard of ice in her hand.

 

Andrea shook her head. “I don’t know what it is,” she pondered. “I’m not normally quite this judgemental with someone I’ve only just met, but her…” She trailed off. In reality she knew exactly why she didn’t like the other woman.

 

“And it’s nothing to do with Nisha’s … how shall I put it tactfully?” Bel thought for a second before giving up, “…slutty tendencies,” she finished.

 

Now it was Andrea’s turn to laugh at the cutting remark. “So I’m not the only one that noticed then?”

 

“You could hardly not, she’s been flirting with pretty much everyone. A few times I’ve had to slap Tom for ogling. You would think they’ve never seen a woman in their life, the way some of them have been fawning over her. Though I’m guessing it’s not her way with men that’s bothering you?”

 

Andrea sighed heavily. “I know it’s stupid. Kate’s not interested in her in the slightest, but I would just be happier if I could come out and let everyone know we’re together. Instead I have to put up with Miss Tendulkar’s crass comments on how ‘hot’ the Major is.”

 

“You could always just let it slip ‘accidentally’?” suggested Bel.

 

“I could, but I don’t want to get Kate into trouble. I hardly think it’s the sort of thing our big-mouthed friend would keep to herself, do you?”

 

“No,” agreed Bel, “and I should know - it’s been a nightmare for me to have to keep it secret. Do you think Nisha’s a bit of a cat flap then, that she really is interested in the Major?”

 

Andrea looked perplexed at the terminology.

 

“You know,” clarified Bel, “she swings both ways?”

 

Andrea considered it for a moment. “She certainly seems to if her indiscriminate sexual comments are anything to go by.”

 

“Well, as long as she keeps her cat-flappy hands off my man I guess I can let her live,” remarked Bel half-jokingly. “I suppose I ought to get back to it, before the Major notices me gassing,” she added.

 

Once Bel had rejoined the action, Andrea was left to her lonely vigil again. She couldn’t even properly see what was going on from her position on the ground, with part of the training area being obscured by a grassy hill. A monitoring truck was parked close by where she could have watched, but Andrea got the impression some of the less gracious squaddies were laughing at her predicament behind her back, and she preferred to avoid them where possible. Another ten minutes went by without a sign of anyone else, and Andrea finally decided that it wouldn’t hurt to take a little peek at what was happening over the rise. She told herself that she would just hover and watch; she wouldn’t actually engage in the session. Having made her resolution, she delved into the pockets of her thick jacket and pulled out the protective goggles she’d bought along, just in case. Once she’d placed them over her eyes, she effortlessly pushed off from the ground and drifted up into the sky.

 

As soon as she got a few feet off the ground the blustery wind really hit her, knocking her momentarily off course. She adjusted her flight path accordingly and continued climbing above the island landscape. The overwhelming rush of flying never ceased to amaze her. She just felt so free and alive, like nothing could touch her up there. How could they expect her to remain grounded and miss out on this?

 

Once at a suitable height she levelled off at a hover. Andrea could see all the way back to the mainland, the clouds having lifted for once to give a good view of the rocky coastline with the harbour of Ayr clearly distinguishable amongst the rolling hills. Out to the west, the Atlantic stretched on into the distance, its surface crested by numerous white waves. There were dark clouds gathering on its horizon and heralding the latest winter storm. A few seagulls flew close by Andrea, giving her some indignant looks for encroaching on their space, but she ignored them as she simply floated there.

 

For a moment she forgot why she had flown up there, until the distant, thumping sound of something being launched came from below. The projectile shot up in her direction, though was in no danger of it hitting her. It was one of the powered ones, intended for someone to chase down and catch. Andrea had always wondered if the designer had been reading too much Harry Potter, since the small objects had a tendency towards erratic random courses. She thought they might as well have coloured it gold and have been done with it. There was no sign of anyone being after this one, though – the only other person it could possibly be for was Kate, unless Nisha had some flying power that she had been concealing. The object started to level off at the apex of its ascent. It was so close that Andrea just couldn’t resist.

 

She darted for it and immediately it responded to the motion and shot off at an angle itself. Andrea sped after it, feeling the familiar rush as her velocity increased. The wind whipped past her face as she kept a close watch on the small object ahead. Suddenly it took a downward turn and Andrea quickly followed, gunning directly towards the ground at high speed. She was slowly catching it, but the ground was also fast approaching. For a second she thought it was just going to whack straight into the earth, when all of a sudden it took a sharp turn to run parallel to the surface. Andrea barely had time to pull herself up from her rapid descent. She felt the toe of one of her boots just catch the topsoil as she levelled off too.

 

Ahead the object was still going, whizzing out over the sea now, barely a foot above the choppy waves. Andrea dug deep and forged on into the wind. Her hand was outstretched as she got closer, closer…

 

Then with one final push she had it. She arced up, climbing away from the salty spray before finally coming to hover high above dry ground once more. She pushed her goggles up onto her forehead and viewed the now placid object in her hands with no small satisfaction.

 

“What the hell are you doing?”

 

Andrea almost lost control and started falling at the sudden question. She glanced down to see Kate was floating a few feet below her and looking mightily pissed off. Her blue-grey eyes held a steely edge where normally they were warm and welcoming.

 

“I would have thought that was obvious, I’m flying,” said Andrea unrepentantly.

 

Kate didn’t seem in the mood for the sarcastic retort. “No, you’re taking an unnecessary risk is what you’re doing. What would you do if you had a dizzy spell and passed out up here?”

 

“I might hope you’d catch me before I made a nasty mess on the ground.”

 

“And if I wasn’t here?”

 

“But you are, aren’t you?” pointed out Andrea. “And anyway, I’m fine.”

 

“For now!” cried Kate in exasperation. “Look, I understand your frustration about not being able to join in, not being able to use your powers, but can we please just land?”

 

Andrea realised that underneath the annoyance, Kate was genuinely worried. “All right,” she conceded, “but I hope Doc comes up with something soon.”

 

Kate’s final remark was almost lost on the wind, Andrea not entirely sure she had been meant to here it at all. “Especially if he has some help.”

 

………..

 

 

Come the evening Andrea was back in the warmth of her quarters, a cosy haven after a day spent out in the field. She knelt down by the oven, pulling open the door so she could check the progress of dinner. Another ten minutes or so. As she straightened up she found a pair of arms encircling her from behind.

 

“Nearly ready?” came a husky voice by her ear.

 

Andrea leant back into the embrace, closing her eyes as she felt the soft curves press into her back. “Yes,” she said, adding with a touch of admonishment, “though you only just made it in time tonight.”

 

“I had a few things to clear up from the exercise earlier.”

 

The small catch in Kate’s voice at the end caught Andrea’s attention and she turned in the other woman’s arms, seeing the troubled look in the blue-grey eyes. “What is it?”

 

Kate’s answer was said so softly as to be barely audible. “You scared me out there today.”

 

Andrea frowned. “Really? You seemed more pissed off at the time.”

 

Kate just pulled her closer, wrapping her arms tightly round Andrea’s body. Her auburn hair brushed at Andrea’s neck as she rested her head on the young woman’s shoulder. “I don’t think you realise just how much I need you,” said Kate. “Maybe I can’t always show it in front of everyone else, but don’t ever doubt it.”

 

Andrea rested her own head against Kate’s, drawing in her scent, happy just to be held. It was only after a moment that she realised her neck was getting damp. She pulled back to see Kate quickly wiping some tears away.

 

“Hey, what’s the matter?”

 

Shaking her head, Kate sighed. “Nothing, it’s just this thing with your powers, it’s so frustrating not being able to do anything. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you…”

 

“Nothing’s going to happen to me,” interrupted Andrea with more confidence than she felt. However, Kate was the one who needed reassurance now and if Andrea could give it to her she would. “I’ll be fine. You’ll see; the docs will work it out. If not I’ll just never use my powers again.”

 

“You’d do that?” asked Kate doubtfully.

 

“If it will stop you worrying.”

 

Kate gave a faint smile, reaching up to brush her hand lightly over Andrea’s cheek. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop worrying about you.”

 

Catching the fingers, Andrea brought them round to her mouth and softly kissed them. “I love you.” A loud ping from the oven broke the romantic moment. “Now, I hope you’re hungry.”

 

Once Andrea pulled away, Kate brushed down her uniform shirt, taking a deep breath to compose herself and bring her emotions back under control. Andrea was reminded how blessed she was to see those rare glimpses of vulnerability and how humbled she felt to be trusted to see them.

 

“What are we having?” asked Kate while Andrea grabbed her oven gloves.

 

“Salmon gratin, a recipe of my grandmother’s.”

 

Kate gave an appreciative sniff as Andrea swung round holding it. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten any authentic Swedish dishes, unless you count the meatballs from Ikea.”

 

“You mean Dykea?” Seeing Kate’s quizzical look, Andrea thought it best to elaborate. “You must have noticed Ikea is a gay mecca? All lesbians love a nice bit of flat-pack.”

 

Kate laughed. “I can’t say as I noticed before, I shall have to pay more attention next time I’m there to buy a bookcase and instead finding myself leaving with a throw, three raspberry scented candles and a frame that doesn’t fit anything I own.”

 

Andrea set the dinner down on the small dining table, the two of them taking up their seats either side. They ate while sharing companionable conversation about nothing in particular, avoiding any work topics as they usually tried to do in their off hours alone. Eventually Kate placed her cutlery together, giving an appreciative sigh.

 

“That was gorgeous, thank you.”

 

“You haven’t had pudding yet.”

 

Leaning back in her chair, Kate rubbed at her stomach. “There’s pudding too? I’m not sure I can cope.”

 

“It’s pancakes and whipped cream.”

 

“Maybe just a couple then.”

 

Andrea laughed at how easily she was persuaded. Picking up the plates from the table she took them to the kitchen. Kate called out after her.

 

“You spoil me, you know, I could get used to it.” The warmth in the tone tickled Andrea’s insides and she allowed herself a smile before she turned back with the pancakes. “Though maybe next time it’s my turn to cook,” added Kate.

 

The plate with the pancakes hit the table a little heavier than Andrea intended as she let out a small snort.

 

“What?” asked Kate. “I can cook.”

 

“Of course you can, darling,” teased Andrea, “though maybe for both our health’s sake you should leave it to me.”

 

Kate’s hand was hovering by the bowl of whipped cream. “Are you casting aspersion over my cooking ability?”

 

Andrea grinned. “Yes.”

 

The blob of cream hit her directly on the cheek, before slowly sliding down it. “You’re going to pay for that.”

 

Before Kate could grab any more, Andrea scooped up a handful and landed it directly on Kate’s nose. Kate’s eyes crossed as she stared at it, only causing Andrea to laugh harder. Eventually the blue eyes met Andrea’s, the challenge evident in them, along with the undercurrent of desire. Andrea felt the corresponding heat pooling between her legs. Suddenly they both darted for the bowl, cream flying round the room as they chased each other, laughing all the way.

 

 

…………

 

 

 

The following day Kate tidied away the last of the papers on her desk, placing them in the filing cabinet behind her. She had just slid the metal drawer shut when the knock came at her door. It had been three days since her conversation with Dr Todd and she had been wondering if she had acted correctly ever since. However, if she had any doubts about the wisdom of procuring outside help in investigating Andrea’s condition, that had been quashed the day before.

 

When she’d seen Andrea glibly flying around over the island, she’d almost had a heart attack. Sometimes the young woman was just too reckless for her own good. Kate had thought Andrea’s experiences earlier that year might have dampened such tendencies to rash behaviour. She was generally more cautious and sensible when it came to using her powers, but on this occasion it seemed resisting the urge to use them at all was proving difficult. Kate could understand that to some extent – their powers were as much a part of them as any other aspect of their body or senses. Asking Andrea not to use them was akin to asking her not to walk, or not to smell. Kate knew she too would be champing at the bit if someone told her not to use her own. It had been bad enough having to conceal them for so long when she had first taken charge of the unit over a year ago.

 

Smoothing down the few creases in her uniform shirt until it was immaculate as normal, she crossed the room, wanting to greet her visitor herself. As she pulled open the door she couldn’t help the small involuntary intake of air at the amazing similarities between the figure standing before her and Andrea.

 

The blond hair was the same hue and texture, if much shorter, the high cheekbones almost identical and the tall slender body held in a confident stance so reminiscent of the young woman. But it was the piercing blue eyes that were the dead giveaway to the family connection.

 

“Dr Hallstrom,” said Kate, realising she had been impolitely staring. “Please, come in, take a seat.”

 

The man before her laughed. “Please, Major, call me Marcus,” he said amiably as he went to sit in the chair she had indicated. “Being addressed as Dr Hallstrom always makes me think of my mother.”

 

Kate automatically smiled in return while wondering what it was Andrea didn’t like about her brother. Her first impression of him was that he was charming enough, though she supposed she could be allowing the outward similarity to Andrea cloud her judgement. Not that he was an identical copy by any means. He was a man after all, so his face was more ruggedly handsome where Andrea’s was smoothly beautiful - his jawline slightly squarer and masculine, his cheekbones more angular.

 

Kate had to shake herself out of her study once more, taking her own seat again. “I understand Dr Todd has given you some indication of what it is we do here and why we’re interested in acquiring your services,” she began.

 

“Yes,” agreed Marcus, “though he was very secretive about it, which only made me more interested. I have to say that the fact this is a military operation did give me pause for thought, but Theo said I wouldn’t be disappointed by either the subject matter of the research or the facilities here.”

 

“I think that is most likely true; our facilities are second to none. We have substantial backing from the government.”

 

“That’ll make a nice change from scraping around the private sector for funding,” noted Marcus with wry sarcasm.

 

Kate realised that even the way he talked was like Andrea – with every word precisely spoken in a cut-glass English accent. His voice held no nervousness, no uncertainty. He came across as a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it.

 

She proceeded with the formalities of making him sign the Official Secrets’ Act before explaining to him the basics of what the unit was about. As she spoke she couldn’t help studying him, looking for more similarities with Andrea. By the time she had finished he looked rather stunned, but then again it wasn’t every day you found out there were such things as superhumans running around the country.

 

Marcus shook his head in disbelief. “Theo wasn’t joking when he said this would be research unlike any other I’ve done before was he? Superhumans…it’s staggering.”

 

“It certainly is,” agreed Kate. “I do have to ask at this point if that causes any problems for you?”

 

“Problems?”

 

“Some people have been known to have an adverse reaction on discovering such information and have not taken too kindly to our superhuman operatives, considering them somehow unnatural or freakish.”

 

“I can assure you I hold no such views,” stated Marcus. “It sounds absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to meet your superhumans.”

 

“You already have met one,” Kate informed him nonchalantly.

 

Marcus looked bemusedly at her, Kate almost able to see the realisation dawning across his features as she held his gaze. “You?”

 

Kate decided now was as good a time as any to find out if he really had no aversion to mutants. With great care she pointed her finger at the corner of her desk and directed a concussion wave at the desk tidy that sat there. The object spiralled off the surface, spilling its contents onto the red carpet. Kate watched for Marcus’ reaction the whole time, seeing that he did jump slightly when she actually fired the beam.

 

“My God,” he said in wonder, reaching down to pick up the plastic tidy, turning it over a couple of times before he looked back to her. “It really is true.”

 

“Yes it is.”

 

He glanced between the object and Kate a couple of more times. “Fascinating!”

 

Kate supposed that was good enough for now – at least he hadn’t recoiled in horror. “There is one final thing,” she mentioned. “I’m not sure how much Theo told you about exactly why we need your help?”

 

“He said it was something to do with the relationship between genetic mutations and the possible breakdown of genetic bonds and chemical balances in the blood stream as a result.”

 

“Right,” nodded Kate. She didn’t entirely understand what he had just said, but she trusted Theo wouldn’t have recommended Marcus without reason.

 

Marcus continued having finally placed her tidy back on the top of the desk now he had stopped intricately studying it. “I’m not sure what I thought he might have been referring to, some theoretical research I guess. Now it becomes clear he must have been talking about an actual person.”

 

“That’s correct,” confirmed Kate. “One of our operatives is having a few problems with their powers. They’ve had some other problems in the past that have proved near fatal, so it’s quite urgent we find a solution. It’s got our doctors baffled enough to seek your help.”

 

“That’s fine,” he said. “Obviously I’ve had no direct experience in terms of superhumans, but I’ll be happy to see what I can do.”

 

Kate took a deep breath, wondering how best to put it. “Your lack of direct knowledge wasn’t really my main concern though,” she noted. “The operative with a problem has an…association with you,” she continued slowly.

 

Marcus’ brow furrowed. “I know them?”

 

“It’s your sister.”

 

“Andrea? Andrea is here?” Finally something had disturbed Marcus’ calm exterior. “Andrea has super powers?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Marcus looked utterly shocked, much more so than when Kate had knocked the item off her desk with her power or told him about the existence of superhumans. “I..I thought she was in London,” he said in confusion, “working for the police.”

 

“How long is it since you last spoke to your sister, Doctor?”

 

He thought about that for a moment. “It’s been a while,” he allowed. “I don’t know how much you know, but there have been a few…differences of opinion in our family.”

 

Kate thought that was a tactful way of putting it. According to Andrea her parents had driven her until she got to the point where she couldn’t take it any more, dropping out of her Phd studies to join the police instead. That and the fact she had also revealed she was gay at about the same time meant she had barely spoken to her family in five years.

 

“I have heard some details, yes,” was all Kate said out loud.

 

“Right. But those problems aren’t really between Andrea and myself,” he insisted. “I don’t know if you’ve met our mother, but she can be an imposing woman. So when she and Andrea fell out it was difficult for me to be caught in the middle, especially given my close working relationship with my mother. We’ve worked on a number of studies together and she’s an influential woman in the scientific community.”

 

Kate took that to mean he couldn’t afford to offend her. She had to wonder at just how imposing and powerful this woman must be, if she could exert that sort of power over the otherwise self-assured man, and over Andrea to some extent. Though Andrea had hardly seen her mother over the last five years, and maintained she didn’t care about that, Kate sensed a part of Andrea would like a reconciliation. Maybe the arrival of Andrea’s brother might go some way to facilitating that process.

 

“I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting your mother,” Kate replied, not entirely sure she wanted to either. From what little she’d heard already it sounded like she could be the classic troublesome mother-in-law.  “Does that mean you won’t be accepting the job offer?”

 

“No, I accept your offer.”

 

Kate was surprised with the quick answer. She would have thought he would at least have asked to go away and give it some thought, especially given the circumstances.

 

“Good,” she said with a small nod, willing to accept the immediate answer. “Now all I have to do is convince Andrea this is a good idea.”

 

“How is Andrea?”

 

The question arrived completely out of the blue, taking Kate aback for a second. “She’s fine,” she answered non-committally, finding herself uncomfortable discussing Andrea on a more personal level with her brother.

 

“I mean it must have come as quite a shock to her,” he added, “to find out something like this.”

 

“I’m sure you can ask her yourself once you start work,” Kate noted, wanting to avoid having to say anything further on the subject, “which will be as soon as possible I hope.”

 

“Yes, I just need to clear up a few things on my last project,” he confirmed, “but I should be able to give you my undivided attention by the end of the week.”

 

Kate rose from her chair and offered her thanks for his attendance, along with the customary handshake. Thinking it only polite, she escorted him back to the door. He had just gotten over the threshold when someone barrelled into him, sending him crashing to the carpet.

 

…….

 

 

Andrea strode towards Kate’s office, glancing around to look for the secretary who appeared to be absent. Heading straight for the door instead, her mind registered the sound of the door opening, but not quick enough to stop her body’s forward momentum. She cannoned straight into whoever had been coming out, the person sprawling on the carpet at her feet.

 

“Sorry…” began Andrea, glancing down, ready to offer a hand. Her fingers stopped suddenly on their downward course, her mouth dropping open when she saw who was looking back at her. “Marcus?” she asked incredulously.

 

“Hello, Andrea,” he replied, getting up and dusting himself down. “It’s good to see you.”

 

Andrea couldn’t think of anything sensible to say in response, the sight of her brother there at the base having shocked her into silence for a moment. “What…what are you doing here?” she finally managed, unable to take her eyes off him.

 

“Accepting a job offer.” He gave her one of his characteristic smiles. Andrea had always found them just a bit too self-satisfied.

 

“Accepting a job offer?” she repeated, her eyes now drifting to the other person present. The tiny flutter of anxiety in her stomach was noticeable as she locked eyes with Kate. Has she been keeping things from me again?

 

“You offered him a job?” she asked, trying to keep her tone even. “And when exactly were you going to tell me this?”

 

“Dr Todd recommended him and I wanted to see if he was right for the job before I brought it to your attention.”

 

Andrea merely held her jaw firmly shut at the officious answer, not trusting herself to keep her cool if she spoke. She knew Kate had to retain an air of detached professionalism when they were in public, to avoid any hints at favouritism or give any clues to their relationship, and Andrea had learnt to be similarly placid when other people were around. That was no mean feat given her normally fiery personality. Andrea reconciled herself with the fact that she would just have to wait until they were alone before she gave vent to her simmering anger. 

 

“Could I have a word with my sister in private?”

 

Marcus’ question broke both women out of the staring match they were having.

 

“What makes you think I want to talk to you?” asked Andrea scornfully. Though she had to be quiet around Kate, she had no such problem with displaying her hostility openly to Marcus. She couldn’t believe he was there, the bane of her childhood and an unwelcome reminder of her whole family.

 

“Please?” he asked again. “I’d like to try and explain a few things, perhaps clear the air. We are going to be working together after all.”

 

Andrea glanced between Kate and her brother, not sure who she was angrier with at that moment. “Fine,” she finally said.

 

“You can use my office,” indicated Kate. “I’ll leave you to it.”

 

Andrea merely gave Kate a cursory nod as she went in. She paced over to the window and kept her back to Marcus until she heard the sound of the door closing. Then she swiftly rounded on him.

 

“What are you doing here?” she demanded.

 

He looked unrepentant. It was a smug, satisfied look she had seen far too many times before. “I said before, accepting a job offer, and a good one at that.”

 

“There must be hundreds of other good job offers, all of them far away from me!”

 

“But none of them involve superhuman research.”

 

Andrea was taken aback, blinking stupidly a couple of time before speaking. “You know?”

 

“Of course I know, it’s why I took the job,” he explained. “This is a fantastic opportunity. The Major also told me about you being a superhuman. Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

Andrea looked at him incredulously. “Why the hell should I have done? It’s not like you’ve been rushing to stay in contact the last five years or so. Now you discover there’s something about me that might interest you, and you expect to be friends? This is just like you. I have something for myself for once and you have to try and get in on it.”

 

“It’s not like that, I came here for the interview before I knew you were anything to do with it. And I’m not trying to take anything away from you, I want to try and help you.”

 

“Well you can forget that!” stated Andrea firmly. “I’ll take my chances with Doc!”

 

“Now you’re just being pig-headed!” shot back Marcus. “You’d rather die than let me help you?”

 

“Yes!”

 

Andrea held her jaw shut with such fierce determination that her teeth started to hurt. Marcus was shooting her back an equally intransigent look. It was like being seven all over again. For once it was Marcus who caved in, dropping his eyes and going to sit on the couch by the window.

 

“Did I really wrong you so badly when we were children?”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “You really have to ask? Surely you must have noticed how you were always the golden child, the one that got all the attention, all the plaudits? It always seemed to be that you could do no wrong, whereas I couldn’t do anything right no matter how hard I tried. I bet mother would love to know what you’re doing now, another great piece of research in your glittering career. A shame you can’t tell her really.”

 

Marcus digested her words for a couple of moments before surprising her with his answer. “I guess you’re right in a way,” he conceded, “but that wasn’t exactly my fault was it?”

 

“Yeah, like you hated being the one they fawned all over!”

 

“Don’t you think it was hard for me too?” he attempted. “Trying to live up to their expectations, burying myself in work. And do you know what, a lot of the time what I did wasn’t good enough either.”

 

Again Andrea was surprised. “What do you mean? They were always singing your praises.”

 

“To you maybe, perhaps to make you feel you had to try harder to match me. But when it was just us…well, you know mother and what she could be like.”

 

“Could be like?” scoffed Andrea. “I hope you’re not suggesting she’s changed, because I have five years of rejection that says otherwise, from all of you.”

 

“I know, and I’m sorry about that, I really am.”

 

Andrea plonked herself down on the sofa next to him. She didn’t know whether to believe in the sincerity of his apology or not.

 

“She wants to see you, you know,” added Marcus. “She was hoping that you might call, after she visited you a few months ago.”

 

Andrea made a rueful laugh. “Don’t tell me she was actually disappointed, because then I’ll have to really start doubting your sanity.”

 

“I think she was. She didn’t say as much and you know how hard she is to read, but I think there was something genuine there.”

 

“Well good! It’s about time she felt some rejection too.”

 

Marcus sighed at her continued obstinate attitude. “We could all go on like this forever, remaining angry at one another, or we could try and make this work,” he suggested. “I’ve changed from that arse-kissing suck-up I was as a child. I know you’re right to some extent with what you said - I can see that they did perhaps dote on me more than you, that maybe you got the rough end of the deal. But that wasn’t my doing. I wanted their attention just as much as you did. I’m sorry if I got that at your expense, but I’d like to think that maybe we could try and re-build some sort of relationship. I’ve missed you Andrea.”

 

“Missed having someone to pick on you mean?”

 

Marcus made a small laugh. “Well maybe that too, but we did have some good times, didn’t we? We weren’t always at each other’s throats, there were some times we had a laugh together, especially if it was at mother’s expense. Do you remember how mad she used to get when we used to sneak out and hide in the garden? Then she’d have to come searching and we’d nip back past her into the house and pretend we’d been there all the time?”

 

Andrea couldn’t help laughing too at the recollection. Her mother’s temper had been a sight to behold. Not that she ever needed to raise her voice or anything as demonstrative as that.  Instead she just had to employ her icy stare and deceptively calm voice as she doled out her punishment. Together they had the power to strike much more fear into Andrea than a hundred angry outbursts. It was the sense of having done something so awful as to have profoundly disappointed her that made you wish you had never committed whatever indiscretion it was.

 

Andrea exhaled slowly and brought herself back to the present. “All right, take the job and I’ll try to be at least civil to you.”

 

Marcus dipped his head. “That’s all I can ask for now, hopefully in time I can show you I’ve changed.”

 

Andrea couldn’t help the doubtful scoffing noise that passed her lips. “And will you be telling mother that you saw me?”

 

“If she asks, yes,” he quickly replied, “though obviously I won’t disclose any details of where.”

 

“And father?”

 

“Father?” Marcus looked confused.

 

“Will you be saying anything to him?” clarified Andrea.

 

“I thought you knew…”

 

Now it was Andrea who was confused. “About what?”

 

“I suppose you wouldn’t,” he said more to himself than her, before turning his full attention to her once more. “He and mother separated – he’s back in Sweden at the moment, doing some research at Upsalla University as far as I know.”

 

“They split up?” repeated Andrea incredulously. “After thirty years of marriage?”

 

“I don’t think they’d been getting on for a while. Mother was far too ambitious whereas I think he would rather have kept cooped up in his lab. Sometimes I wonder if she treated him in the same over-bearing manner as she did us when they were together.”

 

“No wonder he left then!” cried Andrea. Now she thought about it, she was surprised her father had stuck around as long as he had. “I wonder why he hasn’t tried to contact me since?”

 

“Don’t take it personally,” Marcus consoled her. “I’ve not spoken to him either for a few months.”

 

Andrea supposed just because they had split up didn’t mean her father’s opinions had changed. He had been just as much the one to reject her as her mother. Dismissing thoughts of him for now, Andrea escorted Marcus to the door and found that Kate’s secretary had now returned. He led Marcus away and she was left on her own, trying to let the disorientation slip away, but she couldn’t quite shake it. It was just too strange seeing Marcus there after all this time. Was he being genuine or was there some ulterior motive in his presence? That was the big question on Andrea’s mind. A lifetime of memories made it hard for her to trust him and believe the former. As she deliberated, she wondered where Kate had disappeared to. Probably somewhere at a safe distance, considered Andrea. She was still angry with the other woman for keeping her interview with Marcus a secret, but the talk with her brother had gone some way to calming her down from her initial fury. Still, Kate had a bit of explaining to do. Andrea noticed the slightly ajar door off to the side of the office, giving a good indication of exactly where Kate was.

 

Andrea climbed the steps beyond the door that eventually led her out onto the roof of the base. It was another blustery day and the wind immediately whipped loose strands of blond hair into her face. Andrea pulled them back out the way so she could see. Kate was standing on the far side of the roof, gazing out into the wind in the direction of the Atlantic. She was standing precariously close to the edge given the conditions, but then again it would hardly matter if the wind did knock her off, she would be more than capable of saving herself.

 

Kate’s back was to her and she hadn’t heard Andrea’s arrival, the harsh wind drowning out any other noise as it battered the exposed rooftop. In calmer conditions Kate would often go up there to stargaze, a pastime Andrea had joined her in on a few occasions. Andrea managed to get within a couple of feet before Kate finally sensed her presence. She didn’t look surprised to find Andrea there as she swivelled round. Kate reflexively put a hand up to push back her own auburn hair, which had swept about her cheeks now her back was to the wind.

 

It was Andrea who asked the first question, having to raise her voice over the squall. “Wanted to be out in the open in case I started hurling heavy objects at you?”

 

A wry smile crept across Kate’s face as she got the reference to another argument they’d had where that very thing had happened. “Something like that,” she remarked, “and away from prying eyes and ears.”

 

“Where no one can hear you scream,” added Andrea with a tiny hint of malevolence.

 

“Am I going to be then?”

 

Andrea sighed; she found it harder and harder to stay annoyed at Kate these days. “No, I’m just pissed off that you kept this from me. You know what my relationship with my family is like, and yet you go and arrange for my brother to come here and then offer him a job?”

 

“He was the best person for it,” reasoned Kate. “I understand how you feel,” she added more sympathetically. “I was hardly ecstatic when Dr Todd recommended him knowing about your past. Not that I’m placing the blame on him, it was still my decision.”

 

“That still doesn’t explain why you didn’t mention it before I ended up tripping over him.”

 

Kate paused, pursing her lips in contemplation. “I guess it was partly that I was worried about your reaction,” she admitted. “I thought that I’d meet him first to see if he was appropriate and then find a way to break it to you.”

 

“Break it to me that you had employed him, you mean? Not ask what I thought about it, whether I agreed?”

 

“And what would you have said if I gave you the option of vetoing his appointment?”

 

“I would have said no!”

 

“Exactly!” cried Kate, as if that proved her point. “Andrea, there’s something wrong with you, and we need to find out what it is. I don’t care who it is that can help you, as long as they can.”

 

“But does it have to be him?” Andrea understood Kate’s reasons were valid, yet she had a hard time conceding. “I can just see it now, he’ll be so God damn smug if he does work it out.”

 

“You almost sound like you want him to fail,” noted Kate.

 

“An irrational part of me does. I can understand what you’re saying about him being the right man for the job, I know he’s brilliant, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

 

“That’s fine, no one said you did,” allowed Kate. “Hopefully he can help us out and then if you never want to see him again it’s your prerogative. Though he didn’t seem all that bad to me…”

 

“Ha! Already won you over with the charm offensive has he?”

 

“No, I’m just not going to pre-judge him. All I’m interested in is whether he can do his job. I know you two don’t see eye to eye, but maybe you could give him another chance or at least not make things difficult for him. It is in your own best interests after all.”

 

“Bloody hell, what with Kaminski, Nisha and now Marcus, it’s turning into a right week for being nice to people I don’t like.” Andrea had managed to catch ‘Sophie’ before it slipped out of her mouth, and Kate’s friend had been added to the list, though she certainly had a firm place in it.

 

“I’m sure you can manage to be the perfect diplomat,” noted Kate. “And as I said once he’s finished here, which will hopefully be soon, he’ll be onto another project anyway.”

 

“And you trust him do you?”

 

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”

 

Andrea shrugged. “No specific one, but obviously there are concerns about security given Kaminski’s presence for her ‘audit’.”

 

“I hardly think your brother can have been involved in any prior leaks, he wasn’t even aware of the existence of superhumans before today.”

 

“Or maybe that’s what he wanted you to think.”

 

The pointed observation hung in the air for a moment before Kate dismissed it. “Now you’re just being paranoid. I like to think I’m a pretty good judge of character, and he looked genuinely shocked when I told him.”

 

“If you say so,” conceded Andrea grudgingly, “but Marcus has a sly way of winning people round to his way of thinking, something he learnt off my mother.”

 

“Don’t worry, we’re not going to be giving him carte blanche to wander around spilling secrets to whoever he likes. Of course we’ll be monitoring him and his communications, just as we do everyone else on the base.”

 

“Just make sure you do.”

 

Kate stood to attention and made a salute. “Yes, ma’am.”

 

“All right, no need to take the piss.”

 

Kate offered a small grin. “Sorry. Look shall we get back inside, presuming I’m safe now?”

 

“There aren’t any rocks to hurl even if I wanted to,” noted Andrea, not directly answering the question.

 

Leaving Kate to stew on that one, she dipped back into the warmth of the base, Kate quickly following on as they made their way back into the office. Andrea sat on the couch while she rubbed some life back into her chilled fingers – it didn’t take long out in the December wind to numb them. Kate was warming her own fingers in her usual way – by preparing a cup of coffee to wrap them around. When it had brewed she came to sit with Andrea, setting down a tea on the table too.

 

“Thinking about family got me wondering,” began Kate, “and I had something to ask you.”

 

“Oh God, don’t tell me you’ve also lined my mother up for a job here?”

 

Kate laughed. “No, nothing like that. Not even I have that much of a death wish. No, this is to do with my family.”

 

“Go on.”

 

“I was thinking that what with Christmas coming up, it might be nice if we could spend it together, and since mother will be expecting me at home, I thought perhaps you might like to come too?”

 

Andrea was glad she hadn’t started drinking her tea, else she might have choked on it. “You want me to meet your family?” Something else occurred to Andrea. “In what capacity would I be accompanying you? As one of your colleagues, as a friend…?”

 

“No, as my partner, if you have no objections.”

 

Andrea didn’t have objections as such, more like blaring warning claxons. “You’re going to turn up with me on Christmas day, with no prior warning and introduce me as your girlfriend?”

 

“Well, I thought we might get there the day before.”

 

“Don’t be smart!” Andrea gave Kate a withering look. “Don’t you think you should maybe give your mother a call beforehand to check it’s all right?”

 

“I thought you wanted me to tell her?”

 

“I do, but there are ways!”

 

Kate waved a hand in the air. “She’ll be fine.”

 

“Then why don’t you tell her beforehand?” asked Andrea pointedly.

 

“Do you want to come or not?”

 

Andrea gave up. “All right, she’s your mother. If you think she’s not going to keel over with shock on the spot, straight into her turkey and ruin everyone’s Christmas then it’s up to you.”

 

“Good, that’s settled then.”

 

Andrea prayed that Kate’s confidence was well placed. After the reaction she’d received from her own mother she found it hard to contemplate that there were some parents who really wouldn’t mind their child turning round and declaring they were gay.

 

 

……………

 

 

 

Callum Chadwick walked down the plain corridor, listening to the sounds of his own shoes echoing along it. He was convinced that Dr Hallstrom knew of a secret way to suck any form of life out of a space, in order to create just the right atmosphere of dread. He hated coming to see her, though at least she’d stopped taking glee in his pain for now. The treatment was finally finished, but the odd thing was he didn’t feel any different. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting – a sudden eureka moment where he took to the skies or flames shot from his eyes or something. Yet instead he was still just the same normal guy, nothing special. A few times when he’d been on his own he’d strained to make something happen, but he wasn’t sure how it was supposed to work. How did those freaks use their powers?

 

As if on cue, he reached Dr Hallstrom’s office only to find that he wasn’t the only one waiting to see her that day. Hovering by the door was Ingrid, another of the doctor’s mutant lackeys. Chadwick considered that ‘hovering’ might have been too charitable a term for the way she was standing there. A description such as ‘lurching’ might have been more appropriate. The thickset woman towered over Chadwick as he reached her, her large forearms crossed over her wide chest. She looked like she could crush his skull in her huge hands, and probably would given half the chance. She stared down her round nose at him, not speaking. Her huge form blocked the doorway, and as he went to move around her, she stepped across to continue to bar his path.

 

“Excuse me,” he said, with more confidence than he felt, “but Dr Hallstrom is expecting me.”

 

She didn’t bat an eyelid. It was as if she hadn’t heard, or maybe didn’t understand. For all Chadwick knew she couldn’t even speak English. He’d never heard her speak a single word – all he knew was that she was called Ingrid, came from Norway and that she seemed to be something akin to Dr Hallstrom’s private bodyguard. That was ludicrous as it was – if there was anyone less in need of guarding then it was Dr Hallstrom. Perhaps it was the other way around, he pondered, and Ingrid was to protect others from Dr Hallstrom.

 

“I said excuse me,” he repeated. He placed a hand on her arm to try and encourage her out of the way. She immediately seized it and squeezed his fingers in a vice-like grip.

 

“Let go, you freak!” he demanded, trying desperately to ignore the pain.

 

He could swear she was enjoying seeing him squirm behind the implacable expression that remained on her square-jawed face.

 

“Ingrid, stop scaring the poor man.”

 

Ingrid immediately released Chadwick’s hand, and he took it back while shooting Ingrid an indignant glance. He then turned to Dr Hallstrom who had just arrived and interrupted. “Your stupid lummox wouldn’t let me in.”

 

Chadwick instantly regretted his tone. Dr Hallstrom’s expression was like ice and it pierced right through him and gripped his heart in a grip much tighter than the one Ingrid had previously had on his hand. He quickly backtracked as she continued to simply stare at him. “Though obviously you weren’t in, which was probably why,” he mumbled.

 

Dr Hallstrom cast her eyes away from him, as if he wasn’t even worth bothering about, focusing on the giant of a woman instead. “Thank you, Ingrid. That will be all.”

 

Ingrid merely dipped her head and left, though not before giving Chadwick a final dark look. Dr Hallstrom then gestured Chadwick inside her office. Chadwick always found the interior deceptively bright and cheery. Then again, Dr Hallstrom hardly needed any external help in creating an atmosphere of menace. Her presence was enough. He took up a seat in front of her desk, while she busied herself watering one of the many plants that dotted the room. He’d sat there for a good couple of minutes growing increasingly nervous, before she finally sat down opposite him.

 

“You have something to report?”

 

“Just that we had our first communication from Tertiary One,” he informed her.

 

“They are in place?”

 

Chadwick noted the non-specific pronoun. He had no idea who their informant was, all communication reaching him in encrypted form. It seemed Dr Hallstrom wasn’t about to give him any clues. “Yes, everything is proceeding as planned.”

 

Dr Hallstrom nodded. In moments like this, when she was pleased she almost appeared attractive. Outwardly she was a beautiful woman, but anyone that knew her would find it hard to get past the dark heart that lurked beneath the charming veneer. “Good, the sooner we stop Major Jarvis and her Superhuman Research Unit the better. I’ve already had word that there’s still some sort of investigation being carried out into your activities with Dixon. We can only hope neither of you left evidence that will lead back here.”

 

Chadwick also hoped that more than anything in the world. If he had incriminated Dr Hallstrom in anyway, he was sure he would be meeting a slow and painful death.

 

“That unit started as a minor annoyance,” she continued, “but now it’s starting to attract the attention. We need to prevent them expanding any further and jeopardising our own work.”

 

Chadwick wasn’t really sure what that ‘work’ was. He’d learnt a long time ago that it didn’t pay to ask too many questions, especially not of Dr Hallstrom. As long as it seemed he was on the winning side he didn’t really care either. And he was convinced he was on that side. With Dr Hallstrom in charge he couldn’t see it ending up any other way than in a victory for their organisation. He allowed himself a moment of silent smugness, thinking that then all the pain he’d had to endure would be worth it. He’d certainly enjoy being able to gloat as Jarvis and the younger Hallstrom found their world crashing down around them.

 

Dr Hallstrom’s voice broke him from his inner plotting. “Talking of work, have you had any results from your treatment yet?”

 

“No, nothing so far.”

 

She nodded thoughtfully. “It can take time. Either way you should consider yourself fortunate; at present it only works in about 1% of subjects.”

 

“And in the other 99%?”

 

“Those cases have a less favourable outcome,” she started diplomatically before hitting him with the harsh reality. “The lucky ones die, the others…if they’re lucky we put them out of their misery.”

 

Chadwick gulped, more thankful than ever the fates had smiled on him and placed him in the 1%. “Why are the results so poor?”

 

He regretted his choice of adjective as soon as her cold eyes pinned him in place. “Unfortunately even after years of research we still haven’t managed to identify the key genetic marker that will let us control the mutation,” she explained. “Without it results are unpredictable at best.”

 

Chadwick could see that would be galling, given Dr Hallstrom’s penchant for control and order. He made no further comment and she continued.

 

“And we won’t get anywhere closer to discovering it without more research subjects,” she remarked, “which is why I have a task for you…”

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

A tiny bead of sweat trickled across Andrea’s brow and down the side of her face, nestling into her hair. She would have wiped it away if her hands weren’t otherwise occupied. Instead she pushed upwards with them, forcing up the bar they tightly gripped. It really was far too easy, despite the fact that at each end were weights totalling 500kg. That was small fry for her, but all she was allowed to pump at the moment due to the doctors’ restrictions. She was surprised she had broken a sweat at all, supposing it may be something to do with the heat in the gym. The army seemed to have taken it upon themselves to negate the cold winter’s day outside by ramping up the heating to full inside the base. That or the thermostat was just broken.

 

Glancing about her, Andrea saw that the few other people in the gym were feeling it too. There were a couple of squaddies on other weights machines, the back of their green vests dark with sweat, plus another one on one of the rowing machines. He’d actually stopped, breathing heavily and wiping his brow with a towel. The only person seemingly unaffected was Tom, who was on a running machine, ambling along at about twenty miles an hour – a mere trifle for him. He grinned back at Andrea, reaching forward to deactivate the machine and sliding off the back of it.

 

“You taking it easy too?” he asked as he walked over to her.

 

Andrea lowered the bar, which thumped onto the metal supports with a resounding clang. “Not by choice,” she grumbled as she sat up.

 

“Doc still keeping a close eye on you is he?” wondered Tom.

 

“Unfortunately yes,” she confirmed. She knew it was only going to get worse when her brother finished up his other project and arrived at the base the following week. Fending off Doc’s attentions would seem easy when compared to having to be civil to him.

 

“I’m sure they’ll work out what’s wrong soon,” said Tom supportively, mistaking the dark look that had come across her face for something else.

 

Andrea gave him a wan smile, knowing he was just trying to cheer her up. She wasn’t really in a conversational mood, though. Tom sensed he wasn’t getting very far and left her to it, going off in search of some refreshment instead. Andrea had just lain back down when someone else came in. Seeing who it was, Andrea immediately took great interest in the weights she was lifting. Unfortunately, out of the corner of her eye she spotted Nisha already making a beeline for her. It appeared that no matter how frosty Andrea was, the young woman just didn’t quite get the message. Either she was stupid, up for a challenge or took some perverse satisfaction in winding Andrea up.

 

“Morning, Andrea,” she said cheerily.

 

Andrea focussed on the bar in front of her, pumping it up and down. “Good morning.”

 

As usual Nisha completely ignored the reception and plonked herself down on the neighbouring bench. She removed the towel from around her neck and lay down. Andrea couldn’t help smiling to herself as Nisha struggled to push up the lowly weights on that particular set. Obviously the younger woman was no competition in that area. Eventually Nisha sat up again and started to examine the circular objects on each end of the pole.

 

“These must be labelled wrong,” she noted.

 

Andrea quickly hid her smile. “Of course.”

 

Nisha leaned over to peer at Andrea’s set that was still hurtling up and down. “How much is on yours?” Her eyes went up and down a few times before she caught sight of the raised numbers. “Fuck me!” she exclaimed. “Is that right? 500 flipping kilos? You want to watch you don’t drop that and do some damage to those babies.”

 

Andrea could only assume Nisha was referring to her breasts, especially given the way she staring at them. Not really liking the perusal, Andrea stopped pressing the weights and sat back up.

 

Nisha managed to tear her eyes away at last. “Perhaps I should try the running machine instead,” she pondered.

 

“Yes, that might be easier.” Andrea was trying hard to keep the condescension from her tone. At least Nisha hadn’t noticed it.

 

However, the other woman wasn’t exactly quick to move, instead staying sitting on the bench and attempting to engage Andrea in idle chat about the various members of staff. Having heard Nisha’s opinion of Doc (‘does he ever stop talking?’), Lister (‘what does he put in that food?’), Bel (‘frosty in more ways the one’), Harry (‘geeky, but nice’) and Tom (‘a funny guy’), Andrea decided she’d heard enough.

 

Fearing what the answer might be, Andrea asked the question on her mind. “So is there anyone in particular you like working with?”

 

Nisha answered immediately. “It’s got to be the Major hasn’t it.”

 

“Has it?”

 

“Well, I don’t know how she is with you,” explained Nisha, “but she’s been really helpful, and you have to admit she’s a pretty awesome woman.”

 

Andrea didn’t need to be told, certainly not by a young upstart like Nisha. “If you say so,” she said evenly.

 

Nisha scrunched up her dark eyebrows in consternation. “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you two get on or something?”

 

“We get on just fine,” said Andrea flatly. In fact so fine that we spend a good deal of our free time shagging like rabbits, she was tempted to add to see the look on Nisha’s face.

 

“Ah, you think I’m being a bit of an arse-licker?” continued Nisha. “Cosying up to the boss, is that it?”

 

Andrea certainly hoped Nisha wasn’t getting too cosy with Kate’s arse, else the young woman might soon find herself getting even more cosy with Andrea’s fist.

 

“Don’t worry, I’m no suck up,” added Nisha. “I just like the Major, I think she’s pretty cool for an army type, and pretty hot.”

 

Andrea gritted her teeth. Could the conversation get any worse? As always Nisha seemed oblivious to the tight-lipped reaction to her words, continuing on unabated. “Anyway, I can’t stand around chatting all day, I’ve got an appointment with the Major in half an hour.” Nisha started for the door, stopping to swing back and make a show of running her hands through her long black hair. “I need to go and get ready, so I can make a good impression.” Nisha offered Andrea a final smile and wink before she left.

 

Andrea clenched her fists and wondered just how good an impression Nisha might make with her front teeth missing.

 

………

 

 

A couple of hours later Andrea found herself kicking her heels in Kate’s office. The other woman was absent and it had taken some persuasion of the obstinate secretary to let her wait inside rather than having to hang around in the corridor like a lemon. Andrea absently flicked through the papers on Kate’s desk, unable to resist the temptation to her old investigator’s instincts. There was nothing particularly interesting, just a few memos from Kaminski and the Colonel. At the bottom was a larger file and Andrea opened it to find it was a dossier on another potential recruit. It looked like they had been trailing ‘Pete Barnes’ for a couple of months. Andrea hoped he wasn’t as annoying as Nisha if they did persuade him to join the unit.

 

A sound from the door made her jump and she quickly closed the file and rearranged the papers as they had been. Kate was there holding a tray with the somewhat incompatible foodstuffs of a banana, a yoghurt and a cup of coffee on it. Andrea didn’t comment, knowing Kate was terrible for eating properly in the daytime when she was working. In fact she was surprised she had stopped to pick up lunch at all.

 

“How did your meeting go?” asked Andrea as Kate placed the tray down on her coffee table and took a seat by the window.

 

“Which meeting?”

 

“With Nisha,” clarified Andrea. “She was in the gym this morning, going on about how she had to go and get ready in order to make a good impression.”

 

Kate shrugged. “It was fine, we went over some standard procedures; nothing particularly interesting.”

 

Kate was already chewing on a chunk of banana when she noticed that Andrea wasn’t continuing, merely staring at her. Kate swallowed her mouthful. “What?”

 

Andrea leant across the table to speak in lower tones. “It’s obvious isn’t it – she fancies you!”

 

Kate let out a loud laugh. “Don’t be ridiculous!” she said. “She’s just keen.”

 

Andrea gave her a doubtful look. “Is that why she described you as ‘hot’ this morning?”

 

That fact surprised Kate. “She did?” She sounded faintly appreciative of the compliment. “Still, that could just be a descriptive term from her, her terminology can be rather …”

 

As Kate struggled for an appropriate word, Andrea helped her out with a few suggestions. “Common? Tarty? Slutty?”

 

Kate frowned. “I was looking more for something like ‘colloquial’.”

 

“Whatever way you want to dress it up, she still likes you,” insisted Andrea. “I’ve not heard her describing anyone else like that.”

 

Kate shrugged. “I’ll keep an eye on it, but I think you’re blowing it out of all proportion.”

 

Andrea didn’t think she was exaggerating, but she wasn’t going to press the point and come across as a jealous lover, even if the green-eyed monster was in fact stomping happily round her thoughts.

 

“So did you enjoy the reading material?” asked Kate.

 

“Sorry?”

 

Kate didn’t look at her as she stirred her coffee for a moment. “The files on the desk,” she said evenly, “interesting were they?”

 

Kate was now peering at her from over her coffee mug. Andrea realised there was no point lying, she had been well and truly caught out. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” she said apologetically

 

A buzz came from the intercom on the desk saved her from further embarrassment. Kate’s secretary announced that Sophie and Kaminski were there to see her. Andrea decided it was about time to make herself scarce.

 

“Are we having dinner later?” she asked on the way to the door.

 

Kate sighed. “I’m not sure, it depends what this is about and whether it means I need to service another one of Miss Kaminski’s ridiculous requests.” Seeing Andrea looking a bit crestfallen, Kate quickly added. “But we’re still on for tomorrow?”

 

“Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

 

 

………

 

 

Andrea hopped down the stairs of the house, spotting Marcus lingering by the front door.

 

“Was that the doorbell?”

 

He looked up at her, his blond hair flopping in his eyes. She wondered when he was going to grow out of this latest teenage phase and get it cut. He seemed to think it made him attractive to the girls at the school near his, but then those King Henry’s girls weren’t very discerning.

 

“It was your little pal from school, Claire,” he informed Andrea, “but I told her you were busy.”

 

“What?” cried Andrea, coming down the last few steps to face him. “What did you do that for?”

 

“Because mother said you had to stay in and practice the violin.”

 

“And who are you, her little policeman?” Andrea went to step past him, hoping she might catch up with Claire, but her brother stepped across to block her. Andrea tried to man-handle him out the way, but he resisted. “Get out of the way, Marcus!” she said furiously as they tussled.

 

“She won’t like it,” he said in an infuriating sing-song voice.

 

“Won’t like what?”

 

Both of them froze where they were. Slowly they swung round to see their mother regarding them from across the hall. Andrea didn’t know how she always managed to do that, sneak up on them without being heard. It was almost as if she was floating along without making audible footfalls.

 

“Andrea’s trying to sneak out,” blurted out Marcus all of a sudden.

 

“Grass!” Andrea shot back at him. He never could resist mother’s stares for long.

 

That stare was now fully trained on Andrea. “Is this true?”

 

Andrea shrugged. “I wouldn’t exactly call it sneaking, I was just going to the shops with my friend Claire. It’s not like I was about to go out to snort coke and joyride in cars.”

 

Her mother ignored the glib tone, keeping her own voice as even as ever. “And have you done your practice?”

 

“No, but…”

 

“Then you’re not going anywhere.”

 

“What is this, a fucking prison?”

 

Her mother flinched at the use of the swear word. It was exactly why Andrea had employed it.  Still her mother’s voice didn’t change in tone as she replied.

 

“No, it is my house, and while here you will live under my rules.”

 

Andrea glared at her mother but could tell she had lost this one. Turning on her heel she stalked a few steps up the stairs before wheeling round.

 

“I hate you both!”

 

The words were still ringing in her ears as she Andrea sat up in the darkness. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the light to reveal she was alone in her bed. Instinctively her hand brushed the pillow next to her, wishing it was occupied. Obviously Kate had been caught up with work again and thought it best not to disturb Andrea late. She wished she had, maybe then she wouldn’t have been subjected to the unpleasant dream about her past. She didn’t recall it as a specific incident, probably it was just a conglomeration of the many times Marcus and her mother had succeeded in annoying her, sparked by seeing him recently. Trying to banish it from her mind and think happier thoughts she lay back down and closed her eyes.

 

Come the morning Andrea found herself waiting alone in the foyer of the base. It was another grey day outside, a few flakes of snow visible drifting on the breeze. As Andrea gazed distractedly out the large windows that ran the full length of the front of the building, she heard steps behind her. Andrea swung round, only to find it wasn’t who she was expecting. Rather than Kate, she found the beaming face of Nisha. She looked far too cheery considering it was eight o’clock on a Saturday morning.

 

The younger woman took in Andrea’s clothes, particularly the bulky coat. “Going somewhere nice?”

 

“I’m going to watch Liverpool play Middlesborough at Anfield,” Andrea informed her matter-of-factly.

 

“You are? I didn’t realise we were just allowed to wander off the island on our own, even if we do have these tracking things.” Nisha poked her right arm.

 

“I’m not going on my own.” As soon as she had said it Andrea realised she shouldn’t have.

 

Nisha was quick to latch on to the slip. “Oh yes? Who’s going with you?”

 

Andrea supposed she had to tell the truth now. No doubt Nisha would find out from someone else anyway. “I’m going with the Major.”

 

“Really?” Nisha’s dark eyebrows were high on her forehead, before something occurred to her. “An official escort thing is it?”

 

Andrea gritted her teeth and lied convincingly. “Yes.”

 

“Well, I can think of worse escorts,” commented Nisha. “Maybe I should ask if I can go somewhere, though I don’t think a football game would be my first choice, unless David Beckham was playing of course.”

 

Andrea didn’t dare ask what her first choice would be, and was saved from having to by the appearance of Kate. As she crossed the foyer towards them, Andrea couldn’t fail to notice the smile on Nisha’s face. Once Kate reached them, Andrea wasted no time in insisting they go, making some vague excuse about not wanting to be late. The sudden urgency bemused Kate, but she didn’t object as the two of them stepped out into the cold.

 

 

………….

 

 

A few hours later Andrea was warming her hands on a mug. Eventually she raised it to her lips and took a sip of the tea, grimacing as its bitter taste hit her tongue. No matter how much they tried to tart it up and charge the earth for it, motorway service station tea still tasted like crap. You could try putting in as many of those little milk cartons as you liked, pausing to wipe away where they had spit at you as you opened them, or try and disguise the taste with about ten sugars, but it still wasn’t a patch on a decent home brew. Andrea had known all this when she’d ordered, but she had hoped against hope that she would be proved wrong this time. Now she just wished she’d ordered a hot chocolate instead. She wondered if the other drink currently sitting on the plastic table was any better. However, Andrea doubted that coffee fared much better in such places and was certain Kate would be telling her as much as soon as she got back from the loo.

 

Placing her rancid tea back down, Andrea glanced around the café, studying the other people who’d seen fit to take a break from driving on the M62. There were a fair few red scarves, hats and shirts amongst them, fellow fans on their way to the game at Anfield. It occurred to Andrea that she and Kate really needn’t have forced their way through the Saturday afternoon traffic with everyone else – they could have just flown down to Liverpool one way or another. Yet such frivolous use of their power was generally frowned upon, and the possibility that someone might spot them flying over a large city was a concern. So instead they had to sit in the traffic jams with everyone else.

 

Andrea’s eyes drifted to the table next to theirs. The two men at it were currently discussing the prospects for the game while flicking through a tabloid in front of them on the table. Football was one of the favourite topics of conversation in Britain after all, ranking somewhere after the weather and just before television soap operas.

 

Though Andrea would claim to be too high-brow for papers like the one they had, she couldn’t help trying to surreptitiously read it too. As usual a terrible pun blared from the back page in large type, this one connecting Wayne Rooney to a famous war film via some painful wordplay. One of the men flipped the paper over and turned the first page. Andrea tried to pretend not to look at the third page, but the picture inside was so in your face it was hard not to. It was the 21st century and still a daily paper could get away with a picture of a half-naked woman just inside the cover. Not a bad looking one, as it happened, Andrea noted, turning her head slightly to the side to get a better look.

 

“Did you see this?”

 

Andrea continued to sneakily look as the man addressed his companion. He was pointing at the story on the opposite page to the buxom woman.

 

“The thing about the secret army base in Scotland?” queried the second man. “What a load of cobblers that is.”

 

Andrea was jolted out of her study, suddenly paying full attention to the discussion. The paper was too far away for her to be able to read the text of the article they were talking about.

 

“I dunno,” said the first man, “sounds pretty plausible to me.”

 

His friend wasn’t convinced. “And what exactly is it they’re meant to be doing there? Developing our own weapons of mass destruction? Anyway, the army must always be up to all sorts of secret shit, it’s hardly news is it?”

 

“It says here that some people stationed on that island were there at that fire at the oil depot a week or so ago. Now what would the military be doing sending people all the way down from Scotland to tackle a fire?”

 

“I don’t know, maybe they were fire experts? The army are always blowing things up, perhaps they also know special ways to put fires out.”

 

“Special being the operative word.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

The man leant forward to whisper his answer, Andrea unable to hear his words. All she heard was his companion’s incredulous laughter that came in response.

 

“You are nuts!” he exclaimed once he could control his laughter. “You’ve been watching way too many sci-fi films.”

 

“I’m telling you,” said the other one, undeterred, “they’re experimenting on soldiers up there, doing things to them to make them different. That’s what all that gulf war syndrome was really – a cover up of their botched tests.”

 

“You are completely insane, you know that?”

 

“Just you wait, we’ll be overrun with freaks and mutants before you know it. They’ll be taking over.”

 

“Taking over what exactly? Britain? The world? Maybe you should pick up your phone now.”

 

“And call who?”

 

“Steven Spielberg, I’m sure he’d be interested in the rights to your sci-fi blockbuster – ‘When Mutants Attack!’”

 

Andrea felt an uncomfortable prickling down the back of her neck as the men continued with their increasingly far-fetched propositions. If only they knew how close to the truth they were they might not be quite so light-hearted about it.

 

Eventually the two men finished up their drinks, got up and left the folded-up paper on the table. Andrea gave them a couple of moments to get a discrete distance before she quickly leant over and snatched it up. She was still scanning it when she sensed someone taking the seat opposite.

 

“Have you seen this,” said Andrea, placing it down, open and facing Kate who was sipping at her coffee, somehow managing to avoid looking disgusted at the flavour.

 

Kate glanced down at the table, blue eyes perusing the newspaper. “Well, I have to agree…” she paused to squint at some text. “Debbie certainly does have impressive ‘assets’,” she finished, looking up with a grin.

 

“Not that page!” cried Andrea, frowning at Kate. “On page 2,” she said, tapping a finger on the appropriate story.

 

Kate’s eyes flicked downwards once more, her smile quickly fading as she read on. The concern was evident on her face when it finally turned up to Andrea again.

 

“It seems things may not be as secret as we might have hoped,” remarked Andrea.

 

Kate sighed. “I suppose the only small mercy is that it seems to be pure speculation at the moment. It doesn’t appear that they actually know what the ‘secret’ is.”

 

“That could only be a matter of time.”

 

“Unless Kaminski and co get onto it quick and manage to muddy the waters sufficiently, it is what they’re best at after all,” noted Kate, thankful for the other woman’s abilities for once. “I’m surprised she hasn’t been ringing me already to moan about how we’ve been letting things slip again. Perhaps The Sun isn’t on her required reading list.”

 

“I can’t believe anything gets by that woman.” Andrea glanced at the byline to see who the author of the article was, surprised to see it was the journalist she’d met briefly in London a couple of weeks previously. For some reason she’d got the impression that tabloids weren’t really her style. “Kaminski’s probably tracking down Miss Ferguson as we speak,” added Andrea.

 

“Your friend better watch out then,” noted Kate with a touch of sarcasm.

 

“She’s not my friend,” pointed out Andrea. “I spoke to her once, very briefly. Now if you’ve finished with that coffee, we should be going.”

 

Kate drank the last drops from the mug and pulled on her coat. “Right, we wouldn’t want to be late for kick-off.”

 

 

……

 

 

 

By the time the game was over, snow had started to fall, great clumps swirling in the headlights of the car as they travelled north. Some of it even lay on the well-travelled motorway, leaving two distinct tracks in each lane where cars continued to pass. Given the treacherous conditions, Kate’s attention was firmly fixed on the road ahead, leaving little time for conversation. With no distractions to keep her occupied and only darkness and snow visible out the window, Andrea soon found her eyes beginning to droop. A couple of times she jerked awake again as her head lolled at an awkward angle.

 

“You can have a nap if you like,” noted Kate. Andrea glanced across, able to see the half-smile on Kate’s profile lit up at intervals by the headlights flashing by. “Seeing us beat Middlesborough 2-0 was obviously too much excitement for you,” she added with amusement.

 

“I’m wide awake,” stated Andrea, making herself sit up straight in her seat. “But it was pretty exciting, don’t you think? I’m glad you could make it what with your busy schedule at the moment.”

 

Kate risked a quick sideways glance. “You know I always have time for you,” she said softly, causing a strange tingling arousal to tickle up Andrea’s spine. “And Liverpool, of course,” she added.

 

Andrea chuckled. “Of course, we wouldn’t want that season ticket going to waste after all. What is that now, seven in a row?”

 

Kate nodded, switching her attention back to the road. “Yep, and it was nice to see Morientes get on the score sheet for once too. If only he could do it every week.”

 

“My money’s still on Crouch to come good for us.”

 

Kate laughed. “He’s all arms and legs. He looks like a stiff wind could blow him over.”

 

Andrea grinned back, enjoying the friendly banter after a week of hard work. “Ah, that’s all an act to lull the opposition into a false sense of security,” she insisted. “In reality he’s a lean, mean scoring machine.”

 

“If you say so….shit!”

 

Kate’s comment was abruptly cut off as she wrenched the steering wheel to one side. They barely managed to avoid the car that was careening across in front of them. Then the world was spinning as they skidded over the slushy surface of the road.

 

“Fuck!” exclaimed Kate. She wrestled for control of the steering wheel but it was hopeless.

 

Both of them saw the large lorry looming up in front of them out of the driving snow. Both of them knew they weren’t going to avoid it. Without thinking Andrea quickly unfastened her seatbelt and threw herself across in front of Kate.

 

The car slammed into the truck, the front-end instantly folding up with a teeth-grating wrenching of metal. The two women were flung forward, the resistance of Kate’s seatbelt the only thing stopping them from flying out the shattered windscreen. Andrea kept herself between Kate and the chassis of the lorry, which was crushing their smaller car with ease as it ploughed into it. Andrea felt hard, unforgiving metal digging into her back, but she used all the strength to brace herself and hold it off and away from the smaller woman.

 

The car popped and strained in a dozen places around them as it continued to be squashed. Then finally there was stillness, though not calm. Andrea could hear the sounds of more crashing metal and screeching tyres as the pile-up worked its way back up the motorway. Closer came the sound of hissing from the mangled engine that was currently positioned somewhere near Andrea’s right shoulder. Andrea tried to crane her head to look at Kate but found she was wedged fast up against the other woman. Kate in turn was pinned in her seat by Andrea and several tonnes of twisted metal. Andrea could feel Kate’s racing heart where their chests touched.

 

“Are you all right?” she called into the darkness.

 

When no answer came, Andrea’s own heart began to beat that much faster. Obviously Kate was alive, but beyond that…Andrea frantically sought out some sort of purchase with her limbs, which were positioned awkwardly around Kate’s seat.   Sharp bits of car stabbed into her shins as she tried to get them onto something solid, but she ignored the pain, barely noticing it in her urgency. Finally she managed to push backwards, shoving the metal frame away from them both with her back.

 

It was dark in the mangled interior but she could just make out the pale blue-grey eyes focussed on her.

 

“Thanks for the save,” said Kate, breathing heavy but otherwise appearing unscathed.

 

Andrea couldn’t help smiling, more in relief than anything else. “You’re welcome, though I suggest we get out of here before anything goes up.”

 

Kate nodded. “Allow me.” A focussed concussion wave blew what was left of the door off its hinges, the battered door clattering onto tarmac a few feet away.

 

The scene outside the car was one of utter chaos. The snow was still falling hard and fast, sweeping across the exposed road. Andrea had to shield her eyes from the stinging flakes to get a proper look at her surroundings. They were on a raised section, a bridge over something Andrea supposed. She could just make out the crash barriers at the side of the hard shoulder. All around them were twisted, mangled and up-ended cars. The wails and cries of those trapped or hurt floated up the road, carried on the stiff wind. A few fires had broken out too, melting the snow around them. Once they had cleared their own car, Andrea turned to Kate.

 

“That was a bit risky for you, wasn’t it, we might get seen after all?”

 

Kate pushed her already damp hair away from her face, continuing to survey the scene. “Rather that than have you having to use your powers again,” she noted. “Not that I’m not grateful, but you are still under medical supervision remember.”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes. “How could I forget.” She rubbed some life into her arms as the wind cut through the thin material of her shirt. Somewhere in the squashed boot of the car was her coat.

 

“So no more using them for the time being?” prompted Kate, also looking decidedly chilly as she stood with both arms crossed across her chest to ward off the cold.

 

“All right,” agreed Andrea. “I’ll just use what I learnt in the police to help, no super powers ok?”

 

“That would be good. You check to see if there’s anyone left trapped at that end,” said Kate pointing up the road. “I’ll check the other and see if the emergency services are here yet.”

 

Kate was quickly lost to the storm as she moved off. Andrea turned in the opposite direction, picking her way round the debris from their car. She saw that it was actually a tanker that had collided with them, the vehicle now lying hapharzardly on its side, thick wheels spinning in the air.  There were no obvious signs what the contents were. Andrea noted that at least she couldn’t see any hazard warning symbols on the main cylinder. A loud banging from the cabin prevented any further assessment. Andrea clambered up to the right door, which was now on the top, finding the driver was still trapped inside and frantically wrestling with the twisted interior of his truck. Seeing Andrea looming at the shattered window he became even more agitated.

 

“Help! Get me out!”

 

“Ok, take it easy, you’ll be all right.” Andrea kept her voice even and reassuring. “Are you hurt?” she asked him.

 

“I don’t know, I don’t think so. I just can’t get out.” He seemed unsure, dazed, but then he was trapped in an upturned lorry.

 

Andrea eased her top half through the broken window, careful not to catch herself on the remnants of glass. Dangling through it, she saw the man was still in his seat, pinned in place by something. As she peered and felt around, Andrea quickly deduced she was going to need some cutters if she wasn’t going to use her powers. “All right, just hang on, I’m going to go and see if I can find some help to get you out of here.”

 

She’d already started to pull herself back up through the window, when he reached out to grab her arm. “No! Don’t leave me, I have to get out!”

 

“I can’t get you out, not without some equipment,” she explained calmly. “You’re not in any immediate danger. Just sit tight and I’ll be back.”

 

He wasn’t letting go, though. “No, you don’t understand, the tanker…”

 

Andrea saw the nervousness in his face. “What? What’s in it?”

 

“It was all my boss’ idea,” rambled the man. “He said if we had all the right symbols and everything there’d be loads of extra surcharges…”

 

Andrea clutched his shoulder, bringing him to an abrupt halt. “What’s in it?” she repeated slowly.

 

“LPG.”

 

“Fuck.”

 

“Did you see any leaks outside?” asked the driver.

 

Andrea shook her head. “No, I don’t think so, but it’s probably not a good idea to sit around here more than necessary.”

 

“But the equipment you need?” he reminded her.

 

“Just hang on, let me take another look.”

 

Andrea managed to wriggle her whole body through the window, and into the crushed space at the man’s feet. It was a tight fit for her tall frame. She took a deep breath, placed her hands on the metal and pushed. It easily folded backwards under her power, grinding and crunching as it did. All the time she was waiting for it to come – the shortness of breath, the pounding in her chest – but fortunately there were no signs of her recent problems. Finally the man was able to pull his feet free and she let go.

 

“How the hell did you do that?”

 

Andrea yanked herself up, wedging herself between the seat and door. “It wasn’t as bad as I first thought,” she lied. “Obviously the metal was weakened by the crash.” Before he could ask any more awkward questions, she quickly added. “Now let’s get out of here.”

 

The snow drove into her face as soon as she hauled herself back up out the window. If anything it seemed to be getting worse, the flakes like a thousand icy daggers. The driver was grateful for the hand she offered to help him up out of the cab. He still seemed rather unsteady, in shock. Once she had lowered him safely down to the road, Andrea joined him on the tarmac.

 

Her feet had only just touched down when his cry came. “Shit!”

 

Andrea swung her eyes to where his widened ones were directed. The liquid ebbing out of the crack in the casing was obvious even in the darkness.

 

“Run!”

 

Despite Andrea’s instruction, the man remained rooted to the spot.

 

“I said, run!” repeated Andrea more urgently. Still he didn’t move, appearing too shocked. She realised she was going to have to make him go. She had hoped maybe she could stay, try and do something about the lorry before it went up. God knew how many people were in range of any potential blast. There just wasn’t time to find out.

 

She grabbed him round the shoulders. “Come on!”

 

They started running up the road, but it was hard going as they slipped through the slush mingled with oil. Eventually Andrea risked a backwards glance. The boom that resounded round the hills was deafening. The heat hit her first, and then both she and the man were flung forwards by the shockwave from the explosion, hitting the tarmac hard.

 

 

……..

 

 

The bridge rocked beneath Kate’s feet as fire shot up into the night sky. She could feel the heat on the back of her neck without having to look round, praying that Andrea hadn’t been close to the explosion. Kate would have been dashing to check if she wasn’t otherwise vitally occupied.

 

“What was that?”

 

The question came from a prone man, one whose femoral artery Kate was currently compressing. Even with her pressure blood was oozing out over her fingers, and without help he would be dead soon.

 

“Just a tanker going up,” Kate answered, “nothing to worry about.”

 

He laughed at the understatement, the sound immediately dissolving into hacking coughs. Eventually he managed to compose himself again. “Is that in the same way that the blood spurting from my leg is nothing to worry about?”

 

“It won’t be when the emergency services get here,” she tried to reassure him.

 

“And will that be before or after I’m dead?” he asked grimly.

 

Kate glanced up, trying to peer down the road through the driving snow. The icy crystals stung her eyes, but she could just make out the approaching flashing lights. “It won’t be long now.” As she turned back to him, she saw that his eyes were sliding shut. “Hey, come on!” she called. “No sleeping on me. That’s an order!”

 

His eyes struggled open. “An order? Why do I think you’re used to giving those?”

 

Despite herself, Kate couldn’t help giving a small chuckle. “I might be,” she allowed.

 

“Come on, talk to me, I’m hardly going anywhere. What do you do?”

 

“I’m in the army,” confessed Kate.

 

“The army?” he repeated in stupefaction. “What the hell is a gorgeous woman like you doing in the army?”

 

“Is there any reason attractive people can’t be in the army?”

 

“Well, no, I guess not,” he conceded. “I guess it’s just against the stereotype of dumb, muscular blokes or snooty officers.”

 

“You don’t know, I might be snooty.”

 

“Or muscular,” he pointed out, “though I hope not a bloke.”

 

Kate laughed. “I can say with certainty that one isn’t true.”

 

“But you are an officer then?”

 

“Yes, I am.”

 

“Though not on official business today?” he probed.

 

“No, I was actually at the game at Anfield this afternoon, between Liverpool and Middlesborough.”

 

The man made a small snort of recognition. “I was there too! I thought the day couldn’t get much worse after seeing my team get stuffed, but then…So what about you, you don’t sound very scouse or northern, but my guess is going to be it was Liverpool you were cheering for.”

 

“You guess correctly.”

 

“And your excuse is?”

 

Kate laughed, knowing he was referring to the way that Liverpool seemed to have a lot of fans with no association with the city whatsoever. “My father was from Liverpool originally,” she explained. “He used to take me as a kid. I haven’t had the chance to go that much in recent years, but I took the plunge and got a season ticket this year.”

 

“A glutton for punishment, eh?”

 

“You’re one to talk,” teased Kate, “supporting Middlesborough, and at away games too. Do you go to all their games?”

 

“God no, I just happened to be over this way. Even I’m not crazy enough to go to all their games!” He started coughing again, having to take a few moments to compose himself.

 

Kate used a free hand to steady him. “Take it easy, they’re nearly here.”

 

“You’re lying.”

 

“No, I can see an ambulance now,” insisted Kate. “You’re going to be fine. Anyway, Middlesborough can’t afford to lose any more supporters, they don’t have many as it is.”

 

The man managed a wan smile. “Thanks, for staying with me. Maybe next time we can do it somewhere a bit more comfortable, or at least warmer.”

 

“I hope you’re not planning on severing your artery again any time soon?”

 

“If I do I’ll know who to call.”

 

Finally Kate could hear the approaching footfalls through the snow, scrunching the powder underfoot. All of a sudden they were enveloped in a whirl of activity, paramedics and police vying for space as they attending the fallen man. Kate found herself being wrapped in a blanket and urged towards an ambulance, having to repeat a couple of times that she was fine and that they should tend someone who needed their help more. She was determined to carry on helping herself.

 

 

……..

 

 

Quickly righting herself, Andrea saw the night was now bright, lit up by the garish flare from the burning tanker. It revealed the other mangled cars in stark relief. A few of those close to the tanker were little more than burnt out shells.

 

Andrea turned to her companion, seeing him sitting on the soggy road, staring in disbelief at his former lorry. “Are you all right?” she asked him.

 

“I ... I … think so …”

 

He was soaked and shivering, but otherwise he looked unhurt. Glancing down at herself, Andrea saw she looked much the same, her drenched shirt plastered to her skin and allowing the bitter wind to numb her to the bone. The only saving grace was the out of control blaze from the tanker, which at least gave off some warmth. Another frantic cry drifted towards them on the breeze.

 

“Will you be all right?” Andrea quickly verified with the tanker driver. “The emergency services will be here soon.” Already she could make out the tell-tale red and blue glow further down the road through the tumbling snow.

 

He simply nodded and she had to take that as enough – the other cries were becoming more anxious, louder. For a second she had to stand and get her bearings, unable to tell where it was coming from in the maelstrom swirling about her.

 

“Help! Please!”

 

Andrea dashed in what she hoped was the right direction, quickly coming across a middle-aged woman kneeling on the ground and continuing to call aimlessly into the storm.  About six feet in front of her was a man, also on his knees but seemingly alive and well. For a moment Andrea couldn’t see what the problem was. Then the man went to move. Immediately the ground beneath Andrea’s feet juddered, knocking her off balance momentarily. Now she could see it – the jagged and widening crack in the bridge between the two people. The section the man was on was teetering precariously, about to split away completely at any second.

 

Andrea crouched down by the woman, putting a quick comforting hand on her shoulder while she studied the man’s predicament. He was clinging onto the slippery road as best he could, but already it was at an unnatural angle, sloping down towards the darkness below. Andrea couldn’t even see the ground under the bridge it was so far down.

 

“Don’t move!” Andrea yelled out to him.

 

“I wasn’t intending to!” he shouted back.

 

Andrea took a quick look around but there wasn’t anything obvious she could use to throw to him to pull him up. Another loud crack and a scream from the woman prevented further study. The man had slipped further away. His feet were precariously near the edge.

 

“Ok, I’m going to come and get you,” Andrea told him.

 

The woman clutched at her. “You can’t!” she wailed. “You’ll tip it over!”

 

Andrea placed both her hands on the near hysterical woman’s shoulders, waiting for her to focus onto Andrea’s face. “What’s your name?”

 

“My name?” she repeated, taken aback by the question. “It’s Madeline,” she finally managed.

 

“And I’m Andrea. Now, Madeline I just need you to stay calm. I’m a police officer, I know what I’m doing. Trust me, it’ll be all right. Ok?” It was a slight fudging of the truth but that really wasn’t important right now.

 

The woman nodded dumbly, hardly in a position to object anyway. Andrea turned back to the dangling man. “And what’s your name?”

 

“John,” he replied, a nervous tremble detectable in his voice.

 

“Ok, John, I’m just going to ease out slowly to you,” explained Andrea. “You just stay where you are, try not to move.”

 

Andrea took up a position lying on her front on the ground, swinging her legs over the gap between the main part of the bridge and the part that was breaking away. Using her superhuman abilities she managed to hover the barest fraction above the concrete, making it look for all intents and purposes like she was still lying on it, while in fact she was applying no pressure on the damaged road. She floated down towards the man, keeping up the pretence that she was holding onto the ground. It required precision and concentration but she was determined to get to him, knowing that if worst came to worst she could always reveal the full extent of her powers and let the clean up squad sort it out later. That was as long as she didn’t experience any nasty blackouts, in which case it could get messy for both of them.

 

Eventually Andrea got in range, sticking out a hand that he gratefully grabbed. “Ok, slowly does it,” she reminded him as they tentatively worked their way back to the relative safety of the bridge. Once there the other woman instantly grabbed the man in a tight embrace, not letting go for a good while.

 

Meanwhile, Andrea was almost as relieved as them, thankful her body hadn’t let her down for once. She stood resting her hand on her knees, letting the tension ease from her as she breathed deeply.

 

“Thank you so much.” It was Madeline talking to her, having finally released what Andrea assumed was her husband.

 

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “I think you two should go and get checked out by the paramedics – you’ve had quite the shock and it’s freezing out here.” Andrea let out an involuntary shiver herself.

 

“What about you?” asked John.

 

“I’m fine,” she replied dismissively. “I need to carry on checking for other survivors. Go on.”

 

They didn’t really need to be asked twice, helping each other down the road in the direction of the sirens. Andrea couldn’t help smiling to herself as she watched them leaning on one another, supporting one another. Immediately she wondered how Kate was getting on. Even with the chill wind and the continued battering snow, a warm glow filled her deep inside at the thought of the other woman.

 

That was quickly obliterated by the sharp pain across her chest.

 

Andrea gasped, falling to her knees in the snow. Fuck, fuck! She scrunched her eyes shut willing the pain to go away.

 

When another wave hit, her hands reflexively clenched, gripping clumps of the white powder. It quickly turned to ice that dug into and numbed her palms. At least the pain let her knew she was still conscious. Her own gasps were drowned out by more wrenching noises from the concrete around her. Andrea forced open her eyes to see another jagged crack splitting through the road, dividing off more of the bridge. The section she was on shuddered alarmingly.

 

Christ, could it get any worse?

 

Andrea tried to crawl towards safety across the snow-covered surface, but she was finding it harder and harder to breathe. Each laboured movement required her to stop and take several hacking breaths before continuing.

 

Come on, you can do it!

 

She looked around for help but suddenly everyone seemed to have disappeared. She was on her own. Gritting her teeth she forged on, one agonising movement at a time. The pain was coming in an almost unending barrage now, yet she knew she couldn’t pass out, not yet.

 

Fucking useless body, come on, move!

 

Somehow Andrea made it to the ever-growing crack that marked the main section of the bridge. Just a bit further and she could collapse. She was reaching over the gap when her section gave one final groan and fell away completely.

 

As the ground went from beneath her, Andrea darted out a desperate hand, managing to grab onto the edge of the broken bridge. Her fingers scrapped over the concrete but she couldn’t gain purchase, couldn’t find the strength to hold on. Then there was no more concrete and she was falling. She tried to call upon her ability to fly but she was too weak, drained. She had a moment to hope that her dense bones might protect her from the long drop when she saw something hurtling toward her from above. It was a dark blur in the white blanket of snow, but the red hair whipping back from the face was unmistakable.

 

She had never been more grateful to feel Kate’s arms wrapping around her than she was at that moment. Immediately her descent was halted as Kate used her own natural ability to defy gravity. They were left floating in mid air for a moment, the storm swirling around them. Andrea let herself relax, resting her head against Kate’s chest. She was soaked too, her shirt ruffled and damp, but Andrea didn’t care. Finally she could let the tiredness overcome her.

 

……

 

Pete Barnes hunched his shoulders and hurried on down the road, turning into the street that would lead under the railway tracks. God, it’s cold! He glanced up to the night sky, wondering if they might see snow for the first time that year. He burrowed his hands into his pockets, not knowing why he had left it so late to come home. Correction, he did know, he just didn’t want to admit it. The reason for the late hour was that he’d had to stay in the library until closing because he’d left all his work to the last minute; again. It was so late the tunnel was empty as he entered it, save for a few pigeons adding to the mountains of crap that caked its walls and beams. The orange glow from the strip lights gave it a faintly eerie feel and Pete quickened his pace to get to the other side as fast as possible.

 

As he walked, he reflexively looked over his shoulder to see if they were following him. Thankfully the quick glance gave no indication of anyone else braving the freezing December night, and he deduced he must have given them the slip with his quick change in route. Not that there was much point, because no doubt they would be there again by the time he got home to his flat, waiting and watching. He had no idea who they were, but they’d started following him about a month ago.

 

At first he’d thought he’d been imagining it, seeing people staring at him wherever he went – the man a bit too interested in him over his newspaper in Starbucks, the woman who kept glancing at him in the bookshop. He’d put it down to too much watching Spooks on television, and not enough time finishing his last three essays before the Christmas break. Then he’d noticed that on occasions it was actually the same person in different locations, and he knew it wasn’t all in his mind.

 

Why they were following him, he didn’t know. He was just a simple history student from an unremarkable middle-class background, hardly the sort of person that would interest spies. At least that’s what Pete tried to tell himself, but in reality he knew that wasn’t all he was. As soon as the powers had come to him he’d known he was different. That’s why he’d never told anyone – he didn’t want to be different. It was cool and everything, being able to manipulate water the way he could, but not exactly something he was about to broadcast to the world.

 

Yet it seemed somebody knew. It was the only reason he could think that anyone would be bothered enough to follow him everywhere he went. Who they were was another matter. Were they working for the government, or were they someone else? Whoever they were, he was getting sick of it, and he considered that maybe he should just confront them one day, turn around and ask them what the fuck they were playing at. Of course he knew he’d never really do that, he wasn’t exactly the confrontational type. Quiet and studious was more his thing. It was nice to imagine it in his mind, though.

 

The daydream was still playing happily through his thoughts as Pete reached the end of the tunnel. He went to turn the corner and ran slap bang into a large object. Pete bounced backwards, seeing it was actually a woman. A huge woman, like Romanian shot-putter huge, considered Pete.

 

“Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t see you.” It sounded a faintly ridiculous thing to say, given her size.

 

She didn’t answer, but as he tried to move she stepped across to block his way. Playing silly buggers! Despite his annoyance, Pete was hardly about to pick a fight with someone that looked like they could pulverise him with a single flick of a finger. Instead he turned to cross the street, only that way was also blocked now by a man who seemed to have come out of nowhere. He was a big guy too, though nowhere near as massive as the woman. He was taller than Pete with broad shoulders and a slightly swarthy complexion. Kind of cute in a sort of Neanderthal way, thought Pete appreciatively.

 

“Pete Barnes?”

 

An air of authority filled the man’s tone that led Pete to answer automatically. “Yes?”

 

The man smiled, though it wasn’t an entirely pleasant one. He clapped a hand on Pete’s shoulder. “Welcome to the organisation.”

 

Pete had no time to wonder what that meant. A jolt of pain stabbed in his shoulder, quickly flaring through the rest of his body and then everything went black.


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Andrea was almost at the door when a voice halted her progress. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in me asking you to stay.”

 

Andrea had to feel sorry for Doc sometimes, especially when he was charged with trying to keep her in the sickbay for any length of time. That sympathy didn’t extend to her granting his wish this time though. She glanced over her shoulder and merely gave him a look that indicated as much.

 

He could easily read it. “I thought not,” he sighed. He rubbed at his temple, knocking his glasses momentarily aside from their perch on his nose. He quickly readjusted them so he could focus on her. “We’re never going to find out what’s wrong with you if you insist on running off all the time.”

 

“I’m sure your new assistant will have a few ideas,” noted Andrea snidely. She didn’t wait for a reply as she swept out of the room.

 

It had been two days since her latest collapse on the crumbling bridge. Since then Doc had been prodding and poking her, yet coming up with little. However, that morning help had arrived for the bemused medic. As she considered the ramifications of that, Andrea heard another pair of footsteps striding after her. The boots resounded along the corridor, Andrea slowing to allow them to catch up. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the familiar red head drawing level.

 

“Escaped from Doc again have you?”

 

“I was afraid that if he tried to take my temperature one more time I might just have to insert his thermometer somewhere inappropriate.”

 

Andrea noticed Kate struggling to hold in a smile. “Are you heading upstairs for lunch?”

 

Something about the slightly forced evenness of the question gave Andrea pause. “And who might I find in the canteen if I am?”

 

They had reached the end of the corridor so Kate had to stop to press the button for the lift before answering. “I believe your brother’s there,” she admitted. “At least that’s where I left him.”

 

“Suddenly I don’t feel that hungry,” remarked Andrea.

 

The ping of the lift signalled its arrival and the two women stepped silently inside. Andrea stood facing the doors as they slid shut, though she could sense Kate’s eyes on her from the side.  “You can’t avoid him forever, you know,” said the other woman.

 

Andrea pursed her lips. “I could give it a good go.”

 

A small frustrated sigh came from Kate. “Why don’t we go to the canteen together?” she suggested.

 

Andrea turned her head to the side. “Hoping for safety in numbers?”

 

Kate raised a single eyebrow. “For you or him?”

 

“I’ll let you know.”

 

Already her brother’s arrival was having an affect on Andrea and she hadn’t even seen him yet. She felt on edge, that feeling reflected in her clipped answers to Kate’s questions. She supposed she was going to have to see him sooner of later. “All right,” she conceded as the lift reached the ground floor. “Let’s go for lunch.”

 

 

…………..

 

 

Kate wasn’t sure whether she was glad Andrea had agreed to lunch or not. She’d half expected the younger woman to refuse. Now she was hoisted by her own petard, condemned to seeing the no doubt uncomfortable meal through.

 

She had to wonder if it had been an entirely wise decision drafting in the Andrea’s brother at all, given the already tense atmosphere round the base. Yet any doubts were soon banished if she simply recalled events back on the snowbound motorway. She dreaded to think what might have happened if she hadn’t spotted Andrea falling off the bridge.

 

The canteen was busy and Kate was glad to see that Marcus had already introduced himself to some of the others and was busily chatting with Tom, Bel and Nisha. Kate could practically feel the stiffness in Andrea’s walk as they approached.

 

Tom was first to spot them. “Hey, Sherlock,” he called to Andrea. “You never said anything about having a brainbox brother.”

 

“Didn’t I?” replied Andrea coolly as she took up a seat. “It must have slipped my mind.”

 

The look she offered Marcus could have frozen his soup that he was casually sipping. He was either oblivious or practiced in the art of disregarding such stares, as he simply gave a half smile in return. “It’s good to see you again, Andrea, how are you doing?”

 

“I’m fine, thank you.”

 

Kate noticed Andrea didn’t enquire as to Marcus’ health in return, as would have been polite. She was amazed he’d even received the thank you. It was abundantly clear that smoothing the relationship between Andrea and her brother may take some time. Years of bad feeling weren’t going to disappear with a simple sorry.

 

Kate determined it was up to her to save the fast faltering conversation. “How have you found our facilities?” she enquired of the scientist. “I trust Doc took great delight in showing you his vast array of equipment?”

 

“Indeed,” agreed Marcus, “I’m very jealous. And here I was thinking any government backed project was bound to be badly funded. I may have to stick around a bit longer to get a chance to play with all your wonderful toys.”

 

Kate was sure she detected a half-strangled gulp from next to her. “And of course we would be delighted to have someone of your experience on the staff.” She didn’t dare look to her side, though she heard a second noise, somewhere between a snort and a cough.

 

“That’s nice of you to say, considering I haven’t produced any results for you yet. Talking of which,” added Marcus getting to his feet, “I should be getting back to it.” He cast a last look at Andrea. “I’ll see you tomorrow for our first session?”

 

Andrea’s eyes slowly lifted. “I look forward to it.” The sarcasm dripping from her tone could have drowned the whole table. Meanwhile Kate saw the others shifting uncomfortably in their seats at the obvious show of hostility.

 

Again Marcus ignored Andrea’s attitude, simply giving a nod and departing. Deciding it best not to pull Andrea up on her behaviour in front of everyone else, Kate resolved to speak to her later. For now she directed the conversation onto more mundane things.

 

 

……

 

 

Andrea successfully managed to avoid her brother for the remainder of the day, thinking twice before she decided to venture to the messhall after hours. In the end she determined it probably wasn’t Marcus’ scene – he would no doubt still be tucked away in his lab. On opening the door to the room she did a quick check to verify her assumption before proceeding on in. There were the usual groups of people present – a gaggle of squaddies loitering near the bar, a few people gathered around the television, plus a smaller group by the pool tables. Andrea headed for the last of these, having spotted Tom amongst them.

 

“Sherlock,” he announced on spying her. “At last, some decent opposition.”

 

Seeing that Tom had just finished a game with a disgruntled looking scientist, Andrea took up one of the spare cues. “Too decent for you,” she remarked while he racked up the balls.

 

Tom merely laughed and gestured to the ready table. “After you.”

 

Andrea broke off, happy to have the distraction of the game to help her forget about Marcus and her other problems for a while. Unfortunately Tom hadn’t been reading the script, because it wasn’t long before he piped up with some friendly chatter.

 

“So what was all that earlier with your brother?”

 

“All what?” asked Andrea innocently as she took another shot.

 

Tom leant on this cue rather than take his next shot. “All what? I mean the ice storm drifting in from planet Andrea that nearly engulfed the whole canteen.”

 

“We don’t get on,” stated Andrea.

 

Tom rolled his eyes to the heavens. “No, really?”

 

“It’s your go,” Andrea reminded him, not wanting to be dragged into a conversation on the subject.

 

“Come on, you can’t leave it at that,” pressed Tom. “I’ll set Bel on you…”

 

Recognising the seriousness of that threat, Andrea supposed she better at least say something further. “We’ve just never got on, he’s an arrogant, self-righteous know-it-all.”

 

Tom stroked his chin thoughfully. “Hmm, sounds like someone else I know,” he teased.

 

“Would you like to be wearing this cue where the sun doesn’t shine?”

 

Andrea playfully poked the butt end of the cue at the back of Tom’s trousers, causing him to skip out of the way and straight into Kate who had just arrived.

Kate quickly took in the scene as Tom bounced off her. “Trying to give Tom some extra excitement again?” she asked Andrea with a raised eyebrow.

 

“He seems to like it a bit too much though,” joked Andrea in return, making a play for his rear once more.

 

“Oi!” cried the man indignantly. “I’ll have you know I’m no bum bandit! No offence intended,” he quickly added to Andrea. She merely fixed him with an icy stare, having fun making him squirm. “Er…I mean, you know, what with them and you and…” he stammered.

 

“We’re all the same?”

 

“Well…no…yes… oh, stop it! You know what I mean.” Tom finally poked his tongue out, having given up on making a reasonable argument.

 

Andrea decided to let him off for now, laughing as he moved away to chalk his cue with a continued pout on his face. With the man at a safe distance, Kate moved in closer to allow her and Andrea to talk privately.

 

“And how are you this evening?” she asked.

 

Andrea spotted the implied question immediately. “You mean have I had any episodes in the four hours since you last saw me?”

 

“Just humour me?” requested Kate.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

Kate favoured her with a doubtful look.

 

“Really, I’m fine,” insisted Andrea. “I’m sure you’re the first person Doc would have been running to if anything had happened. He knows everything after all,” she added tapping her right arm where the tracking and monitoring device lay under her skin. “Honestly there’s nothing untoward to report.”

 

“All right,” allowed Kate, “but you would say if there was?”

 

“Yes, I’ve learnt my lesson.”

 

“Talking of which…”

 

Andrea quickly cut her off. “Don’t even say it.”

 

“Say what? You didn’t let me finish.”

 

“Because I don’t need to,” remarked Andrea. “You’re going to talk to me about Marcus.”

 

Kate raised her eyebrows in query. “And what was I going to say?”

 

“To give him a chance, to be at least polite to him in front of everyone else,” recited Andrea, “and so on and so forth, blah blah blah.”

 

“Good, since you already know what you need to do, I don’t need to re-iterate it then,” noted Kate.

 

Andrea frowned at how Kate had manouvered her into an implicit agreement to modify her behaviour. Having claimed her victory, Kate wasn’t hanging about to accept arguments.

 

“So, who fancies a game?” she asked, picking up one of the spare cues from the rack at the side of the table.

 

“How about doubles?” suggested Tom. “You and Andrea against me and…” he glanced round the room for a likely partner just at the moment that Nisha entered. “Nisha!” he called to the young woman.

 

She offered one of her beaming smiles as she approached Tom. She was out of training uniform and in her own clothes, what there was of them. Her tight, low cut top left little to the imagination.

 

“Do you play?” Tom asked her, indicating the table.

 

“I’ll give it a go,” she replied non-commitally. From the evasive answer Andrea guessed she was either hopeless or so good that she didn’t need to brag.

 

“Great, just give me a sec, I need to visit the little boys room,” noted Tom before dashing from the room.

 

“I’ll go get some drinks shall I?” suggested Kate.

 

Before Andrea could stop her, Kate had moved off in the direction of the bar, leaving her alone with Nisha. Andrea stared after Kate for a moment, annoyed eyes boring a path into her back. Obviously she had left them alone on purpose. Eventually Andrea gave up trying to smite her with a look and turned to the younger woman.

 

“How are you feeling?” Nisha asked, taking Andrea aback for a second with the show of concern.

 

“I’m good, thanks.”

 

“I heard about your car accident,” continued Nisha. “And that the Major had to rescue your butt,” she added snidely, the brief show of concern quickly evaporating. “It’s a shame you’ve got some dodgy old powers ain’t it?” she added in a tone that suggested she didn’t think it was anything of the sort. “Whereas some of us have no bother controlling them.” She flicked her long hair over her shoulder in a smug gesture. “Maybe you need some extra lessons?”

 

Andrea held her tongue, though Nisha didn’t have any such restraint. “It’s a good job the Major was there too, eh?” she added.

 

“Yes it was,” said Andrea through tight lips.

 

Nisha leaned in closer, giving the impression she had something secret to discuss. “So what was it like?”

 

“What was what like?” asked a genuinely confused Andrea.

 

“Well, she had to carry you didn’t she?” pointed out Nisha. “How did it feel, flying along in her arms?”

 

How on earth does Nisha know all these details? wondered Andrea. Gossip certainly travelled fast. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

 

Nisha rolled her eyes. “Only if that was me being carted around by the Major, I think I’d be having a sneaky feel.”

 

Andrea narrowed her eyes, her voice taking on a warning tone. “A sneaky feel of what?”

 

“Is there an echo in here?” said Nisha, looking around the room before settling her eyes back on Andrea. “Come on, I know you’re not this dense. You know…” Nisha made some unsubtle groping motions with first one and then both hands.

 

Andrea stiffened. “The Major is our commanding officer and I don’t think it would be proper to be touching her in an inappropriate manner while on duty do you?”

 

“All right,” allowed Nisha, “but how about when off duty?” she added with a laugh. “I wonder if she even swings that way?” she mused. “It’s hard to tell with these army types, you kind of assume they all do, the women at least. But I’m not sure with her. What does your gay detector tell you?”

 

Andrea didn’t recall ever having mentioned her sexuality to Nisha, but then again it wasn’t a secret. Any one of a number of people could have told her. She decided it was time to stop the conversation from going into more dangerous waters. “I really don’t think this is an appropriate discussion to be having about the Major.”

 

“Oh for christ’s sake, Andrea, no one’s listening.” Nisha caught herself and glanced round before leaning in closer to Andrea once more. “Then again, you never know round here. Maybe they have us all bugged and the Major will be listening to this conversation later. Nisha made a show of pulling up the edge of her top as if speaking into a microphone attached to it. Just in case you are, major, she whispered, I meant every word I said and I’m free most evenings if you want to drop by.” Nisha laughed out loud at her own joking.

 

Andrea clenched her fists by her sides but did nothing else. Kate’s big plan for telling everyone about their relationship couldn’t come fast enough as far as she was concerned. Then maybe she could set the younger woman straight, or otherwise, on a few things.

 

 

……

 

 

 

With less than a week to go until Christmas the atmosphere around the base was increasingly jovial. Many of the troops were preparing to go home and visit family and friends, though a skeleton staff would remain to guard the base. Unfortunately for Kate she couldn’t even begin to think about festivities when the weekly meeting with Kaminski required negotiating first. It was only ten in the morning that Tuesday when Kate entered the conference room, and yet she’d already had three fortifying cups of strong black coffee.

 

Kaminski was there before her, a fact that annoyed Kate for some reason. Not only that, but Kaminski had taken up a seat at the head of the table. There wasn’t any official line regarding who sat where, but it was generally accepted as the Colonel’s place. Kate offered a deliberately polite greeting to the other woman as she sat down. The Colonel soon followed, and Kate was still looking to the door for Sophie when Kaminski started up the meeting. Kate pulled her up immediately.

 

“Is Lieutenant McAllister not joining us?”

 

Kaminski looked displeased by the interruption. “She is otherwise engaged,” she stated before continuing straight on. “As I was saying, we’ve been monitoring communications traffic as usual,” she said, passing out some printouts for the others to view. “There’s not much of note to report.”  She turned over a few pages. “Marcus Hallstrom did call his mother twice yesterday evening.”

 

Kate stopped sifting through her own papers to glance at the other woman. “Everyone on the base calls their families, why is that of particular note?”

 

“Because not everyone else’s family is involved in genetic research,” pointed out Kaminski as if Kate were stupid to not know as much.

 

Kate rose to the challenge. “As far as I understand it, the other Dr Hallstrom is engaged in research into cancer, in particular cancer gene therapy and immunotherapy.”

 

“You know about the doctor’s work do you?” asked Kaminski, an air of fake casualness in her tone.

 

“Andrea Hallstrom has mentioned it in the past,” said Kate non-commitally. She could tell Kaminski was on one of her fishing trips, and Kate certainly wasn’t about to hook herself on the line.

 

“Yet she doesn’t call her mother,” pressed the official.

 

“That’s her prerogative.”

 

When there was nothing more, Kaminski simply stared across the table at Kate, perhaps hoping to invite further comment. “Is that all?” she asked eventually. “Only I thought you might have some additional insight into why, since you seem to know so much about the Hallstrom family.”

 

Kate ignored the comment, looking back down at her papers. “Getting back to the topic at hand,” she said, pretending to leaf through them, before glancing up again, “was Dr Hallstrom actually discussing anything to do with the base or superhumans with his mother?”

 

Kaminski paused before answernig. “No, they were discussing Christmas arrangements.”

 

Kate tried hard not to laugh. She tried really hard. In the end she emitted a faint choking noise as she struggled to keep her mouth shut. She had to feel sorry for Kaminski. She so wanted someone to be undertaking a conspiracy, if only to justify her existence. Kate could tell Kaminski had detected her barely concealed amusement, a brief flash of anger evident on her face before the icy exterior slammed down in force once more.

 

“On another note, we’ve also been making use of the inbuilt tracking devices to monitor the whereabouts of the operatives.”

 

Kate realised it was most likely a calculated attempt to get revenge on her for the previous conversation, but wasn’t about to let the remark pass. “Hang on a minute, those are meant to be used out in the field, not to keep tabs on the operatives’ every movement.”

 

Kaminski looked nonplussed by Kate’s disquiet, though Kate was sure she knew full well that she would stir this sort of reaction. “They provide valuable additional data,” stated the other woman.

 

“What, like how many times Tom went to the toilet in one day?”

 

“Or how many times you visited Andrea Hallstrom’s quarters in one week,” said Kaminski pointedly. “Let me see,” the woman made a show of studying her notes, “twenty-five, was it?”

 

Kate had to fight hard to keep her expression even. Obviously Kaminski had been saving that one for an opportune moment. It seemed it was getting more and more difficult to keep her relationship with Andrea a secret. However, whether Kaminski actually knew about or suspected them or whether she was just concerned that Kate was associating with anyone that much was anyone’s guess. Kate certainly wasn’t going to press to find out, preferring to try and gloss over the subject instead.

 

“I visit all my operatives regularly,” answered Kate evenly. “It’s good management.” Before Kaminski could produce any figures on how many times she’d visited anyone else, Kate quickly turned to the Colonel. “I must object to this use of the tracking devices. Everyone on the base has a right to some privacy, including the superhumans. If the others knew of this I’m sure they wouldn’t be too happy either.”

 

“Though you won’t be telling them,” interjected Kaminski.

 

Kate favoured her with a withering look for jumping in and not allowing the Colonel to speak.

 

“Anything discussed in these meetings is confidential,” continued Kaminski, “and should not be repeated to anyone outside this room. That includes anyone’s whose quarters we might visit on our off duty hours.”

 

Kate bristled again. “I do know what confidential means,” she noted. “So other than some phone calls to relatives and the whereabouts of our operatives while on the base, do you actually have anything of value to report?”

 

“We do have another prospect that’s mysteriously vanished.” Kaminski passed a fresh handout around the table. “Pete Barnes, he went missing from his student accommodation three days ago.”

 

The name rang a vague bell in Kate’s mind and seeing her thoughtful expression, Kaminski elaborated. “I forwarded a report on him last week. You were copied in on it, Major.”

 

Kate met the other woman’s gaze across the table. The Colonel didn’t dare speak in the face of the chill that had descended over the room. “What exactly are you insinuating?”

 

“Nothing,” said Kaminski. “It’s just odd that a few days after I make his details known he suddenly vanishes, don’t you think?”

 

Kate wondered if Kaminski had deliberately forwarded the details as a trap. If she had then it wasn’t a very good one, since the man had disappeared anyway. Then again she only had Kaminski’s word for it that he was missing and not squirreled away somewhere by the government. “How many other people were copied in on that report?”

 

“Everyone around this table, plus some senior people in the Home Office.”

 

“Then the leak could have come from there,” pointed out Kate. “I hope you’re auditing them as well?” Kate decided it was best to omit the fact that Andrea had also inadvertently seen the file on the man, since that would only cloud matters. They needed Kaminski to be focussing her efforts on productive lines of enquiry, not dead ends.

 

“Don’t worry, we’re keeping an eye on everyone,” said Kaminski.

 

“And who’s keeping an eye on you?”

 

Kaminski glanced up, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly as she stared at Kate once more. She didn’t answer the question, though. Kate deemed that meant it was up to her to be the one monitoring the other woman. She hoped that Kaminski had a few of her own juicy secrets, ones that Kate was more determined than ever to discover. If Kaminski was going to insist on being a bitch, then Kate could be one right back.

 

………

 

 

Andrea fidgeted in her seat, looking to the clock on the wall for quite possibly the hundredth time. The second hand had moved a good ten seconds this time. She decided she would give Marcus two more minutes and then she was leaving. She had better things to do than sit around waiting for him to deem he could spare some of his precious time. He was the one who wanted to see her, after all, and now she was sat in his lab with no Dr Hallstrom in sight. Not for the first time she wondered if he was being deliberately late. That would be just like Marcus to try and put her off guard. As if she wasn’t perturbed enough by having to put her trust in him.

 

Just when she thought she could make her justified break for freedom the door swung open and Marcus breezed in.

 

“Good afternoon.”

 

Andrea made a show of looking at her watch. “So it is.”

 

Marcus placed the stash of papers he was carrying down on a desk. “Sorry am I late?”

 

“I’m sure you know you are.”

 

“Honestly, I didn’t,” he insisted. “I was talking with Theo, Dr Todd, and lost track of time.”

 

Andrea found the excuse unlikely, but decided not to pursue it. Things were tense enough without picking on every small thing that Marcus did to annoy her, otherwise they could well be there all afternoon.

 

“Shall we just get on with this?” she said instead.

 

Marcus smiled. “That’s what I like, nice keen subjects.”

 

Marcus busied himself assembling his equipment, describing what it was all for as he did. Some of it made sense to Andrea and some of it went over even her head, though she wasn’t about to admit as much to Marcus. When he was ready he took a seat opposite her, preparing to affix some sticky sensors to her. As Marcus went to attach the first one, Andrea couldn’t help flinching back, cursing herself for the involuntary reaction to the medical equipment. Marcus paused with the pad in his hand.

 

“Sorry, bad memories from a few months ago?”

 

“Been reading up on me have you?” retorted Andrea defensively. As if it wasn’t bad enough she needed his help now, it seemed Marcus also knew about everything else that had happened over the last year. The last thing she needed or wanted was his fake sympathy.

 

“I needed to know what I’m dealing with,” he answered reasonably.

 

“And it didn’t give you a little bit of satisfaction to read what happened with Dixon and Chadwick?”

 

“No, of course not!” exclaimed an affronted Marcus. “Christ, who exactly do you think I am, Dr Mengele? Look, if you really don’t want me here, I can go. I’m only trying to help!”

 

Andrea caught his hand as he went to put the sensor down. “I’m sorry.” The words grated, but she knew she needed his help as much as it pained her to admit it. “I just don’t like to be reminded of it.”

 

“I’m sorry too, for what happened.”

 

Andrea thought he almost sounded genuine. “Just stick your sensors on,” she told him, cutting the thread of conversation off.

 

Marcus nodded and began attaching them, first to her forehead, then down her arms. At first he worked in silence, but eventually he attempted random small talk with her, maybe attempting to show a concerned bedside manner. They proceeded from the weather, to the quarters on the base to the other members of staff. Andrea maintained an air of indifference throughout until he got onto the subject of Nisha. When he expressed a liking for the young woman, she couldn’t hide her shock.

 

“I didn’t think you’d succumb to her obvious ‘charms’ like everyone else,” noted Andrea.

 

“What do you mean by that?”

 

“Ugh, she’s so…” Andrea searched for something vaguely polite, “…vulgar. She flirts outrageously with everyone!”

 

“Flirts? Or is just nice to people?” he wondered out loud. “And who do you think you are, the bloody queen? She’s so vulgar” he imitated. “You’re nothing but a snob!”

 

“I am not!”

 

“Are too, and you know who that reminds me of…”

 

“Don’t even say it!” warned Andrea knowing full well who he meant. “I am nothing like her.”

 

“If you say so.”

 

Andrea knew he wasn’t convinced, but considered he was deliberately trying to get a rise out of her. Why else compare her to her mother when he knew what their relationship was like? So she kept her mouth shut for the time being.

 

Eventually Marcus finished up. “Right, there we go, that should be enough for now.”

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to stick on a few more?” asked Andrea sarcastically. “I think there’s a few spare centimetres of skin, somewhere around my navel.”

 

Marcus ignored the comment, instead flipping the switches on his equipment. The gentle hum of computer drives filled the room and one of the boxes emitted a rhythmic beep. Andrea looked to Marcus for instruction as they both stood there stupidly.

 

“So, um, you need to do something super,” he remarked with uncharacteristic hesitance.

 

The invite was too tempting to resist and Andrea stepped forward, taking a fistful of Marcus’ lab coat in one hand and effortlessly hoisting him straight up off the ground and above her head. He dangled above her, arms waving for balance as if he was afraid he was about to fall. His weight was well within her limits, though, and there was no chance off that happening, at least not accidentally.

 

Andrea looked up. “Is that enough of a demonstration? I could throw you across the room too if you like?”

 

Marcus had finally given up whirling his arms pointlessly around, now resting his chin resignedly on a folded arm. “I don’t think that will be necessary, but thanks for the offer.”

 

“Anytime,” said Andrea, lowering him back to the ground and gently setting him down. “Just let me know if you ever want to take me up on it.”

 

Marcus adjusted his ruffled clothing. “So was that sweet revenge for all those times I used to sit on you as a child during our fights?”

 

Andrea couldn’t help smiling, it had been nice to have the upper physical hand for once. “More like just desserts for your previous underhanded tactics at fighting, taking advantage just because you were bigger and heavier!”

 

“I still am,” he noted, “little good it would do me now!”

 

Andrea couldn’t help joining in his laughter, forgetting for a moment that she was making a determined effort to remain detached. She didn’t want to be lulled into liking her family again. Putting her professional exterior firmly back in place, they continued with the tests. Marcus for his part worked intently, studying all the readouts as he probed Andrea. Every now and then he would make interested noises, but other than that neither of them spoke. After an hour or so, he finally took a break, relaxing back in his chair and putting his feet up on the table.

 

“So what are you going to be doing for Christmas?” he asked conversationally as some computations ran on the monitor beside him.

 

“I have plans,” answered Andrea evasively, continuing on quickly before he could ask what they were. “Why? Were you going to invite me to mother’s?”

 

“Would you have come if I had?”

 

“Even if I didn’t have somewhere much better to be, no, I don’t think so,” answered Andrea honestly. “I can’t think of anything much worse than being cooped up in a house with her for a day. Then again, I do have an alternative means of escape these days.”

 

“Indeed, I wish I could fly too!”

 

“Like you need to,” she remarked. “She’ll love having you there, whereas I’m sure she won’t miss me in the slightest. It’s not like I’ve been there for any of the last five Christmases.”

 

“I’ll pass on your regards anyway, shall I?” suggested Marcus.

 

Andrea shrugged, wondering how they’d got onto this topic and how she could get off it as fast as possible. “If you want to.”

 

He put down his feet and leant across his desk, fixing his blue eyes on her, serious now. “How long are you going to keep this up?”

 

Andrea kept her voice dismissive and started to peel off some of the sensors attached to her body. “Keep what up?”

 

“This attitude that you couldn’t care less.”

 

Andrea had finally had enough and rounded on him. “My attitude that I couldn’t care less? My attitude?” She was so angry all she could do was repeat his words for a moment. “What about her attitude over the last five years? She couldn’t have given a flying fuck what I was doing! I could have been lying dead in a gutter and she wouldn’t have known, or cared.”

 

“That’s not true.”

 

“Right, silly me! She’s been aching to see me all that time, that’s why I’ve had all those calls and messages, wanting to see me,” said Andrea with heavy sarcasm. “Oh wait, I haven’t had any!”

 

Marcus remained calm despite her obvious antagonism. “So if you don’t care, why are you getting so angry?”

 

“I’m not angry, I’m…I’m…”

 

“Hurt? Rejected?”

 

“Slightly annoyed,” finished Andrea.

 

Marcus laughed. “All right, you can pretend to yourself that you don’t want to see her if you like, but wouldn’t it be better all round to get this out in the open?”

 

Andrea made a scoffing noise. “You mean speak to her?”

 

“It’s the only way you’ll find out why she did what she did, what she’s thinking,” he said reasonably. “I can’t speak for her.”

 

“Really, and here I was thinking you were in on all her confidences. You know what, you can give her a message from me at Christmas…fuck off!”

 

Andrea promptly pulled the remaining wires from her body and stalked from the room. She was still fuming by the time she reached her quarters on the second floor. In her annoyance, it didn’t register that they were unlocked, her first indication of that fact being when she discovered she was not alone in the lounge area. An army officer busily searched through the contents of her book shelf, the man not noticing Andrea had entered until she made a deliberate cough.

 

He spun round. “Ah, good afternoon, ma’am,” he greeted her, as if his presence was completely normal.

 

Andrea recognised the Sergeant, they’d even played pool together a few times, but she wasn’t in the mood for niceties. “Don’t give me that bollocks, what the hell are you doing in here?”

 

“Miss Kaminski’s orders, ma’am,” he answered, remaining placid in the face of her ire.

 

“I might have bloody guessed,” seethed Andrea. The day was going from bad to worse. “Right, you and I are going to have a word with Miss Kaminski.” Andrea took the book he was still holding off him and placed it back on the shelf.

 

“But I haven’t finished my search,” he tried apologetically.

 

“Yes, you bloody have.”

 

Andrea grabbed his arm and shoved him from the room, being careful not to overdo it with any powers. She knew it wasn’t his fault, that he was just following orders. That was why they were going to see the organ grinder. They didn’t have far to go, Andrea spotting the other woman leaving one of the upper floor offices.

 

“Kaminski!”

 

The short woman halted where she was, waiting for Andrea to march up to her.

 

“Miss Hallstrom, what can I do for you?” she asked in her overly polite way.

 

“You can tell me what Sergeant McTavish was doing in my quarters!”

 

“I believe he was searching them,” answered Kaminski obsequiously. She turned to the man who looked decidedly uncomfortable to be caught in the middle. “Did you find anything, Sergeant?”

 

“Only this so far, ma’am.”

 

Much to Andrea’s annoyance, he handed a piece of card over to Kaminski. She hadn’t realised the Sergeant had actually pocketed anything before she’d found him.

 

Kaminski read aloud from it. “Christine Ferguson, freelance reporter.” She glanced up to Andrea. “And what might you be talking to journalists about?”

 

Andrea tried to snatch the card back off her. “That’s private property,” she stated, “but for the record I haven’t called Miss Ferguson, which I’m sure you know anyway, she simply foisted her card on me a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, all that is beside the point, what was he doing searching my room in the first place?”

 

“Looking for just that sort of thing,” replied Kaminski.

 

Andrea bit down hard to stop any swear words slipping out. She realised that she wouldn’t get far by giving into her anger, no matter how tempting it might be. “Does the Major know about this?”

 

“Is there any reason she should?” fired back Kaminski. “This is meant to be an independent audit.”

 

“Targeted at certain people it seems,” noted Andrea. “Have you actually searched anyone else’s quarters?”

 

“Not yet, but we will do.”

 

“Not if I have anything to do with it!”

 

It was only a short walk to Kate’s office, though Andrea managed to rein in her annoyance somewhat by the time she got there. Even so it was pretty obvious to Kate that the visit was not a social one as soon as she stepped in the door.  A quick glance up from her computer screen was enough to gauge Andrea’s mood.

 

“Uh oh, who’s pissed you off this time?”

 

Andrea automatically took the seat opposite Kate at her desk. “I’ll give you three guesses.”

 

“I might need more,” noted Kate as she finished up what she was doing to give Andrea her full attention. “Let’s see…your brother?”

 

“Well, he did, but that’s not why I’m here.”

 

Kate leant back in her leather chair as realisation dawned. “Ah, if it’s official then it must be our good friend Miss Kaminski.”

 

Andrea nodded. “I only found one of your soldiers searching through my quarters at her instruction.”

 

“What?” exclaimed Kate. “It’s the first I’ve heard about this. That bloody woman!” Kate rose from her desk to pace off across the room. Andrea noted how the back of Kate’s uniform shirt was rumpled and creased where she’d been sitting in her chair for some time. “I can’t believe she’s requisitioning my troops,” Kate said as she walked, “not to mention what she’s using them for!” Suddenly she stopped, whirling round. “I’ve had enough of this.” She started walking for the door. “Wait here,” she directed Andrea, “this shouldn’t take long.”

 

…..

 

 

Kate paused for a moment outside Kaminski’s temporary office, trying to reign in some of her anger. It wouldn’t do any good to go in too fired up, given Kaminski’s propensity for taking advantage of such things. Just the right degree of righteous indignation was needed. Taking one more deep breath she rapped on the door, being granted admittance immediately. Kate hadn’t been in Kaminski’s office before, and when she spotted the surprising number of family photographs dotted round the shelves it threw her off balance. She had expected cold, hard efficiency, but the space exuded homely warmth. Kate’s distraction allowed Kaminski to fire the opening salvo.

 

“Major,” she greeted, staying seated behind her desk. “I presume Miss Hallstrom came to speak with you.”

 

Kate didn’t like the insinuation in the woman’s tone. “Yes, she did,” she stated without apology, “and I’d like to know what the hell you’re doing searching private quarters and using my troops to do it?”

 

“Your troops?” echoed Kaminski. “Last I checked they were Her Majesty’s troops.”

 

“You know what I mean,” snapped Kate, remaining standing on the opposite side of the desk, hands thrust forcefully on her hips. “I’m the commander of this base and I’d thank you to clear any requests for secondment with me first.”

 

“The Colonel said I could use whatever resources I deemed fit.”

 

Thanks for letting me know, Colonel, cursed Kate internally. “I’m presuming he meant offices, equipment, that kind of thing,” she pointed out. “I’m sure he didn’t expect you to start using our own men to spy on us!  What exactly were you searching Andrea Hallstrom’s quarters for anyway? What did you expect to find?”

 

Seemingly unfazed by Kate’s imperious tone, Kaminski simply raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me, since you seem to spend so much time there.”

 

Kate clenched her teeth together, holding back an angry retort. “All right, I will tell you - nothing. There’s nothing to find because Miss Hallstrom is one of our most loyal and trusted operatives.”

 

“By you maybe.”

 

“By everyone,” stated Kate.

 

“Of course,” said Kaminski, the scepticism heavy in her tone. “We did find this, by the way.” She slid a small white card across the desk which Kate gave a cursory glance.

 

“So what? She has a card from a reporter?”

 

“And that doesn’t concern you?” queried Kaminski. “Would it concern you more if it was another of your operatives?”

 

Kate had to pause. Would I be more ready to be suspicious of someone else? Do I let Andrea get away with more? She mentally shook herself. No, I don’t play favourites when it comes to work.

“We’re getting off the point,” Kate said, ignoring the question, “which is that you are not to use my troops for anything without my express permission. I’ve tried to be accommodating so far, aid you in the execution of this investigation, but I expect some consideration from your side too. I can make things difficult for you if that’s the way you want to play it.”

 

“Is that a threat, major?”

 

“No, just a friendly piece of advice.”

 

Kaminski leant back in her chair, sizing Kate up for a moment. Kate stubbornly held her gaze and eventually Kaminski dipped her head.

 

“Fine, I will clear any troop usage with you in the future.”

 

“And no more searches of private quarters,” added Kate.

 

“The operatives are already monitored in a whole host of ways,” pointed out Kaminski.

 

“Even more reason for them to be afforded at least a modicum of privacy. As I keep reminding you, the operatives are civilians, here of their own choice. They are not prisoners or play things for the government. They have the same rights as anyone in the outside world. If you have a specific suspicion of something untoward, then come to me and we can look into it. Otherwise there will be no more unauthorised searches.”

 

It wasn’t a request and Kaminski seemed to sense it best to concede the point in this case. “All right,” she said, “no more random searches.”

 

Kate considered Kaminski had caved in just a little too easily for comfort. Had she already gotten what she wanted? “I’m glad we could come to an agreement.”

 

“Yes, this time,” said Kaminski cryptically as Kate headed out the door.

 

…..

 

 

As Kate had promised, Andrea didn’t have to wait long for the other woman to return and seeing the thunderous look on her face when she stomped back in made her think twice about asking her opening question.

 

“So how did it go?”

 

“Let’s just say we’ve come to an accord,” said Kate. The other woman crossed the room but didn’t sit down, stopping by the window and absently fiddling with the model of the Dorset Flyer that sat on top of the cabinet there.

 

“She certainly could learn a bit of diplomacy,” agreed Andrea. “She seems to have it in for me in particular, unless I’m just imagining it.”

 

Finally Kate lowered herself onto the couch by the window, thinking for a moment before answering. “I’m not sure if it is you in particular, I don’t think she likes anyone here! Certainly not me. In fact it could be our perceived association that’s the cause of her hostility towards you.”

 

Andrea crossed to join the other woman. “What do you mean?”

 

“I just get the impression she knows something about us.”

 

Andrea sucked in a breath.  Part of her was almost glad to hear it, hoping that soon everyone would know. On the other hand she didn’t like the idea of Kaminski holding anything over either of them. “Has she said something?”

 

“Not exactly, you know Kaminski, she never says anything outright that she can hide away under layers of diversion.”

 

“It’s even more reason why we should come clean,” Andrea prompted.

 

Kate laughed, relaxing back against the cushions of the sofa. “You make it sound as if there’s something wrong in it.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with it, some people just don’t like people who work together engaging in relationships, especially not secret ones. It makes it seem as if we think we have something to hide.”

 

“Which of course we don’t,” agreed Kate, “and which is why all will be revealed a week Friday.”

 

“A week Friday?” repeated Andrea, trying to think of any significance to it. It didn’t take her long. She gave a low whistle. “That’s certainly one way to publicise it.”

 

“You’re against it?”

 

Andrea wasn’t about to let Kate off the hook. “On the contrary I shall be wearing my glad rags! And I can’t wait to see the look on Kaminski’s face.”

 

 

 

…………..

 

 

Marcus glanced up from his computer screen to regard Andrea sitting across the room from him. “Ready to go?”

 

“As I have been each of the last six days we’ve been doing this,” said Andrea, hiding her uncharacteristic nerves with an even tone.

 

Andrea tried to get comfortable on the seat in her brother’s lab, but she couldn’t help the nagging reminders of other past experiments the setting evoked despite the fact that they had been having sessions all week. The fear was completely irrational, she knew, but palpable none the less. Marcus appeared oblivious to her unease, far too involved in calibrating his instruments. Eventually he seemed satisfied and came over to her.

 

“Good. I have one extra request today,” Marcus gestured to the band around Andrea’s left arm. “Could you remove that?”

 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Andrea pointed out. “It regulates my powers. Without it I can’t control my rate of energy absorption.”

 

“That’s the problem – I can’t get any accurate readings with it interfering. I promise I won’t let the experiment get so far as to cause any problems.”

 

Andrea was still reluctant to take it off. It was second nature to wear it now, and she felt somehow naked and oddly vulnerable without it.  Not to mention she’d have to put her trust in Marcus.

 

“Please?”

 

Andrea sighed, supposing her fear was another irrational one. Peeling it off, she handed it to him.

 

“Thanks.” He gave her some dark glasses in return. “Now if you’d just put these on, I’m going to be bombarding you with light as I have been in the previous experiments and monitoring the effects.”

 

As she placed the glasses over her eyes, the lab was plunged into near darkness such was the strength of the tinting on them. Marcus moved away to his monitors leaving Andrea to stare at the bank of lights before her. Suddenly they blazed into life and she had to squint a bit despite the glasses. The heat from them washed over her skin, while the corresponding heat built within her muscles as her superhuman power kicked in.

 

“Great, that’s great,” called Marcus reassuringly.

 

Andrea didn’t feel so great herself as the energy coursed through her.

 

“This is interesting data,” remarked the scientist, studying his readouts.

 

Andrea started to feel an uncomfortable prickling sensation under her skin. “Marcus…”

 

He didn’t register her warning call, too busy poring over the data. “Fascinating…”

 

The prickling turned into stabbing. “Marcus!”

 

His eyes shot to her as the first spasm hit. Andrea jerked violently in her seat, her body catapulting off it onto the floor.

 

“Shit!” Marcus killed the lights immediately and dashed over, kneeling by the downed woman who was jerking uncontrollably.

 

“Hang on!” He fumbled for something on a nearby trolley. Andrea couldn’t say anything with her teeth clenched together by the crippling spasms.

 

Finally he grabbed the syringe he was after and jabbed it into her arm. Slowly Andrea could feel the sensations fading until she was left lying breathless but still on the tiled floor. She closed her eyes and took some deep breaths.

 

“Are you ok?” Marcus reached out to touch her.

 

“Jävla hästkuk!” Andrea batted his hand away knowing he would understand the Swedish insult. Her body ached as she rose to sitting. “You said you wouldn’t let it get that far!”

 

“I’m sorry, but I was getting such good data…”

 

“Screw your data! I was in fucking pain!”

 

“I’m sorry, really.”

 

Andrea attempted to stand, pulling herself up with the aid of the seat. “Of course you are,” she noted snidely.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Nothing,” she said. “This incident just shows your usual callous disregard for anything that stands in the way of you and your precious work.”

 

“That’s not fair! I’m trying to help you. Things just got a little out of control.”

 

Andrea fixed him with a steely glare. “Well, they can get out of control without me from now on.”

 

……………….

 

 

“Hello, is there someone there?”

 

Pete Barnes half-hoped the answer would be no. Then again sitting on his own in the dark was also starting to get to him. He had no idea how long he’d been there. One minute he was bumping into tall dark strangers, the next he was secured to a chair in a windowless, dark room. Twice since he’d been there the giant woman from the street had come in, switched on a glaring spotlight, fiddled with some wires attached to his head and then left again, all without saying a word. He’d tried to engage her in conversation, but she remained mute. Now he was sure he’d heard the tell-tale sound of the door again, but no light came this time. He strained to hear anything in the dark, wishing that his powers hadn’t deserted him in his moment of need. Was that the faint sound of breathing?

 

“Hello, Mr Barnes.”

 

Pete almost jumped out of his skin. It was lucky the restraints were keeping him in place else he might have fallen off the chair. He craned his head round in the direction of the female voice that had come from behind him.

 

“Who are you? What do you want with me?”

 

“We need your help.”

 

The voice was soft and enticing. Somehow Pete didn’t think it belonged to the massive woman with the fists like bricks. He felt a touch on the back of his neck and he reflexively tensed his shoulders. It took a moment for Pete to realise the woman was stroking across them. He guessed it was supposed to be reassuring in some way, but instead it felt intensely creepy.

 

“How…how can I help you?” he managed.

 

“You just need to sit back and relax.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

He could sense she was in front of him now, his eyes peering into the darkness to try and see her. Was that the flash of teeth he saw? A smile? A snarl?

 

“That’s it,” came the reply.

 

Pete had serious doubts that was it at all, but for now he had little choice.

 

…………….

 

 

Two days after the accident in the lab, Andrea got a call from her brother. She’d not spoken him since that day, but the fact that he was claiming to have some insight into her condition after only a week or so intrigued her enough to forgive the brusque tone of the short conversation and put aside her apprehension for now.

 

Shortly after breakfast she made her way to the lower levels, seeking out his laboratory. When she reached it, she discovered she was not alone. Kate was also waiting inside, looking very different to how she had only a few hours before. As always she was immaculately turned out in her uniform, even if it was only her less formal barrack dress. However, her appearance was in marked contrast to the woman who had been moaning Andrea’s name, and a few other choice words, the night before.

 

“You received a summons too?” Andrea asked as she took a seat next to Kate inside the laboratory. She tried to remind herself that it was working hours and she should remain professional, even if her mind kept trying to give her repeated recollections of the woman next to her in much fewer clothes.

 

“Yes, it appears your brother has some news already.”

 

“Good old, Marcus,” said Andrea under her breath.

 

The comment got a look from Kate. “I thought you’d be happy?”

 

“I am…but…” Andrea hadn’t mentioned the previous incident to Kate, thinking she could deal with it herself. Now she wished she had to try and justify some of her trepidation.

 

“You just can’t stand that he might be right?”

 

“It’s stupid, I know,” sighed Andrea. “Let’s just hope it is a genuine breakthrough and then I might be able to stop this childish behaviour he seems to evoke.”

 

Kate reached over and lightly brushed Andrea’s cheek. The surprise contact sent a shiver of expectation through the younger woman. “You have been rather petulant it has to be said,” remarked Kate, “though in a very adorable way,” she added, tenderly running her finger down around Andrea’s chin.

 

Suddenly the door opened and Kate retracted her hand faster than a greyhound out of the blocks. If Marcus had seen anything, he didn’t mention it, crossing the room and taking a seat with them. Andrea could feel her cheek still tingling under the surface from where Kate’s fingers had been moments before.

 

Marcus shuffled the papers on his desk for a few moments, though Andrea guessed it was more for show than anything else. Finally he fixed them with his keen gaze. “So do you want the long or the short version?”

 

“Will the long version mean anything to us?” asked Kate.

 

“Not unless you’re a doctor of biochemistry or genetics, no.”

 

Kate made a quick confirming glance in Andrea’s direction. “In that case I think we can skip to the short version.”

 

Marcus shrugged. “Ok, well the short version is that your powers are screwed.”

 

Andrea frowned at the candid answer and left the talking up to Kate. “I think that might be a bit too short,” noted the other woman.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be flippant,” he said, seeing the less than amused looks he was getting from both of them. “Basically it looks like the…er…” he shuffled uneasily in his seat and cleared his throat before continuing. “It looks like the experiments that Dixon carried out on you back in August did some damage to your biochemical balance that’s only just surfacing now.”

 

Andrea let out a long sigh. “Great, a lasting legacy of my time with those bastards, fabulous.”

 

Meanwhile Kate was keen for answers. “Is there anything you can do about it though?”

 

“Fortunately, yes.” He turned to Andrea. “You’ll need to undergo a course of treatment for the next few weeks and with your past history of problems it might not all be plain sailing. However, I can give you something immediately that should stop any nasty power dips or blackouts.”

 

Andrea did wonder how come Marcus had managed to not only make a breakthrough, but also come up with a solution in little more than a week while the experienced scientists already stationed at the base had been stumped. The paranoid part of her mind thought that it was almost as if he’d had a head start, such as knowing what was wrong with her before he’d even come to the base. Andrea dismissed the notion for now, too eager to seize on the opportunity his information presented. “Does that mean I can go back on active duty?”

 

“I don’t see why not,” came Marcus’ immediate response, before he looked to Kate and saw the disapproving look he was getting. “That is, if the major agrees.”

 

It was an unusual situation for Andrea, her brother actually backing her up for once. She looked expectantly at Kate who appeared more reluctant to believe in Marcus now he was suggesting something she wasn’t so willing to hear.

 

“You’re sure she’ll be all right?” Kate asked the scientist.

 

“It might pay to do some tests before you dash out on any missions, but yes, I don’t foresee any problems.”

 

Kate paused digesting the words. She didn’t look back to Andrea. “Thank you, doctor, I’ll take it under advisement.”

 

He simply nodded back before turning to Andrea again. “I can give you that temporary injection now, if you’re ready?”

 

Andrea’s thoughts staged a quick battle between having to trust him again and her desire to get back to action. The latter won out and Andrea rolled up the sleeve on her plain black top and offered her forearm. “No time like the present.” She steeled herself so she didn’t flinch this time when the needle pierced her skin. Marcus was just dabbing away the spot of blood that bloomed from the withdrawn syringe when a communicator signal resounded in the lab.

 

……..

 

 

Kate answered the hail, discovering it was Kaminski, summoning her upstairs for something that the other woman didn’t disclose. Kate thanked Dr Hallstrom and exited with Andrea automatically following on behind. Andrea seemed somewhat subdued in the lift on the way up, rubbing at her sleeve where her brother had just injected her.

 

“Everything’s all right is it?”

 

“What?” Andrea looked to her own absently rubbing hand, and quickly put it back down at her side. “Yes, it’s fine.”

 

“No side effects?”

 

Andrea laughed at Kate’s persistence. “They would have to be pretty fast acting! No, no side effects. Let’s just hope this means I can use my powers without any too.”

 

By the time they got to the conference room, they discovered the Colonel was also present, hunched over some papers spread out on the large table.  Kate saw that once again Sophie was notable by her absence. She wondered if Kaminski was deliberately assigning her to other duties because of their personal connection. Eventually Kaminski glanced up and saw the two new arrivals.

 

“Is there any reason Miss Hallstrom is here too?” she asked immediately.

 

Kate glanced over her shoulder. It had been entirely natural for Andrea to follow her, both of them having forgotten themselves for a moment. Kate quickly thought on her feet. “We were just speaking with Dr Hallstrom, and needed to discuss his results further. I wasn’t sure how long you’d need me, or if it was a quick question,” explained Kate. “Andrea can wait outside if necessary…”

 

Kate left it dangling, thinking that Kaminski wouldn’t bother. She should have known better.

 

“I think that would be best.”

 

Andrea clenched her teeth in annoyance, a small muscle in her cheek twitching slightly. She didn’t object though, turning on her heel and leaving the room without a word. However, the door was shut just a touch too forcefully.

 

Kaminski carried on as if Andrea had never been there. “We’ve had some interesting intel of the subject who went missing last week.”

 

“Pete Barnes?” recalled Kate.

 

“That is correct. Unknown to Mr Barnes or those who kidnapped him we planted a tracking device on his person. The signal has been somewhat erratic, but we have managed to pinpoint three locations that he’s been in the last week.”

 

Kate looked incredulously at Kaminski. “Why didn’t you mention this the other day?”

 

The absence of an answer from Kaminski spoke volumes in itself. Instead she carried on as if Kate hadn’t spoken at all. She pulled a map to the centre of the table. “The three locations are in London, Berkshire and Warwickshire,” she said as she pointed to each in turn.

 

“And you want us to go and investigate?”

 

This time Kaminski did respond to Kate. “Precisely. We’re hoping this might provide a concrete link to the organisation that’s been responsible for these disappearances.”

 

The Colonel broke into the conversation. “Are you sure this is connected with this ‘organisation’. Why has he been to three different locations? Are you sure he’s just not leading you on a merry dance round the country?”

 

“We’re not sure, that’s true.” Kate smiled internally at the way the Colonel had forced Kaminski to admit being uncertain about something. “Which is why we need to carry out some reconnaissance.” She looked to Kate. “I’ll leave it up to you to decide the logistics and personnel, though time is of the utmost essence.”

 

“And what exactly am I allowed to tell my personnel?”

 

“That they’re on a fact-finding mission, looking for anything out of the ordinary.”

 

Kate scoffed at the answer. “So basically bugger all?”

 

“I’m sure you can think of something appropriate.”

 

Kate could think of some appropriate things to say back to Kaminski, but it wasn’t the right time. If Kaminski was right, then the young man in question could be in danger. As she exited the room, Kate found Andrea was still waiting, leaning against the wall in the corridor. She fell into step beside Kate as she walked in the direction of her office.

 

“So what’s going on?”

 

“We have a mission,” answered Kate, “or rather three different reconnaissance missions.”

 

“Ok, so which one am I on?”

 

Kate stopped walking, slowly turning to Andrea, trying to think of the best way to say what she had to. She couldn’t think of one. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come.”

 

“What? But Marcus said I was good to go!”

 

Kate guided Andrea to the side of the corridor, wary of the fact that Kaminski and the Colonel could be close behind. “He also said that we should do some tests first,” she pointed out quietly, “just to make sure.”

 

“I’m fine, really!” insisted Andrea.

 

“Is there some sort of problem?”

 

As Kate had feared, it was Kaminski’s voice that broke them out of their hushed altercation. Kate swung to see the other woman watching them with interest, and Kate quickly pasted a smile onto her face. “No, no problem. We were just discussing team assignments for the missions.”

 

A faint smile flitted across Kaminski’s face. It wasn’t pleasant. “I didn’t realise the military was so democratic.”

 

“I find it pays to listen to counsel when it’s warranted,” replied Kate evenly.

 

“And I’m sure you listen to Miss Hallstrom’s counsel in particular.” The slight tone of disparagement was barely detectable, but it was there.

 

“I listen to everyone’s if they have something important to say.”

 

Kaminski nodded. “So with such wise words to offer, I presume Miss Hallstrom will be accompanying you on this mission?”

 

Kate cursed internally. She could say no, and look like a bit of a fool, plus incur more disapproval from Andrea. Neither was overly appealing. She supposed it was just a look-see, what could go wrong? “Yes, that’s correct.”

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

Andrea pressed her back up against the wall of the corridor, with Kate mirroring her pose on the other side of the closed door. In the green-tinged view from her night-vision goggles, Andrea saw the ‘go’ hand signal from the other woman. Andrea peeled away from the wall and kicked in the door in one swift motion.

 

Not that urgency or stealth were needed. As with the twenty-two rooms they’d already searched, they discovered nothing inside save a few discarded sheets of paper littered over the bare floor. Andrea picked one up, but it was just an old memo belonging to the previous occupants of the darkened and deserted office building. A company by the name of TechGen that Andrea had never heard of.

 

Andrea held up the ancient letter. “Do you think Kaminski considers Jan Pierce’s holiday request for 2003 vital information?”

 

“Who knows,” answered Kate who was surveying the rest of the room. “We could collect up all this junk for her to sift through. We wouldn’t want to make any assumptions about what she considers important after all.”

 

“Now you’re just been sadistic,” noted Andrea. “I like it,” she added, “though I’m not sure I can be bothered with the effort. Shall we just go onto the next room? It’s your turn.”

 

They filed back out into the corridor and took up position again by the next office door. This time it was Kate whose task it was to batter it down, which she did quickly and efficiently with a focussed concussion wave. The pair of them stepped over the flattened door to find much the same as before. Andrea was beginning to wish she hadn’t pressed quite so hard to come on the mission.

 

“Do you think this is Kaminski’s idea of a joke?” she asked Kate. “Or did she just have bad intelligence?”

 

“I don’t think even she would send us off on a wild goose chase. We should keep checking, we may find something.”

 

“Indeed, we might find out whether Jan Pierce got granted her holiday! We wouldn’t want to miss out on that nugget of information.”

 

“You were the one who wanted to come,” Kate pointed out.

 

“Don’t remind me! I hope the others are having better luck at the other locations and that it’s just us who picked the dud. We could speed things up by splitting up?”

 

Kate had removed her goggles for a moment and was wiping some dirt off the lenses. When she looked at Andrea the pupils of her eyes were pale in Andrea’s green-tinged vision. “I thought that would have been one of the first things they taught you not to do in police training?”

 

“Yes, but since when did I follow the rules?”

 

Kate didn’t look particularly enthused by the suggestion, at least Andrea assumed the slight pursing of the lips and the lack of answer indicated as much.

 

“We can keep in constant radio contact,” Andrea said in an effort to persuade her.

 

Kate sighed. “All right, else we might be here until next Christmas. You take the lower floor, I’ll continue on this one.”

 

As Andrea made to go, Kate caught her arm. “Just make sure you keep that radio on and don’t do anything stupid.”

 

Sooner or later Andrea was going to have to pull Kate up on her over-protective behaviour, but for now she simply gave an acknowledging nod.  Once downstairs, Andrea found little of interest on the ground floor of the building, just more empty offices and corridors. The place looked like it hadn’t been used for months or even years, a thick layer of dust on what desks and cabinets had been left behind.

 

Several of the windows were broken and boarded up, though there were a few still intact. It was through one of these that the moon now cast its light, suddenly bathing the room in a white glow. Andrea had to remove her goggles for a moment. She placed them up on her head as her eyes adjusted to the still low light. Suddenly a loud clonk resounded from somewhere in the building. Andrea was alert at once, listening out for anything else, but all she could make out was the faint drone of London traffic from outside.

 

“Kate, did you hear that?” she asked into the radio attached to her uniform.

 

“Hear what?” came back the immediate response.

 

“It sounded like something metal being dropped or banged.” Andrea stepped out into the corridor and cast her eyes around. Maybe it was just wishful thinking.

 

“Stay where you are, I’ll come join you.”

 

Despite her investigative instincts, Andrea did as told. Frustrated by the lack of action, she couldn’t help kicking her boot through the dust on the floor while she waited. Another faint sound echoed over the top of her swishes and she instantly stopped what she was doing. The white noise of silence roared in her ears. Andrea walked up to the end of the corridor and peered round the corner just as someone came barrelling straight into her. Taken unawares, Andrea bounced off them, landing on her backside on the floor. A dark figure loomed large in the dark, the person’s face obscured by a balaclava and mirrored goggles. From the way they stood rooted to the spot for a moment, it appeared they were as surprised to find someone there as she was. Then suddenly they were off and running. Andrea scrabbled to her feet and gave chase. The sound of two sets of boots thudding down the corridor echoed off the empty walls.

 

Andrea called into her radio in between breaths. “There’s someone here…they’re trying to make a run for it…I’m after them.”

 

“I’m on my way,” came Kate’s voice in return. “Try to stall them but be careful - don’t engage in anything unnecessarily risky.”

 

Andrea had to wonder if Kate would give such an order to anyone else. Still she realised that memories of the motorway were still fresh in both their minds, and Andrea didn’t fancy a repeat of what had happened there much either. On the other hand she wasn’t about to let the man get away. He’d reached a junction now, but rather than take one of the options on offer he whirled round to face her and raised his hands. For a second Andrea wondered what the hell he was doing before dual bolts of electricity arced down the corridor at her. She flung herself to the ground as they blasted along the walls, dislodging paint and plaster that rained down around her.

 

When the dust cleared the man was gone. Not giving up that easily Andrea dashed to the end and quickly glanced both ways. There was no sign of him, so a quick toss up ended in her choosing to go right. A faint thumping sound was audible in the building now, a repetitive beat that got louder as Andrea ran down the corridor. When she barged out of the door at the end, the source of the noise became clear. A helicopter slowly climbed away from the yard. Andrea was almost knocked off her feet by the maelstrom whipped up by its blades as it took off, having to shield her eyes for a second before she remembered the goggles perched on her head. She quickly pulled them down so she could watch its ascent. Should she go after it and risk her powers? Or wait for Kate and perhaps lose the man?

 

Andrea hesitated for barely a second before she leapt up after the departing craft. It seemed now was as good a time as any to see if her brother’s treatment had worked. The helicopter flew up over the London skyline, with Andrea in hot pursuit. The lights of the city at night quickly became a cluster of small sparkles below them.

 

As she got closer, the wake from the helicopter buffeted Andrea and she took her time, not wanting to have any of her limbs severed by the deadly blades. She finally managed to get a foot on one of the landing skids, grabbing onto the door handle as she did. With one wrench she pulled it off its hinges.

 

If she could have seen the man inside’s face, Andrea had no doubt there would have been a good degree of shock on it at the sight of her standing there hundreds of feet above the ground. The helicopter took a sudden banking turn, perhaps trying to shake her. Andrea lost her balance, automatically reaching out for anything to hold onto. Her fingers found purchase on the man’s shoulder. Supposing she might as well make use of the opportunity, she swiftly yanked the balaclava from his head.

 

Andrea was glad she was holding fast onto the door frame with her other hand else she might have fallen off her perch in surprise. The balaclava was whipped from her fingers by the wind as her grip on it slackened in shock. Staring back at her from inside the helicopter was Callum Chadwick. His lips curved into a sneering smile. Then he slowly raised his hand. Andrea saw a brief flash of static electricity before it hit her hard right in the chest. She was catapulted away from the craft, narrowly missing being skewered by the tail rotor as it continued on without her.

 

Then Andrea was falling fast, plummeting straight down towards the London cityscape. Her mind and body were reeling, not quite responding to the imminent threat the ground posed. Instead all she could feel was a constant buzz throughout her body and the sting of the cold air as it whipped past her cheeks. Finally she managed to gain some control of her limbs, about half a second before she hit the Thames. It was far too late to pull up and she smacked hard into the water, plunging down below the surface.  The cold water seeped through her clothes, and she kicked for what she hoped was the surface, grateful when her head broke up into the cool night air. She bobbed where she was in the grey water for a moment, trying to get her bearings after the shock of seeing Chadwick and being on the receiving end of what he had done. Her body was still tingling from the electricity when a voice broke through on the comm line.

 

“Andrea? Where the hell are you?”

 

“In the Thames,” she answered honestly.

 

“In the…what?” It seemed Kate was at a loss for words for once.

 

“I’m afraid I lost our friend,” confessed Andrea, “but I’ve got some very interesting news for you about their identity.” Andrea decided that news was best coming from her face to face. “I’ll be back at the offices in a moment.”

 

Taking a quick survey of the surrounding area, Andrea deemed no one was around. Luckily she had splashed down away from the main centre of town. It might have been interesting trying to explain where exactly she had fallen from and how she had survived to a bunch of tourists on one of the numerous boat cruises. Instead there were just a few seagulls floating with the current and giving her bemused looks as she rose out of the water and flew up into the night sky. She stayed up high until she neared the location of the abandoned office, though it was unlikely anyone would spot her up in the sky, a black figure against the darkness. Swooping down as she neared, the office’s location was immediately visible from the flashing red and blue lights around it. Obviously someone had reported something out of the ordinary. Andrea hoped that wasn’t the sight of a woman flying after a helicopter.

 

Not wanting to attract any further attention she circled round the back and landed out of sight of the parked cars. As she walked round to the front she immediately spotted Kate. Unfortunately she was not alone. Chatting animatedly at her was Christine Ferguson, the reporter they’d bumped into a couple of weeks previously. She quickly spied Andrea’s approach.

 

“And look, if it isn’t the other half of the double act,” she noted, “Major No Comment and her mysterious friend.” She turned her attention to Andrea. “I don’t suppose I can trouble you for a comment this time? Or maybe just your name.”

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“Your phone number?” tried Christine with a cheeky grin.

 

Kate immediately took the other woman’s arm. “I think it’s time you were escorted to safety, Miss Ferguson, we wouldn’t want any nasty accidents befalling you in this unsecured area would we?”

 

Kate made a gesture to one of the police officers who quickly came over to oblige. Christine still managed to get in another parting comment in Andrea’s direction.

 

“Is she always this jealous?” she whispered, though far too loud for Kate not to hear.

 

Kate’s expression remained unreadable as Christine was lead away, watching her the whole time until she was safely behind the police cordon.

 

“I think we may need to keep an eye on Miss Ferguson,” she said reflectively.  “That’s twice now she’s turned up at one of our scenes.”

 

Andrea wondered if there was an ulterior motive to Kate’s suggestion. Not that Andrea was interested in the reporter in the slightest.

 

Kate turned back to Andrea. “Anyway, what was it you wanted to tell me about this person you were after?”

 

……..

 

 

“Callum Chadwick?”

 

The Colonel’s tone was as amazed as Kate’s had been when Andrea had told her.

 

“That’s right,” confirmed Andrea, “and he has powers.”

 

“But how?” The colonel looked to those assembled for answers.

 

They were back on Duransay, having an emergency late-night meeting to discuss the results of the missions. Kate and Andrea had been the only of the teams to encounter anything untoward, but what they’d discovered was causing consternation. Assembled in the meeting room were the Colonel, Kaminski, Sophie, Kate and Andrea. Andrea noted how none of the other superhumans had been invited, supposing her presence was only because she had information to impart concerning Chadwick.

 

No one appeared to be forthcoming with an answer to the Colonel’s question.  Eventually it was Sophie who ventured something. “It appears someone has been experimenting with mutated genes.”

 

Kate was first to react to that. “That sounds horribly familiar,” she noted grimly.

 

Andrea didn’t like the sound of it either. “And with Callum Chadwick involved, then Adam Dixon may not be far behind.”

 

A pinched look crossed Kate’s face as soon as her former lover’s name was mentioned.

 

Kaminski remained surprisingly quiet, sitting at the back of the room, studying some notes.  For once the Colonel seemed to be in charge, rather than the beaurecrat. Kate moved over to the woman, standing with her arms crossed. An uncomfortable silence filled the room as Kaminski made her wait before finally deigning to glance up.

 

“Did you know of Callum Chadwick’s potential involvement?” asked Kate.

 

“We knew it was a possibility.”

 

“And yet you neglected to mention it?”

 

“It wasn’t deemed necessary information.”

 

Andrea let out a scoffing laugh. “What a load of bullshit! If we’re going to be risking our lives, I think we at least deserve to know what for! There’s more going on than a simple security audit, isn’t there? You’re after something in particular, something to do with this organisation of Dixon and Chadwick’s?”

 

Andrea held Kaminski’s gaze though the other woman seemed adept at resisting the urge to reply.

 

“That is none of your concern. All you need to know is that we are currently investigating a number of lines of enquiry.”

 

Andrea couldn’t stop her sarcastic laugh. The diplomatic answer was the sort of thing they’d had to broadcast to the public time and time again when she’d been in the police. “Sounds to me like you’ve got bugger all then! Not surprising when you’ve been wasting your time snooping on us rather than tracking these people down.”

 

Andrea got a withering look from Kaminski before she turned to Kate again. “Major, if you can’t control your people I shall be forced to ask them to leave.”

 

For a minute Andrea thought Kate still wasn’t going to say anything. Her lips were pursed enough to make Andrea think she was holding back on saying what was really on her mind. “You don’t get to order my people to do anything,” she finally answered. “Since it appears you in fact have nothing else to tell us then maybe you can come back to us when you have made some progress, whenever that might be.”

 

Andrea couldn’t help the shiver of arousal that shot through her as Kate asserted her dominance, even if it was entirely inappropriate in the crowded conference room. Andrea found herself staring at the buttons on Kate’s uniform shirt, wondering how quickly she could rip them off.  It took her a moment to realise she was being addressed.

 

“Did you have any more questions, Andrea?”

 

Andrea met Kate’s eye.  It was obvious the other woman had caught her staring.  “Er…no.” She had completely lost her train of thought.

 

“Then I think this meeting is over.” Kate rose from her seat. “I’m sure you’ll keep us appraised of the situation,” she added to Kaminski on the way out the door.

 

 

…………………

 

 

 

Andrea flicked the last button onto the floor. It seemed it didn’t take long to rip them off at all she concluded as she viewed Kate’s disarrayed shirt and exposed skin.

 

“Are you going to sit there admiring what’s left of my uniform all night?”

 

Andrea dipped her head and slid her tongue up between Kate’s breasts, pausing when she got to the other woman’s throat. “Who said I was admiring the uniform?”

 

Andrea didn’t wait for an answer, tracking her tongue over the smooth flesh to the tip of Kate’s ear. “So are you going to let Kaminski get away with all that bollocks about their investigation?” she asked in between nibbles of the earlobe.

 

Kate seemed to be having some trouble answering as she writhed beneath Andrea on the sofa in her quarters. “Of course not,” she said eventually more breathily than normal, “I just want her to think I’m leaving it to her.” She took a calming breath. “Whereas I will be doing some of my own investigating anyway.”

 

Andrea rose up on her arms, hovering above Kate. “Don’t you mean we?” she asked, quirking up an eyebrow in inquisition.

 

When Kate didn’t reply, Andrea bent down once more, teasing aside the remainder of the starched olive shirt with her teeth. Taut nipples poked hard against a black bra beneath. Andrea clamped her teeth over one of them, tugging gently to begin with, and then with more urgency until the other woman relented.

 

“Yes, yes, we,” cried Kate, “I meant we!”

 

Andrea released her hold and offered Kate a knowing grin. Kate returned it with one of her own. The sauciness in the look did strange things to Andrea’s insides.

 

When she spoke, Kate’s voice matched the look in seductive power. “Now remind me why we’re talking about Anna Kaminski?”

 

Andrea couldn’t think of one good reason. She couldn’t think of much at all.

 

……………….

 

 

Callum Chadwick tentatively pushed open the door to the office, seeing that its occupant was busy reading something at her desk. She didn’t bother to look up as he approached, and made him wait for a good few seconds before she finally deigned to raise her ice blue eyes.  For a moment he forgot why he was there as the unwavering gaze studied him like bacteria under a microscope. Finally he managed to kick his brain into gear.

 

“I recovered the data from the test site.”

 

Dr Hallstrom rose gracefully from her seat, coming round to the front of her desk to take the file from him. Chadwick felt a nervous tickle up his spine.

 

“And did you encounter any problems?” asked Dr Hallstrom as she flicked absently through the folder.

 

Chadwick paused, quickly calculating whether he could get away with not mentioning the encounter with the younger Hallstrom. For one of the rare occasions in his life he decided honesty was the best policy. “I was disturbed in my search.”

 

Dr Hallstrom turned her full, penetrating attention to him. “By who?”

 

Chadwick swallowed nervously. “Your daughter.”

 

“Andrea was there?”

 

Chadwick fought to keep his voice even. “Yes, and Jarvis too I think.”

 

“I see.”

 

Chadwick wished he knew what she was thinking behind the deceptively placid expression. He steeled himself just in case.

 

“And what did you do?” asked Dr Hallstrom.

 

“I got out of there.”

 

Dr Hallstrom regarded him with narrowed eyes, as if she knew the story was incomplete. He wondered if she’d developed some sort of telepathic power to go with her telekinesis. He found himself forced to continue.

 

“Only Hallstrom…Andrea…chased me.”

 

“And?”

 

Chadwick squirmed. “I had to take…action to stop her.”

 

“You used your new power on her?”

 

“I did.”

 

Dr Hallstrom was close now. He wasn’t sure if he was imagining it, but he thought he could already feel the invisible touch of her power round his throat.

 

“And was she all right?” pressed the woman.

 

“I…I don’t know…” stammered Chadwick.

 

“You don’t know? You electrocuted my daughter and you don’t know the outcome?”

 

Dr Hallstrom seemed to be looming ever closer, though Chadwick didn’t think she had actually moved. It was just her menacing presence causing the terror to fill him right from his boots to the tip of his head.

 

“It was only a small shock,” he blustered, “she’s got those dense bones, I’m sure she survived the fall…”

 

“The fall?”

 

Chadwick realised his mistake. “Oh God, please,” he begged as she relentlessly stared at him. “I had to do something…”

 

Suddenly Dr Hallstrom’s lips broke into a smile. Chadwick was unnerved and still trembling inside. For all he knew she could be grinning at the prospect of ripping him limb from limb.

 

“Luckily for you,” she said, “I have it on good authority that Andrea was fine.”

 

Chadwick stared stupidly at her. “You knew everything that happened already?” he deduced.

 

“Of course I did. You think you are my only source of information?”

 

Chadwick realised he was sweating profusely, and he took a moment to dab his forehead as the relief washed over him. It appeared he had got away with it this time. He was sure Dr Hallstrom would have killed him by now if she was going to. Thinking it best he make a quick exit while he could, he started to move for the door.

 

“If that’s all…?”

 

“Yes, that’s all,” said Dr Hallstrom, her attention already on something else far more interesting on her desk.

 

Chadwick made it all the way to the door when he found he suddenly couldn’t move. It was if his whole body was held in an invisible grip.

 

“Oh, and Mr Chadwick…”

 

Against his will he swung back round. Dr Hallstrom was still on the far side of the room by her desk.

 

“Be more careful next time, because my warning still stands – if anything happens to Andrea you will meet a similar fate.”

 

He heard the door opening on its own behind him and then he was propelled forcibly backwards out of it. He whacked hard into the wall outside before the door slammed shut in his face.

 

………………...

 

 

Andrea gritted her teeth as the needle punctured her skin. “I’d say you enjoyed doing that a bit too much.”

 

The smile flashed her way was one she’d seen a thousand times when growing up, though it was still odd to see it now. Marcus withdrew the syringe having injected its contents and tipped it into a biohazard bin. Andrea instinctually rubbed her arm as she tried to build up the courage to say what she wanted. Since procrastination really wasn’t her forte she took the plunge.

 

“I didn’t get the chance to say anything before, but I wanted to say thank you.” She was surprised the words didn’t stick in her throat.

 

Marcus looked equally surprised, stopping halfway through removing his latex gloves. “Thank you?”

 

“For getting to the bottom of this problem, and for sticking up for me so I could go on the mission to London yesterday.”

 

“I wouldn’t have if I didn’t think you were physically fit,” he replied before softening his tone, “but you’re welcome. Talking of which, you haven’t experienced any side-effects since then have you? No more dizziness or anything else out of the ordinary?”

 

“Out of the ordinary is a little hard to define around here,” noted Andrea, “but no, I’ve not had any adverse reaction to either the medication or using my powers.”

 

Marcus merely nodded. “Good.”

 

Andrea tried to keep her tone light as she continued. “So I guess this means you’ll be heading off to your next project?”

 

“I haven’t decided yet,” he replied. “I still need to monitor your condition for a while and then who knows.”

 

Andrea found she was strangely conflicted by his vague answer. Part of her couldn’t wait until he buggered off and yet a smaller, yet persistent part of her wanted him to stay. She’d tried to tell it to bugger off too, but it kept hanging around. While she attempted to squash it once more Marcus carried on.

 

“In the mean time my next ‘project’ is negotiating Christmas at mother’s. You haven’t changed your mind have you? You don’t fancy coming after all?”

 

“Hmm, let me think about that…” Andrea drummed her fingers thoughtfully on her chin for all of two seconds before delivering her blunt answer. “No! You’re welcome to that particular honour all by yourself.”

 

Marcus poked out his tongue, something Andrea imagined the serious scientist didn’t do much round anyone else. “Traitor!”

 

“Sycophant!”

 

“Judas!”

 

“Brown-noser!”

 

Marcus interrupted the jovial name-calling for a moment. “Brown-noser? Is that the best you could come up with?”

 

“The other things I had in mind wouldn’t be so polite.”

 

Despite her even expression and deadpan tone, he seemed to know as well as she did that she was teasing him. A wry grin crossed his face. “Seriously though, I hope you have a good Christmas,” he said, “wherever it is you’re going.”

 

Andrea almost told him, but knew she still had to wait. “Thank you, I’ll see you at the party tomorrow night?”

 

“I wouldn’t miss it!”

 

Andrea knew he wasn’t the only one.

 

…………………..

 

 

Kate knocked on the door for the third time. Still there was no answer. Where was Sophie? She hadn’t been to any of the last three audit meetings and now she wasn’t in her quarters either. Kate knew it really wasn’t like Sophie to be quite so neglectful of her duties. Her absences had concerned Kate enough to bring her calling, yet it seemed she would have to wait for any answers. Shrugging she supposed the mountain of paperwork back on her desk would have to receive her attention instead, though she was hardly enthused at the prospect. She was sure Kaminski was deliberately trying to drown her in the reams of paper. Turning for her office she found herself staring at the smiling face of Nisha.

 

“Afternoon, Major!” she greeted cheerily.

 

“Good afternoon, Nisha. Did Dr Todd let you out early?”

 

“Er…well…”

 

Kate placed her hands on her hips, fixing Nisha with one of her patented stares. “Did you skip the session?”

 

Nisha looked every inch the naughty schoolgirl as she scuffed her foot across the carpet distractedly, though Kate thought she was merely playing the part rather than she was actually abashed in any way.

 

“At least it gave me a chance to bump into you.”

 

Kate was a little confused. “And that’s relevant because…?”

 

“Because I’ve been meaning to catch you to ask you something personal without everyone else around.”

 

Kate thought she probably shouldn’t ask, but her mouth had opened before she could stop it. “And what is that?”

 

“I was wondering if you wanted to go for a drink some time.”

 

Kate made a small choking noise, managing to cover it up by saying something quickly. “I beg your pardon?”

 

“A drink? You know, like a date.”

 

Kate had to admire Nisha’s brashness if nothing else. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”

 

“Oh right, not really your thing, eh, batting for the same side.”

 

“Well…”

 

“Or is it no fraternisation with the plebs and all that?”

 

Kate thought she might actually be able to answer if Nisha would let her get a word in edgeways.

 

“Never mind, can’t blame a girl for trying.”

 

Kate attempted to speak but didn’t get much further than opening her mouth before Nisha continued.

 

“And I can’t promise that I still won’t.  See you at the party tomorrow!”

 

Nisha gave a sneaky wink and turned on her heel. Kate stood there watching the other woman disappearing off down the corridor. It wasn’t often she was left speechless. Obviously Andrea’s ideas weren’t so far fetched after all; it seemed Nisha was interested in her. Kate shook her head, wondering when she had become so irresistible to women.

 

……………….

 

 

Andrea glanced at the slender watch on her arm. How can it still only be quarter to bloody eight?

 

She went back to the mirror, checking her hair yet again. A single strand of blond had come loose from the elaborate up-do she had fashioned and she tucked it back into place. Time had seemed to be dragging all day and was going at a positively glacial place now the moment of truth got closer and closer. She had no idea why she was so nervous. After all she had been the one nagging Kate to bring their relationship out in the open. Yet now the time had come to reveal all, she found herself oddly reticent. Was she having last minute doubts over whether it was the best thing to do? Over whether the timing was bad considering the pressure everyone was under? Then again when would be a good time? It wasn’t as if things were ever quiet.

 

The knock on the door made her jump and she had to take a moment to calm herself by smoothing her hands down over the silky blue material of her dress before she went to answer it. She was glad she had taken the time, else she might have been bowled over by the sight that met her on opening it. As it was she had to take a few deep breaths to bring her racing heart under some semblance of control.

 

“You look…fabulous,” was all she could manage in the end. It was an understatement, a gross understatement.  Kate’s dark red dress clung to her like a second skin, accentuating her curves and pushing up her bosom which was revealed by the plunging neckline.

 

Kate smiled and Andrea’s heart melted just that bit more. “And so do you,” said the other woman.

 

It took a moment for Andrea to register what she was talking about. Where was her brain this evening? Quite possibly lost in all that cleavage, chipped in her inner demon. Andrea told it to shut up and forced herself to look Kate in the eye. “Thank you.”

 

“So are you ready to go?” Kate offered her arm.

 

Andrea half-considered completely foregoing the party so she could haul Kate inside and find out exactly how difficult it might be to remove that dress. Thinking there would be plenty of time for that later she took the outstretched arm. “As I’ll ever be.”

 

………….

 

 

Kate stood in front of the doors to the messhall. From inside she could hear the dull thumping beat of the music and the merry voices of those already enjoying the Christmas party. She’d thought she would have been more nervous and yet now it came to it she couldn’t wait to get inside.  She realised she’d been putting this off far too long, worried about the reactions of others. Now it came down to it she felt an odd sense of pride to be announcing to the world that the wonderful woman at her side was with her. From a quick sideways glance she saw Andrea looked far more nervous about the whole thing and Kate gave her hand a quick reassuring squeeze.  Andrea just gave a nod in return and Kate used her free hand to push open the doors.

 

If she had expected the room to come to a halt as everyone stared at them in stunned silence then she was sorely disappointed.  She noted a few surprised glances and behind hand comments as they moved across the room hand in hand, but in the main they didn’t get much more than a second glance from most of those present.  Surely coming out is meant to be more dramatic than this? Kate thought with an air of vague disappointment.

 

Of the stares they did get, she was pretty sure most were for the outfits they were wearing, rather than the fact that they were together. As much was confirmed when they got nearer to the bar and were intercepted by Harry and Tom. Neither man seemed to be able to keep his eyes above chest level, especially when addressing Andrea. Not that Kate could entirely blame them, since she often had the same problem.  After a while Andrea seemed to get fed up of the constant stares and volunteered to go to the bar.  Kate stood talking to the two men for a little longer before they moved off to mingle. She wasn’t left on her own long though.

 

“Major!”

 

Kate turned to see Nisha making her way through the throng in her direction. The young woman had on quite possibly the shortest dress Kate had ever seen. It was barely more than a belt.

 

“My God, you look stunning!” exclaimed Nisha. “What a gorgeous dress.”

 

Kate wished she could say the same thing in return. “Thank you, my partner bought it for me.”

 

“Oh, is he here?” Nisha glanced round the room.

 

Kate couldn’t help laughing; obviously the young woman had only just arrived. Over the perplexed Nisha’s shoulder, Kate saw Andrea approaching. “Talk of the devil, here she is now.”

 

…………

 

 

Andrea had seen Nisha entering and making a beeline for Kate as soon as she got to the bar. She wanted to go straight back over, but just about managed to restrain herself long enough to get their drinks first. As she strode purposefully back towards the two women Andrea knew it was finally time to put the young woman in her place, and she wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity of drumming home her point with absolute clarity.

 

Nisha started to turn just as Andrea reached the pair of them. Andrea briefly caught the look of stunned amazement on Nisha’s face before she deposited her drinks on a nearby table, put her arm around Kate’s waist and swept her up into an embrace.  

 

“Hello, darling,” Andrea said in ridiculously sickly sweet tones.

 

Andrea had a fleeting urge to peek to the side to see the reaction she was getting. That was quickly swept away as her lips met Kate’s in a brief kiss. As they broke apart, Andrea saw Kate giving her a quick glance to suggest she knew exactly what the younger woman was up to but was willing to accede to it for now. Andrea knew her actions were a bit childish, showing off that way in front of everyone and Nisha in particular. Meanwhile, a rare occurrence was happening next to them - Nisha was speechless.

 

Her eyes flicked between the other two women, Andrea still standing with her arm looped round the back of Kate’s waist. Eventually Nisha managed to stammer something. “You two…you’re….” Her cheeks seemed to be getting redder by the minute. “Oh my God.”  She leant closer to Andrea. “All those things I said about…you know,” Nisha laughed nervously in the face of Andrea’s stern look. Andrea was enjoying making her squirm and wasn’t about to relent. Nisha laughed nervously again. “I was just joking of course. And…er…I think I hear someone calling me at the bar.”

 

She quickly turned in that direction, almost tripping over a drink-laden Corporal Lister in her urgency to get away.  Both Kate and Andrea watched her for a moment before Kate spoke up.

 

“You are evil.”

 

Andrea was unrepentant. “She deserved it.”

 

Andrea thought Kate was fighting hard to hold back a smile. “Still, I don’t think we quite need to subject everyone to a full on floor show do we?”

 

Andrea supposed the open show of affection had been a bit much. “Sorry.”

 

“And what’s with the ‘darling’ bit? Talk about saccharine overload!”

 

“I couldn’t resist,” said Andrea. “Would you rather I had some more fitting pet name for you? Something more powerful and commanding? Iron pants? Steel knickers?”

 

Kate held up a stalling hand. “You’re making me sound like Margaret bloody Thatcher! How about we forego pet names, I have a perfectly adequate one my parent’s gave me.”

 

“All right,” agreed Andrea. “So how about a dance…pumpkin?”

 

Unwilling to dignify the last name with a comment, Kate grasped her hand and half-yanked her onto the dancefloor. Andrea briefly wondered which of them was going to lead before Kate took control in her usual commanding way. Andrea was happy enough to be led, though with most of her previous partners she’d been the lead, mainly due to her height.  Kate’s right hand nestled in the naked small of her back, perilously close to slipping down below the hemline of Andrea’s dress. Conversely, Andrea’s left hand rested on Kate’s shoulder and she let it drift along so she could brush her fingers into the lower reaches of Kate’s bobbed hair.

 

“Do you remember the last time we danced together here?” asked Kate as they moved slowly over the floor.

 

Andrea could hardly have forgotten it. It had been in that moment when they were entwined on the dance floor that she had realised she was hopelessly in love with Kate. Unable to express as much openly she had fled instead.

 

“I hope you’re not going to be leaving me in the lurch again,” said Kate as if reading her mind.

 

Andrea smiled and lowered her head to whisper in Kate’s ear. “Not a chance.” She allowed her mouth to linger, her breath fluttering out over Kate’s skin.  Andrea felt a small shudder from Kate where their hips touched. Completely forgetting where they were, she started to slide her tongue up the edge of Kate’s ear. Kate gave a guttural moan.  Their bodies pressed closer together. Kate’s leg slipped between her thighs, shooting arousal through Andrea.

 

“Good evening, ladies.”

 

Andrea pulled back sharply seeing that it was the Colonel who had interrupted them. She felt a blush warming her cheeks. Though everyone now knew about them, it still seemed a bit seedy to be caught ‘en flagrante’ by Kate’s commanding officer. Kate didn’t seem to be as similarly perturbed, returning his greeting politely as if he hadn’t just caught them practically ravishing each other on the dance floor.

 

“Enjoying the party?” he asked. Andrea was sure he was winking at them.

 

“Very much so,” said Kate. “And you?”

 

“It certainly has been … interesting.” He glanced to Andrea. “Would you mind if I borrowed the Major for a moment?”

 

Andrea made a quick verifying check with Kate before leaving them to it and heading to watch from the bar. She perched herself on a stool watching the crowd enjoying themselves. The reaction to their entrance had surprised her, though in a good way. She’d expected a bit more resistance, a few more backhanded comments. Then again the night was young. As if the universe sensed her unease, a conversation from further down the bar drifted to her between snatches of music.

 

“…bloody dykes, you can’t trust them.”

 

“Yeah, it ain’t right is it, and with that snotty bitch Hallstrom too.”

 

Andrea bristled, contemplating marching over and showing them just how much of a bitch she could be, but decided against causing a scene. It wouldn’t do any good, such opinions were just ingrained in some people’s mentality and she certainly wouldn’t change them by putting her fist in their face, as tempting as that might be. Some more of the discussion filtered to her.

 

“Though you gotta admit, she’s pretty hot.”

 

Andrea snorted; trust the male brain to eventually be governed by one thing. She could only assume the two men hadn’t noticed she was only standing a few feet away with the crowd at the bar.

 

“Well, yeah, I guess,” agreed the other squaddie. “I would never have had her pegged as a rug-muncher. You know you could see her butt down the back of that dress.”

 

Andrea subconsciously hitched up the offending hemline a bit, thinking it best she moved further away before she heard something she really didn’t want to.

 

……

 

 

The Colonel gently guided Kate around the dancefloor and she wondered how long he was going to wait before saying what was obviously on his mind. She supposed it was only to be expected; he’d always been protective of her, even more so since her father’s death. After one more circuit he finally turned his blue eyes down to her.

 

“I wish you’d mentioned this to me before.”

 

Kate didn’t need to ask what he was referring to. “It’s my private life,” she replied evenly. “It doesn’t effect how I do my job, so I saw no need to inform you before now.”

 

“Come on, Kate, we both know better than that after last year’s fiasco,” he said. Despite the subject his tone was kind. “You know there will be questions asked.”

 

“By you?”

 

“I know you can do your job,” he said evasively, “and that you wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.”

 

“But…?”

 

He sighed, bringing them to a halt as the song ended. They moved off to the side of the floor, out of the way of the other dancers. “I’m just concerned for you, Kate. This is a risky relationship, in more ways than one. You better be damn sure it’s what you want.”

 

She looked him directly in the eye. “It is.”

 

Before he could question her further, they were disturbed by someone stumbling haphazardly into them. Kate automatically pushed back, seeing that it was Tom she was shoving. He staggered backwards before collapsing in a heap on the floor. Kate was amazed at how quickly the young man had managed to get drunk. The Colonel tried to help him up.

 

“Come on, son, I think you’ve had enough.”

 

“Don’t you call me fucking son!” Tom swatted away the assisting hands. He staggered to his feet under his own steam, swaying slightly once standing.

 

“What are you doing here anyway?” he snapped at the Colonel. “I thought you’d be with your latest whore.”

 

With his dulled wits Tom wasn’t quick enough to dodge the punch.  The colonel looked as shocked as everyone else that he’d swung one. The officer glanced around the crowd that had gathered before making some quick apologies and hurrying from the room.

 

….

 

 

Seeing the disturbance on the far side of the room, Andrea swiftly moved over from the bar, happy to get away from the less than favourable comments anyway. By the time she got there, Tom was on the floor, nursing a fat lip. Bel was trying to help him up but getting rebuked.

 

“I don’t need any help!” Tom stated.

 

He barged his way off through the crowd and Andrea made to go after him but found a stalling hand on her arm. “I don’t think you’ll get much sense out of him tonight,” said Kate.

 

Andrea watched the angry young man staggering out the door. “Another happy family at Christmas,” she noted. “Something tells me I won’t be the only one not sharing turkey with my parents.”

 

She felt the warm hand encircling her waist once more, quickly banishing transitory thoughts of home. “But you will be sharing it with someone,” said Kate as she led them back into the rhythm of the music.

 

They had made several circuits, negotiating drunken soldiers and merry scientists, when Andrea noticed Kate appeared to be distracted. She was studying those on the sidelines and by the bar.

 

“Looking for someone?”

 

Kate turned her attention back to Andrea. “I just wondered if Sophie had made it.”

 

Andrea’s inner jealousy demon reared its ugly head. “Oh.”

 

Kate could hardly fail to spot the flat tone. “I haven’t seen her around much, I’m just concerned. It’s not like her.”

 

“Why don’t you go and have a look round?” Andrea surprised herself as much as Kate with the encouragement. “I can mingle for a bit, stop you monopolising my time!”

 

“I won’t be long,” said Kate as she moved off round the room.

 

Andrea drifted over towards the bar but quickly regretted allowing Kate to go off on her search when she saw who was there waiting for her. Anna Kaminski smiled as she approached and for a moment Andrea wondered if she’d only just arrived and had missed the grand revelation. She was holding a glass of wine that was nearly empty though, so either she was a fast drinker or had been there long enough to see her and Kate dancing at least. Andrea was surprised the woman was there at all – she didn’t think parties were exactly her scene, but she appeared to have made the effort in a simple, yet elegant cream dress. She actually looked vaguely attractive.

 

“God kväll,” said the diminutive woman.

 

Andrea returned the formal Swedish greeting. “Would you like another drink?” she asked, supposing she could be civil for now.

 

“Thank you, white wine,” said Kaminski, “or what passes for it in this place.”

 

As she ordered the drinks, Andrea couldn’t believe Kaminski didn’t have something to say on the matter of her and Kate and she was waiting for it when she handed the fresh glass over.  However, Kaminski said nothing, perhaps wanting to make her stew.  Instead it fell to Andrea to make small talk. At least she’d had plenty of practice exchanging meaningless pleasantries with officious blowhards at the many police functions she’d attended in the past. Such conversations usually revolved around work, family or sport. Since none of those seemed appropriate, Andrea settled on one thing they did have in common.

 

“I’ve been meaning to ask, where did you learn Swedish? Kaminski isn’t a Swedish name is it?”

 

“No, it’s Russian in origin.”

 

Andrea raised her eyebrows, waiting for further elaboration and an actual answer to her question. Kaminski took a sip of her wine.

 

“I learnt Swedish from my grandmother.”

 

Andrea was shocked by the personal revelation from the normally tight-lipped woman.  “She was Swedish?” she prompted.

 

“Yes, I used to go and visit her over the summer in Uppsala before she died over twenty years ago now.”

 

Something dawned on Andrea. “I used to live in Uppsala about that time.”

 

“I know.”

 

Andrea stared at her, not quite sure what the statement implied. Of course Kaminski could just be remarking on something she had read in Andrea’s personnel file, yet Andrea got the impression there was more to it. Had they met back then? Andrea thought it unlikely since she had only been about five years old at the time.

 

“Anyway, that was a long time ago,” said Kaminski, taking another sip of wine. “Coming back to the present, I see my suspicions were well-founded.”

 

“I’m sorry?” Andrea was slightly confused by the sudden switch away from the rare glimpse into Kaminski’s private life.

 

“About the amount of time Major Jarvis spends in your company,” clarified Kaminski.

 

“And is there something wrong with that?” Strangely Andrea felt more assured now they were on more familiar conflicting territory

 

“No, not at all, as long as the major can remain objective,” said Kaminski. “However, she does have a history of…bad errors in judgement when it comes to her personal life and its affect on her work, particularly in regard to the influence of those close to her.”

 

Andrea read between the lines. “You think I’m manipulating her?”

 

“You’re not?”

 

“I think you’re assigning me more influence than I have. Major Jarvis is perfectly capable of making her own decisions, especially when it comes to work, just as she was long before I came along.”

 

“That’s right,” agreed Kaminski, “decisions like Adam Dixon.”

 

Andrea felt the usual surge of anger, jealousy and a tinge of anxiety at the mention of his name.  “That was a mistake. We all make them.”

 

“I suppose we just have to wait to see if she’s making another then don’t we?” Kaminski took a final sip from her glass before offering her parting shot. “I promise you she won’t come back from it this time if you are one.”

 

 

………

 

 

Out of the corner of her eye Kate saw Andrea talking with Anna Kaminski. She wondered if she was going to be called upon to break them up. From her expression it didn’t look like Andrea was particularly enthused by what the other woman had to say. Then again she never was. Kate supposed she would start really worrying when the government official’s body sailed across the room in front of her.

 

Kate continued to scan the rest of the crowded room, finally spotting her target. She was half-surprised to see Sophie there, since she had proved so elusive recently. The other woman was sitting at a table on her own, nursing what looked suspiciously like a soft drink. Kate noted that she was still wearing her uniform unlike most of the others present and she looked pre-occupied, staring off at those dancing but not really watching them. Kate moved over and took up one of the spare seats next to the other woman.  Sophie barely gave her a second glance, though she did acknowledge her presence with a short remark.

 

“Nice dress.”

 

“Andrea bought it for me.”

 

Sophie made a small snort and took a gulp from her drink. “She would do I suppose.”

 

Kate didn’t quite understand the meaning of the comment, but could detect the faint slur in Sophie’s words, which was curious since Sophie’s drink looked like plain coke.  “Are you all right?” she asked, thinking Sophie could have moved onto the soft stuff given her obvious state of inebriation.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

Kate wasn’t buying it, especially as Sophie was still avoiding looking at her. “Only you’ve not been to any of the last three audit meetings and now I do catch up with you, you’ve had enough booze to sink a ship.”

 

“Yeah, well, you don’t need to worry,” said Sophie, “I’m not your concern, am I?”

 

The self-pitying words weren’t like Sophie at all. “Of course you are - you’re my friend. Not to mention under my command.”

 

“That’s not exactly true is it, as far as I know Miss Kaminski’s my boss.”

 

“Not unless she’s suddenly gained a rank she’s not.”

 

Sophie gave a shrug. “I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the government take over here completely.”

 

Kate wondered if Sophie actually knew something or was she just trying to deliberately rile her for some as yet unknown reason.

 

“Anyway, I’ve had enough of watching this dog’s dinner,” Sophie got to her feet knocking her empty glass over but somehow managing to stay upright. “I’ll catch you later.”

 

Kate could only watch in bemusement as she stumbled off, supposing she would just have to wait to get any other answers.

 

…..

 

 

The water from the tap cascaded over Andrea’s fingers, the young woman distracted by the feel of it, caught up in her thoughts of the party. She’d come out for a few minutes, escaping the hubbub of the messhall for the quiet of the toilets. Luckily she was alone, there not being that many other female staff members who were likely to disturb her. Despite recent advances in equality, the army was still a resoundingly male occupation, and she could probably count the number of female personnel at the base on her fingers, with maybe a couple of toes thrown in.

 

So she was surprised when the door to the corridor did open, though not that shocked when she saw who it was.

 

She gave a small smile. “Following me, are you?”

 

Kate smiled back, though Andrea was finding it hard to keep her eyes at face level when they kept being drawn downwards. The light in the messhall was dimmed, but out here she got a full un-adulterated view of Kate’s deep-red dress. She was grateful she had the cold water on her hands to cool at least part of her.

 

“Just taking a breather,” replied Kate, coming towards Andrea on her way to one of the stalls.

 

Andrea turned back to the sink, able to see the other woman behind her in the mirror sitting above the wash basin. Kate paused directly behind her, leaning close to whisper in Andrea’s ear.

 

“I need one after all that dancing and having to restrain the urge to rip that dress off you.”

 

The heat shot straight to Andrea’s head. Before she knew what she was doing she had whipped round and crushed her lips to Kate’s. They stumbled backwards, locked together, banging into a stall door and shoving it open. It slammed back shut behind them. Andrea didn’t care that she was making Kate’s dress wet with her hands, the water just added to the velvety feel under her fingers as they roamed over the other woman’s body. She felt Kate’s hands brushing over her own back, caressing the bare skin, slipping down.

 

She let out a loud gasp as Kate’s fingers brushed her bottom. Having lost the contact of lips for a moment she looked down into the eyes that burned with a fire equal to her own. Kate simply grinned, the blood pumping faster, hotter through Andrea at the sight. When Kate did speak, she could barely hear it through the pounding, the other woman’s voice low, seductive.

 

“I never understood why women always went to the bathroom together before.”

 

Andrea took a deep breath, trying to calm her raging desire, just for a second. “Though I can think of somewhere I’d rather be.”

 

Kate’s eyebrows quirked up. “Your place or mine?”

 

…..

 

 

The door to Andrea’s quarters thumped open as the two women barrelled inside, not having the restraint to even wait until they were over the threshold before their lips locked. They staggered forwards, stumbling into the back of the sofa.

 

“I’ve wanted to get my fingers under this dress all night,” growled Andrea as her fingers slid down over the soft material at Kate’s sides, tracking towards the hemline just above her knee. Kate felt the swell of anticipation between her legs.

 

“And you’ve been tormenting me with this exposed flesh,” she replied throatily. To demonstrate she eased her fingers up Andrea’s bare spine, eliciting a shiver from the young woman. “But I’ve had enough teasing,” she whispered.

 

Her fingers found the clasp at the back of Andrea’s neck, undoing the only thing keeping the other woman’s dress up. Kate peeled back enough to allow the silky material to slide down, giving it a small helping hand over Andrea’s chest, being sure to flick a single finger over the taut nipples that were revealed. Andrea gasped at that touch, her breath catching in her throat. Meanwhile, her dress pooled at her feet and she just about had the sense to step out of it. Kate was momentarily dumbstruck anyway, the sight of Andrea standing there in just a tiny g-string and a pair of high heels scrambling her brain and body. Acting on the desire flooding her, she pushed forwards, lips seeking out the expanse of naked flesh. Her tongue slid across Andrea’s collarbone, easing towards her neck in a trail of soft kisses. Kate’s hands eased over Andrea’s hips, feeling the tremble from Andrea’s body beneath her fingertips.

 

“Oh God, can we…can we…lie down…not sure if I can stand….”

 

Somehow they made it to the bedroom, Kate easing Andrea towards the bed, but just before she flopped back onto it the younger woman pulled up.

 

“Hang on, I think you’re still far too dressed.”

 

Not waiting for any argument, Andrea slipped her fingers under the thin straps resting over Kate’s shoulders. She tracked her digits slowly downwards, sliding them just under the edge of Kate’s dress, caressing the top of her breast. Kate groaned at the feather-light touch, moaning louder as one of Andrea’s fingers slipped down between her breasts before moving out to flick a nipple, teasing it under the tight, velvet material.  

 

Unable to restrain herself Kate wrapped her arms round Andrea’s naked torso, pulling them together once more, devouring the other woman’s lips. Andrea responded in kind, enveloped by the same fervour. She gave up on her slow teasing of Kate’s dress, instead slipping the straps off over Kate’s shoulders and reaching round to unzip the back. Kate moved her arms enough to allow her to push it down, though never relinquishing her hold on Andrea’s lips, her tongue playing across Andrea’s own.

 

Freed at last, Kate’s naked body pressed against Andrea, squashing their breasts together, legs slipping between one another. Andrea gave a gasp and pulled back for a second, looking down between them in shock.

 

“You weren’t wearing any knickers?” she cried. “Jesus! Good job I didn’t know that during the party!”

 

Kate offered a grin and a nonchalant shrug. “I am in the army, it’s only natural to go commando occasionally. Anyway, you can hardly talk,” she slid her fingers under the thin strands of Andrea’s g-string, “this underwear is hardly worth the name.”

 

“Then I guess you best remove it.”

 

Kate didn’t waste any time doing as instructed, the tiny garment finding its way to the floor.

 

Andrea quirked an eyebrow, realising there was one item of her attire left. “Would you like me to keep the high heels on?”

 

“To protect your modesty?” asked Kate with a small laugh. “No, I think we can do away with that particular cliché,” she added with a wink.

 

“Thank fuck,” said Andrea kicking them off and suddenly coming down a few inches in height. “They were bloody killing me!”

 

Kate eased her own shoes off. “Now shut up and get on that bed.”

 

“Yes, ma’am!”

 

Andrea lowered herself onto the sheets, lying back expectantly for Kate. Not one to resist such a delicious invitation, Kate crawled up the bed, keeping low so that her nipples grazed tantalisingly up Andrea’s body until she was face to face with the other woman. The desire had been building all night long, ever since Andrea had opened the door to her quarters several hours ago and stood there in that dress. Giving up any hopes of controlling it, Kate lowered herself, her hungry tongue darting out to explore along Andrea’s lips and deeper into her mouth.

 

Kate felt the sweat slickened skin of Andrea’s thigh thrusting up between her legs, rubbing, teasing. Kate groaned, gyrating against it. Her fingers sought out Andrea’s breasts, squeezed between their heaving bodies. Taking a nipple between her fingers, she pinched enough to garner a loud gasp from the woman beneath her. Kate flicked the taut skin against her own, feeling the immediate flush of heat burning in her chest. Andrea’s hands groped for her hips, pushing Kate harder against her thigh, drawing a hot wet trail over it.

 

Unable to resist the primal pounding through her body, Kate ground herself against Andrea’s leg. Back arching, she gasped as her clitoris rubbed over the flesh. Fingers replaced thigh as Andrea slid them over her leg and up into Kate. The sudden penetration caused her to cry out. “Oh…fuck!”

 

Having long since given up trying to concentrate on anything other than the sensations swamping her, Kate braced herself with her hands either side of Andrea, bucking wildly as she rode the young woman’s fingers. She felt the wetness seeping down her inner thighs as Andrea drove into her.

 

“Fuck! Yes!”

 

Kate’s curses and cries became ever more urgent as the heat welled inside her, building into one explosive crescendo. Every muscle in her body felt the single moment of perfection, mind and body lost in an instant of pure pleasure. Screaming her release to the room, Kate flopped down, body resting heavily on the woman beneath her.

 

Andrea’s thumping heartbeat stirred Kate into life, her senses slowly returning. She drew her head off Andrea’s chest, her sweaty hair peeling away from the hot skin. Running fingers across the young woman’s abdomen drew a shiver of anticipation. Kate shuffled up the bed slightly, allowing her to capture Andrea’s flushed lips as she tracked her fingers lower. She delved into the young woman’s mouth, simultaneously pushing fingers inside the wetness waiting between her legs. Andrea groaned against her lips, but Kate didn’t release her hold. Even when Andrea started to writhe over the bed as Kate tormented her, she maintained her lock on the lips. Only when Andrea reared dramatically did she lose contact. “Christ! Fuck!” screamed the young woman, head arched back, eyes screwed tightly shut.

 

Feeling the tightening against her fingers, Kate knew the young woman was close. She moved her thumb up to brush the hard, sensitive spot that would drive her over the edge. Andrea’s hands flew to Kate’s shoulders, nails digging in hard as she sought something to anchor her in the rising storm of her orgasm. “Oh….God…..” Andrea’s voice trailed off as her body went taut, the rush of heat against Kate’s fingers coating them in sweet stickiness.

 

Sliding them out, Kate wrapped her arms around the still shivering body beside her. Drawing Andrea close she allowed her eyes to slide shut.

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

The streetlights of Weymouth cut through the driving rain as Kate negotiated the roads in the hire car. As Andrea watched the town flashing past from her position in the passenger seat she pondered that it was typical festive season weather for England. She got a vague impression of the promenade they were driving along and Victorian hotels that lined it through the rain. Somewhere out the other side obscured in the darkness was the sea. She supposed they might be lucky and get a break for Christmas Day the following day, but she wouldn’t want to bet on it. A good job she never bothered betting on a white Christmas either, since the likelihood of one of those was somewhere up with her having a mad passionate affair with Anna Kaminski. Andrea shivered at the horrible mental image that flashed briefly to mind.

 

“Cold?”

 

Andrea shook her head, deciding not to mention what had caused the reaction.  “No, it’s nothing. Are we nearly there yet?”

 

Kate laughed. “You sound like one of my nephews. Who by the way, we will no doubt be expected to play football with tomorrow down the park.”

 

That’s if I don’t get hounded out of the Jarvis home for corrupting their daughter, considered Andrea. Again she thought it best not to give voice to her inner thoughts.

 

Kate turned up a hill that took them away from the seafront, but didn’t go far before she pulled into the drive of a typical 1930s detached house. It just looked like any other average family home. Strange to think this was where Kate grew up. Not that Andrea knew quite what she had been expecting. She supposed not everyone lived somewhere quite like she had as a girl.

 

“Come on,” said Kate, breaking her thoughts, “let’s just get inside for now, we can get the stuff from the boot in a moment.”

 

The pair of them made a dash for the door, splashing through the puddles collecting on the drive and sheltering under the small porch. Before they could knock the door was pulled open, the light from the hall spilling out over the front garden. The first thing Andrea noticed about Kate’s mother was her beaming smile. She immediately wrapped her arms round Kate who was ahead of Andrea and gave her a welcoming hug.

 

“Come in, come in,” she said enthusiastically, letting go enough to gesture them inside.

 

She was a small woman, perhaps a couple of inches shorter than Kate herself, but Andrea got the distinct impression the small frame harboured a big personality. She buzzed around them, eager to get their coats and get them inside. The warmth in the hallway compared to the chill, damp outside was marked.

 

“So aren’t you going to introduce us?” asked Kate’s mother as she took her daughter’s coat, her eyes glancing over at Andrea.

 

“Blimey, give me a chance, mother!”

 

Andrea found it strangely amusing watching Kate be bossed about by her mother. Having removed her scarf and hooked it over the coat rack just inside the door, Kate made the introductions.

 

“Mother this is Andrea, Andrea this is my mother.”

 

Andrea extended a hand, but found herself getting a hug similar to the one that had almost crushed Kate.

 

“Call me Grace.”

 

The younger woman wondered how long the friendly reception would last once Grace found out who Andrea really was.

 

“Why don’t you come through to the kitchen,” continued Grace with a smile, “I was just doing some baking.”

 

As they followed her up the short hall Andrea exchanged a brief look with Kate, wondering when she was going to broach the subject. Seeing the furtive look she got in response, she considered that maybe Kate was going to chicken out.

 

On entering the room at the back of the house, the smell of some sort of cake baking assailed Andrea’s nostrils. It smelled a bit like the brownies that her nanny, Nicolette, had used to make when she was a girl. They had been a source of comfort many a time when she had been hiding out from her mother in the kitchen, seeking the companionship of the hired help instead. That kitchen couldn’t have been more different to the one she was in now. Andrea’s mother’s kitchen was all stainless steel worktops and gleaming surfaces that didn’t look as if they were ever utilised. All the pots and pans dangling around Grace’s kitchen looked careworn, with a vast array of spices and ingredients practically pushing their way out of the packed cupboards. Obviously Kate had not inherited her mother’s cooking skills though. Andrea was lucky if her toast was served un-burnt of a morning.

 

“You must want a coffee after that long journey,” Grace remarked to Kate, unhooking some mugs from a tree, “and you Andrea?”

 

“A tea, thank you.”

 

Grace beamed once more. “Ah, I like this girl. You can’t go wrong with a nice brew.” She leant closer to Andrea, speaking in a stage whisper. “Kate seems to think she lives in America or something, all that coffee rubbish.”

 

Despite the un-subtleness of it, Kate hadn’t heard the remark, too busy poking her finger in a mixing bowl on the table in the centre of the room. She got a light smack on the back of her hand with a wooden spoon for her troubles. Andrea stifled a laugh as Kate indignantly pulled it back.

 

“You’re not too old for me to smack your bottom too if you stick you grubby fingers in my cooking again,” said Grace brandishing the spoon. The mischievous glint in her eye told Andrea the banter was purely playful.

 

Andrea’s initial impressions of Grace were reinforced as they all took their drinks through to the living room. It was a fairly small room, made even smaller by the large Christmas tree squashed into one corner. There were a few other decorations adorning the room too, but nothing too showy. Sitting on the sofa, Andrea took in her surroundings, spotting pictures of various family members including a few of Kate in and out of uniform. She made a mental note to study them in more detail when she got a chance. Meanwhile Grace was the perfect host, making them feel relaxed and welcome as the chatted amiably.  However, at no point in the friendly chit-chat being exchanged did Kate even look like she was going to mention the real nature of their relationship. Andrea sincerely hoped she wasn’t seriously thinking of waiting until they were about to toast over the Christmas dinner the next day.  As Kate started to quiz her mother about family Andrea couldn’t help stifling a yawn; it had been a long journey down from Scotland since they had been forced to use normal means of transport. Grace spotted the half-hidden yawn.

 

“Where are my manners! Gibbering on at you like this when you must be tired.”

 

Andrea tried to wave a dismissive hand but only succeeded in allowing another yawn to escape her lips. “I’m sorry, it’s been a long day,” she had to apologise.

 

“Don’t be silly.” Grace got to her feet. “I’ve made up one of the spare rooms for each of you.”

 

Andrea glanced to Kate as they both stood too. This is getting ridiculous. Either Kate better say something soon or she was going to. To hurry along the process Andrea gave Kate a surreptitious kick in the ankle.

 

……

 

 

Kate felt the kick to her foot and couldn’t help letting out an involuntary yelp. Immediately her mother’s eyes were on her.

 

“Are you all right Kate?”

 

“Yes…” said Kate, before seeing the look Andrea was shooting her. “No…there’s something I need to talk to you about. Maybe you’d better sit back down for a moment.”

 

Kate waited until her mother had sat back in the armchair, taking up her own seat perched on the edge of the sofa so she could face her. She felt much more anxious now than she had done at the Christmas party on the base. It was probably because she didn’t really care what those people thought. This was her mother though. She took a deep breath and ploughed on.

 

“I thought this would be better coming from me face to face, rather than over the phone…”

 

Her mother cut in straight away. “You’re not in any kind of trouble with the army again are you?”

 

Kate shook her head. If only. “No, nothing like that,” she said. “It’s a personal matter.”

 

“I didn’t realise you had a personal life these days,” noted her mother. “All that time you spend off doing secret things with the army, we’re lucky to see you from one Christmas to the next…”

 

“Mother.” Kate had to interrupt before the talkative woman went off on another tangent.

 

“Right, sorry, you had something to say.”

 

Kate cleared her throat before continuing. “When I said that Andrea was a friend, that’s not exactly accurate, she’s more than a friend.”

 

“I know.”

 

Kate’s heart was in her mouth. “You do?” she managed to croak out.

 

“Yes, she’s a colleague from your secret base.” Her mother looked to Andrea who was sitting quietly next to Kate. “Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone you’re here if it’s some big government secret.”

 

Kate sighed. “No, that’s not what I meant. She’s a lot more than a friend.” Why can’t I just come out and say it? Instead she hoped her mother would twig what she was intimating some point soon. To reinforce her point she decided to take Andrea’s hand and hold it on her thigh. “A whole lot more.”

 

Her mother’s eyes fell on the two joined hands, before coming up to first Kate’s and then Andrea’s faces. “Oh.” The single comment held the full weight of realisation.

 

Silence reigned for a moment. Where the room had seemed quietly cosy before, it now seemed oppressively stifling. Kate wished she had removed her jumper before coming in.  She couldn’t quite read the expression on her mother’s face, apart from the obvious surprise on it. She felt her fingers being squeezed a little tighter. Either Andrea was trying to reassure her, or she was equally nervous and didn’t realise what she was doing. Kate hoped that she realised soon if it was the latter, before her fingers were crushed by super strength.  Finally her mother found her voice.

 

“Er…so…um…” She seemed to be searching for something appropriate to say. Kate supposed it wasn’t the sort of conversation you planned for. “When did you decide you were a…”

 

Kate raised her eyebrows in encouragement, waiting to see if her mother could bring herself to finish the sentence and make what was unspoken real. Once it was said there was no going back. Seeing the look she was getting, her mother suddenly seemed to find her footing again, as if rising to the challenge.

 

“When did you decide you were a lesbian?” she asked without hesitation. Kate was thankful that the question seemed to be an honest enquiry rather than an accusation.

 

She gentled her voice to match. “Well, I don’t know if I class myself as one exactly,” she admitted, “but if you mean when did I decide that I was attracted to women, about the time I realised I was in love with Andrea.” She gave a small sideways glance to see Andrea smiling at her. Any doubts she had about this course were banished in that brief look.

 

“In love?” said her mother meanwhile, more surprise evident in her tone. As Kate turned back to her she saw that she was being inspected. Her mother even went as far to reach out and poke her with a single finger.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Just making sure it was really you,” said her mother, “because I was convinced you were far too obsessed with your career to spare time for anyone else, let alone for love.”

 

Kate shrugged. “Things change.”

 

“They certainly do.”

 

Kate still wasn’t quite sure what to make of the reaction. “You’re shocked,” she said, “I shouldn’t have dumped this on you, not now.”

 

“I’m a little surprised maybe, but it’s not every day your thirty-six year old daughter suddenly brings home their girlfriend for Christmas dinner!”

 

Kate felt a movement beside her. “I told you this was a bad idea,” whispered Andrea. “I should go.”

 

Kate didn’t get the chance to reply as her mother replied for her. “You keep your bottom on that sofa!”

 

Andrea did as she was told, probably as unsure as Kate where this was going. Both of them focussed back on Kate’s mother. Kate saw she was looking to Andrea for the first time since she’d made her announcement, addressing her rather than Kate.

 

“Yes, it’s a bit of a bolt from the blue, finding out Kate is that way inclined,” she said, her voice surprisingly gentle, “but that doesn’t mean you’re not welcome,” she added sincerely. Kate felt the relief starting to wash over her as she realised they were getting acceptance. “In fact anyone that can get her to display devotion to something other than her career is more than welcome!”

 

“You’re really all right with this?” checked Kate.

 

“Yes, I’m not that old and fusty! I do know such things happen, though not that often in Weymouth. Though then again there are Agnes and Gertrude at the players, they live together - with cats!”

 

Andrea laughed, also sensing the mood had lifted. “Conclusive proof, I’d say.”

 

Kate’s mother seemed to have gotten over her initial surprise quickly and was now embracing the idea. “You know, now I think about it, I did wonder about you a bit.” She directed her next comment genially to Andrea. “Well you do don’t you, when your daughter decides they’re going to join the army. I’m sure your parents probably thought the same.”

 

“I’m not in the army,” Andrea replied.

 

“Oh, are you not? I just assumed…”

 

“I used to be in the police,” added Andrea helpfully.

 

“Ah well, there you go, nearly the same thing - women in uniform, showering together and all that.”

 

Kate groaned in embarrassment, but saw that Andrea was nodding in amusement as her mother continued rattling on, well and truly off and running with the idea now.

 

“Anyway, I just thought the army thing was because of her father, always had to do all the same things as him, that one.” She turned back to Kate. “Then again I always thought you and that Sophie were rather close, do you still see her?”

 

“Now and again,” answered Kate, not really wanting to delve into that subject in front of Andrea.

 

“But then of course there was that charming young man you were seeing, what was his name again?”

 

Suddenly Kate wished they could switch back to the topic of Sophie. Her mother had to think about it for a moment before the recollection came. “Adam, Adam Dixon. Whatever happened to him?”

 

Kate stiffened. “I told you, we fell out.”

 

“That’s a shame, he seemed so nice,” said her mother breezily, not getting the hint.

 

“He wasn’t.”

 

Something in Kate’s tone finally cut through the oblivious chattering and Grace realised the maybe it wasn’t the best subject. Instead she rose from her seat. “I guess you only need one of those rooms then?”

 

 

…….

 

 

Andrea waited until she was sure Grace had gone back down the stairs before she turned to Kate. The other woman had already opened up her small case to unpack it onto the bed and make herself at home. Then again she was at home. Andrea couldn’t help but feel a bit awkward about the whole thing herself. Grace had been…well, gracious about it all, but Andrea still felt she was somehow imposing, especially in sharing a room with Kate.  She decided to voice her concerns.

 

“Is your mother really all right with this or is she just being awfully British and polite?”

 

Kate unfolded some pyjamas. “I’m sure there is an element of that, but believe me if she had a real problem you’d know about it.”

 

Andrea wasn’t convinced though. She couldn’t really imagine the woman who had just politely shown them to their room before leaving them to it raising her voice, let alone having an argument with someone.

 

“Don’t let the slightly bumbling, maddenly chatty exterior fool you,” said Kate as if sensing her doubts. “Anyway, I think she likes you.”

 

“But she liked Adam Dixon too,” pointed out Andrea.

 

“Yes, well, everyone’s allowed the odd lapse in judgement.” Kate turned back to her case, pulling out the last of the contents.

 

“When did you bring him here?”

 

Kate stopped what she was doing and sighed. “Does it really matter?”

 

“So you did bring him though,” pressed Andrea.

 

Kate slowly and deliberately zipped up the now empty case before answering. “Yes, once.”

 

It seemed Andrea was going to have to work for any details. Kate held her gaze, challenging her to try. For a moment the stubborn side of Andrea was tempted, but in the end she deferred. It wasn’t worth raking over that particular sore point now. Seeking a way to diffuse the suddenly tense room, she glanced around it, spotting the piles of photo albums on one of the shelves.

 

“Any old embarrassing ones of you in here?” she asked, moving over to pick one up. She read the label on the spine. 1991. She causally opened it to a random page. There were four pictures to a page, some people she didn’t recognise being in the first quartet. The facing page displayed a selection of Kate on what Andrea assumed was her University graduation day.  The black gown and mortar board hat were a bit of a giveaway. Andrea stifled a snigger as she took in the odd angle of the hat perched on Kate’s head. Even with the faint ridiculousness of it, she found something rather arousing about the picture. Kate looked so…young! For a moment she couldn’t stop staring at it. The twenty-two year old Kate in the picture seemed to be staring right back. Andrea had to shake herself out of it. She closed up the oddly mesmerising album, supposing it was probably too recent for anything seriously embarrassing so she looked back to the shelf. “There must be a 1969 or 1970 around here with some baby photos in…”

 

Kate took the album she held. “I was an extremely cute baby I’ll have you know.”

 

Andrea continued to scan along the spines with her finger, moving back in time. The earliest one she could find had a faded label of 1978 on it. She pulled it off the shelf, flicked open the front page and almost keeled over with laughter. Kate moved over to grab it off her but Andrea held on fast. “Oh no! I want to see the rest if that’s anything to go by.” Her finger rested on a picture of an eight-year-old Kate in the most hideous pink dress.

 

Kate gave a shrug. “What can I say…it was a very brief girly phase. Turn the page and there’ll probably be some of me in dungarees and up a tree.”

 

Andrea did and was presented with a vision of Kate in another awful 70s dress, this time all orange and brown swirls. As she started to guffaw again, Kate managed to snatch the album from her. She quickly leafed through it before thrusting it back in front of Andrea, open at a new page. “See, no terrible dresses in sight.”

 

Andrea peered at the new picture. “No, just terrible hair!” she laughed. “Did your mum cut it with a bowl?”

 

Kate pouted indignantly at her. “Remind me to get some old pictures of you off your brother!”

 

“Then I’d best make sure I get a good look at all of these!” Andrea darted for the shelf. Kate flung the album she had back on the bed and tackled Andrea, grabbing onto her outstretched arm. They tussled playfully for a moment. “You’re going to have to try a bit harder than that.” There was a hint of invite in Andrea’s tone.

 

Kate managed to pull her round. “I’m sure I can find some way to distract you from old pictures.” Before Andrea could even think about challenging that, Kate had closed the distance to press her lips to Andrea’s.

 

When she finally pulled back, Andrea just gave a half smile. “What pictures?”

 

 

……….

 

 

 

“Come on, Hallstrom, get a move on!”

 

Andrea glanced up from her desk, to see her friend Claire waving a violin case in her face in some agitation. Then again, Claire always seemed to be agitated, existing in a permanent state of hyper-activity.

 

“You can finish the geek work later,” said the girl. “We need to get to our lesson with old Crusty Pants.”

 

Andrea sighed, closing up her chemistry folder with deliberate slowness since she didn’t like to be rushed. “I really wish you wouldn’t call Mrs Chambers that,” said Andrea, continuing to take her time over packing up her rucksack. “It gives me unwanted mental images for the whole hour.”

 

“Can I help it if you have a dirty mind?” replied Claire. “It’s a term of affection, and you shouldn’t be turning it into anything else at thirteen years old.”

 

Andrea got up and took her coat off the back of her chair. “Haven’t you heard of this small thing called puberty?”

 

“Oh yes, been having naughty thoughts about someone have you?”

 

Andrea felt a blush rise in her cheeks despite herself. “No.”

 

“You have! You have!” cried Claire. “Who is it? Is it Danny for the boys school? Or Steven? I’ve seen him checking you out, you know. He’s well fit.”

 

“No it’s not him,” Andrea stated. She didn’t even know who the two boys Claire mentioned from the neighbouring school were, let alone have any dirty thoughts about them.

 

“So it is someone though?” pressed Claire.

 

“No, there’s no one.” Andrea quickly grabbed her own violin case from the back of the classroom along with her boater. “Didn’t you say we had a lesson to get to?”

 

“All right,” allowed Claire, “but I’m going to find out who it is.”

 

Andrea had little doubt the inquisitive girl would be probing her for information again at some point, but Andrea wasn’t about to admit it was Clare herself she’d been having interesting dreams about. As soon as they stepped out into the quad, the cold autumn breeze picked at their hats, and Andrea had to restrain hers from blowing away over the red-brick buildings that made up the school. The music room was around the front of the school and they made a dash in that direction. Just as she got to the gates, a sudden strong gust caught Andrea unawares and she didn’t have the chance to stop her hat being picked clean off her head and whisked across the road. It narrowly avoided being crushed by a passing car, before nestling in a bush on the opposite side.

 

“Bugger!” exclaimed Andrea, before calling after her friend. “You go on, I’ll get it.”

 

Edgbaston Park Road was busy that afternoon, and Andrea had to wait a few moments before she finally managed to nip in between the speeding cars to get to the other side. When she did get there, she found someone else had beaten her to the wayward hat. They had their back to Andrea, delicately extracting the straw boater from the thorns. All Andrea could see of them was a dark, thigh-length coat over jeans and a neat bob of auburn hair falling over a striped scarf. The scarf was a dead giveaway that the woman was a student from the university whose campus stretched out over the land opposite Andrea’s school. No doubt she was hoping to pinch the hat as a trophy to furnish her student digs, along with the obligatory collection of road signs.

 

Andrea made a cough to get her attention. “Excuse me, but that’s mine.”

 

The woman whirled round, hat in hand. She smiled as she took in Andrea’s school uniform. “Ah yes, so it is,” she agreed, immediately offering it to Andrea.

 

Andrea found her hand strangely reluctant to move and accept it. Instead her body seemed to be frozen, her eyes fixed on the young woman’s face. Andrea just couldn’t stop staring at her eyes, which were an odd colour somewhere between blue and grey. But it wasn’t the colour that held her captivated. Something else powerful just wouldn’t let her look away.

 

“Don’t you want it after all?”

 

Andrea started, finally managing to engage her brain. “Yes, thank you.” She took the hat from the still smiling woman. She seemed amused by Andrea’s obvious awkwardness, and Andrea felt every inch the gawky teenager. Normally she wasn’t at a loss for words, but for some reason she seemed incapable of anything sensible at that moment in time.

 

“Was there something else?”

 

Andrea realised she was still standing there like a complete lemon. “Er, no, thank you.” She quickly turned and ran across the road, nearly getting herself run over by a swiftly braking van in the process. Once safely on the other side she couldn’t resist the urge to glance over her shoulder. The woman was still by the bush, standing smiling at Andrea. Just as Andrea went to go, she could swear the woman actually winked at her.

 

As Andrea opened her eyes she found herself staring at someone who was very reminiscent of the figure in her dream. Kate was awake despite the fact that it was the middle of the night, blue eyes fixed on her in the half-light of the darkened room. Andrea was unsure if she’d disturbed the other woman or whether she’d been watching the whole time.

 

Andrea propped herself up on an elbow. “Did we ever meet before I came to Duransay?”

 

Kate looked puzzled by the odd question. “I don’t think so. Did you have something specific in mind?”

 

“When you were at university in Birmingham and I was at school…” Andrea tried to bring to mind the fast fading images. “Maybe it was just a dream prompted by seeing those pictures earlier, rather than a recollection,” she mused. “You found my hat for me in a bush…”

 

“Oh really?” Kate raised her eyebrows suggestively at the use of the last word.

 

Andrea rolled her eyes. “You are disgusting!”

 

Kate merely grinned back before a more thoughtful look came across her face. “Was it one of those boaters?”

 

“Yes,” said Andrea eagerly, “you do remember it?”

 

Kate shook her head. “No, I was just picturing you in one. Do you still have your uniform?”

 

Andrea used her pillow to whack Kate over the head. “You are a pervert!”

 

“Oh come on,” said Kate in between batting the pillow away, “a short little skirt, hair in pigtails…”

 

“I never wore my hair in pigtails,” said Andrea indignantly, “certainly not at secondary school.”

 

Kate finally caught the pillow. “Allow a girl her fantasy!”

 

Having seen the seductive look she got, Andrea resolved to track down that old uniform some time soon as she drifted back off to sleep

 

………

 

 

A few hours later, Kate watched as Andrea’s lips parted and a silent breath eased out past them. She gave a small murmur and shifted position but didn’t wake. Kate allowed herself a small smile, suddenly touched by the simple pleasure of waking up with someone she loved on Christmas morning. She’d been awake for a while, but had been content enough to simply lie there watching Andrea slumber on. The base on Duransay seemed a million miles away. Lying there next to Andrea she could almost imagine they were just two normal people with normal lives. It was nice to dream occasionally. She was so busy dreaming that she didn’t notice the blue eyes fixed on her.

 

“How long have you been awake?” asked Andrea, her voice still husky from sleep.

 

“Not long,” said Kate. She brushed some wayward blond hair away from Andrea’s cheek and leant in to softly press their lips together. “Happy Christmas.”

 

Andrea smiled. “I bet you were one of those kids who used to get up at five in the morning and pester their parents to open their presents.”

 

“And you didn’t?”

 

“We weren’t allowed to.”

 

Kate could sense the edge of bitterness in Andrea’s tone and decided not to linger on the topic too long. It was meant to be a day for joy after all.

 

“In that case, I’ll give you one of yours now.”

 

She swung her legs out of bed, immediately feeling the slight chill in the air. Obviously her mother was trying to save on the gas bills again. She hopped across the room, grabbing a pair of pyjama bottoms on the way. It only took a moment for her to delve into her bag and bring out the small gift-wrapped item. As soon as she had it she dashed back across the room and scooted under the covers.

 

“I hope you like it.” Kate meant the words with all her heart.  She’d found it incredibly difficult thinking of things to get Andrea because she wanted to make them as special as possible. She’d never really had anyone that she was that bothered about buying gifts for in the past. Of course she always had to get something for her mother and her sister and her nephews and so on, but they were family.  She wanted to get them something they’d like, especially the boys, but it wasn’t the end of the world if she didn’t. With Andrea she so desperately wanted to get it right, to make her happy.

 

“I’m sure I will,” remarked Andrea as she took the proffered gift, “it’s from you.”

 

Kate’s heart could have happily skipped across the bed and done a little dance on the covers before plopping back into her contented chest. Andrea took her time unwrapping it even though it was only a small box, like she was savouring the moment. Once she’d removed the paper and popped open the lid she stared at its contents. Kate wasn’t quite sure what to make of the silence. Did she like it? Did she hate it? Was she thinking of a polite way of saying so?

 

Andrea picked the white gold ring from its home, studying it in fascination for a moment. “Thank you.” The simple words were said with such sincerity they melted Kate’s heart.

 

“I tried to get the design on it as close to the one on your back as possible.”

 

Andrea marvelled at the intricate work on the band. “Even though I don’t know what it means? It could be a celtic insult!”

 

“Apparently no-one really knows what the knot patterns mean,” said Kate, “though gift shops and the like might like you to believe certain patterns mean love or whatever in order to market their goods. The only real guide is that the shape of the design often determines the ‘meaning’ of a knotwork design. Circles represent unity or eternity so I thought it fitting.”

 

She realised Andrea was simply staring at her, looking rather surprised by her knowledge.

 

Kate found herself flushing. “I … er … did a bit of research.”

 

“More than a bit I’d say,” noted Andrea. She slipped the ring onto the second finger of her right hand. “How did you know my size?”

 

“They don’t call us the Intelligence Corps for nothing,” said Kate enigmatically. She wasn’t about to admit that it had taken some late-night rifling through Andrea’s things to find an existing ring of hers for comparison. Before Andrea could question it further she leant forward and laid a soft kiss on her lips. “Now come on, else mother will be wondering what we’re doing still in bed, and I don’t want her conjuring up any mental images!”

 

……….

 

 

Andrea played with the ring on her finger, watching nervously as Kate’s mother drew out a present from behind the Christmas tree.

 

“That just leaves this last one from Andrea to you, Kate,” she said, passing the bulky object with some difficulty across the room.  The three of them had already opened far too many presents to count, the remnants of wrapping paper laying strewn across the carpet.  No one seemed to be in a hurry to tidy up, despite the imminent arrival of guests. Andrea had tried once or twice only to be summarily instructed to sit her bottom back down by Grace before being plied with more sherry. The carefree atmosphere was so different to her previous experiences of a family Christmas that it might have been a different planet.

 

Kate put her coffee down to take the present and looked quizzically at Andrea. “That wasn’t in the boot of the car, how did you get it here?” Andrea glanced to her side where Grace sat. “Ahh, I see, a conspiracy,” noted Kate jovially.

 

In truth it had taken some planning to get the gift in the first place without Kate finding out about it, let alone arranging the delivery to Grace’s house. None of that mattered in the slightest as long as Kate liked it.

 

“It’s just a little something I picked up,” Andrea said dismissively. She felt her heart start to beat faster. Why am I so damn nervous?

 

Kate peeled off the paper and Andrea found herself waiting with bated breath. Having removed the wrapping the other woman’s eyes scanned the framed objects as Grace leaned in to take a peek.

 

“What is it?” asked the older woman.

 

“They’re charts from Captain Cook’s journeys round the Pacific islands,” Andrea chipped in, needing to say something before her heart thudded right up out of her chest.  “I thought you could hang them in the Dorset Flyer or maybe in your office.”

 

Kate looked up from her perusal and smiled. “Thank you, they’ll look great on my wall.” Her eyes turned downwards again and then started to widen. “Hang on,” said Kate slowly, “are these originals from the Endeavour?”

 

Andrea could hardly lie since it was there in the black and white of the provenance marks.

 

“Yes.”

 

Buying the charts had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now she was having second thoughts over whether the gift might be too ostentatious.

 

Kate’s mouth dropped a bit further. “These must have cost a fortune!”

 

“Not really,” lied Andrea. It had cost plenty, but then she had plenty to spare. She had just wanted to get something special.

 

“And how on earth did you get them?”

 

“Just some contacts,” said Andrea.

 

The present’s too much, why didn’t I realise that? She had been so certain right up until Kate had started to unwrap the gift. Andrea wasn’t used to feeling so unsure of herself, but then she had never been so desperate to please someone before, at least not since she was a child.

 

A hand on her arm broke her silent remonstrations. “They’re fantastic, thank you.”

 

“You’re sure it’s not too much…”

 

“Well…” began Kate.

 

Andrea felt her heart sinking, unable to stop as much showing on her face. Kate must have noticed as her voice suddenly changed to a more light-hearted tone. “They’re probably worth more than the Flyer itself, but who am I to complain if you want to lavish me with expensive gifts.” She gave Andrea a reassuring smile. “Though of course you’ll have to go some to top this on my birthday!”

 

The smile Andrea was getting was enough to banish the last of her doubts and she resolved to start thinking very soon exactly how she might better it come July.

 

……….

 

 

Later that afternoon, Andrea eased out of the dining room into the corridor, hoping no one had noticed her leaving. Somehow she doubted it given the ebullient atmosphere in the cramped room. She wouldn’t have thought it possible to squeeze so many people in if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. The food and drink had flowed freely throughout the dinner, far more of it than they could physically consume between them, though Kate’s nephews were still giving it a good try. Andrea wasn’t quite sure how many helpings of pudding they’d had. Needing to get some fresh air she moved through to the kitchen and opened the back door for a moment. A blast of icy air hit her in the face, stinging against her hot cheeks. She loved the warmth and generosity that Kate’s family had shown her, for the most part, but it could get a little overwhelming for someone not quite used to such effusive displays. She certainly couldn’t picture her own mother ever agreeing to don a cracker hat and sing a bawdy version of ‘Jingle Bells’ like Grace had done. She couldn’t help laughing to herself at the ridiculous image that conjured.

 

“Something funny?”

 

Andrea swung round, any original response she might have had being lost at the sight of Kate wearing a lop-sided red and gold paper crown. If the soldiers back on the base could see her now!

 

“That hat for a start,” Andrea answered, trying to hold back a laugh.

 

Kate re-adjusted it, but it immediately flopped back down on the left hand side over her eye. Andrea didn’t think there really was a dignified way to wear one. Giving up trying to perch it successfully on her head, Kate took it off for a moment. “So are you trying to avoid being stuffed with any more Celebrations, Twiglets or mince pies?”

 

Andrea rubbed her stomach. “I don’t think I could squeeze anything else in.”

 

Kate laughed. “I don’t think that would stop mother, you’d have to be physically exploding for her not to offer more food.”

 

Andrea grimaced. “Maybe I should stay here then or else I just might explode and that would make such a mess on the carpet.”

 

Kate laughed with her for a moment. “Seriously though, you’re having a good time?”

 

Andrea could detect the switch in tone not only from Kate’s voice, but also in the way she was now peering intently up at her, blue-grey eyes scanning her face.

 

“Of course,” said Andrea.

 

“But?”

 

Andrea hadn’t really wanted to mar the day by mentioning what she’d observed.

 

“What is it?” pressed Kate. “You can tell me; you can tell me anything. You should know that.”

 

Andrea sighed; she knew it was futile trying to get anything past Kate.

 

“Your mum has been lovely,” she began, “but it might have been nicer if your sister didn’t keep looking at me as if I was something nasty she’d stepped in.”

 

From the look on Kate’s face it didn’t appear as if her words had come as much of a revelation. “Penny can be a little difficult at times,” she said diplomatically.

 

“Difficult?” questioned Andrea.

 

“It’s classic younger sibling syndrome,” said Kate, “attention seeking, stubborn, argumentative…”

 

Andrea pouted. “There’s no need to look at me in quite that way when you say that!”

 

Kate grinned, reaching up to cup Andrea’s face in her hands. “You know I love all your quirks, even if it does drive me nuts at times.”

 

Before Andrea could object further Kate used her hands to draw Andrea into a kiss. Andrea quickly forgot any affront she might be feeling as the soft lips brushed her own. It was just a light kiss at first, but her own desire quickly surged up and she slipped an arm round Kate to pull her closer. Kate responded, insinuating her thigh in between Andrea’s leg and melding her body close as the kiss deepened. Fighting her rising arousal, Andrea knew that if they continued she wouldn’t be able to stop herself and reluctantly pulled back. She took a few calming breaths until her passion subsided enough so that she could look at Kate without wanting to rip her clothes off and take her right there on the kitchen table.

 

“You want to watch out your sister doesn’t catch us,” she remarked, “else I might find some cyanide sneaking into my Christmas pudding!”

 

Kate gave a rueful chuckle and ran a hand through her hair.  She looked like she was also trying to bring herself back from the edge they had nearly fallen over. Kate took a couple of paces back to give them some breathing space.

 

“You know there could be all manner of reasons why Penny might have taken a dislike to you, beyond the obvious,” said Kate.

 

“Is there any other reason she wouldn’t like me besides my being gay?”

 

Kate looked slightly uncomfortable. “Er…well…uhm…”

 

Andrea picked up a nearby tea towel and made to flick it at Kate’s backside. “You better get back to that party before I have to punish you,” she said playfully.

 

Kate gave her a smile before scurrying from the room. Andrea unwound the tea towel and put it back down. She only wished she could unwind herself quite so easily. Though it had been infinitely tempting she hadn’t quite been able to bring herself to make any kind of move on Kate the night before, knowing her mother was in the same house. Holding back was getting ever harder though, especially when they shared kisses such as they had. Andrea only hoped there wasn’t too much mistletoe dotted about the house.

 

“Bang! You’re dead!”

 

Andrea saw she was no longer alone in the kitchen, but had been joined by one of Kate’s nephews, Henry. He was currently aiming a potato gun at her. The seven-year-old tried again, since she was still standing.

 

“Bang!”

 

Andrea clutched her hands to her chest and gave an over the top cry of pain. “Ahhh, you got me!” She staggered into the table before collapsing onto the floor in a performance deserving of an Oscar; if those were given out for bad acting.

 

She sneakily kept one eye just open enough to see Henry approaching. Once he was in range she shot up and grabbed him. “You’re under arrest!” She tickled him for good measure. “For assaulting a police officer.”

 

He managed to get out some words in between laughs. “You’re not a police officer!”

 

Andrea finally relented and let him go. “I used to be.”

 

She saw his eyes widen in admiration. “Did you ever shoot anyone?”

 

Andrea couldn’t help laughing. She knew of the school of thought that maintained it was wrong to allow children to play with guns, but as far as she was concerned boys, and sometimes girls, were just boys. She could recall a few cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers games from her own childhood, when their mother hadn’t been around to tell them what a waste of time it was and how they should be inside reading or engaged in some other suitably studious task. Funnily enough she’d often been the villain in those games to Marcus’ goody.

 

“No,” she replied, “the police don’t normally carry guns in this country, unless they’re part of a specialist squad.” Seeing his slightly disappointed look she added, “I did have a car with blue flashing lights and a siren though.”

 

“Cool! Did you chase bad guys in it? Like really fast?”

 

Andrea smiled. “Pretty fast, yeah.”

 

“Could I have a ride in your car?” he asked eagerly.

 

Andrea reminded herself children often only had a few seconds worth of attention span. “I’m afraid I’m not in the police anymore,” she repeated apologetically. “I work with your aunt now, in the army.”

 

“Can you get me a ride in a tank then?”

 

Andrea laughed again. “You’ll have to ask your aunt about that one. I could get you some ammo for your gun.”

 

She clambered to her feet and offered him a raw potato from one of the plastic bags on the worktop. She was sure Grace wouldn’t mind; it wasn’t as if she didn’t have many to go round.

 

“Wait a minute, I have another gun!” Before Andrea could stop him he’d dashed off to the other room, returning just as quickly with a second potato gun. “Here you go, that’s your one.”

 

Andrea wasn’t quite sure how she’d been co-opted into the game, but gave a shrug; it wasn’t as if she had much else to do and he was looking at her with such a hopeful expression. “I suppose we ought to go outside, I’m not sure your gran would like little bits of potato peppered all round her house.”

 

Henry grinned having got her agreement and bounded out the door into the back garden. Andrea followed him out onto the grass, thinking she probably should have stopped to grab a jacket as the cold breeze whipped through her shirt sleeves. Henry seemed completely oblivious to the temperature, much more concerned with screwing the point of his gun into the potato he gripped.

 

“Watch out!” he cried in warning before firing it off in her direction.

 

Andrea ducked under the flying spud pellet. “Right, you’re for it!”

 

They danced round the small garden, laughing and shooting the harmless ammunition at one another. Andrea found it nice to be able to forget everything and embrace her inner child once in a while; it wasn’t as if she’d had much of a chance when she actually was a child. Unfortunately there always seemed to be a party pooper wherever she went, a voice echoing out over the garden.

 

“Henry, what are you doing with that woman?”

 

The two of them came to a halt, staring at the person on the steps of the house. The family resemblance was strong, though Kate’s sister was slightly more wiry and taller than her sibling. Her auburn hair was longer than Kate’s and tied back in a severe style.

 

Oblivious to his mother’s icy tone, Henry answered. “Andrea and me are just playing guns,” he said cheerily.

 

“Andrea and I,” Penny said correcting his grammar. She gave Andrea a look that suggested she was the one to blame for his lapse along with a whole host of other ills from world hunger to the melting of the ice caps. “I’d like you to go in now,” she added to the boy, stepping out into the garden so she could wrap a protective arm around him as if to shield him from Andrea.

 

“But, mum…” he attempted.

 

“Now, Henry,” she said sternly, pushing him towards the door. He had the good sense not to object further and Penny waited until he had disappeared before she turned back to Andrea.

 

“I don’t want you playing with my children.”

 

Andrea folded her arms defiantly, attempting to hide the potato gun so she could look serious. “And why might that be?”

 

Penny stared back at her, a look of barely concealed loathing on her face. Andrea noted she had some of the family presence, though nothing compared to Kate’s. She certainly didn’t intimidate Andrea in the slightest if that was what she was attempting. After neither of them spoke for a good few seconds, someone else interrupted the staring battle.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

Kate was in the kitchen doorway, surveying the scene outside with a look of bemusement.

 

“Your sister doesn’t want me near her children,” stated Andrea matter-of-factly.

 

Penny made a disgruntled huffing noise, giving up on conversing with Andrea and moving towards her sister instead.

 

“Look, whatever you want to do in your private life is up to you,” she said, offering Andrea a disgusted look back over her shoulder, “but I don’t want my kids exposed to it.”

 

Andrea crossed back over to the house too, not about to let Penny get away with her blatant prejudice. “It’s not some contagious disease you know.”

 

“You seem to have infected my sister, though,” said Penny. “She was normal before she met you.”

 

Andrea laughed at the irony. If Penny had known what Kate actually did for a living, then she would hardly have been classifying her as normal. Andrea started to open her mouth to retort but Kate stepped in.

 

“This isn’t anything to do with Andrea, this is who I am.”

 

Penny didn’t look particularly convinced. “Then why haven’t you displayed such…tendencies before?” She stumbled over the sentence as if the sentiment was distasteful.

 

Obviously Kate didn’t talk about things with Penny, since Andrea knew of at least one other case when she’d been with a woman. Andrea preferred not to think about Sophie at that moment though. Kate looked equally uncomfortable discussing her private life with her sister.

 

“I don’t see why it makes a difference one way or the other,” said Kate.

 

“It doesn’t, as long as you keep it to yourself and don’t force it on us, and at Christmas of all things!”

 

“How have we been ‘forcing’ anything upon you?” exclaimed Andrea. “It’s not like I cornered you in the bathroom in an effort to up my count of toaster ovens!”

 

“It’s not me I’m worried about.”

 

Andrea felt her blood rising at the implication. “You think I would do something to your children?” she asked incredulously. “I’m a lesbian, not a paedophile. And for the record I wouldn’t touch you either, even if I had a fifty foot barge pole.”

 

She noticed Kate had subconsciously stepped across between them. Andrea wondered if it was just in case she made to hit Penny. It was certainly tempting.

 

“I think you should apologise,” said Kate to her sister, surprising Andrea. She had wondered exactly where Kate’s loyalties might lie when it came to her family and was heartened to discover she ranked more highly in this case. The again, Penny was being a complete arse, so it wasn’t that hard to choose a side. Would Kate side with her on something that wasn’t so clear cut?

 

“Me? Apologise to her?” Penny’s voice carried enough scorn to fill the garden.

 

Realising where they were Andrea tried to reign in her anger. Andrea knew she could carry on trying to argue her point, and usually she would, but this was Kate’s family and she didn’t want to cause a rift. “Look, it doesn’t matter,” she said to Kate, “just leave it.”

 

“It does matter,” insisted Kate, seemingly more determined than Andrea herself to make her point. Andrea found herself strangely warmed by Kate’s chivalrous attempt to stand up for her. She also found herself becoming inappropriately aroused by the display of determination.

 

Penny’s voice served to throw some cold water over her building desire. “Do whatever you want, just keep her away from my children.”

 

Before anyone could add anything further Penny turned on her heel and stalked inside. Kate made to move after her, but Andrea caught her arm. “Really, it’s not worth it,” she said. “You won’t change her mind, at least not today.”

 

She felt Kate sag in resignation. “I’m sorry about that, I didn’t know she was so homophobic.”

 

“Don’t worry, I’m used to that reaction from families.” My own in particular. “Anyway, it’s not like I have to see her again after today.”

 

Kate’s expression changed into one Andrea knew preceded some form of teasing. It was the mischievous glint in her blue eyes that gave it away. “What about all those other family dos we might be attending in the future - weddings, birthdays…”

 

Andrea turned her body towards Kate, slipping an arm around her waist so she could draw her close. It felt good to feel the warm body pressed against her in the chill afternoon air. “I’ll still be invited to those will I?” she asked, playing along. “What if I do something unseemly to offend the family?”

 

“What sort of thing might that be?”

 

Andrea pretended to think on it for a moment. “I don’t know, something like this…”

 

She dipped her head to capture Kate’s expectant lips. All thoughts of being cold were banished by the powerful surge of heat through her at the contact. When she pulled back Kate’s cheeks were flushed.

 

“I’m sure the family could cope, said the older woman, though I’m not sure about me!” Kate offered up a grin. “Now let’s get inside before we freeze our arses off.”

 

……….

 

 

By the time evening came, Andrea had to wonder if it was possible to consume any more food in one day. She was sure the belt holding up her trousers was going to break at any moment from her ever swelling stomach. Fortunately Penny had avoided her for the rest of the afternoon, so there had been no repeat of the scenes in the garden. When the family got out the board games, Andrea had decided it was time to make herself scarce for a while. The last thing she needed was to end up on a team opposite Penny or, even worse, on one with her. No doubt she would get blamed for any failure in answering the crucial ‘science and nature’ question during the game.

 

She found refuge out in the kitchen, where the washing up had been piled haphazardly in the sink, no one having the heart to attempt it yet. A quick scan verified what Andrea had already guessed – there was no dishwasher. Supposing she didn’t have anything better to do, she carefully removed the pile, located the rubber gloves and started running some water. She’d barely made a dent in the towering collection of pots and pans when she was interrupted.

 

“Domesticated you already has she?”

 

Andrea recognised the amused tone in Grace’s voice before she even turned to see the smile on her face.

 

“You should watch out,” continued the other woman, as she came to pick up one of the tea towels, “next thing you know you’ll be ironing her shirts and pressing her uniform trousers.” Grace sounded like she spoke from experience, though fondness warmed her tone rather than bitterness.

 

Grace picked up one of the pans and started to dry it, Andrea taking the cue to carry on with her washing duties. “I just thought I’d give you some family time alone,” she remarked as she soaped a plate, attempting to remove a particularly stubborn bit of gravy.

 

It took her a moment to realise Grace had stopped drying and was regarding her intently. Andrea glanced up.

 

“You are family,” she stated.

 

The swell of emotion surprised Andrea. Suddenly she was having to blink back tears. It was the simple but heartfelt sentiment in the other woman’s words that had caught her unawares.

 

If Grace noticed her trouble replying she didn’t comment, instead carrying on. “I heard about what happened with Penny.” She put a comforting hand on Andrea’s shoulder. So like Kate. “I’m sorry about that.”

 

Andrea gave a shrug. “Don’t worry, it’s not like it’s the first time it’s happened. What would Christmas be without at least one argument?”

 

Grace gave a chuckle and resumed her drying. “That’s true, though usually it’s over who got more potatoes!”

 

“Then you’re lucky.” Andrea hadn’t meant to sound so bitter, but the comment had slipped out. There had been a few too many glasses of wine flowing and her guard was down. For a moment she thought Grace hadn’t picked up on the edge in her tone, but she should have known better.

 

“Tell me I’m a nosy old biddy if you like,” said Grace, “but I’ve noticed you don’t talk about your family much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been lovely having you here, but did you not want to spend time with them over Christmas?”

 

“No.” Andrea didn’t look up, finding the congealed bits of stuffing ball on the plate before her intensely interesting all of a sudden.

 

She heard the intake of breath. “Ah, I see.”

 

Andrea forced herself to relax her suddenly tense shoulders. “Sorry, it’s a touchy subject,” she admitted, not sure why she was confessing as much to Grace. The other woman just made it incredibly easy to talk to her. “I haven’t really spoken to my parents for five years.”

 

Grace didn’t add anything, waiting for Andrea to fill the silence. A faint peal of laughter filtered to the kitchen from somewhere in the house.

 

Slowly Andrea turned from the sink, finding it rather odd to be discussing such things with her hands in dirty dishwater. She peeled off the yellow gloves as she spoke. “My mother wasn’t too impressed when I came out, among other things,” she said. “To cut a long and tedious story short, I’m basically one huge disappointment for her.”

 

Grace frowned. “Now, I’m sure that’s not true. You’re a lovely charming, intelligent girl.” Andrea had to stop herself from blushing. “However, on my own recent experience such a revelation can come as quite a shock.”

 

“Enough of a shock not to speak to someone for five years?”

 

“All right,” conceded Grace, “not that much of a shock. Why don’t we have a cup of tea?”

 

She flicked the switch on the kettle without waiting for Andrea’s answer. Grace was obviously a firm believer in a nice cup of tea being the antidote to any ills. Andrea took a seat at the table while she waited for Grace. The other woman didn’t speak until she’d placed the two steaming mugs down on the worn wooden surface. It looked like it had been witness to a few such chats, given the number of ring marks on it.

 

Grace took a sip of her tea before speaking.  “Obviously I don’t know your family at all, but maybe they do want to speak to you, they’ve just left it too long and now they don’t know how to approach you?”

 

“My mother did come to see me once in the summer,” confessed Andrea, “claiming to want to talk.”

 

“There you go.”

 

“I told her to get lost.”

 

“Ah.”

 

Andrea took a swig of her tea, fighting down the familiar sense of disappointment and anger.

 

“Andrea, I don’t think it’s my place to tell you what to do, but I have some advice that you can heed or cheerfully ignore, I won’t mind either way.”  She paused, waiting for Andrea to look up. “I can see that they’ve hurt you, but life is too short to hold grudges. I think you should see your mother, listen to what she has to say and if at the end of that you don’t want to see her again then at least you tried.”

 

Do I want to try?

 

“I think you’ll regret it if you don’t,” insisted Grace. “There are so many things I wish I’d said to Kate’s father, but of course now it’s too late. All I’m saying is don’t end up regretting something to maintain your pride.”

 

I suppose it wouldn’t be that hard, just to listen…

 

Andrea’s internal deliberations were broken by a voice from the door. “You’re missing a cracking game of Pictionary in there,” said Kate before she spotted the contemplative looks on the two seated women’s faces. “You look very serious, did I interrupt something?”

 

Andrea shook her head, offering a faint smile. “Your mother was just giving me some sound advice.”

 

“Oh God, she wasn’t telling you to wear a vest in the winter was she?”

 

Andrea laughed, hearing a small chuckle from Grace too. “No, just something else for me to think about.”

 

She saw Grace was still regarding her. “And you will?” asked the older woman.

 

Andrea nodded. “I will.”

 

……….

 

 

Kate pushed open the door to the bedroom, grateful from some peace at last. She loved her family, but she forgot how wearing they could be sometimes. It made a day spent buried under Kaminski’s paperwork seem almost appealing. Fortunately for Andrea, the young woman had been able to excuse herself earlier, indicating she was going to bed. Kate had been required to wait for the final guest to depart shortly before midnight before she could follow.

 

Thinking back over the day as she ascended the stairs, Kate was amazed how much Andrea had been hanging on her reaction during their opening of presents. As soon as Kate had seen the crushed look on the young woman’s face when she thought she hadn’t got approval, Kate had wanted to take her in her arms and soothe away any doubts. Only her mother’s presence had prevented her. It had been a rare insight into the vulnerable Andrea, one who could be affected by mere words from Kate. It was a frightening power and responsibility in a way, and she knew she had to be careful not to abuse it. Despite her tough exterior, Kate knew that Andrea’s heart was susceptible to being broken just like everyone else’s. She had an inkling that it had been battered before by her family, and that was one of the reasons for the carefully constructed barriers now. She was just grateful she got to see behind them.

 

As she flicked on a lamp in the bedroom Kate was surprised to find that the room was unoccupied. Her brow furrowed for a moment before she spotted the flutter of movement from the net curtains at the window. She crossed over to it, seeing that the window was slightly ajar. Pushing it open, she looked out over the garden for any sign of Andrea. Suddenly it occurred to her she might be looking in the wrong direction and she cast her eyes up to the starry night sky. Surely she wouldn’t have? 

 

Kate sighed, knowing she shouldn’t make such assumptions where Andrea was concerned. No doubt she craved a bit of space after the busy day.  Kate decided she could do with a bit of fresh air too. She made a quick survey of the street which was unsurprisingly empty before stepping out the window. She didn’t have to really think, her power kicked in naturally to keep her hovering there rather than letting her make a mess of her mother’s geraniums below.  Realising that Andrea could be anywhere in the vast expanse of dark sky, she supposed a bit of cheating was in order.

 

If Private Ramis back on Duransay thought it bizarre that her commanding officer was contacting her at midnight on Christmas Day to find the location of one of her operatives, then she did a good job of hiding it. Instead she quickly and efficiently relayed the information to Kate. With her newfound destination in mind Kate soared upwards.

 

The night was cold, as was to be expected in the depths of winter, and the icy wind stung her eyes. She slowed her ascent slightly to mitigate it, but her eyes were starting to stream. She hadn’t thought to dig out the protective goggles she might normally wear in the rush of the moment. Coming to a hovering halt, she wiped the tears away. As her vision cleared she saw Andrea.

 

The other woman hadn’t spotted her, floating as she was about thirty feet away. Her eyes were cast out over the English channel, the moonlight dappling highlights on her blond hair. Kate’s heart skipped a beat at the sheer beauty of the unguarded moment and she realised Andrea wasn’t the only one whose heart was in the thrall of another.  She wasn’t sure if she had gasped out loud, but something drew Andrea’s attention and she swivelled round in the air.

 

“Uh oh, have you come to tell me off for unauthorised use of my powers in an urban environment?”

 

Kate drifted closer. “No, I came to see how you were. You seemed a bit distant after mother spoke to you.”

 

“Just thinking,” said Andrea.

 

“About?” prompted Kate gently. She was only about a foot away from Andrea now, both of them bobbing up and down slightly on the air currents as if it was entirely natural to be having a conversation several hundred feet above the ground.

 

Andrea drew in a slow breath before releasing it in a puff of steam. “Family. Your mother got me thinking that maybe it’s time I spoke to mine.”

 

Kate tried to hide her surprise, just grateful for the turnaround. “I think it’s a good idea, at least you’ll get a chance to get some answers this way, even if they aren’t necessarily the ones you want to hear.”

 

Andrea nodded contemplatively while Kate tried to suppress a shiver. She wondered why she had come out without a coat. Too distracted, came her mind’s own answer. It didn’t seem her attempt at concealment was very successful as Andrea’s eyes darkened in concern. “You’re cold.”

 

Kate gave her a sly grin. “I know a way to get warmer.”

 

Andrea smiled back, white teeth stark against the night sky. She slipped closer, easing her left arm around Kate’s back to pull her close, their bodies entwining in the air. Kate felt the hot flutter of the other woman’s breath across her cheeks before Andrea closed the remaining gap between their lips. Kate was surprised how hot they were, the warmth permeating through her. She relaxed into the embrace, though was wary not to let her concentration slip too far. She didn’t exactly have much experience of passionate trysts up in the sky, none as it happened, but could imagine a rather unfortunate ending if they forgot where they were.  That was growing ever more likely with each searing kiss.

 

“I did sort of mean inside…” she managed in between them.

 

Andrea’s head dipped to allow her to kiss up Kate’s neckline. “Is there anything wrong with out here?”

 

Andrea’s right hand wormed its way between them, tugging Kate’s white shirt loose enough to allow her to smooth it over the skin of the other woman’s abdomen and up her chest before closing over her breast, palm brushing a swiftly stiffening nipple.

 

“Ah…fuck…” Kate’s mind tried to fight the blurring effects of arousal. “Someone might see us…”

 

Andrea continued to tease her tongue up Kate’s neck, before nibbling at an earlobe. “With what? A high-powered telescope?”

 

A second hand slid its way down Kate’s back and beneath the waist of her trousers, fingers splaying across her bottom and pulling her hips close.

 

“Oh…Christ…” She gave one last go at reason before her wits completely deserted her. “We might fall…”

 

“I’ll catch you.”

 

Kate knew she would, that she would be safe in Andrea’s arms. Besides her body was crying out for release and she didn’t think she could make it down to the ground anyway. Andrea’s right hand slipped lower as the one on Kate’s bottom held her firmly aloft. As it slid into her knickers, Kate’s gasping cry was quickly silenced by Andrea’s lips. Fingers teased through coarse hair, seeking out the wetness between Kate’s legs. Andrea deftly twisted her hand round inside the confines of Kate’s clothes, allowing her to ease a single finger inside. Groaning, Kate clutched onto the back of Andrea’s jacket. Another finger followed, curling inside her, teasing the sensitive flesh.

 

“Oh…God!”

 

They bobbed downwards for a second as Kate forgot where she was, her powers cutting out with her wavering concentration. Keeping her promise, Andrea kept them up in the air. The cool breeze picked at Kate’s shirt, tickling some goosebumps into life on the hot flesh beneath it. The rest of her was alive too. It felt like her body was floating on the air, weightless as she soared to her orgasm. She cried out, the wind picking up the scream and carrying it out over the sea.

 

Kate sagged against Andrea for a moment, just letting the other woman hold her up. “That’s one way of joining the mile-high club.”

 

Andrea chuckled, her hot breath in marked contrast to the cool night air. It fuelled the heat inside Kate. She slipped her own hands lower, over Andrea’s bottom, pulling her hips tight against her, slipping her leg in between the other woman’s.  Activating her own power she had a sudden uncertain thought.

 

How the fuck do you do this?

 

She really didn’t want to drop Andrea right in the middle of something, and from her own experience of a moment before she knew the other woman was hardly likely to be cognisant enough to utilise her own powers properly.

 

And I don’t have super strength to help me either!

 

Kate guided them around so Andrea’s body was leaning fully against her, allowing Kate to use her ability to fly to keep them aloft, rather than requiring her to actually hold up the other woman as such.

 

Andrea noticed the manoeuvre. “Are you all right?”

 

“Just getting some logistics sorted out.”

 

“Very romantic,” said Andrea, though she was smiling.

 

Kate leant her head forwards so her tongue could tease round Andrea’s ear. “How’s this for romantic instead then?” she whispered.

 

“Oh … fuck … I’d say it’s getting warm.”

 

Kate pressed her thigh harder into Andrea’s groin. “Just warm?”

 

Andrea didn’t reply in words, instead the judder rocking her body and the low moan was evidence enough of her answer. Kate rubbed her thigh slowly up and down, letting gravity and her own hands on Andrea’s bottom keep the other woman pressed to her. Sliding her tongue lower, she sought out the flesh at Andrea’s neck, nipping gently at it at first before sucking harder. Andrea groaned, her hands gripping at the back of Kate’s already disarrayed shirt. The other woman’s rhythmic gyrations in time with Kate’s rubbing increased in urgency as her breath came in ever shorter bursts.

 

“Fuck … yes …”

 

The heat consumed Kate too. All that mattered was Andrea, driving her over the edge, hearing her cry out in that moment of release. She could feel the wetness spreading between her own legs again as Andrea tensed, body rigid for an instant before her head flew back and she screamed Kate’s name to the stars. Then suddenly they were tumbling downwards, spinning over and over as Kate’s concentration deserted her. For a second she didn’t care, revelling in the freedom of the moment. Finally some sense kicked in along with her powers and they came to a faltering hovering stop, a lot closer to the ground than they had been but still plenty far enough away.

 

They clung onto one another, Kate feeling the burden ease as Andrea also drew on her ability to keep herself aloft.

 

“You know there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” the young woman said, still breathless.

 

“Oh yes?”

 

“How do you fly when your hands are otherwise occupied?”

 

Kate laughed. “My hands aren’t the only appendage I can generate the concussion waves from.”

 

Andrea raised both eyebrows suggestively. “Oh really?”

 

Kate rolled her eyes. “I meant my feet,” she clarified.

 

“Ah, right, of course,” nodded Andrea, “nowhere else then?”

 

Unable to resist joining in the flirty banter, Kate also quirked an eyebrow. “Did you have somewhere else in mind?”

 

Andrea grinned. “No, no, just curious.”

 

Kate was curious too. She’d never contemplated using her powers for any kind of sexual kick, yet there were possibilities. Though I’d have to be bloody careful, she considered.

 

Before those thoughts gained much perverted momentum, Andrea’s voice broke in, more serious now. “Do we have to go back to Duransay?”

 

Kate tightened her embrace, needing both the warmth and the contact. “Don’t you want to?”

 

“Yes, but,” Andrea sighed, “it’s a bit like living under a microscope there. It’s just been nice to get away.”

 

Kate couldn’t disagree; it had been wonderful being able to forget all about duty and responsibility for a while.

 

“Don’t worry,” said Andrea, mistaking Kate’s furrowed brow for something else, “I’m not about to do another disappearing act on you.”

 

Kate smiled, letting the frown slip away. It was too beautiful a night to let worries cloud it. “Well good,” she said, “because you know I’d have to come and chase after you if you did.”

 

Peeling Kate’s arms off her, but holding onto her hands, Andrea offered a challenging half-smile. “And you think you could catch me?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

With a laugh, Andrea let go and flew a few feet away. “Come on then, slow-coach!”

 

Still laughing she shot straight up. Kate allowed herself a small chuckle before she set off in pursuit.

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Kate ducked and just about avoided having her head removed by a piece of flying masonry.

 

Happy New Year!

 

Another large chunk of debris sailed past, thumping into the waste ground behind her and sending a cloud of dust up into the grey dusk sky. It was lucky they were on a building site and not some more built up area of London. Scuttling out of the way, Kate noticed the lumps were getting bigger, the latest one flying straight at her. She raised her hands just in time. Concussion waves blasted outwards, shattering the section of wall into tiny pieces that drifted away on the stiff January breeze.

 

Keeping her arms outstretched, Kate waited to see if any more projectiles were inbound, but there appeared to be a brief respite in the onslaught. Taking the opportunity, she surveyed the scene of destruction about her, searching out the other members of her team. All she could see was the man standing about a hundred feet in front of her on the broken and littered ground. At least he was technically a man, though it was hard to tell from sight alone. His body was deformed and distorted, huge muscles having warped his form.

 

He staggered slightly, clutching at his head and moaning to himself. Kate didn’t have time for pity, though, not when she’d seen what he’d already done to the others. He was out of control; he had to be stopped. Only then could she worry about what drove his rampage. Whatever had distracted him having passed, he dipped his head and charged.

 

Kate felt the ground shaking with each of his thunderous steps. For a second she allowed the energy to build within her before releasing it in his direction. The concussion wave flew at him, a maelstrom of debris and dust picked up in its wake. It cannoned into his chest, lifting him up off the ground and flinging him back the way he had come. He thumped into the ground a good fifty feet away, unmoving.

 

Warily, Kate edged closer, hands ready to deliver another blast if necessary. Small puffs of white condensed in the air above his lips, a relieving sign he was still alive. Not taking her eyes off him, Kate popped a pocket on her black flak vest and pulled out a syringe.  As she knelt down by him, she considered it would be much easier to subdue errant mutants if Doc and the others could find a way to deliver the neutralising serum some other way. It was a little too close for comfort.

 

His body was so warped that the neck appeared the most likely location for the injection. Kate leant forwards, needle inches from his skin. A pair of enraged eyes flicked open.  Kate froze. The manic gaze took in her and the syringe.

 

Shit!

 

Kate just managed to pull back a fraction before the blow came. If she hadn’t it might have shattered all her ribs. The powerful punch glanced off her side, pain flaring as she was sent spinning away, crashing into some old scaffolding. Wincing at the ache in her side she pushed the poles off her, a noisy clanging ringing out over the desolate site. Another sound joined it, the wrenching of metal. As Kate staggered to her feet she barely had time to register the sound was the man tearing a crane from its moorings. Then the crane was swinging down at her.

 

She tried to raise her hands, but it wasn’t going to be quick enough. This is going to hurt. Suddenly the crane stopped, suspended in mid air a few feet above her head. Glancing along it, Kate could immediately see why – Andrea gripped the airborne end of it, hovering just off the ground. She offered Kate a smile.

 

“Need a hand?”

 

“It wouldn’t go amiss,” Kate shouted up to her.

 

The man still held the other end of the crane shaft, seemingly stupefied by the intervention. Andrea tightened her hold and pulled. It looked so casual, the way she flicked up the crane, man and all. He lost his grip at the apex of the upswing, flying up into the darkening sky for a moment before gravity kicked in. Andrea pulled back the massive crane like it was a baseball bat rather than several tonnes of solid metal. Her following swing connected with the man-shaped ball as he plunged into the strike zone. A loud whack rang out, the man’s body flying out over the building site before demolishing the remnants of a building.

 

Andrea gave a grin. “Home run?”

 

 

……

 

 

Kate gingerly lowered herself onto the stool at the kitchen counter, gratified to find the bruising on her ribs was less painful that morning.  Immediately after the encounter with the errant mutant a blaze of purple had adorned the skin, the accompanying stiffness making movement difficult. A night’s rest had done it some good and now the ache was just a dull one. She supposed she only had herself to blame after bemoaning the amount of paperwork she’d been tied up with ever since they’d got back from their Christmas break. Her relaxed mood from the trip home had quickly evaporated when she discovered quite how much Kaminski had managed to produce in just a few days, Kate wondering if the woman ever slept, let alone had any time off. There appeared no let up in sight either, with new training schedules for her troops also competing for her attention. With so much work to contend with she’d barely had time for more than a few snatched meals with Andrea the past week or so. Kate missed the closeness and private time they’d shared over Christmas. Sometimes she too wished they could just leave this all behind.

 

As she sipped her coffee she wondered where Andrea had disappeared to now. Possibly she was engaged in an early morning workout, though Kate would have thought a rest was more in order after the exertions of the day before. Her internal question was answered as the door opened and Andrea entered brandishing a newspaper. She set it down in front of Kate.

 

“Did you see this?”

 

Running her hand through her sleep-dishevelled hair, Kate tried to engage her brain for the day as she studied it. “I don’t quite understand, what am I meant to be looking at? Surely not page 3 again?”

 

“Funny, but no.”

 

Leafing through a few more pages, she still drew a blank. “I don’t get it, there’s nothing of interest here is there?”

 

“Exactly!”

 

Kate gazed up at the other woman who was staring intently back down at her. “You’re going to have to help me out, Andrea, it’s early and this is only my first cup of coffee.”

 

Andrea looked as if she had been awake for hours, practically bouncing round the room with repressed energy. She had been like this since Kate’s workload had increased, as if she saved everything up until she got a chance to see Kate. Unfortunately that often meant she saved up rather a lot, which then spilled out hapzardly over a bewildered Kate when they finally did get the chance to speak.

 

“If you recall there was some quite spectacular news yesterday,” continued Andrea now, “involving a rampaging mutant who smashed up half of East London? I know Kaminski and her cover-up crew are pretty good, but there were hundreds of witnesses before we ended up on that building site, surely even she couldn’t persuade all of them to keep quiet.”

 

Kate took her time drinking from her mug. Bugger! I suppose avoiding this was impossible.

 

…..

 

 

When Kate didn’t answer immediately the tiny hairs at the back of Andrea’s neck started to prickle.

 

Keeping things from me again?

 

Andrea thought she’d come to terms with that aspect of Kate’s job. Certainly it hadn’t bothered her like this for quite a while. Yet she’d barely seen the other woman for two weeks what with meetings with Kaminski, jaunts out with the troops and various other official duties. She resented those things for taking Kate from her and that coloured her thought process now.

 

“What is it?” she demanded, half expecting not to receive an answer or an evasive one if it was forthcoming.

 

Kate took a deep breath and set her mug down with slow deliberateness on the counter. Only then did she turn to Andrea.

 

Obviously this is going to be bad.

 

“You’re right, there were a lot of witnesses,” said Kate, “too many for us to feasibly keep a lid on things by conventional means.”

 

Andrea filled in the gaps. “So you used some unconventional means instead.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Bloody hell, Kate, will you just spit it out! Or maybe you need to go and check with Kaminski whether you’re allowed?”

 

A muscle jumped in Kate’s jaw as Andrea’s words hit the mark. “I don’t need her permission,” Kate said stiffly, “it’s not a secret.”

 

“And yet you didn’t think to tell me whatever it is?”

 

Kate ignored the comment and a tiny reasonable part of Andrea’s brain chipped in with an answer instead. And why should she have to? Andrea squashed the rebellious thought. She was annoyed and she was going to damn well play that to the full. It didn’t matter if that annoyance was really about something else entirely.

 

Kate held her gaze as she spoke. “We have a new means of altering select memories of events, so sensitive details can be omitted.”

 

Andrea deciphered the words. “You mean you brainwashed the witnesses?”

 

“Not exactly. We’ve isolated a particular chemical in the brain that when stimulated can leave that person more open to suggestion.”

 

“And you suggest your version of things to them?” Andrea found herself increasingly uncomfortable with the notion. “Whose side exactly are we on? It sounds like brain-washing to me. Once you start taking away people’s freewill where does it stop? Do we lock them up if they start to remember too much?”

 

“The general public needs to be protected,” stated Kate.

 

The officious answer grated on Andrea’s already taut nerves. “Are you sure they didn’t brainwash you too, because you’re spouting stuff that sounds suspiciously like something Kaminski might say. I bet this was all her bloody idea wasn’t it?”

 

“We both agreed on this course of action.”

 

Andrea simply stared at her, not liking what she was hearing. She was well aware that Kate valued duty and responsibility highly, but hadn’t realised quite how those two things might be used in justification of actions Andrea herself couldn’t understand or condone. She had to wonder how much Kate really believed what she was saying and how much was the official line. Was she spending so much time at work that she’d forgotten how to switch off even when they were alone?

 

Kate continued, an edge of frustration in her tone. “I explained to you before why we have to keep all this a secret, I thought you understood.”

 

She rose, trying to reach out to touch Andrea but the younger woman backed away. “Maybe I’m sick of having to hide who and what we are?”

 

Kate’s hand dropped to her side, her shoulders squaring. “It’s for your protection too, or have you forgotten what happened back in the summer?”

 

“That’s hardly bloody likely is it!” Andrea regretted the outburst almost immediately. Not so much for the pained look on Kate’s face, though somewhere at the back of her mind that registered, but more so for the way she had revealed how that still affected her. She didn’t want them taking her off active duty again because she was mentally unfit. Wanting to get off the point, something else occurred to her

 

“Where did this new technique come from?”

 

The other woman’s eyes flicked away for the briefest of moments, but enough to tighten the fist of suspicion in Andrea’s stomach further.

 

“Kate?”

 

“It was your brother.”

 

Andrea’s mind reeled. “My brother? But I thought he was just here to help with my problems.”

 

“He’s been aiding Miss Kaminski in other areas too.”

 

“I just bet he fucking has!” Andrea balled her fists, only just holding back from hitting them on the kitchen counter. She would have smashed it if she had. “Funny he didn’t mention that.”

 

“She may have asked him not to,” Kate attempted reasonably, “until it was known if anything was going to come out of it.”

 

“Just a few more secrets to add to the pile, eh?” Andrea turned away, not wanting the hurt to show. “Talking of which what happened to that guy from yesterday.”

 

There was no answer and Andrea glanced back to see Kate looking uncomfortable.  Good.

 

“I’m not sure what Kaminiski’s done with him,” she finally admitted.

 

Andrea laughed mirthlessly. “Kaminski? I thought you were meant to be running this show.”

 

Anger flashed in Kate’s eyes and when she answered her tone had descended to icy levels. “I’ve got a meeting with her in twenty minutes, I’ll be sure to forward your concerns.”

 

Not waiting for nor inviting further comment, Kate strode for the bedroom. Andrea didn’t follow her. She wanted to, much to her chagrin, but she managed to clamp down on her heart’s attempt at controlling her. Forcing herself to sit on the sofa, she didn’t bother looking up when Kate came back out fully dressed and left her quarters.

 

……

 

 

Kate stalked down the corridor towards the conference room, ignoring the jab of pain in her ribs at each heavy step. Bloody stubborn idiot! She wasn’t sure if she was talking about herself or Andrea or both of them. Knowing she had to have all her wits about her for a meeting with Kaminski, Kate tried to push away thoughts of the heated words they’d exchanged. Unfortunately the thoughts proved just as stubborn and were still playing distractedly round the back of her mind as she entered the room.

 

As always, Kaminski was there first, offering an ingratiating smile from her position at the head of the polished oak table. “Good morning, Major.”

 

Kate felt like telling her exactly where she could stick her good morning but just about resisted. “Morning, Miss Kaminski.”

 

Easing herself into one of the rigid seats, Kate was mindful of her bruised side, but wasn’t about to let Kaminski see as much. The last thing she needed or wanted was the other woman detecting any kind of weakness.

 

“How are the ribs?”

 

“Fine, thank you,” responded Kate through gritted teeth. How does this damn woman seem to know everything? Is she a bloody telepath? Kate considered it more likely she’d been sifting through the medical files regardless of any confidentiality.

 

A pained silence fell over the room as they waited for the rest of the attendees to arrive. Adjusting her collar, Kate wondered if Kaminski had deliberately turned up the heating to push it just past comfortable. Her throat dry, Kate realised she hadn’t poured herself a coffee before sitting but wasn’t about to attempt it now and display her incapacity further to Kaminski. The other option of asking Kaminski to do the honours was even less palatable and she resigned herself to a meeting without caffeine. It better be a short one.

 

Fortunately they didn’t have to wait long for the others. The Colonel was next to arrive, shortly followed by Sophie.  Kate was shocked by her friend’s appearance as she sat down opposite.  There were dark rings under her eyes, her skin pale and drawn. She looked nothing like her normal rambunctious self, and a good deal worse than when Kate had last seen her just before Christmas, nearly two weeks previously. Is Kaminski really that much of a slave driver? Kate tried to catch the Sophie’s eye, but the other woman’s gaze was fixed up the table in the direction of Kaminski who was addressing the room.

 

The official presented her regular report on progress, which as normal seemed like a lot of detail dressed up to disguise the fact that there wasn’t much to report at all. Kate considered it could also be to hide something else. Does Sophie know more?  She hadn’t said anything to Kate, but she was supposedly Kaminski’s liaison.

 

As the meeting wore on, Kate got the distinct impression that the events of the previous day weren’t even on Kaminski’s agenda, something she decided she needed to change.

 

“As fascinating as the logs of every single phone call off base for the last six months are,” she began, “can I just interrupt you for a moment?”

 

Kaminski glared at her, but Kate didn’t wait for an answer; it hadn’t really been a request anyway.

 

“I’m more interested to know where the superhuman we encountered yesterday is.”

 

“That’s classified.”

 

Kate glanced to the Colonel who maintained an impassive expression. “Is that true, Colonel? I thought this base had a remit to deal with all superhumans, and as commander I was to be included in all intelligence on such.”

 

The colonel shifted in his seat and Kate noticed he didn’t meet her eye when he spoke. “The government has decided it might be…” he sought some diplomatic words, “…advisable to also set up an independent facility.”

 

Kaminski made to object, but got silenced by the Colonel before she could speak. “I hardly think revealing the mere existence of the facility at Blackcraig to the major is a threat to security.”

 

“With respect, sir,” said Kaminski, her tone indicating the opposite of her words, “that is not your decision to make.”

 

The Colonel’s lips tightened, his eyes narrowing, and for a moment Kate thought he was going to hit Kaminski. She wasn’t even in the military and she was telling him how to run his command?

 

As much as she would have loved to have seen it, Kate decided to interject. “And why was establishing this ‘facility’ deemed necessary?” she asked Kaminski.

 

“Given the lapses in security here, it was calculated as prudent to minimise the potential for further breaches.”

 

Kate cut through the evasive words. “You mean you don’t trust us?”

 

Kaminski didn’t respond, simply holding Kate’s gaze with her unwavering green eyes. “That man should be here,” insisted Kate, “where we can help him.”

 

Kaminski’s face remained impassive as she spoke. “Not all mutants can be helped.”

 

“If you’re not helping him, then what are you doing to him at Blackcraig?”

 

Kaminski started shuffling some papers before her in a show of disinterest. “Mr Grant’s welfare is no longer a concern of yours.”

 

“Bullshit!” The exclamation escaped before Kate could stop herself. Kaminski always seemed to find a way to rile her. Normally Kate could resist, but today her annoyance threshold had been seriously low after the encounter with Andrea. Kate clamped down on her anger before she continued. “The welfare of all superhumans is my concern; that’s my job.”

 

“And one you get a little too personally involved in some times, it seems.”

 

Energy surged automatically through Kate’s body, focussing in her hands. Christ! Get a grip. She balled her fists, having to mentally subdue her body’s instincts to unleash her power.

 

Unaware of the thin ice she was skating on, Kaminski continued. “Mr Grant is being held for his own and the public’s protection. That’s all you need to know and as much as I’m going to tell you. Rather than worrying about where Mr Grant might be now, I would think you might be more concerned where he came from.”

 

Kate could tell Kaminski was enjoying stringing her along. “Meaning?” she prompted, rubbing at her forehead to try and calm the stirrings of a headache.

 

“We have reason to believe Mr Grant is not a natural mutant.”

 

Ignoring the oxymoron, Kate made the deduction. “Like Chadwick.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Was that why he had been so crazed? It wasn’t unheard of for people to have trouble on first discovering their powers, especially if those powers had never meant to be. Andrea was a case in point.

 

“So you suspect the involvement of his organisation?” Kate asked. “Why would they let Grant go though? It could give us a lead on them.”

 

“A good question.”

 

And one you’re not going to give an answer to even if you do know it. Kate considered the time was fast approaching when she would need to seek her own answers.

 

 

………..

 

 

Andrea paced across the waiting area, seeing the bemused look she was getting from the private on duty as secretary that day. Reaching the window she stared out over the island, watching the seagulls fighting against the strong wind.  She wished she was out there with them. But then that isn’t allowed is it? Wouldn’t want anyone to see me!

 

“The major is in if you just want to knock,” offered the man behind her helpfully.

 

Andrea gave him a quick glance. “Thanks.” She made no move for the door though; she still hadn’t decided if she was going in.

 

Three hours sat in her quarters trying to occupy herself variously with reading, music and inane daytime television had been enough to convince Andrea she needed to do something about the earlier fight with Kate.  Without really deciding what that was she’d come to the other woman’s office.

 

Maybe I should just take some time to think about it some more, she considered.

 

The sound of the secretary tapping away on his keyboard echoed round the otherwise silent waiting area as Andrea pondered.

 

Bollocks, who am I kidding?

 

…….

 

 

Kate was kneading a particular tense area in her neck when the knock came on the door. It seemed to reverberate right into her already taut muscles and she tried to relax them as she called out admittance. The sight of Andrea entering filled her with an uncharacteristic trepidation, her shoulders immediately bunching again.

 

The younger woman came to a halt just in front of the desk, blue eyes staring intently down at the seated major. Kate held the gaze, dreading what was coming.

 

“Sorry about earlier.”

 

Kate struggled to find her voice for a moment, so stunned was she.

 

“I know you have a duty to protect this place, and us,” continued Andrea, “and it’s not my place to question the methods you employ.”

 

Kate let out a long sigh. “Someone should.” Now it was Andrea’s turn to look surprised. Kate undid the tight knot in her tie as if that might help ease the tension in her body. “Just because I thought those methods were appropriate in the circumstances, doesn’t mean I was entirely comfortable with altering people’s memories. There just wasn’t another option.”

 

“You could have let them remember.” Andrea’s tone held no accusation this time.  She lowered herself into the seat opposite Kate, leaning forward so her elbows rested on the dark wood of the desk. “It just seems to me like a big experiment with unwitting guinea pigs.”

 

Kate deduced what was really troubling Andrea. “And that’s a little too close to what happened to you last year.”

 

Leaning forwards, Kate extended her hands across the desk so she could place them over Andrea’s. Her thumb brushed over the skin, able to feel the strong pulse at the other woman’s wrist. Kate’s own quickened at the contact.  The half-smile of reassurance Andrea offered only increased its tempo further.

 

“You look tense,” Andrea said, deflecting the conversation and giving Kate a moment’s relief from the heat rising through her. “Another fun meeting with Kaminski?”

 

“If your idea of fun is going ten rounds with a pitbull,” replied Kate grimly.

 

“Ouch. So did you get a chance to ask her about the guy we caught yesterday?”

 

Kate drew her hands back to fold them in her lap. “He’s at Blackcraig.” If she was allowed to know the name she saw no reason not to tell Andrea.

 

Andrea sat upright, eyes intent. “And what’s at Blackcraig?”

 

Kate sighed. “In all honesty I don’t fully know,” she confessed. “From what I gather it’s another research facility, though under the direct control of the government rather than the military.”

 

“Sounds like Kaminski is trying a different tack to gain control,” noted Andrea. “Why do I get the impression this facility is not one I’d like to visit?”

 

Kate gave a laugh. “Then you better not piss me off, or I might just arrange a transfer, see how you like Kaminski as a boss.”

 

Andrea grimaced. “I better make sure I keep in my current boss’ good books then.”

 

Rising to her feet, Andrea came round the side of the desk. Kate made to get up too, but a gentle hand on her shoulder kept her in place.  The hand stayed where it was as Andrea circled behind Kate’s chair, placing another hand on her other shoulder. The warmth of the touch filtered through Kate’s uniform shirt, making her skin tingle in anticipation. Andrea’s fingers started to firmly massage the knotted muscles.

 

Kate’s eyes slid closed, her body relaxing. “That’s so good,” she murmured.

 

Tense muscles yielded to the sensuous touch, expert strokes driving her troubles away. “I’m sorry too,” said Kate, eyes still closed, drifting on the wave of pleasure, “for not telling you as soon as I found about the memory thing. I just find it difficult still, knowing what to reveal about work after…”

 

Andrea’s fingers stilled as Kate trailed off. “After what happened with Dixon,” she completed for the other woman.

 

Craning her head round, Kate saw the darkness in Andrea’s blue eyes. “I know you’re nothing like him, that I can trust you, it’s just…”

 

“Sometimes you find it hard to,” Andrea concluded with a hint of sadness.

 

Kate sighed, reaching up to place her hand over one of Andrea’s where it was motionless on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

 

Rather than draw her hand away as Kate feared she might, Andrea turned it so she could cup Kate’s fingers. “I guess I’ll just have to prove that you can trust me.”

 

Andrea resumed her gentle kneading, fingers pressing in all the right places to ease the knots. As they dispersed, Kate started to feel something else entirely.

 

“Is this part of the proof?” she murmured.

 

“Is it helping?”

 

“It’s helping with something that’s for sure.”

 

Kate was lost in the moment, barely noticing as Andrea’s hands slipped off her shoulders and into the hair at the base of her neck. Languid strokes tickled the strands. Kate sighed, the relaxing sensation intensifying.

 

Slowly the fingers slid downwards, gliding over her shoulders and round the front of her body. When Andrea started teasing at the top button of her shirt a whole new feeling flooded Kate. Arousal. Keen, powerful, drilling through her. Unwittingly she groaned as the first button was released.

 

The second swiftly followed, Kate feeling the cool air on the exposed skin of her chest. Andrea wormed her fingers under the crisp olive material of the shirt, teasing them over the flesh beneath. Arching back into her chair, Kate moaned as the sensuous exploration reached her breast. A hot flutter of breath rippled past Kate’s ear. Andrea was leaning down to whisper.

 

“Should I lock the door?”

 

Kate fumbled her hand across her desk, slamming it hapzardly on one of the controls. A faint click issued from the doorway.

 

“Handy,” noted Andrea. “Anyone would think you’d done this before.”

 

Kate craned her head back on the chair, eyes lifting to the other woman. “Most definitely not.” Her hands reached up to lock round Andrea’s neck, guiding her down into a soft kiss.

 

Eventually Kate loosened her grip. “Now, I think you were giving me a massage, weren’t you? Even if it was taking in some unusual locations.”

 

“With some more unusual ones yet to come,” agreed Andrea, raising her eyebrows suggestively.

 

Kate felt a shiver slip through her at the look.

 

“Though I think I need you in a more accessible position,” added Andrea.

 

“And where would that be?”

 

Andrea just grinned, gently guiding Kate up out of her chair and turning her round so they were face to face. The young woman leant closer, teasing her lips across Kate’s in the slightest brushing caress before pulling back, the grin ever more mischievous. Suddenly Kate found herself lifted up and onto her desk, sending the pens and papers on it flying. Andrea interposed herself between Kate’s legs, pressing forwards and jamming their lips together this time in an urgent kiss. Kate had to brace herself with her hands back on the desk.

 

Andrea’s lips slipped lower, to the partially exposed skin at Kate’s neck. The young woman eased the uniform shirt away, fingers deftly working to undo the rest of the buttons. Kate groaned as Andrea’s fingers slid under the material but didn’t push it completely off. Instead she just left it dangling open, enough for Andrea to peel Kate’s bra down and clamp her mouth over a nipple. Gasping as hard teeth grazed the sensitive skin, Kate naturally ground her pelvis into Andrea’s thighs.

 

Still Andrea continued to tease her. Her tongue moved in slow circles round Kate’s nipple with the occasional nip to elicit a fresh groan of gratification. At the same time her hands slid up Kate’s trouser legs, smoothing along the material covering her thighs.  Reaching the belt the young woman worked it undone, sliding the zipper down too. Easing Kate’s legs further apart, Andrea slipped a hand inside her trousers, cupping the heat inside them.

 

“Oh God!” cried Kate, trying to lift her hips further off the desk to push herself against Andrea’s palm. The moisture pooled ever more rapidly between her legs.

 

Suddenly Andrea withdrew her hand, Kate practically whimpering in dismay at the lost contact. Andrea’s head came up from Kate’s chest.

 

“Don’t worry, I just think I need to get these out of the way.”

 

The young woman tugged at the waistband of Kate’s trousers, and Kate obligingly propped herself up with her hands so Andrea could pull them and her knickers off all in one go. Easing back down onto the desk she felt the polished wood against the bare flesh of her bottom. She was now completely exposed, sat there on her desk on nothing but her shirt. The sense of the forbidden was profoundly arousing and as Andrea pushed closer again she opened herself further, feeling the other woman’s fingers sliding inside her. Moaning, Kate arched back on the desk and Andrea took the chance to lower her head onto Kate’s chest once more. Her hot breath tickled over the skin, moving ever lower, her whole body slipping further down until she was kneeling on the floor in between Kate’s legs. Fingers eased out to be replaced by tongue, swirling round in the wetness before plunging inside.

 

“Fuck!” cried Kate as she tipped her head back, writhing on the desk, unable to contain her desire any longer.

 

Andrea’s hands gripped Kate’s hips, holding her fast as she continued the exquisite torment. Her tongue flicked across Kate’s clitoris, causing her to jerk so violently that that she would have fallen off the desk if not for the strong hands keeping her in place. Kate’s hands slid back further, finding the edge of the desk and holding on tight as the wild ride reached its crescendo. Andrea’s tongue flicked more urgently, in time with Kate’s own thrusts and gyrations.

 

“Fuck! Yes! Do it!”

 

The orgasm was unstoppable, sweeping through her in a sudden rush and out all over Andrea’s face. Kate sagged back against the desk, her bottom sliding on the now damp surface. This one certainly might take some explaining to the cleaners!

 

 

………..

 

 

Andrea’s body still buzzed from the encounter in Kate’s office as she strode along the lower corridors to her afternoon appointment. If she closed her eyes for a moment, she could smell the lingering aroma of the other woman.

 

“Hey! Watch it!”

 

Andrea pulled up sharply. She had almost barrelled straight into Nisha, who now stood in front of her, arms crossed indignantly.

 

“You should keep your eyes open, Strommy.”

 

Strommy? Andrea considered even Tom’s ‘Sherlock’ was better than Nisha’s cannibalisation of her name. She hadn’t realised she and Nisha were friendly enough for nicknames.

 

“What are you doing down here, Nisha?” Andrea gave a quick glance at the doors down the plain corridor. They stood on the research level of the base, not somewhere she would have expected to find the other woman in her spare time. “Were you just in the lab?”

 

Why Nisha would have been in with her brother was a mystery to Andrea, but that room was the only likely source of Nisha’s appearance.

 

“Yeah,” confirmed the other woman, “just had to give the doc something.”

 

Andrea was oddly keen to know what that was, but didn’t press, getting the sense Nisha was being deliberately vague.

 

“Oh, I got a message for you,” said the other woman suddenly.

 

Andrea raised her eyebrow and tilted her head to indicate she was waiting for further information.

 

“The footy game next Thursday’s at seven instead of five,” Nisha elaborated.

 

Andrea’s brow furrowed. “How come you got that message?”

 

“I’m playing aren’t I, the guys asked me.”

 

I just bet they did, most likely to see you all sweaty in a tight top. Though Nisha’s charms held no appeal for Andrea, she could see they could prove attractive to those with more base instincts.

 

“Don’t worry, I ain’t on your side,” added Nisha.

 

The young woman was more observant than Andrea had previously thought. She had picked up on Andrea’s disdain for once.

 

Nisha leant in to speak. “Between you and me, I ain’t that bothered, but who could pass up the chance to see the major running around in skimpy shorts.”

 

Jealousy flared in Andrea’s chest, her fist naturally balling at her side. The revelation of her and Kate’s relationship seemed to have done little to dampen Nisha’s suggestive comments. If anything they were getting worse, as if she were purposefully taunting Andrea.

 

“Just keep your eyes on the game,” said Andrea in a low warning tone.

 

Nisha just laughed. “Or what? What are you going to do, Strommy, hit me?”

 

“Don’t tempt me.”

 

Nisha laughed again. “Like you could get close!”

 

Andrea darted forwards, pinning the other woman to the wall, forearm across her throat. Anger danced white hot before her eyes, clouding judgement. A pained gurgle came from Nisha, the sound permeating Andrea’s fury.

 

Helvete! What am I doing?

 

She drew back, breathing hard, fighting to control her temper. Nisha sagged, gagging as she rubbed her throat.

 

“Jesus! I was just teasing.”

 

Andrea would have said sorry if it wasn’t against every instinct. Fortunately the door opening beside them saved her from having to force the words out. Marcus took one step before he gauged he’d walked out on something.

 

“Nisha? Andrea? What’s going on?”

 

Neither woman spoke for a moment, exchanging a glance. This was between them, no one else’s business.

 

“Nothing,” replied Nisha eventually. “I was just leaving.” She flashed a quick smile at Marcus. “Thanks for the help, Doc.”

 

Andrea was surprised to see Marcus’ cheeks flush as he smiled sheepishly in return. “No problem, stop by any time.”

 

Once Nisha had disappeared in the direction of the lift, Andrea followed her brother inside the lab. He had been making himself at home the past month or so with at least a dozen experiments in various stages of progress. The odd personal touch was also evident, including a picture sitting on his desk that Andrea recalled posing for about five years previously - the Hallstrom family portrait. She supposed it was the only picture he could find with all of them present and smiling, even if those smiles were fake.

 

“So what was that all about?” she asked as he brought up some data on his monitor.

 

He gave her a cursory glance. “All what?”

 

Andrea attempted imitating Nisha, batting her eyelashes and speaking in an over the top girlish voice. “Thanks for the help, Doc.” She switched back to her normal tone before continuing. “What have you been helping Miss Tendulkar with?”

 

“That would fall under Doctor, patient confidentiality. Talking of which how have you been? No more power upsets?”

 

“No, nothing since before Christmas,” answered Andrea, letting the previous topic lie for now. “It appears your treatment’s working, not the only one it seems.”

 

Glancing up from his computer screen, Marcus gave her a quizzical look.

 

“Your handy memory altering technique,” Andrea remarked.

 

“Ah, yes, that,” noted Marcus, somewhat abashed. “I can’t take complete credit for that one, a friend of mother’s, Dr Simon Hutchins, was instrumental in its development.”

 

Andrea raised her eyebrows. “I didn’t realise you and mother worked so closely together,” she noted. “It’s not exactly her field of expertise.”

 

“Mother has interests in lots of areas,” said Marcus, turning back to his screen as a window popped up giving a warning of some kind.

 

“I just bet she does,” muttered Andrea to herself.

 

Marcus’ fingers hit a few buttons on the keyboard. “She was asking after you again, over Christmas.”

 

“What did you tell her?”

 

The edge of concern in her voice drew his attention. “Don’t worry, I was vague on details - I don’t want a night-time visit from the SAS!”  His eyes remained on her. “Have you thought any more about going to see her?”

 

Andrea drew in a cautious breath. “Actually I have.”

 

“Really?” Marcus seemed genuinely surprised. “I was only asking because she wanted me to, I didn’t think you’d actually consider it.”

 

Andrea shrugged. “Even I have been known to change my mind occasionally.”

 

“I might have to mark this momentous day in my diary,” grinned Marcus. “January 12th 2006 – Andrea concedes she might have been wrong.”

 

“Hang on,” said Andrea, “I wouldn’t go that far.”

 

“Too late!” said Marcus, reaching for a pen. “I’m writing it down!”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes as he made a show of scribbling something in a notebook. “You are such an arse.”

 

Marcus flashed a playful smile at her. For once Andrea didn’t feel like wiping it off his face. She must have been softening.

 

Having finished with his note, Marcus glanced to her again. “Would you like me to speak to her about the possibility of you going to visit?”

 

This is it, the point of no return. Andrea hesitated for just a moment. “Yes.”

 

 

……….

 

 

 

Kate waited patiently for the wrought-iron gates to swing open before easing the car forward towards Andrea’s childhood home.  They had flown down from Scotland that morning, landing at Copthorne near Shrewsbury where they picked up a car for the final drive to the suburbs of Birmingham. Kate noted the immaculate lawns and painstakingly trimmed bushes that lined the short driveway. The house itself wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Jane Austen novel, a period English country house, complete with ivy creeping up the red brickwork. Kate guessed scientific research paid more than one might have imagined.

 

The wheels crunched over the gravel as Kate brought the car to a halt out front, and she turned to address her passenger.  “Are you sure I shouldn’t park round the back, at the tradesperson’s entrance?”

 

Andrea didn’t laugh at the attempted joke. She looked far too nervous for that. “Here will be fine,” she answered stiffly instead.

 

Kate was scared to exit the car, in case she accidentally knocked a loose bit of gravel onto the grass and set off an alarm caused by the foreign object on the perfect surface. She wondered if Andrea’s family gave tips to Wimbledon.  Andrea looked equally reticent to get out, but most likely for an entirely different reason. Kate made a small reassuring squeeze of her hand.

 

“Come on, or she’ll wonder what we’re up to sitting out here.”

 

When they reached the door, Kate half expected a butler to open it, decked out in full morning suit with tails. So she was surprised when it was pulled open by a woman who was obviously Andrea’s mother. The similarity was so striking that Kate had to stop herself letting out a surprised gasp. Apart from the tell-tale signs of age and the fact she was a few inches shorter than her daughter, she could have been Andrea’s twin. The woman’s ice blue eyes settled on the pair of them.

 

Kate sensed she was being inspected and dissected all in one as the gaze swept over her. She felt somehow shabby next to the immaculately presented woman. Andrea’s mother wore a perfectly tailored grey suit, her blond hair in a neat cut that hung just to her shoulders. At least Kate had made some effort in her choice of smart trousers and shirt, whereas she suspected Andrea’s jeans and black polo neck combination were a deliberate attempt at feigning disinterest.

 

It was Andrea who broke the uneasy silence. “Hello, Mother.” She leant forwards and placed a single chaste kiss on the other woman’s cheek.

 

“Andrea,” acknowledged her mother, “and this is…”

 

“Sorry,” said Andrea, appearing to be uncharacteristically flustered. “Mother, this is Kate, Kate this is my mother, Erin.”

 

Kate extended her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

 

Erin paused before taking it, giving Kate another quick once over. “Likewise.” Her grip was firm as they shook. “Why don’t you come in?” she added to both of them as she gestured inside.

 

Kate moved over the threshold, trying to shake off the sense of stepping into the lion’s den. Erin was being utterly polite and proper in true British style, yet something didn’t quite sit right with Kate. The other woman’s smile seemed a touch too forced, her words and gestures just that bit too deliberate. Kate was aware of a feeling of something else lurking underneath the surface. Trying to dismiss Erin’s behaviour as natural awkwardness after such a long estrangement from her daughter, Kate studied her surroundings. The inside of the house matched its exterior. Everything was classically elegant, the wooden floor of the hallway opening out to reveal a sweeping staircase. Kate expected to see a debutant on her way to the summer ball flouncing down it.

 

Having taken their coats, Erin gestured off to the side of the hall. “Come through to the sitting room.” Kate counted at least five other doors besides the one indicated, probably for the billiard room, library, study and other rooms necessary to make up the full Cluedo set. Just as long as there weren’t going to be any nasty accidents involving any lead pipes.

 

Weak winter sunshine bathed the sitting room, let in through the large south-facing windows.  As with everything else in the house the room was immaculate and Kate wasn’t sure if she was allowed to sit on one of the perfect sofas.  She waited until Erin duly invited them to, taking up a seat next to Andrea while Erin busied herself over a gleaming tea tray sat on a polished oak table.

 

“Tea or coffee?”

 

“Coffee, please, black,” answered Kate.  

 

Andrea declined any refreshment and as Erin made the coffee, Kate wondered if she normally had maids or servants to do such tasks. Someone obviously kept the house in perfect order and Kate couldn’t believe it was the busy doctor. Silence sat heavily over the room, only broken by the chink of teaspoon on china. Kate glanced sideways at Andrea. She sat with her knees together, hands clasped on top of them, eyes staring forwards.  

 

Kate was about to give her hands a quick reassuring squeeze when Erin turned back to them, proffering a delicate china teacup on a saucer to Kate. As Kate took it, offering thanks, she noticed Erin staring at her again, blue eyes boring into her.

 

“I hope you don’t mind me asking,” said Erin, “but have we met before?”

 

Kate’s first instinct was to say no. Yet something at the back of her mind nagged her. Unable to pin it down she shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”

 

Erin held her gaze longer than was necessary or comfortable before she turned her attention to Andrea. Kate restrained the urge to sigh in relief.

 

“How have you been?”

 

Andrea let out a bitter laugh. “Apart from being ignored by my family you mean?”

 

Kate caught her eye, trying to impart that she should at least give Erin a chance. That was the whole point of the visit. Whether modulated by the silent exchange or something else, Andrea’s next words were delivered in a more reasonable if distanced tone.

 

“I’ve been fine, busy.”

 

“You have a new job?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Up in Scotland?”

 

“Yes. Marcus told you did he?”

 

“He mentioned he’d seen you.”

 

Kate wondered if she could excuse herself from the pained small talk. Maybe without her in the room they might discuss what was really on their minds. Then again she didn’t really think Erin was the type for public displays of affection or emotion. The conversation continued as she sized up the exits.

 

“He didn’t say anything else?” queried Andrea.

 

“Such as?”

 

Andrea glanced at Kate before giving a shrug in answer. “Nothing.”

 

Kate wanted to stand up and bash their heads together, but remained seated as the discussion drifted aimlessly.

 

“So what have the police got you doing in Scotland?”

 

“I don’t work for them anymore.”

 

“That’s a shame.”

 

Erin didn’t really sound the least bit upset, but then Kate knew she had never approved of that particular choice of career path for Andrea.

 

“So what are you doing now?”

 

“I’m doing some…consulting with the military.”

 

“Is this in conjunction with Marcus’ latest project?”

 

Again Andrea gave Kate a querying look, unsure how much she should reveal. “We are working together,” Andrea finally answered.

 

Kate made a mental note to check what exactly the other Dr Hallstrom had discussed with his mother. She was sure Kaminski would have mentioned any instances of inappropriate topics in phone conversations from the base, but that didn’t mean he might not have let something slip in person. Not that there was any reason to keep vague details from Erin, but Kate found herself more wary than she normally was with other operative’s family members. She couldn’t pinpoint why, it was just instinct.

 

Meanwhile the conversation continued over more bland topics, never once touching on the past and what had brought them to the house. Kate wondered if she was going to have to be the one to bring it up, lest the other two women avoid the issue all day. Watching Erin more closely, Kate found the niggle at the back of her brain in regards to the other woman refused to go away. A distant memory was trying to worm its way up. Finally it managed to burrow out.

 

Kate realised Erin and Andrea had stopped talking and were regarding her quizzically. She returned the bemused look.

 

“You made a small gasping noise,” Andrea clarified.

 

“Did I? I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt.” She glanced at Erin. “I just realised that we have met before.”

 

“Really?”

 

“I didn’t twig until I put the name and face together, but it was at the University of Birmingham.” She realised both women were waiting for further elaboration. “You used to run medical research experiments that you needed volunteers for when I was a student there. A fair few of my friends accepted the offer of some extra cash.”

 

“You did not enter into those experiments though?”

 

It was a question, yet Kate got the strangest sense that Erin already knew the answer. Of course Kate herself had never participated – she was hardly going to subject herself to any kind of medical tests with her secret to protect.

 

“No, I didn’t,” she confirmed, “though I did come along with some friends on occasion, just to verify what was going on.”

 

“You did not need the extra money?” pressed Erin.

 

“Something like that.” Again Kate got the feeling Erin somehow knew exactly why she hadn’t wanted to be part of it.

 

“A shame, I’m sure you would have made an interesting subject.”

 

Now Kate knew she wasn’t imagining it, Erin’s tone held a definite edge. Did she know something? And if so how?

 

Andrea butted in to ease the tension. “What a small world it is, eh? So we were all in Birmingham at the same time, it’ll give you something to discuss while I visit the loo.”

 

Before Kate could object, Andrea rose and walked from the room. Kate glared at her departing back, wondering if this was payback for the times she’d done something similar. The room was left in silence apart from the faint buzz of an insect, bashing futilely at a window. Erin fixed it with a potent stare as it dared to sully the clean glass. Kate was in little doubt that if any bug spray had been to hand Erin would have gladly vaporised it.  As it was Kate was surprised the look didn’t do the trick.  

 

The other woman’s gaze drifted from the bug to her, softening little in the process. Kate offered a faint smile which Erin did not return. 

 

“So you are a…friend of Andrea’s?”

 

The edge on the word ‘friend’ was clear. All it needed was the word ‘special’ on the front to make the meaning blindingly obvious.

 

“Yes, I am.” Kate left it up to Erin to decide if she was answering the actual question or the underlying one.

 

“And you work together?”

 

Kate wasn’t sure either of them had mentioned as much. “Yes.”

 

“Doing work for the military?”

 

Kate felt the faint prick of wariness down her spine. Erin seemed a bit too interested. “Yes.”

 

Erin just sat waiting for Kate to elaborate. She didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest by the silence that stretched on. The fly buzzed at the window again, and Kate could understand why it was so desperate to escape. The conversation was worse than being interrogated. And the odd thing was that, as with the questions regarding her time at university, Kate got the strange sense that Erin already knew the answers, like it was all some game to see who would crack first.

 

In the end Kate felt she had to say something. “I’m really not at liberty to discuss it.”

 

A tiny smile lifted Erin’s lips. Kate wasn’t sure if she found something amusing in the words or the fact that she had won the small battle of wills. “No, of course not,” Erin said evenly. “We wouldn’t want any national secrets slipping out over tea and biscuits would we?”

 

Kate ground her teeth as she kept her mouth shut. Delivered by someone else the comment might have been humorous, but the edge of condescension was obvious. Deciding she’d had enough of being the one on the spot, she directed the conversation back on track.

 

“When Andrea comes back, it’s probably best if I leave you two to it, I’m sure you have things you need to discuss.”

 

“That’s correct, private things,” agreed Erin, her blue eyes sweeping over Kate again. “Why did you come here today?”

 

Kate held her gaze. “I wanted to give Andrea some support.”

 

Erin lifted a single eyebrow in a gesture oddly reminiscent of Andrea. “I didn’t realise she was so weak as to need it.”

 

“It’s not weakness, it’s because…” Kate caught herself. Because I love her.

 

“Yes?” prompted Erin.

 

“Never mind,” Kate hurriedly finished. “Let’s just say after all that’s happened the last few years, I’m sure Andrea was grateful for someone to stick by her.”

 

“Well thank you for that, but she has us now.”

 

“Us?”

 

Erin folded her hands neatly in her lap. “Her family of course.”

 

Because you’ve done a great job so far. Kate held back the retort. She was meant to be facilitating a reconciliation not starting her own war. Biting back on any other choice words she might have she was glad to see Andrea re-entering the room. Realising it didn’t matter what she thought, that it was Andrea who needed time alone with her mother without Kate’s possibly negative input, Kate got up and made a vague excuse about waiting in the car.

 

Once in the hallway Kate leant back against the wall, letting out a long sigh. Is this how it was when Andrea was growing up? Kate was beginning to see why the younger woman had been so reluctant to come. The atmosphere in the room had been oppressive, restrictive. God forbid that anyone should outwardly express some real emotion.  And then there had been Erin’s behaviour, polite in Andrea’s presence but with a subtle undercurrent of malice once she was gone. Kate had got the distinct impression she was being warned off someone’s territory.

 

The hallway was quiet and Kate could just make out the murmur of conversation back in the sitting room. Instinctively her head hovered closer to the door before she caught herself. You’re not on duty now, no spying! Forcing herself away from the room, she inspected the other options. How rude would it be to take a look? She knew it would be, but then Erin had hardly made her feel welcome so she sort of deserved all she got.

 

The first door Kate tried opened on to a small library, with a sturdy wooden desk in the centre of the room. As with the sitting room there wasn’t a speck of dust in sight, just rows of neatly arranged books. Examining the spines, Kate discovered numerous scientific tomes on genetics, biology and the like. Not a lot of light reading. Somehow she couldn’t picture Erin as the chick-lit type.

 

The rest of the rooms on the ground floor proved equally as unrevealing, more strict order and not many insights into the inhabitants of the house. Moving on up the stairs she noted the classic watercolours hanging over the pale paintwork, tasteful, understated. Kate wasn’t sure what she had been expecting. Some of Andrea’s previous girlfriend’s heads displayed on the wall?

 

Deathly quiet hung over the upper landing too, Kate’s own footsteps deadened by the thick carpet. Just when she was thinking she probably ought to head back down just in case Andrea finished up, something caught her eye. One of the doors near the end had a keypad entry. Strange for a private house. Kate glanced warily over her shoulder as she crept towards it. She was almost there when another door suddenly opened and someone stepped out, slap bang in her path. Kate only narrowly avoided walking into them, having to take a step back and peer up to the face of her obstructor.  The woman was huge, towering over the petite Kate both height and width ways.

 

Quickly gathering herself, Kate gave a fake apology. “Sorry, I was just looking for the toilet.”

 

The woman didn’t move a muscle, and Kate was unsure she’d even heard.

 

“The loo?” she tried again.

 

A pair of brown eyes flicked briefly down at her before returning to staring straight ahead, over Kate’s head. Unused to being ignored, Kate decided to test the other woman’s resolve.

 

“Fine, I’ll just check this way shall I?”

 

Her fingers made it onto the door handle before a meaty hand shot out, latching onto her wrist. Kate felt the steely grip tightening, crushing. Power naturally bubbled up in Kate’s free hand, the forming concussion wave displacing the air at her side.

 

“Let go.”

 

Still the woman made no move to release her. The power built in Kate’s hand, prickling on the inside of her skin. She attempted to rein it in; she could hardly use her powers in Erin’s house. Time for diplomacy instead.

 

“Will you please let go of my arm?”

 

The woman gave an unintelligible grunt before finally releasing her grip. She jabbed her arm towards the stairs, Kate assuming that was the direction of the toilet she didn’t need.

 

“Thanks,” said Kate, still not eliciting anything in response. Supposing her surveillance mission round Erin’s house was over, she descended the stairs and wandered outside to wait in the car as she’d originally indicated. She didn’t have to wait long before Andrea joined her, the young woman getting in the passenger side silently.

 

“So how did it go?” prompted Kate as she turned the ignition to start the car.

 

“Ok,” replied Andrea evenly. “Seems she wants to forget what’s happened in the past, try again. Sort of a fresh start.”

 

Kate felt an undercurrent of disappointment, unsure as to why.  She quashed her own misgivings, concentrating on what it meant to Andrea. “And how do you feel about that?”

 

“I’m not sure yet,” she said slowly, gazing out the window as they trundled down the driveway. Kate didn’t think she’d ever seen the younger woman quite so subdued. “It’s going to take a bit of getting used to, speaking again.”

 

“Just give yourself some time,” reasoned Kate, negotiating the gates onto the road, “you have barely spoken for five years after all.”

 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. At least I did manage to speak to her without shouting or swearing…well, only a couple of times.”

 

Kate laughed. “It would hardly be a conversation with you without a bit of swearing.”

 

“Are you saying I swear a lot?”

 

“But it’s kind of cute in that posh accent of yours. Go on, say ‘twatting twat’ for me now.”

 

“Twatting twat?”

 

Kate laughed again. “See,” she put on an over the top upper class accent before parroting the words, “twatting twat.”

 

Andrea pouted though Kate could spot the smile behind it. “I do not speak like that.”

 

“Not all the time. I’ve noticed you tend to modulate it on the base, assimilating the more common way of speaking of everyone else. But just now with your mother – full-on toff.”

 

Andrea shrugged. “Guess I must have been nervous, I didn’t notice I was doing it.”

 

“I suppose I should just be grateful you two didn’t slip into Swedish and leave me wondering if you were talking about me,” noted Kate. “Talking of…talking, I met a very uncommunicative young woman upstairs.”

 

Andrea’s eyes fell suspiciously on her. “Were you poking round my mother’s house?”

 

“Er…well…”

 

“You are incorrigible!”

 

“I was just interested,” reasoned Kate.

 

“Nosy you mean,” remarked Andrea. “Was this woman big, like really, really big.”

 

“Yes!”

 

“That would be Ingrid, she’s one of mother’s assistants.”

 

“What does she assist her with exactly, cracking walnuts with her bare hands?”

 

Andrea laughed. “You know, I don’t actually know. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her speak either!”

 

“Ah, so it wasn’t my winning personality that had her stunned into silence.”

 

“You never know, it is very ‘winning’ after all.”

 

Kate felt a hand creep onto her thigh, having trouble keeping her mind on the road as it started stroking lightly across her trouser leg.

 

“Bloody hell, do you want me to crash?”

 

“Maybe you better find somewhere quiet to pull over then? I have quite a lot of nervous energy that I need to dispel in some way.”

 

Kate glanced sideways, offering a sly grin. “I guess it’s my duty to assist then.”

 

 

………..

 

Callum Chadwick walked through the silent house, his shoes squeaking on the polished floor of the hallway. He was surprised he’d been invited, since Dr Hallstrom usually liked to keep her professional and private lives separate to avoid any kind of suspicion. It had certainly worked for the last thirty-odd years. Whatever had caused his summons must have been serious enough to break normal rules.

 

After a couple of unsuccessful forays into rooms, he found her in the study, starring out the window in contemplation. When she didn’t show any sign of registering his entrance he was forced to make a small cough. Turning, she gave him one of her most withering stares, and he wondered if she’d forgotten that it was she who’d asked him to come. Given the cool reaction he decided it best not to say anything and waited for Dr Hallstrom to initiate conversation.  After a good thirty seconds of pained silence his resolve broke.

 

“You wanted me for something?” he prompted.

 

“Did I?” replied Dr Hallstrom. The way she sized him up as she said it made him think she wasn’t just assessing what he was doing there at that moment. “Yes,” she finally conceded, “Major Kate Jarvis, what do you make of her?”

 

A few opinions jumped to the front of his mind, though he doubted ‘arrogant bitch’ or ‘pain in the arse’ were the sort of thing Dr Hallstrom was after. Though it galled him, he thought he ought to give as accurate an assessment as he could. “She’s completely by the book - dedicated, hard-working, a stickler for duty and responsibility, commands the respect and loyalty of her troops.”

 

“Sounds like a worthy opponent.”

 

“Yes,” agreed Chadwick, keeping his answer short, unsure which battle they were referring to. Dr Hallstrom appeared lost in thought, her blue eyes no longer focussed on him in their usual intent stare. “You won’t stand a chance if you’re thinking there might be some way to corrupt her,” he added.

 

A smile curled the woman’s lips. “You concede defeat too easily, Mr Chadwick, everyone has a weak spot, just look at our friend Tertiary One.”

 

Chadwick gave a small acknowledging nod. “In that case I think we both know what the major’s current weak spot is.”

 

Dr Hallstrom’s eyes narrowed and he feared he’d been too presumptuous, half expecting to feel the constriction round his throat any moment. The deathly look made him reconsider the reason for Dr Hallstrom’s sudden personal interest in the major. Chadwick swallowed nervously, resisting the urge to adjust his collar, not wanting to draw undue attention to his neck.

 

Eventually Dr Hallstrom broke the silence. “I can see we’re going to need to keep a close eye on the major and her unit, for more than one reason. Not to mention the fact she remembered meeting me before.”

 

Chadwick didn’t comment. It was news to him too.

 

Dr Hallstrom shook her head in a rare show of annoyance. “Bloody Hutchins, I should have never have listened to him. He insisted she wouldn’t, but then Jarvis always showed a strong resistance from the start.”

 

She stopped her musings, seemingly off in remembrance of the past. Chadwick considered asking what those recollections were, but knew better than to pre-empt what Dr Hallstrom was willing to tell him. Unfortunately that didn’t seem to be anything more for the time being.

 

“Do you have Tertiary One’s latest report?” she asked instead, her voice back to its normal even tones after the odd lapse.

 

“Yes, I’ve forwarded it to you.”

 

The doctor lowered herself into the chair behind the desk, pulling up some documents on the computer. “Anything of interest?”

 

Chadwick remained silent.

 

Dr Hallstrom’s eyes flicked up from the screen. “Don’t pretend you didn’t read it.”

 

Chadwick knew there was little point lying, Dr Hallstrom had an uncanny knack for seeing through attempts at deception. “They picked up Grant.”

 

“I see.”

 

The two short words carried a massive weight of disappointment.

 

“He won’t be able to tell them anything,” insisted Chadwick with a hint of desperation. “He’s half mad.”

 

“He might not reveal anything, but his body might,” said Dr Hallstrom, leaning back in her chair, her eyes boring into him once more. “I presume you dealt with those responsible for letting him escape.”

 

“Yes, Dr Hallstrom.”

 

“Good the sooner we uncover the genetic key the sooner we can avoid these unfortunate mishaps. For now we’ll just need to monitor the situation and take steps if it seems likely Mr Grant may lead them to us.”

 

Chadwick’s relief at her response lasted brief seconds before he had to bring up the next difficult item. “We may also have another problem.”

 

Dr Hallstrom simply stared at him and he fought the urge to fling himself on the ground and beg forgiveness. “A reporter’s been digging around, asking after you.”

 

“Then I suppose I had best see them.”

 

“Pardon? Is that a good idea?” he blurted before a penetrating stare cut him off, making him wish he’d never spoken. “I…I just meant I didn’t think we wanted to broadcast what we were doing.”

 

“I didn’t say I was going to tell them anything of interest,” said Dr Hallstrom as if explaining it to a small child. “On the contrary we should find out what they know and who else they’ve told. Know thine enemy, Mr Chadwick. Who is this reporter?”

 

Chadwick referred down to the card in his hand. “Christine Ferguson.”

 

“Then let Ms Ferguson know that I’m happy to meet with her.”

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 10

 

Kate walked down the corridor of the biochemistry department, reading the signs on the lab doors until she came to the ones she was after – Advanced Genetics. Pushing open the door, she found the laboratory was quiet, no one present amongst the test tubes and beakers apart from a young girl, busily reading a text book and scribbling down notes in a ring bound folder. Kate recognised the school uniform the girl wore as belonging to the King Edward’s Girls school that sat across the road from the university. That didn’t explain what she was doing in the biochemistry lab though. She didn’t look up as Kate approached, continuing to study her book. Kate supposed she was probably about twelve or thirteen, with brilliant golden hair tied up in a haphazard ponytail. Something about her seemed familiar and it took a moment for Kate to place the down-turned blond head. “I see you’ve kept hold of your hat this time,” she remarked jokingly as realisation dawned.

 

The girl glanced up but didn’t speak. She merely stared back at Kate with a pair of piercing blue eyes. Kate felt distinctly unnerved by the silent perusal.

 

“I found it for you in the bush the other week,” explained Kate, since the girl didn’t seem to show any signs of recognition. When she still didn’t speak, Kate supposed that the girl just didn’t want to talk to her. She was probably another one of those stuck up snobs from the school. Most of the girls there tended to look down their noses at the students across the road.

 

Thankfully another voice saved Kate from trying to converse with the unresponsive girl further. “Hey, Kate.” She turned to see her friend, Emma, approaching having come in the door.

 

“Where have you been?” asked Kate. “I only agreed to come here to hold your hand.”

 

“Sorry, emergency in the history department,” said Emma apologetically.

 

“You mean you had to hand in one of your essays late again and Professor Cook caught you,” deduced Kate.

 

“No,” said Emma slowly, “it was Professor Adams this time.”

 

Kate rolled her eyes. Why Emma always left it to the last minute when she only had about three lectures a week was beyond her. She should try a real subject like Physics some time. “It seems a bit quiet round here,” noted Kate glancing round the deserted lab. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

 

“This is where the flyer said to come,” said Emma before her eyes landed on the schoolgirl. “Maybe she knows something?”

 

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” muttered Kate.

 

“Is Dr Hallstrom around?” Emma asked the girl anyway.

 

“She’ll be back in a minute,” answered the teenager immediately.

 

Kate merely stared at her incredulously. The girl met her eye for the briefest of seconds. There was an arrogant look in them, challenging Kate to say something. For once Kate found herself at a loss for words. Eventually the girl turned her eyes down again, returning to her studies and leaving Emma and Kate to talk amongst themselves.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to join in the programme too?” Emma asked her.

 

“No thanks.”

 

“It’s easy money – all you have to do is do a few tests and stuff,” insisted Emma. “It’s not like you have to take any drugs or anything.”

 

“All the same I’d prefer not to,” Kate answered. “You can buy me a drink with what you make.”

 

“Whatever, you want,” said Emma with a shrug before the sound of the door opening cut her off.

 

A striking blond woman stepped into the room, sweeping regally over to the two waiting students.

 

“Dr Hallstrom?” queried Emma.

 

The woman extended a friendly hand for Emma to take. “Yes, and you are here for the programme…?”

 

“Emma, Emma Stevens,” finished Emma.

 

“Excellent. And your friend too?”

 

The doctor turned to Kate. The other woman’s eyes gave her a quick once over, but then lingered a touch more than was polite as they came to her face. Kate returned the stare from the blue eyes in kind, noticing the distinct family resemblance between the doctor and what was obviously her daughter still sat close by.

 

“Er, no,” answered Emma for her, “Kate’s just here to make sure you’re not doing weird experiments on me.”

 

Dr Hallstrom laughed. “Well, it pays to be vigilant,” she said with amusement. “You’re a good friend, Kate. Maybe we’ll persuade you to join once you see it’s all harmless and in the name of research.”

 

“Maybe,” agreed Kate, knowing that she would never willingly participate, not when she had so much to hide.

 

Dr Hallstrom offered her a final half smile. “I look forward to it.”

 

 

Kate jolted awake, the disconcerting images still flitting across the edge of her mind. She tried to focus on them, wondering where the dream had come from. The scene hadn’t happened that way in real life. She had gone with Emma to Dr Hallstrom’s lab, but Andrea certainly hadn’t been there. Kate reconsidered. Or had she? Kate supposed that she just might not have been paying attention to a thirteen year-old. Maybe Andrea had been there, and Kate’s subconscious mind was only now reminding her of that fact. She tried to bring the real recollection of the events to mind, but the weight of fifteen years of other memories piled on top did little to help clarify it. Instead she had to consider that meeting Dr Hallstrom at the weekend, along with Andrea telling her about her own dream had all been jumbled in together with her memories to construct a new reality.

 

Turning to her side she saw the clock displaying the ridiculously early 05:00, but at the same time Kate knew she wouldn’t get back off now.  She eased out of bed, careful not to wake the slumbering Andrea, and moved quietly out into the lounge and on into the kitchen. Brewing some coffee, she knew it would probably be the first of many in what was going to be a long day. The Colonel had finally gone back to headquarters, leaving her to run things alone for the time being, but she’d hardly had time to be relieved before a gaggle of high-ranking Intelligence Corps officers had decided it was a good time to visit. She had to wonder if the Colonel’s absence was a simple coincidence, since it meant she was the one who would have to meet and greet and generally entertain her superiors most of whom hadn’t seen any action beyond the edge of a desk in about ten years. Taking her coffee over to the sofa she sat down and put her feet up on the table, thinking it might be the last chance she got to relax for a few hours.

 

…….

 

 

The cold wind whipped harshly across Andrea’s cheeks as she jolted along the track, her trainers splashing through the remnants of the latest winter downpour. Jogging was hardly her favourite pastime, but she’d just needed to get out alone that day. Taking to the skies had been tempting, but more likely to draw attention and someone chasing after her. So instead she’d settled for battling the elements and rugged Scottish landscape. Cresting a hill, breathing hard, she started the more gentle descent, allowing her mind to wander.

 

The trip to see her mother at the weekend was still fresh in her thoughts. She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting and had gone in with her barriers and defences firmly up. Mostly those had stayed in place and yet something had wormed its way under them because now she couldn’t stop thinking about her mother and the possibility of seeing her again. It was disconcerting having spent the past five years hating her.

 

Unfortunately she’d not had much chance to discuss her confused feelings with Kate. The Colonel had picked that week to go back to Chicksands, leaving Kate with twice as much work and a whole group of visitors to deal with at the same time. When she did get in at night she barely had time to take her clothes off before falling asleep and yet always seemed to be gone first thing in the morning.

 

Andrea’s foot splashed into a particularly large pot hole dug by the army vehicles that usually rumbled down the tracks. The mud yanked her shoe off and she staggered forwards.

 

“Helvete! Skit! Runk! Kuk! Knulla!”

 

“An interesting turn of phrase.”

 

Andrea’s head snapped to the side, not quite believing the voice she’d heard. Unfortunately her eyes only confirmed her fears. “Kaminski? What are you doing out here?”

 

The answer to her question seemed fairly obvious given that Kaminski was also decked out in running gear, but somehow the concept of exercise and the bureaucrat wouldn’t quite tally in Andrea’s brain.

 

“I might ask you the same thing,” noted Kaminski. “Losing a shoe by the looks of things.”

 

Andrea hopped over to rescue it from its cloying home. Shaking off the excess mud best she could, she perched herself on a large rock at the roadside to pull it back on. Kaminski watched the whole thing with what Andrea could have sworn was amusement, if she believed the other woman capable of humour. Annoyed at being the source of entertainment, Andrea fired a pointed comment at Kaminski.

 

“I’m surprised you have time for jogging, considering how well your investigation’s going.”

 

“Our investigation is going just fine.”

 

“Right,” scoffed Andrea. “So you’ve got some hot leads on Chadwick have you? Or Dixon? Or this organisation of theirs?”

 

“We do have certain avenues we’re pursuing,” replied Kaminski with supreme evasion. “Not that I need to divulge anything to you.”

 

Andrea didn’t like the condescending way the ‘you’ had practically been sneered out on the end of the sentence. “Christ, we’ve been out risking our necks helping you track down these people,” she exclaimed, “the least you could do is share some information with us. Do you even know anything about what they’re up to? Or do we have to wait until they swoop in and kidnap one of us again, or try to carry out another deadly attack”

 

“We have things under control. Why don’t you stick to flying around and hitting things, that’s more your style isn’t it?”

 

Andrea’s blood started to boil at the continuing disdain Kaminski was showing her. “I’m not stupid, I am perfectly capable of understanding an investigation - I did used to be in the police. You never know I might even be able to help you if you let me.”

 

“I think we can manage without your help,” said Kaminski scornfully.

 

Fired by the derisive use of the pronoun again, Andrea rounded on the other woman. “Because you’ve been doing so well up till now!” she ranted. “Pete Barnes goes missing from under your nose, and now we do find someone, rather than letting the major and the rest of us help, you’ve whipped him off too to your secret Blackcraig place.”

 

In the chasm of yawning silence Andrea felt her stomach plunge. Kate had told her about the place off the record.

 

Kaminski’s eyes were pinned on Andrea. “I don’t suppose I even need to ask how you know about that,” she noted icily as Andrea continued to kick herself.

 

“I guess some people think we have a right to know such information,” said Andrea, deciding attack was the best form of defence. “What are you doing to him up there?”

 

“That is no concern of yours. All you need to know is that he is being kept there for his safety and yours. Anyway, I’m sure the major has enough troubled operatives to worry about as it is,” remarked the diminutive woman. “How is your counselling going by the way?” she added snidely

 

Andrea gritted her teeth, wondering what exactly Kaminski knew. Had she been reading confidential reports? “Fine, thanks,” replied Andrea shortly.

 

“Really?” questioned Kaminski, her voice laden with doubt. “If I had anything to do with it, you wouldn’t be classed as fit for duty.”

 

“Good job you don’t then!” snapped Andrea, having had about enough of the other woman. “And anyway, I wouldn’t have needed any if you hadn’t been sitting on your backside last summer.” Warming to her subject she continued on. “Then again you seem to like doing that – fuck all. Just as you’re doing fuck all now!”

 

Thinking her point sufficiently driven home, she leapt up into the sky and headed back towards the base.

 

 

………

 

 

Andrea barged into Kate’s quarters, kicked off her muddy trainers and headed straight for the kitchen. Yanking open the fridge, she popped the ring-pull on a pepsi. As the cool liquid eased down her throat she attempted to calm her raging thoughts, cursing Kaminski under her breath a few times for good measure. It took her a couple of seconds to realise she was not alone. Swinging round, she spotted Kate over by her desk, looking at her in amusement. Seeing the other woman, the drink froze at Andrea’s lips, her eyes widening.

 

Kate had on a fitted scarlet jacket, with black cuffs and a collar that fastened high round the neck. The jacket was trimmed with gold braid, and was worn over the top of a full length dark blue dress.

 

Andrea realised she was staring. “So what do you call this one?” she asked to cover it up and try and quell the heat rising fast within her.

 

“This is what’s called mess dress,” Kate informed her.

 

“It’s a bit over the top for Lister and co isn’t it?”

 

Kate laughed. “It’s for official dinners with other officers, in the officer’s mess, not the messhall.”

 

“So no plebs invited,” noted Andrea. “Shame!”

 

“You really wouldn’t want an invite, believe me,” Kate shook her head. “Everyone getting drunk over port and reminiscing about the good old days.”

 

Andrea was still studying the uniform, amazed she could carry on the conversation when faced with the provocative sight. Her mind was already fast-forwarding to ways to remove it, or at least parts of it. Possibly the jacket could stay on, just the jacket. She kicked her brain back on track. “Don’t you have some sort of ceremonial sword to go with it?”

 

“In case I want to lop someone’s head off during dessert?” asked Kate with a laugh in her voice. “You’re thinking of parade uniform, that’s the number one uniform.”

 

“You have way too many different numbers for uniforms you know,” said Andrea. “How many are there?”

 

“Fourteen, not counting variations.”

 

“Bloody hell, no wonder I can’t get any wardrobe space.” Andrea raised a suggestive eyebrow. “So do you have some sort of formal white one for when you’re in hot countries?”

 

“Now you’re thinking of the navy!”

 

“Damn, couldn’t you get a transfer?” wondered Andrea. “You like boats after all!”

 

Kate laughed. “To tell the truth this jacket is still my one from the Devon and Dorsets, the Intelligence Corps one should be a dark green.” Kate was smoothing down her uniform, an act Andrea couldn’t help studying in great detail as her hands moved over the scarlet material, mirroring the curves of her body. “I just thought I’d keep it, since they were my first regiment and that of my father too.”

 

“I think I prefer the red,” Andrea said appreciatively, “it’s more your colour.”

 

“Oh, I seem to be missing a crown,” exclaimed Kate suddenly. She bent down, hunting around behind her desk before popping up again. “Here we go!” She held out the small brass insignia to Andrea. “Could you fix it on for me?”

 

She turned sideways, giving Andrea access to the high collar of her jacket. Andrea moved closer, the cool metal growing warm in her hands. Her hand brushed past Kate’s shoulder as she went to affix the badge, though she had to fumble a couple of times with the clasp, her fingers suddenly reluctant to obey her commands. Kate’s jawline was tantalisingly revealed by the way she was holding her head tilted off to the side to allow Andrea to reach the collar. It wouldn’t be hard to lean just that bit closer and start to track her tongue up it. Before she knew what she was doing that stray thought had become a reality.

 

Kate groaned, the sound reverberating through Andrea, firing her desire. Suddenly a hand was upon hers, stalling her.

 

“I can’t.”

 

Andrea pulled back a fraction, checking to see if it was part of the game. Unfortunately she could see the look of regret evident in Kate’s eyes.

 

“I can’t be late.”

 

“I can be quick,” said Andrea, a hand starting to track over the back of the scarlet jacket.

 

Kate stopped her again. “Really, I have to go.”

 

Andrea’s hand dropped to her side. “The job again, eh?”

 

Kate took a step back, a coolness filling her eyes. “That’s hardly fair. It’s not that often we have senior officers to visit, but when we do it’s my duty to take care of them.”

 

“You always seem to have some pressing duty at the moment though,” pointed out Andrea. “I’ve hardly seen you the last week or so – you’ve been off writing reports, or doing something for Kaminski, or standing in for the Colonel.”

 

“It’s called a job. Some of us have to work.”

 

Andrea felt her anger bubbling up again, having not died down much after seeing Kaminski. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Nothing,” said Kate with a dismissive wave, moving further away across the room. “I’m just saying that I do have a job to do here. I can’t spend all my time with you.”

 

“All your time?” repeated Andrea following the other woman to stand by the window. “You hardly spend any time with me!”

 

“I spend far more with you than anyone else, and you know it,” said Kate, “that’s part of the problem.”

 

“Problem? Now I’m a problem?”

 

“That’s not what I meant. I just meant I can’t be seen to be showing favouritism, not after…”

 

Andrea finished the sentence for her in an angry blast. “Dixon! That fucking wanker! It always comes back to that, doesn’t it?” Andrea balled her fists, turning away from Kate in annoyance, taking some deep breaths to try and calm herself for a second. It didn’t work, her temper was too far gone. She spun back round. “Are you so scared it’s going to happen again? Don’t you trust me?” she demanded furiously.

 

“Andrea, I’m sorry, I…”

 

“Forget it!” snapped Andrea. “So with all this work you’ve been doing you must have made some progress on these mutant kidnappers, the ever-so mysterious organisation of Dixon’s.” She knew full well that Kate hadn’t, she just wanted to make her squirm.

 

“You know that’s Kaminski’s thing,” replied Kate through tight lips.

 

“And she doesn’t tell you anything?” goaded Andrea. “Or is it just nothing you can tell me?”

 

Kate held her gaze for a second and Andrea fought down the urge to fill the silence with an apology. She wasn’t really sure why she was being so mean.

 

It was Kate who eventually turned away. “I’m not doing this now. I have a function to get to. We can speak later.”

 

Andrea turned her back too as Kate made for the door. “Fine, whatever, go do you duty. I won’t be up when you get back.”

 

 

……

 

 

Andrea made good on her promise, forcing herself to go to bed long before Kate got back, even though it took her a couple of hours to nod off. Most of that time she deliberated over why she had picked the fight with the other woman, not finding any good answers. Seeing her mother had unsettled her, but that was hardly an excuse. She supposed at some point she ought to apologise for her shortness.

 

Unfortunately Kate disappeared off early again, perhaps fearing a repeat of the night before and not fancying that much when she had a hangover and a bunch of pampered officers to deal with. Andrea spent the day going about her duties, though her mind wasn’t really on it. She kept herself to herself, pre-occupied with her thoughts. Come the evening and having still not seen Kate all day, she decided she might as well attend the regular football game, remembering the altered time of it.

 

However, as she approached the indoor hall, she could hear the sounds of the game already in progress. Pushing open the door she was in time to see the hand shakes signalling the end of the game. Tom was the first to spot her entrance.

 

“Nice of you to join us, Sherlock,” he noted dabbing at his flushed face with a towel. “Had something better to do?”

 

Andrea’s eyes drifted to Nisha who was grinning smugly just behind the fair-haired man’s shoulder. She had on the same colour top, the sheer material clinging to her sweaty torso. “No, just a bit of confusion over the time,” she replied, realising immediately that the younger woman had deliberately misled her. Andrea wasn’t about to mention as much in front of everyone else and make herself look the petty one.

 

“Yeah, well lucky we still managed to win,” said Tom, “thanks to Nisha.”

 

Tom offered Nisha a warm smile which she returned. Andrea just about resisted gagging. “Good old Nisha, eh?” said Andrea sarcastically.

 

“You better watch out,” said Tom as he started heading for the changing rooms, “she might take your spot permanently if you don’t get a new watch!”

 

Nisha was already off after him and Andrea fell in behind her, following the smaller woman into the ladies changing rooms where they were the only occupants. As she reached the bench where her clothes were, Nisha whirled round. “Come to watch have you?”

 

“You have nothing that interests me,” replied Andrea icily.

 

“Really?” said Nisha coyly, putting her hands on her hips and thrusting her chest forwards.

 

Andrea rolled her eyes at the unsubtle attempt at seduction. “What are you playing at?”

 

Seeing she wasn’t getting any response to her display, Nisha turned to her clothes, picking out a towel. “Playing at? I don’t know what you mean.”

 

Andrea moved closer. “You told me the wrong time on purpose. Why?”

 

Nisha shrugged before pulling off her top, revealing her sports bra. “Did I? I must have made a mistake.”

 

Andrea grabbed the younger woman’s arm, forcing her to look at her. “A deliberate mistake.”

 

“So you say.”

 

Andrea shook her head. “What game are you playing?”

 

“None. I think you’re just paranoid, or full of yourself, one or the other. You think you’re better than the rest of us, special ‘cos you’re shagging the boss?”

 

Andrea yanked Nisha closer, using her greater height to add menace to her words. “I’m not someone to dick about with, so you better stop all this, before you really piss me off.”

 

“Or what? You going to attack me again. I ain’t defenceless you know. I let you off last time ‘cos there was others there.”

 

Andrea gave a snorting laugh. “You don’t scare me.”

 

“I should do.”

 

Suddenly pain flared in Andrea’s arm. Nisha was touching her and it was agony. She made to pull away but it was like trying to rip the skin off her arm, as if Nisha’s hand was glued to it. She watched in horror as the skin of her forearm started to distend out of shape, the white hot pain shooting up through her. She cried out. Nisha released her and Andrea staggered back, clutching at her arm as she checked it was still in one piece.

 

Meanwhile, Nisha had already turned back to her things, as if nothing had happened, blithely starting to take the rest of her clothes off. Unnerved, Andrea decided retreat was the best option for now.

 

……..

 

 

Kate thumped a file down on the ever growing pile on her desk, wondering if Kaminski was trying to bury her in them. None of them appeared particularly interesting, but Kate had a nagging suspicion that somewhere amongst the dross Kaminski was trying to hide something so she made a point of perusing them all. She wasn’t going to let the other woman catch her out with any ‘oh, didn’t you read the report?’ bollocks.

 

Sitting down and catching up on the latest email missives she rubbed ruefully under the collar at the back of her neck. Unfortunately another massage like the one she had enjoyed the week before was an unlikely prospect, not when Andrea was barely speaking to her.  

 

As Kate had feared her senior officers had insisted on droning on into the small hours the night before and when she’d returned to Andrea’s quarters the other woman had been fast asleep, or doing a good impression of being so. Kate had some doubts, half-suspecting the other woman was just resolutely ignoring her, but she hadn’t chanced speaking to find out. Given her slightly inebriated state the conversation probably wouldn’t have gone well.

 

So instead she’d spent the whole day regretting the harsh words of the night before. Not that it was exactly her fault, but that didn’t stop her feeling guilty anyway. Looking at the stack of paperwork she sized up the probability of her getting back at any decent hour that evening, knowing the likelihood was slim. At least the other officers had returned to Chicksands now, but all that had left her with was the paper mountain to catch up on.

 

Grabbing her coffee she resigned herself to another late night. The buzzer from her secretary disturbed her before the mug reached her lips.

 

“Major, Miss Hallstrom is here to see you.”

 

Oh God. Do I want to deal with this now? Not that she could really refuse, since it was obvious she was in. “Send her in.”

 

Kate sat up straight, painting what she hoped was an implacable expression on her face. Andrea entered, her face hard to read too as she approached the desk. As she lowered herself into the chair opposite Kate could detect the coolness radiating across the desk. Andrea was obviously pissed off at someone, most probably her still.

 

“I need to speak to you about something, or rather someone,” began Andrea, not waiting for Kate to invite her.

 

“Is this official business?”

 

“Since that seems to be the only way for me to talk to you, yes.”

 

Kate refused to bite the bait. “Go on.”

 

“It’s Nisha.”

 

Kate groaned. She knew the two women didn’t get along and this was the last thing she needed. “Yes?” she prompted tetchily.

 

Andrea must have detected the frustration as she leant back in her chair, crossing her arms. “If you don’t want to hear what I have to say, fine. Just don’t come running to me when she fucks up a mission, because I’ll just give you a big fat I told you so.”

 

Kate pinched her nose, the knot in her shoulders just getting bigger. “Now is really not a great time for another one of your vendettas against someone.”

 

“You make it sound like I go around picking fights all the time! As I seem to recall the last person I came to blows with was Chadwick, and he turned out to be a traitor.”

 

“Are you suggesting Nisha is a traitor?” laughed Kate as if the idea was ridiculous. “And please tell me you didn’t come to blows with her.”

 

The pause in answer was enough. “Oh for God’s sake, Andrea!” Kate pushed herself up from her seat, needing to pace off some of her annoyance. “I’m swamped in reports from Kaminski while still trying to do my normal job and you do this?”

 

“I’m not doing anything! Don’t take it out on me because Kaminski’s leading you a merry dance.  Are you in charge around here or not? Why don’t you just tell her to go fuck herself. It’s not like she’s doing anything useful!”

 

“Oh yes, very constructive, thanks! And I’ll just tell the Colonel to go fuck himself too while I’m at it shall I?”

 

“Might not be a bad idea, at least then I might see you for more than five minutes at a time, instead of having to deal with all this bullshit!” Andrea swiped her hand over the pile of folders, dislodging the top few, their contents spilling onto the floor.

 

Kate held up her hands in supplication. “Ok, time out! I surrender!”

 

Andrea stared at her, her fury simmering all over her face. Kate wondered if the tirade was going to continue. Then suddenly the young woman sagged visibly, a huge sigh issuing from her lips.

 

Kate took a deep breath herself. “What’s really going on here?” she asked calmly. “You’ve been like a bear with a sore head this week.”

 

Andrea brought her hand up to rub roughly at her temple, ruffling up her blonde hair. “God, you’re right,” she agreed with an air of frustration. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”

 

Kate had a fair idea, but thought it prudent to let Andrea to come to her own conclusion. “Why don’t we sit down somewhere more comfortable?” She gestured to the couch.

 

Andrea followed her over, sitting sideways so she could look out at the grey January sky. “I’m sorry, I guess seeing my mother affected me more than I realised,” she said quietly, eyes still focussed on some distant point.

 

Kate was relieved Andrea seemed to know the root of the problems too. “That’s understandable,” she offered gently. “I’m sorry too, for not being here for you these past few days. Even when I can’t give you as much time as I might like, you’re never far from my thoughts.”

 

A wry smile crossed Andrea’s lips as she turned to face Kate. “I hope they were nice ones.”

 

Kate gave a small laugh. “Mostly,” she answered with a wink. She didn’t really want to bring them back to the main topic of conversation, but there was no avoiding it. “So…your mother…”

 

“My mother,” repeated Andrea thoughtfully. “I guess you can now understand my past problems a bit, having met her.”

 

“I can see how she could be quite…difficult to get on with,” said Kate with as much diplomacy as she could muster. She didn’t want to colour Andrea’s already confused thoughts with her own prejudices, especially when those were largely unfounded.

 

Andrea sighed. “I just don’t know how I feel about it all. I was happy hating her!”

 

“I’m not sure that’s true,” reasoned Kate. “Maybe comfortable in that you knew where you were – it was nice and black and white before. You didn’t have to speak to her, didn’t have to deal with her, nothing.”

 

“And now I don’t know what to think,” said Andrea, nodding her head in agreement.

 

Kate rubbed her hand gently over Andrea’s shoulder. “Maybe you should speak to her again?” She couldn’t believe the suggestion had come out of her mouth.

 

Andrea’s eyes searched Kate’s face. “You think so?”

 

No! screamed Kate’s inner demons. “What can it hurt?” she said out loud. “You’re already confused, maybe it will help clear things up.” Sometimes Kate hated being the sensible one.

 

 

………

 

 

The words of the meeting washed over Kate. She was trying to pay attention, she really was, but two big things were hampering her. The first was the subject matter – Kaminski droning on about various inconsequential observations. The second was the way her mind kept wandering to thoughts of Andrea and how she was getting on talking with her mother again. It had only taken a few days to set up another visit and Kate had wanted to go, but had been summoned to the meeting instead. If she was a believer in paranoid conspiracies, she would have suspected Kaminski had somehow found out about their plans and deliberately scheduled the audit meeting for the same day. Why Kate needed to be there was beyond her. As usual there was nothing of value to report. Looking round the conference room table, she spotted Sophie looking about as enthused as she felt. In fact it appeared as if she was about to nod off. They were the only other two in the room as Kaminski droned on, the Colonel still back at headquarters.

 

Watching her friend, Kate noticed the dark rings were still there under her eyes and she recalled how she had been intending to speak with the other woman. Something was definitely going on. Sophie looked distracted, uninterested. Not that Kate could blame her given who was speaking, but Kate had noticed the same attitude extended beyond just the irregular meetings on the few occasions they had interacted recently. Things had been so hectic with Christmas, Andrea’s mother and work that Kate just hadn’t found the time to pull Sophie aside and talk to her. She seemed to be having a problem finding time for anything at the moment. Resolving to do something about that at the first opportunity she forced her attention back to Kaminski.

 

“…Which brings me onto a minor lapse in security. It seems Dr Hallstrom managed to lose his escort for approximately two hours last Friday.”

 

Still partly lost in her thoughts, for a second Kate thought Kaminski was talking about Andrea’s mother, wondering why they would be following her, until her mind registered the male pronoun. Too many doctors in that family!

 

Concentrating back on the matter at hand Kate spoke up. “I don’t see why you feel the need to provide him with an escort anyway. He should be entitled to some privacy, he is only a contractor here after all, not our prisoner.”

 

“It wasn’t a formal escort.”

 

Kate read between the lines. “You mean you were spying on him.”

 

“I prefer the term observing.”

 

Kate resisted the temptation to laugh scornfully. “And is there any particular reason you were observing Dr Hallstrom?”

 

“No, we have been observing many people.”

 

“Many people? As in who exactly?” Kate suddenly wondered if she and Andrea had been followed to Erin’s house. Had there been someone outside with some high-powered listening equipment, snooping on everything they said?

 

“Just certain people.”

 

“Is it anyone who goes off base, or do you have particular favourites for your tactics?” Kate quickly leafed through the reams of reports, finding some details of scheduled off-base trips. “Did you follow the Colonel when he went to Manchester?” she asked pertinently, waving that one in the air. Kaminski didn’t reply, Kate taking that as a no. “Or…” she pulled out another one, “…Lieutenant McAllister when she went to Edinburgh?”

 

“No, we don’t follow everyone, just those we have reason to. Though I am interested in what precisely you were doing in Edinburgh, Lieutenant, since you neglected to complete the form fully.”

 

Kaminski favoured Sophie with a piercing look, but the other woman didn’t react, still staring at the polished table. In the silence, Kate realised Sophie probably hadn’t heard. She gave her a gentle nudge with her foot under the table. Sophie started, suddenly aware that all eyes were focussed on her.

 

“Are we boring you, Lieutenant?” asked Kaminski.

 

Sophie cleared her throat and hauled herself up in her seat. “No, not at all, I was just reading the reports.”

 

Though it was plainly obvious she had been doing nothing of the kind, Kate was surprised when Kaminski let it slide. “So Edinburgh, what were you doing?”

 

Sophie’s face hardened. “That was private business.”

 

“There is no such thing when you are stationed here.”

 

Sophie shifted awkwardly in her seat, eyes glancing nervously round the room, finally landing on Kate. Kate gave a querying look but Sophie had already switched her attention back to Kaminski. “I’ll give you the details offline.”

 

Kate wondered what it could be that she didn’t want to say in front of her, but was quite willing to tell Kaminski in private. However, it seemed she wasn’t going to get any further enlightenment as Kaminski accepted the suggestion, moving on to other business.

 

“We do have a new line of inquiry after the incident with Mr Grant. It has come to our attention that certain equipment would be required for the sort of operation this organisation is running. So we’ve been investigating such orders of sufficient quantity. The folder marked AD 023 contains the details.”

 

Picking it up, Kate leafed through the sheets, noting that it must have hundreds of pages detailing not only the companies involved, but also every person with any sort of link to them from the cleaner right through to financial backers. “This is rather detailed,” she observed. “It’s going to take you years to work your way through this lot.”

 

“We need to investigate any and all possibilities,” explained Kaminski.

 

Kate shrugged. Far be it from her to tell Kaminski how to do her job, even if she was wasting her time. Kate could think of several good ways to narrow down the list, but didn’t say anything, deciding it was time to stop letting Kaminski fumble about and take matters into her own hands. Flicking through a few more pages for show her heart nearly stopped when she saw a name buried in one of the pages. Kate quickly scanned the details. Dr Erin Hallstrom had been providing money to a company procuring certain chemical constituents. Probably perfectly innocent, so why was her heart hammering so rapidly in her chest? Hopefully Kaminski hadn’t come across it yet.

 

“On page fifty-two are you?”

 

Kate cursed internally. Of course nothing ever slips past that bloody woman. “It’s just one name among several thousand others,” pointed out Kate.

 

“And do those others have a direct connection to this base?”

 

“Dr Hallstrom is involved in genetic research,” said Kate evenly.

 

“Of course, you’re right it’s probably nothing to worry about,” said Kaminski though the air of condescension in her voice was obvious. “Then again, one could hardly expect you to be objective about it.” Kaminski pulled out another folder and opened it to read from it, though Kate got the feeling she had already committed the contents to memory. “You went to see the doctor last Saturday didn’t you?”

 

As Kaminski’s eyes flicked up to peer over the rims of her glasses, Kate bit her tongue. “Yes, on a personal matter.”

 

“Hmm, yes…Miss Hallstrom,” said Kaminski, eyes back on the report making Kate curious as to what exactly it said. “Seems your personal matters have a habit of conflicting with your work.”

 

Kate had a brief vision of leaping over the table and throttling Kaminski. As tempting as it was, Kate gripped the arms of her seat to keep herself in place. “Are you really suggesting Dr Hallstrom is a suspect of some kind?”

 

“No one is free from suspicion.”

 

Though she would deny it strenuously to Kaminski, Kate couldn’t help being that little bit suspicious herself. Was it just her own first impressions of Erin and her knowledge of how she’d treated Andrea colouring her thoughts? It was hard to tell and Kate realised maybe Kaminski had a point; maybe her personal life was clouding her judgement.

 

“Still,” continued Kaminski closing up the folder for now, we shall be investigating all the names equally and impartially.” The last was said with a quick glance to Kate which she returned with a steely stare. “Which brings us on to the final point of business.”

 

A puzzled Kate’s eyes quickly verified what she already knew, there wasn’t anything else official on the agenda. This must be something unofficial or top secret.

 

Drawing out a single slim black file from her briefcase, Kaminski slid it across to Kate. “We have a task that requires your…special…talents.”

 

Catching the folder, Kate kept her eyes on Kaminski. “Is the colour of the file significant?”

 

“This is a covert operation with plausible deniability,” confirmed Kaminski, “which means you are to discuss it with no one.”

 

Kate didn’t have to ask to know exactly who Kaminski was referring to. Maybe coming out publicly about her relationship with Andrea hadn’t been such a good idea after all.

 

“When do I leave?”

 

“Immediately.”

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 11

 

Andrea stared at the woman sitting across the desk from her, not quite believing they were in the same room together, let alone speaking civilly. In fact more than that, her mother was being positively friendly. Andrea wondered if she had been taking some of her own drugs, possibly ones that induced a personality transplant.

 

“Sorry that we had to meet here, but I wanted to see you as soon as possible after I got your call,” said her mother.

 

And now the other woman was offering apologies and making time to see her? Andrea wondered if she should pinch herself. They sat in her mother’s office at the university, not somewhere that held particularly fond memories for Andrea. Many a lonely afternoon and evening she’d spent in there after school, doing her homework while her mother was busy with work in the lab. It had changed little since then. A fresh coat of paint here, an odd extra ornament or new plant there, but basically it was the same. The DNA model she used to fiddle with constantly while waiting impatiently for her mother’s return still sat atop a grey filing cabinet in the corner. Even now the room felt oddly stuffy, the heating turned up just a touch too far to combat the icy cold day outside. A few flecks of snow floated on the breeze outside the window. Andrea drew her eyes away from watching them.

 

“That’s ok, I’m just glad you could fit me in,” she said. “I feel like we left a few things unsaid the other day.”

 

“And I’m glad you wanted to speak again.”

 

Seeing the easy smile offered, Andrea thought it all seemed too good to be true. Andrea hadn’t spent seven years as a police officer and not learnt to be suspicious of such things. Knowing this, she realised that as pleasant as sharing some time together and not arguing was, she needed to address the difficult questions. Andrea stared down at her hands for a second, trying to compose her thoughts. Absently she played with the white gold band on her right ring-finger, wishing Kate was with her now. Unfortunately once again work had demanded her presence elsewhere. Eventually Andrea lifted her eyes, holding her mother’s intense blue gaze. “One thing that was bothering me was why the sudden change of heart? You were very adamant about not wanting to see me after the choices I made.”

 

“It wasn’t sudden,” explained her mother. “I’ve wanted to see you for a long time. I just didn’t know how to approach you after all the things that had been said. As time went on it became harder and harder to make that first move.”

 

Andrea couldn’t quite picture it, her mother afraid to confront something. Then again they were talking about emotions, not something she was as adept at handling and conquering as her work. Her mother continued.

 

“Then with that awful accident last year, I had to see you, to see how you were, only you’d disappeared. When Meg called me to tell me you were back in London I hurried round there as fast as I could.”

 

And I told her to fuck off, good one! Still Andrea wasn’t sure she would have been ready back then, not with everything else that had been happening at the time. “So what do you think about my ‘choices’ now?”

 

“I’ve come to realise that I can’t control your life or dictate what you do any longer. You’re not a child anymore. I might not agree with your decisions, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to understand them or respect them.”

 

Andrea gave a doubtful snort. “And does that extend to my lifestyle? Which isn’t a ‘choice’ by the way, no matter how much you might think I decided to be a lesbian just to spite you.”

 

“I’m not completely oblivious to such things, and if that’s really what you want and it makes you happy then I’m happy too.”

 

Holding her gaze, Andrea tried to size up whether she could believe what she was hearing. As always her mother was hard to read. “That’s a bit of a turnaround isn’t it? If I seem to recall when I first came out to you, you called it, what was it … a ‘disgusting perversion.’”

 

“That was a … mistake.” Andrea noted how she struggled over using the word, she probably didn’t use it very often. “I can’t take back those words, but they were ill-informed. I was upset at the time that you were giving up your studies and it seemed as if it was all wrapped together.”

 

“That my sexuality was leading me astray?”

 

“That’s one way of putting it. But I can see now I was trying to force you into something you weren’t ready for.”

 

“And probably never will be,” added Andrea, just in case her mother had any ideas about getting her back into academia.

 

The other woman dipped her head slightly in acknowledgement. “As long as you are fulfilled and satisfied with what you are doing, that’s all that matters.”

 

Sooner or later Andrea was convinced the other shoe was going to drop, that her mother would hit her with what she was really after. Surely she couldn’t be this nice and not have some ulterior motive?

 

“Talking of which, what is it that you’re doing now?” asked the other woman. “You mentioned last time that it was something to do with the military?”

 

The first alarm bell rang in Andrea’s mind at the questions. On the surface they were just more signs of a genuine interest in her life, but Andrea was still wary of revealing too much before she was convinced of her mother’s veracity. “That’s right. It’s confidential though, I’m afraid, so I couldn’t discuss it even if I wanted to.”

 

“Of course,” allowed her mother seemingly unperturbed by the lack of real answer, “though it must be related to genetics in some way if Marcus is working with you.”

 

Andrea gave a warning frown. “Stop fishing, mother, I’m not going to tell you anything.”

 

The other woman leant forwards in her chair, steepling her fingers at her lips which curved in a smile of appreciation. “You have grown up these last few years.”

 

“Being cast adrift on your own will do that to you.”

 

The smile faded as quickly as it has appeared. The barbed comment had slipped out without thinking, an instinctual remnant of how Andrea had felt for the past few years.

 

“I am sorry for that, for abandoning you,” said her mother. “I know you probably don’t believe me right now, but I hope I can convince you in time.”

 

The show of sincerity made Andrea slightly uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure why, possibly because it was so unusual coming from her mother. “Maybe,” she allowed.

 

“And it seems you’re not on your own now,” commented the other woman.

 

Andrea tipped her to the side in puzzlement.

 

“The woman you brought to the house last weekend,” clarified her mother.

 

“Kate.”

 

“Yes, Kate, she is your...”

 

The avoidance amused Andrea, her normally confident mother stymied for once. “My partner? Yes.” confirmed Andrea confidently.

 

“And she makes you happy?”

 

Andrea laughed. “Sorry, but this is going to take some getting used to, such interest in my happiness!”

 

“Is it so unexpected that I would be concerned for your welfare?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“Another thing I will have to try and correct.”

 

Andrea narrowed her eyes, searching out any signs of insincerity on her mother’s face, but her perusal was met openly. “You’re really serious about this?” queried Andrea.

 

“Yes.”

 

“So if I bring Kate round for Sunday lunch you’ll be fine with that will you?”

 

“As long as you don’t expect me to cook.”

 

Andrea just stared disbelievingly for a moment, before letting out a laugh. A joke? From her mother? What was the world coming to? Trying to overcome the disconcerting feeling, something else occurred to her in regards to home.

 

“And what does father think about all this?” she asked evenly.

 

The tightening around her mother’s eyes was just a small flicker, but an indication of some real emotion nonetheless. “I’m sure Marcus told you we’re no longer together, which is probably why you asked.” Her mother’s lips curved into a slight smile. “Wanted to put me on the spot for once did you, see what I would say?”

 

Andrea gave a shrug, but couldn’t help giving a small smile too. “It was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

 

Her mother laughed, surprising Andrea who reckoned she could probably count on the fingers how many times she’d heard such a thing. It was all very bizarre, like they were conversing as equals for once, rather than her feeling like the naughty child. She knew her mother could be charming when she wanted to be, having witnessed her in action with colleagues when she needed to impress or cajole, Andrea just never thought she’d be the recipient of it. Most of her childhood had been spent facing the other stern side of the woman.

 

“Magnus is back in Sweden,” answered her mother, “having taken up a position at Uppsala University. I’m sure he would be delighted to hear from you if you want to get in contact.”

 

One thing at a time, considered Andrea. “Maybe soon, but I’m still getting used to this new side to you. I just never thought we’d be able to sit here like this, just talking.”

 

“And I can only apologise again,” insisted the other woman. She rose from her seat, coming round the desk and drawing another chair closer so she could sit next to Andrea. Leaning in close, she shocked the younger woman by placing a single hand over Andrea’s where it sat in her lap. Receiving any kind of comforting physical contact wasn’t something Andrea was used to from this woman. It felt awkward, but not entirely unpleasant, her mother’s hand surprisingly soft and warm.

 

“I just want us to try and rebuild some sort of relationship,” said the other woman. Andrea slowly raised her eyes. These were words she’d wanted to hear for so long, even though she’d spent much of that time denying as much to herself. “I know it’s not going to be easy,” continued her mother, “that it’s going to take some time, but you’re welcome to come and see me any time you want, you just have to call. At the same time I don’t want to pressure you, take as long as you want, I’ll be here.”

 

“That’s good to know,” said Andrea.

 

“Or I can come and see you, whatever suits you,” said her mother reasonably.

 

“Probably best if I come to you, secret military work and all that.”

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

Andrea slipped her hand out from under her mother’s, rising to her feet with the other woman quickly following suit. “Thanks for seeing me at such short notice today.”

 

They stood facing each other Andrea not quite sure what she should do next as a sign of farewell. Would a hug be too much? A kiss on the cheek? Taking the decision from her hands, her mother stepped in close and wrapped her arms around Andrea, drawing her into a warm embrace. For a second Andrea felt awkward, unused to such displays of affection. Then instinctually her arms came up too, tightening around the other woman. A whole lifetime’s worth of missed opportunities welled up inside her and when she broke away she had to blink back a tear.

 

“I’ll see you out,” said her mother.

 

Opening the office door, neither of them spotted the person lurking outside in the quiet corridor until she spoke.

 

“Well, well, fancy seeing you here.”

 

Andrea’s head turned to see the reporter Christine Ferguson rising to her feat from the wooden bench by the door. She had a notebook open already, looking like she had been jotting down something while waiting. She pushed an errant piece of hair from her eyes and offered Andrea a warm smile.

 

“Major No-Comment not with you today?”

 

Andrea bit back a smile at the reference. “No, I’m on my own.”

 

Christine’s eyes shifted between the two women opposite her. “And I’m guessing by the amazing similarity that you’re Dr Hallstrom’s…” she paused, weighing up her options, “…daughter?”

 

Andrea laughed. “If you wanted to be even more ingratiating, you could have suggested we were sisters.”

 

“True,” agreed Christine, “and goodness knows she’s stunning enough to pass as such.”

 

Andrea found it faintly amusing how the reporter was discussing her mother as if she wasn’t there. Obviously such feelings weren’t shared as she sensed her mother stepping round her to address the shorter woman.

 

“You are early, Miss Ferguson.” Her voice had shed the warmth it had contained during the chat in the office.

 

Christine seemed unfazed by the icy demeanour. “I didn’t want to miss our appointment, it’s not every day I get to speak to such an eminent scientist.”

 

Andrea considered the reporter was on a hiding to nothing if she expected such obvious attempts at flattery to work with her mother. She suspected Christine knew as much though.

 

“You’re interviewing my mother?” queried Andrea doubtfully. “I would have thought genetic research was a little beyond the realms of interest of your average Sun reader.”

 

“You mean they’re all a bit thick?” said Christine, getting to the point. She shrugged. “I’m freelance, the Sun just liked that story of mine about the secret army base. Of course they’d have liked it even more if I could have slipped in a sex scandal or some soap stars, or even better both.”

 

Andrea decided it best not to linger on the topic. “I should leave you to it,” she said, giving her mother a small nod as she started off down the corridor.

 

“One of these days we should do an interview,” called Christine after her.

 

Andrea spun back round. “With me? What possible interest could I have to a reporter?”

 

“I don’t know,” confessed Christine as her mouth curved into a sly smile, “but we could discuss it over dinner.”

 

Despite herself Andrea laughed. The woman was persistent if nothing else. “Maybe another time,” she allowed, not sure why she didn’t outright refuse.

 

“I’ll hold you to that,” remarked Christine as Andrea turned and left the building.

 

……

 

 

The wind whipped the desert dust into her face as Kate’s booted feet came thumping down on barren rocks. Luckily her dark glasses protected her eyes from the sand and she took a moment to tuck a loose bit of auburn hair back under her cap, surveying the empty landscape.  It was nearing dusk, a few nocturnal animals poking their heads out of the daytime burrows in the otherwise deserted vista. It had taken the whole day to fly to Iraqi airspace in the Hercules, at which point she had literally been kicked out the door at 20,000 feet to make her own way to the target on the ground. The featureless plain stretched out before her, bounded by the Zagros mountains behind which the sun was fast setting. It didn’t really look like the location of a secret base of any kind, but according to the intelligence that’s exactly what it was, precisely one kilometre below her.

 

She felt a shiver slip down her spine, though it was nothing to do with the temperature. That would remain above freezing for a few hours yet. The uneasy prickle was more to do with finding herself back in this part of world. The last time she’d been in the deserts of Iraq she’d seen her father killed before her eyes. She’d then promptly lost control of her powers and wiped out a whole platoon of enemy soldiers not to mention a few of her own. Pushing away the unwelcome reminders, she hoped her powers proved more reliable this time; she’d spent long enough honing them.

 

Kate let the power bubble up in her hands for a moment since this was going to require no small effort. Finally satisfied she was ready she knelt down to place them on the ground, feeling the heat of the day radiating up from the bare rock, warming them. Focussing all her energy she directed a massive concussion wave downwards. The earth shook beneath her, a rumbling echoing out over the desolate landscape as the orange rocks cracked apart.

 

As the dust cleared, Kate could see she had successfully made a hole about two metres in diameter and a few metres deep. Only another few hundred to go. Galvanising herself for the descent she took off into a hovering position above the hole before blasting downwards once more. At regular intervals she flipped out a small electronic device from one of the pockets on her black uniform, checking her depth and location relative to her target. The deeper she went the darker it became and eventually she flicked on the torch attached to her combat vest. It revealed little apart from clouds of debris swirling about the woman-made tunnel. Eventually the positioning system indicated she was close enough to the target to make one final push. A last concussion wave blasted the rocks away to reveal a semi-circular steel-reinforced corridor. Flying down into it, Kate’s feet resoundingly landed on the metal decking of the floor, the clanging sound echoing up the deserted corridor. She had no need to be discreet since the base was abandoned.

 

Kate attempted to brush some of the dust off her uniform but gave up, settling instead for shaking what she could out of her hair before putting her cap back on. A very long shower would be needed when she got back. Pulling out the tracking device she verified the direction she was supposed to be heading and set off. The air was stale and stifling in the underground facility, Kate supposing no one had been down there in months to run any kind of air conditioning or recycling. Fortunately someone had obviously left a generator on somewhere though, since fluorescent lights guided her along the corridor. The odd one was broken or teetering on the verge, flickering between life and death as it cast a strobe effect on the featureless walls.

 

Eventually she came to the room she was looking for. Forcing the stiff handle down she pushed open the door, just having time to hear the cock of the gun before the crack of a bullet being fired rang out. Kate desperately flung herself to the side as the bullet sailed past her ear. A second loud bang issued and this time she pitched herself forward.

 

Fuck! This place was supposed to be deserted!

 

Having no time to gauge where her attacker was she sent out a wide dispersal concussion wave, encompassing the whole room. A thud and grunt indicated she’d hit her target. Clambering to her feet she saw the soldier struggling to find his, raising his gun again on seeing her. This time Kate focussed the blast. It cannoned into his weapon, shattering it. The man dropped the remnants in shock, shouting some Iraqi curses in her direction. At least she assumed they were. What little Arabic she knew was pretty rusty. She leapt across the monitoring room, grabbing the man, who struggled for a moment before she held up her hand to demonstrate she could do to him what she had just done to his gun.  

 

“Why you here?” she attempted in Arabic.

 

The man started gibbering at her, far too fast for her to make anything out.

 

“Slower,” she instructed.

 

“Guard,” he said in English.

 

“For the chemical weapons?” His brow furrowed at her use of the English words, but she didn’t know how to say it in his language. According to the intelligence the facility had been abandoned at the end of hostilities in the country, or what passed for a ceasefire in this part of the world. Kate had been dispatched to verify as much, check the weapons were intact and then destroy the facility, burying them forever. Only it seemed the intelligence was somewhat faulty. “You only guard?” she asked in her faltering Arabic.

 

He furiously shook his head, Kate rolling her eyes at the information. She could hardly destroy the place with a load of people inside, though she had to wonder if perhaps that’s what the people back in England had been expecting of her. Had they neglected to mention the possibility of troops still being stationed there on purpose? Either way, it seemed this was now also a rescue mission and for people probably not particularly wanting her help.

 

Thinking it couldn’t get much worse, she realised her captive was trying to draw her attention to something on the computer screens dotted about the room.

 

“What?” she asked, trying to understand what he was showing her. All she could see was a lot of flashing red. That didn’t usually bode well.

 

“Generator,” he said in English again, “too hot. Go…boom!” The last he said with some dramatic arm movements just in case his meaning was unclear.

 

It was all too clear though. Any minute the generator was going to go up and they’d all either be fried alive by the explosion or have their flesh eaten alive by the exposed chemical weapons. Not fancying either much, Kate grabbed the soldier about the shoulders. “The others, where are they?” He kept his mouth shut and she realised he might think she meant to kill them all. “We get out, all of us. But we must go now.”

 

He nodded his understanding. “This way, quick.”

 

He ran from the room, Kate dashing after him with their two sets of frantic feet banging down the corridor. The enclosed space seemed hotter though Kate wondered if she was imagining it. When they stopped she noticed her companion was also sweating profusely, his light brown shirt dark at the armpits and sticking to his body.

 

“In here!”

 

He opened the door, revealing cramped living quarters lined with bunks. A couple of other soldiers scrabbled from their beds, immediately spotting Kate and fumbling for their weapons. Not having time for a discussion, she directed two light concussion waves at them, enough to dislodge the guns. Her companion used the chance to give a hurried explanation of the situation and who she was. One of them seemed reluctant to go with her, eyeing her warily, in particular her hands. Kate was sure she caught some choice Arabic words. It was funny how she seemed to know those ones in particular. As the men’s voices got more heated she let out a loud sigh. They really didn’t have time for this. Kate pointed her hands at the ground and fired, rocking the floor enough to gain all three men’s attention.

 

“We go. Now!” she ordered in Arabic.

 

Hurrying back down the corridor to her entry point she now knew she wasn’t imagining it – it was getting hotter. The original guard puffed alongside her.

 

“This not way out,” he managed in between heaving breaths.

 

“It is now!”

 

She saw his eyes widen as they reached the gaping hole in the ceiling with the shattered rocks littered about the floor. A bang echoed from somewhere deep in the base, causing a few more loose fragments to clatter down. Kate grabbed the nearest man by the collar.

 

“Looks like you’re first.”

 

Before he could object she attempted to take flight. It was a struggle with the extra burden, Kate realising she had been right in thinking she’d have to take them one by one. She managed to negotiate the opening and then started gunning for the surface as fast as she could. Once at the top she barely stopped to dump him on the desert ground before she plummeted back down again. The second man quickly followed, but as Kate was flying down for the last one another blast rocked the base. She was thrown into the side of the narrow tunnel, tumbling the last few feet to land roughly on hard floor. The remaining guard helped the dazed woman to her feet. Down the corridor she heard a rushing noise getting closer, the temperature rapidly increasing.  Ignoring her battered body she took hold of his shirt.

 

“Hang on this could be close.”

 

Kate didn’t look back as she hurtled up the shaft. She didn’t need too, she could feel the heat chasing her, licking at her boots. Beneath her, the human cargo shouted frantically.

 

“Go! Go!”

 

She urged her body on faster, the concussion waves streaming behind her. Ahead she could see the stars guiding her to safety. They seemed so far away.  The man beneath her screamed. Finding a last surge they flew out into the cool night air, a huge plume of flame shooting up behind them and bathing the dark desert in an orange glow. The shockwave knocked them to the side, sending them sprawling in the dirt close to the other men. Kate levered herself round, watching the spectacular show for a moment as she caught her breath. Knowing any number of things could be being belched into the air, she clambered to her feet. The flames radiated their heat onto her cheeks and she had to blink as it stung her eyeballs. Levelling her hands she started firing, collapsing the access tunnel in on itself and sealing the base. As the last rocks clattered into the place the desert was suddenly quiet again. Kate sat heavily down, activating her pick-up beacon.

 

 

…..

 

 

It was early evening by the time Andrea got back to Duransay from Birmingham, but a quick check of both her and Kate’s quarters found the other woman wasn’t in either. Supposing she must be working late once again, Andrea headed for her office. The private normally stationed outside had long since gone off duty and Andrea just knocked and pushed the door open in one movement. It took a moment for her to register that the uniformed figure sitting behind the desk was not Kate.

 

Sophie glanced up from the file she was reading, but didn’t deign to take her feet down from where they rested on top of the desk. It seemed she was making herself at home in the office, with a hot mug of something also emanating faint wisps of steam from where it sat directly on the dark wooden surface.

 

Resisting the urge to forcefully push the feet off and place a coaster under the drink, Andrea crossed to stand before the desk. “Where’s the major?”

 

“She’s not here?” replied Sophie before turning her eyes back down to the file as if she was bored with the conversation already.

 

“That’s not what I asked.”

 

Sophie lifted her eyes and gave a disinterested shrug. “I’m not at liberty to say.”

 

“Don’t bullshit me, Sophie, where is she?”

 

Sophie finally took her feet down, swinging round in the chair to face Andrea. “That’s Lieutenant McAllister,” she said, “and I told you, I can’t tell you.”

 

Andrea placed both hands flat on the desk, fixing the other woman with a penetrating stare. “I thought we’d come to some sort of understanding, why are you being like this?”

 

Sophie leant back in the chair and crossed her arms, sizing Andrea up. Not appreciating the perusal, Andrea met the scrutiny with her own determined look. Eventually Sophie spoke.

 

“We also came to an understanding you wouldn’t hurt Kate, wouldn’t betray her like Dixon.”

 

Shocked, Andrea straightened up again. “What are you talking about?”

 

Sophie’s gaze didn’t waver. “You tell me.”

 

“If I had the faintest idea what you were going on about I would.”

 

Sophie gave a snort of disbelief. “Enjoy the trip to see your mother, did you?”

 

Andrea stiffened and squared her shoulders. She hated everyone knowing her business. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

 

Sophie didn’t say anything further, just curling her lip and giving another grunt of disapproval before she turned her eyes down once more. Andrea was tempted to pursue it, but thought Sophie was just toying with her for whatever reason. Instead she redressed the reason she’d come to the office in the first place.

 

“Do you know when Kate is due back?”

 

Sophie didn’t look up. “I’m not …”

 

“ … at liberty to say,” Andrea finished for her. “Fine. Just let her know I came by if you see her before I do.”

 

Andrea doubted her message would be conveyed. As she left the office she considered that soon she would have to make an appointment if she wanted to see Kate.

 

 

……

 

 

 

Kate crept across the bedroom towards the empty side of the bed, struggling to avoid any obstacles in the dim light. She’d already been to the bathroom and had a quick shower, and was now trying to negotiate the bedroom in a randomly found t-shirt and her knickers. From beneath the duvet she could hear the faint sound of Andrea breathing, fast asleep at the late hour. Bumping into the corner of the bed, Kate let out a muffled cry, considering she probably should have gone back to her own quarters instead. It had just seemed natural to come back here where the bed wasn’t empty. A movement from the covers indicated she hadn’t stifled her curse quite well enough.

 

Coming the rest of the way round the bed, Kate pulled back the duvet enough to slip her legs under it, though she stayed sitting up as Andrea shifted slightly. A pair of confused blue eyes tried to focus in on her.

 

“Bloody hell, what time is it?” Andrea’s voice was husky, thick with sleep.

 

“It’s 4am,” whispered Kate. “I didn’t mean to disturb you, go back to sleep.”

 

Andrea seemed reluctant to heed the advice, pushing some blond hair from her face as she propped herself up. “Where have you been?”

 

“On official business.”

 

Even in the half light the look of disbelief on Andrea’s face was obvious. “At 4am?”

 

Kate could tell now was really not a good time for this discussion, since she’d so rudely awakened the other woman. She tried to think of a way to end it quickly as she answered. “Yes, but I can’t really talk about it.” Wrong thing to say! screamed her mind as soon as the words passed her lips, but it was too late.

 

“Oh, I see, more secret duties was it?” Andrea pulled herself into a sitting position, staring at Kate. The young woman also wore a t-shirt, indicating she hadn’t expected company, since she normally slept naked when they were both in the bed.

 

Kate rubbed at her face, tired by the day’s exertions. She really didn’t want to do this now, but had enough sense not to use that excuse again after it had gone down so well the last time. “It was a covert operation, yes, but it really wasn’t anything interesting that you’d want to know about.”

 

“And how do you know what I might want to know about? It might be nice to know where my partner is at three o’clock in the morning for a start, instead of them just disappearing without a word. I had to find out from bloody Sophie that you’d buggered off somewhere.”

 

“I didn’t have time to let you know,” said Kate, though she realised how feeble it sounded even as she said it.

 

“Didn’t think to let me know, more likely,” retorted Andrea.

 

“Kaminski just sprang it on me,” Kate tried to explain, feeling more tired by the second. “One minute we were in a meeting, the next I was being dispatched on a mission.”

 

“So now Kaminski’s ordering you around?”

 

“No, she was just the messenger.”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes. “Seems to me she’s got you at her beck and call.”

 

Thinking she was on a hiding to nothing with the current direction of the conversation, Kate sought a way to change it. “How did things go with your mother?”

 

Andrea let out a scoffing snort. “Nice of you to remember, what with all your important duties to attend to.” She paused before delivering a clipped answer to the question. “It went fine, thanks.”

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

Andrea turned her head away from Kate so she was staring straight ahead down the bed with her knees drawn up. “Not really, no.”

 

The signs of avoidance were obvious and Kate wasn’t sure she should press it. She hated the feeling of distance though and reached out a tentative hand to touch Andrea’s shoulder. “Did it go badly?”

 

Andrea’s head snapped to the side, shrugging off Kate’s hand in the process. “Is that what you want to hear?”

 

Stunned at the suggestion, Kate shifted away slightly. “No, of course not.”

 

“It went well, if you must know, really well. I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear though.”

 

Kate’s brow furrowed. “Why would I want to hear otherwise?”

 

“I don’t know, jealousy? I can tell you don’t like her, just admit it.”

 

Knowing Andrea had a point, Kate answered warily. “It doesn’t matter what I think of her.”

 

“But you don’t do you?” pressed Andrea, not about to let her get away with anything.

 

Kate wasn’t quite sure of the best way to respond and it certainly didn’t help her reasoning processes that she’d been up for nearly 24 hours straight. “After what you told me about her and how she behaved towards you it’s only natural I should be a bit wary,” she attempted, “but I have an open mind. I hardly know the woman after all.”

 

“Ah, so now it’s my fault!” cried Andrea, seizing on the first part of the comment. “You were the one who kept egging me on to go and see her in the first place. And now when it looks like things might be working out you’re chucking cold water over the whole thing.”

 

Seeing she was fast losing the conversation, Kate tried in vain to reach out once more, a hand on Andrea’s arm this time. “I’m not, honestly. I’m happy for you that you’re going to try and patch things up.”  Knowing that didn’t ring particularly true, she tried to justify her misgivings. “I’m just concerned for you because I don’t want to see you hurt. It seems like quite a sudden turnaround on her part.”

 

“I’m not an idiot,” said Andrea coolly. “I know that and I know it’s going to take some work.”

 

“I didn’t say you were an idiot. I just think it might be hard for you to take a step back and see things for what they are.” Kate cringed as she said it. Why was her brain coming out with such nonsense?

 

“And you can do that for me can you?” snapped Andrea, shaking off Kate’s hand once more. “Tell me what I should think? What I should be feeling?”

 

“That’s not what I meant…”

 

Andrea flopped down, immediately turning over so her back was to Kate and drawing the duvet up. “I’ve had enough talking about this for tonight, I’m going to sleep.”

 

For a moment Kate’s hand hovered over the prone form, her heart urging her to reach out. Having had enough rebukes for one night though, she slipped down under the covers too and turned over.

 

……….

 

 

Kate tapped her foot impatiently on the tiled floor of the genetics building corridor. Where the bloody hell was Emma? Her session with Dr Hallstrom was only supposed to take half an hour, but Kate had already been sitting on the bench outside the doctor’s office for an hour with no sign of either of them. Giving a disgruntled sigh, she wished she wasn’t quite such a good friend sometimes. She had plenty of better things to be doing than babysitting Emma, having an astrophysics paper due in by Friday for a start. She wished she’d brought some of her reading along with her, having to content herself with studying the pictures of DNA arrayed along the corridor walls.

 

The sound of the office door opening made her start. She hadn’t realised anyone was inside, assuming Emma and the Doctor were off in one of the labs somewhere. Kate shot to her feet, but found herself facing neither of the expected people. Instead she was met by a steely blue gaze from beneath a school boater. It was the not-so friendly schoolgirl again. Funny how they kept bumping into one another.

 

“Is your mother in?” Kate asked her.

 

The girl merely stared at her, an impassive expression on her face. Kate was beginning to wonder if she suffered from selective deafness.

 

“Dr Hallstrom?” clarified Kate, just in case she’d been wrong in her assumption of a family connection.

 

For a minute she thought the teenager still wasn’t going to answer, when finally she replied in a tone so icy it could have frozen the whole corridor. “She is not here.”

 

Kate wasn’t sure if the tone was directed at her or the absent parent. “Do you know where she is?”

 

“No.”

 

Guessing she wasn’t going to get much out of the recalcitrant girl she offered some half-hearted thanks and sat back down. However, the girl didn’t immediately move away, continuing to stare at her. Feeling an odd mixture of uncomfortable and something else she couldn’t quite identify, Kate turned to the girl.

 

“What?”

 

Kate blinked. The girl was nowhere in sight. Kate was alone in the corridor. Shaking her head in confusion, Kate decided she’d have enough waiting around. Giving a quick verifying knock on the office door, she slowly pushed it open. As she’d guessed the room was empty. She quickly closed the door behind her. Moving round the spacious office, she studied the contents, trying to get a picture of the woman whose place of work it was. Everything was neatly arranged, even the books on the shelf being in alphabetical author order. The desk itself was tidy, no loose papers littering the surface as Kate had seen on so many other tutors and professor’s desks. She wandered over to the window, absently picking up a DNA model off a grey filing cabinet by it and fiddling with some of the strands. They seemed warm, as if recently re-arranged.

 

Putting it back down, she turned back to the desk, looking for anything that might give her a clue as to what she and Emma were doing or where they were. Kate had tried asking Emma about the experiments, but she’d been oddly reluctant to offer details, almost as if she couldn’t actually remember them. Then again, Emma wasn’t the most with it of individuals. She’d probably forget to go to any of her lectures if Kate didn’t repeatedly badger her. Risking opening a drawer, Kate drew out some papers and started leafing through them.

 

“Something I can help you with?”

 

Kate jumped, dropping the papers on the floor. Dr Hallstrom stood on the other side of the desk and Kate wondered how the hell she’d come in without her noticing. Kate knelt down, fumbling for the papers while trying to think of a plausible excuse for her intrusion.

 

“I was just looking for you.”

 

As she straightened up, she found the doctor was standing right next to her, far too close for comfort. Kate tried to back up a step, but the desk was in the way.

 

“If you wanted to be part of the trial you only had to say,” said the doctor, her blue eyes fixing Kate eagerly.

 

“No, I don’t, really.”

 

Kate tried to move but for some reason her limbs seemed to be frozen, as if gripped by an invisible force.

 

“Don’t worry, Kate, this won’t hurt…much.”

 

Kate saw the syringe in the other woman’s hand, opening her mouth to scream just as it bit into her neck.

 

Kate flew up in bed, immediately rubbing anxiously at her neck as if the scene from the dream really had just happened. It certainly seemed real enough, though Kate knew it was entirely of her subconscious imagination. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out why she was dreaming about such things and constructing such scenarios. As far as she could remember in reality she’d eventually given up on waiting for Emma that day and her friend had finally rolled in to their student house several hours later after another detour via the pub. There’d certainly been no conversation with Erin and no frosty Andrea in the corridor. Kate turned to the other side of the bed, but found it deserted, the sheets cool. Frosty indeed, she considered.

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Making sure her camouflage cap was firmly thrust down on her head, Kate stepped out of door to the base, immediately being hit by a harsh icy breeze. It stung her eyes, drawing a couple of tears which she wiped away. On days like this indoor training seemed a much more enticing prospect, but there were just some things that needed the space the rest of the island provided. She was already late, a combination of oversleeping after her late night and having been collared by the Colonel on her way out. He’d unexpectedly arrived back on Duransay that morning, having not previously alerted her to his return. She found that faintly annoying even though he was her superior and not accountable to her in any way. It seemed she didn’t have much sway over several people on the base at present.

 

Thinking of one person in particular, she vowed to pull Andrea aside after training. The conversation from the early hours still niggled at the back of her mind and she needed to try and address some of the issues from it, even if she wasn’t sure she had any answers. As usual she didn’t have the time to consider it too much, what with a hundred and one other things clamouring for her attention. One of those came into view now, Sophie also on her way out somewhere, most likely the range since she carried her weapon.

 

“Sophie!” called Kate, running after her.

 

Her friend didn’t immediately register the hail, Kate unsure if that was deliberate or a result of the wind. As she thumped closer down the gravel track leading towards the range she called out again, the other woman coming to a halt and turning this time.

 

“Major,” acknowledged Sophie.

 

Kate frowned at the use of her rank. “It’s not official business, I just wanted to have a quick chat.”

 

“I’m surprised you have the time at all.”

 

Kate sighed wondering if it was possible to have a conversation where her lack of availability wasn’t brought up. “You’ve hardly been the easiest person to track down,” pointed out Kate. “Where have you been all those meetings you’ve missed?”

 

“I didn’t realise I had to report to you now,” remarked Sophie.

 

Kate took a deep breath. It seemed her skills of diplomacy needed some work. She tried again. “You don’t,” she said. “I wasn’t asking as a colleague, I was asking as a friend. We are still friends, aren’t we?”

 

“Yes,” answered Sophie immediately, “of course we’re still friends.” She let out a long breath and glanced away over the windswept landscape, contemplating something.

 

Kate came closer, putting a hand on the other woman’s burly shoulder. “What’s going on, Sophie?”

 

Sophie drew in her lips, but didn’t look or answer straight away. Kate had to wonder what it was that had her forthright friend stymied so. “You can tell me anything,” she prompted.

 

Sophie shook her head. “Not right now. I will, I promise, soon.”

 

“I’ll hold you to that promise.”

 

Sophie gave a faint smile before finally turning to face Kate. “Anyway, don’t worry about me. You should be more concerned about yourself,” she said, “and who you associate with.”

 

Kate gave her a puzzled look and Sophie sighed as she rubbed her brow under the peak of her cap. “I probably shouldn’t be saying anything, but as you said we are friends.” She leant in closer though it was highly unlikely they would be overheard by even the most powerful surveillance equipment given the howling wind. “Just watch out for yourself, Kate, you know you can’t afford any personal slip ups after Dixon.”

 

Kate drew back a little, uneasy with the topic. “Are you talking about Andrea? Is there something you’re not telling me?”

 

“No, it’s nothing like that,” said Sophie a bit too quickly. “I just want you to be careful, make sure you do everything by the book.”

 

For some reason Kate didn’t quite believe her. She’d known Sophie far too long to not be able to recognise a diversion of the truth. She also recognised that Sophie wasn’t going to tell her anymore, or perhaps couldn’t. Was this something to do with Kaminski and her investigation? “I always do things by the book,” she remarked.

 

Sophie just laughed.

 

“Ok, most things,” allowed Kate, smiling in return, happy to see Sophie more like her normal self.

 

“Have you got time for a little target practice?” asked Sophie, holding up her gun.

 

Kate blew out her cheeks and gave a regretful tilt of the head. “Sorry, I’m already late for training.”

 

“You could always ask the boss to be excused.”

 

Kate grinned. “I don’t think she’d let me off that easily.”

 

“You always were toughest on yourself,” remarked Sophie with a wry smile.

 

“I can’t ask something of someone if I’m not willing to do it myself,” pointed out Kate. “Talking of which, I really need to get down to the beach before my operatives run riot.” Since she was so late she decided the quickest option was flying down there. Her feet were just off the ground when she called after the departing Sophie. “And I won’t forget that promise.”

 

Sophie tilted her head up, eyes dark once more. “I know you won’t.”

 

….

 

 

Andrea’s eyes scanned the grey horizon, but there were no answers to the questions going round her mind out over the choppy waves that rolled in across the Atlantic. Behind her on the beach the sound of conversation drifted on the wind, the other operatives and some of the troops passing the time while they waited for the major to grace them with her presence. It appeared Andrea wasn’t the only person she had little time for at the moment.

 

The salty wind tugged at her hair, freeing up some blonde strands that tickled her face. Attempting to secure them back in her ponytail, she contemplated how easy it would be just to take off over the sea and not come back. Only of course they would come after her. She wasn’t sure where she would be running to anyway, nor exactly what she was running from. She didn’t really understand much of what she was feeling at the moment apart from confused.

 

She loved Kate; that much she knew for certain. Sometimes it was painful how much so. All the nights waiting to see if Kate was going to make it back to her quarters but having no influence over that possibility made Andrea feel helpless, not something she was accustomed to. Even worse it was making her irritable whenever Kate did manage to find some time to see her. They always seemed to end up arguing over the most innocuous things, yet Andrea couldn’t seem to help herself. She was beginning to fear that she had left herself too exposed, given too much of herself to someone who wouldn’t or couldn’t return those feelings in kind. Her natural reaction to that possibility was to go on the offensive to protect herself from the possibility of rejection. She couldn’t handle that again.

 

Of course Kate told her that she loved her and Andrea had always unconditionally believed it before, probably because she wanted to believe it. Now she was starting to have doubts. Ever since she’d been to see her mother that first time she’d found herself assessing her life more and more. Andrea would do anything for Kate, but would the reverse be true? If it really came down to it would she put Andrea before her job? The previous year Kate hadn’t really had to make a conscious decision, events had taken care of that for her. If she did have the choice which way would she go?

 

The wind picked up and Andrea gave up with her hair, jamming a black cap on her head instead and pulling the ponytail out the back. On the stronger breeze the words of the conversations further up the beach became clearer. In particular she caught Nisha’s grating northern tones, addressing one of the squaddies Andrea assumed. Andrea kept her back to them, not wanting to reveal she was eavesdropping even if she was. Unfortunately she wasn’t quite close enough to get the whole conversation, just random snippets as the wind ebbed and flowed.

 

“…she’s a bit crazy.” said Nisha.

 

“Who, Hallstrom?” queried the soldier.

 

“Yeah…” The next part was lost on the wind before the end of the sentence filtered to Andrea. “…thinks she’s better than the rest of us.”

 

“True, she wouldn’t get away with it, if she and the major weren’t…”

 

Andrea wasn’t sure if the wind had taken the end of the sentence or if the soldier had thought better of openly voicing his doubts. Andrea knew she had never been the most popular of operatives amongst the rank and file, but she thought she’d attained a kind of grudging respect. However, it seemed Nisha was doing her best to undermine that.

 

Nisha continued on that course as Andrea surreptitiously edged back up the beach to hear better. “Have you ever wondered if perhaps she has some other sort of power?”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Mind control.” The soldier laughed at her suggestion, but Nisha wasn’t to be deterred. “I’m serious. I mean, the major was straight before Hallstrom ever turned up right, and then all of a sudden she’s a raging dyke, throwing it all away on some stuck-up toff.”

 

Andrea had heard enough. Turning she strode up the beach, pushing past the stunned soldier to jam her face right up in Nisha’s. “If you’ve got something to say, you can say it to my face.”

 

“Only if you let me though, eh?” said Nisha, tapping at her temple with her index finger as she cast a sideways glance at the soldier.

 

“Don’t give me that crap,” snapped Andrea. “I’ve got no more telepathic power than you have.”

 

“Then how do you explain it?”

 

“Explain what?”

 

Nisha leant forward so she could whisper her next comment without the private hearing. “How you managed to brainwash the major into falling for a prissy bitch like you. Not that it matters, once you’re out of the way she’ll be fair game, and I know how to show a woman a real good time.”

 

Andrea’s anger flashed white hot, coalescing in her fist which quickly connected with Nisha’s face. The young woman must have been expecting it, managing to pull back enough for it only to be a glancing blow. She threw a punch back, straight into Andrea’s stomach. Then they were on the sand, rolling around in a tangle of limbs as everyone else on the beach dashed over to try and separate them.

 

“What the hell is going on here?”

 

Everyone froze at the commanding tone. Andrea felt her blood run cold. Typical. She had to turn up at that point. Disentangling herself from Nisha and standing up, Andrea saw Kate landing on the sand, the grains being displaced in neat rings by her concussion waves as she did. As she walked closer, everyone else suddenly seemed intently fascinated by the patterns in the sand.

 

“What’s wrong? Everyone lost the use of their vocal chords all of a sudden?” asked Kate.

 

Andrea supposed it was up to her to speak up as usual. “Just a minor difference of opinion,” she offered.

 

“Involving fists?” queried Kate doubtfully. “Nisha, do you have anything to add?”

 

The young woman shook her head. “No, Major, it’s like Hallstrom said, it didn’t mean nothing.”

 

“I’ll be the judge of that,” said Kate evenly, her eyes shifting suspiciously between the two of them. “But we’re behind already so I’ll speak to you both after training.” Kate turned to one of the officers present. “Lieutenant Bridges, can you set up the exercise, pattern gamma five.”

 

He stood stiffly to attention. “Yes, major.” Barking some orders at the others, he directed proceedings, everyone starting to move to their positions

 

Andrea felt a hand on her arm, stalling her before she could follow. She took a deep breath before she turned, unsure and slightly afraid of what she might find. Kate’s eyes were a stormy grey as she regarded Andrea intently.

 

“Why do I have a profound sense of déjà vu?”

 

Andrea shrugged. “I don’t know, Major, maybe you have a new time travel power?” She didn’t know why she was being so flippant or fractious, it just seemed to suit her mood.

 

“Don’t try to be funny, Andrea,” replied Kate sternly, “I’m not in the mood. Christ, this is just like that time with Chadwick, what was that, eight months ago? I thought you’d grown up since then.”

 

“Chadwick turned out to be a traitor if you recall.”

 

“Which has nothing to do with your inability to control your temper.”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes, knowing Kate had a point but nowhere near ready to concede that after their recent discussions. Instead she went on the attack. “I bet you’re loving this aren’t you?” Kate looked confused so Andrea elaborated. “This is your chance for a little payback, after last night.”

 

“Do you really think I would be so petty?”

 

“I don’t know any more, would you?”

 

“You were the one picking a fight with Nisha!” Kate pointed out forcefully, anger sparking in her eyes. “You expect me to let that go because … what? Because we’re sleeping together?”

 

Andrea felt a chill sweep through her, and she took an uncertain step back. “I thought it was more than that.”

 

Kate’s mouth opened, then closed again without a word. Instead the only sound was a few seagulls crying as they struggled against the onshore wind. Suddenly a loud beeping broke the moment. Kate turned her eyes down to her wrist.

 

“Shit! It’s the Colonel.”

 

“Best go then, wouldn’t want to keep him waiting,” said Andrea bitterly.

 

“Andrea…”

 

The communicator beeped again, more frantically it seemed, if that was possible.

 

“Just…go.” said Andrea with resignation.

 

Kate tried to offer a look of faint apology, but Andrea was already turning to stare away at the wide expanse of ocean. She didn’t want Kate to see the tears in her eyes that were nothing to do with the wind. A gentle displacement of the air indicated Kate had taken off, leaving Andrea alone once more.

 

 

…..

 

 

Come the evening, Andrea found herself alone in her quarters once more, trying to find ways to amuse herself and not let her troubled thoughts consume her. Unfortunately she couldn’t seem to lose herself in the mindless game on the playstation and practising her violin was frustrating rather than calming. In the end she turned to the phone, supposing talking with someone was better than nothing. She hit the speed dial for her ex-girlfriend, Meg. The call went several rings without an answer and for a moment Andrea wondered if she was out. Perhaps she had a new girlfriend she was busy with. The thought was faintly disturbing for some reason. Just as Andrea was about to give up, the ringing stopped and a breathless Meg came on.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Hi, Meg, it’s me.”

 

“Andi! How are you? It’s been ages, what have you been up to?”

 

Andrea was gratified to hear someone was pleased to speak to her. “Did I catch you at a bad time?” queried Andrea, still able to hear Meg gulping in some large lungfuls of air on the other end.

 

“No, no, I just got in, another double shift at the hospital. It always good to hear from you, whenever. And don’t worry about me, at least if I have a heart attack I can treat myself.”

 

“Still not getting down that gym then?” asked Andrea with a laugh in her voice.

 

“God no, I gave up pretending I was even remotely interested after you left.”

 

“See some good did come out of our break-up, you got to go back to being a resolute couch potato.”

 

“And my couch and I are very happy together,” agreed Meg.

 

“No new love interests in your life?” asked Andrea nonchalantly.

 

“Are you fishing, Hallstrom?”

 

“I’m merely asking as a concerned friend.”

 

Meg laughed. “Sure you are. But no, unlike you I have no special friend at the moment. Talking of which, how are things going with yours?”

 

Andrea paused. She didn’t want to say too much over the monitored line, wishing not for the first time that she could have a private conversation that was just that.

 

“That well, eh?” interjected Meg, putting her own interpretation on the silence.

 

Andrea considered it wasn’t that wide of the mark. “Things are … fine,” she said though her tone suggested otherwise.

 

“You know if you ever do want to get away, just for a while, that you’re always welcome here.”

 

“Thanks, that means a lot,” said Andrea sincerely, “though are you sure I wouldn’t be getting in the way of your love affair with the couch if I’m sleeping on it?”

 

“I’m sure she won’t mind having another gorgeous woman stretched out on her.”

 

Ignoring the implied compliment, Andrea kept the tone light. “The couch is a she?”

 

“Of course! No men in this house.”

 

“In that case I’m sure I will have to pay you a visit soon.”

 

“I am serious about the offer, anytime you want.”

 

They carried on the conversation ranging across a number of other topics that Andrea felt safe discussing on the open line. Throughout Meg’s offer played on her mind. Perhaps it would be good to take a break away, even for a weekend. It might help get some perspective and also give her a chance to talk with Meg without anyone listening in. If nothing else they were still good friends, though occasionally Andrea suspected Meg still had a few lingering feelings for her. Eventually they said their goodbyes. Andrea checked the clock which showed it was nearly ten with still no sign of Kate. Picking one of her books of the shelf she headed for bed.

 

…..

 

 

Callum Chadwick nodded a greeting to a couple of scientists in white coats as he walked down the spotless corridor. They smiled back, completely oblivious to who he was or where he was going. After they’d passed he looked at the security badge attached to his shirt, frowning at the awful picture of himself that glowered from it beneath the blazing logo for Quadrant Research. Then there was his pseudonym on it - Patrick Lank. He was sure it was Dr Hallstrom’s idea of a joke, if she made them.

 

Reaching his destination he keyed in the code to the security panel. A faint bleep echoed up the quiet corridor and the doors slid aside, granting him access to the restricted area. Stepping through, he found himself in a deserted corridor. That was hardly surprising - the only people he’d ever seen back there were Dr Hallstrom, the mute Ingrid and their various test subjects. He made his way to the room containing the latest one of those, peering in through the one way glass. He doubted the man inside would have registered his presence even if he could see him. Poor bastard, thought Chadwick in a rare show of empathy, while at the same time giving thanks that he wasn’t still the one strapped to one of Dr Hallstrom’s experimenting contraptions. He had to hand it to Barnes, he’s lasted pretty well, a lot longer than some of them did.

 

“How’s our subject doing?”

 

Chadwick jumped. How the hell does she always manage to do that? He quickly looked at the charts. “No, change, Dr Hallstrom.”

 

“Hmm, interesting,” was all she said to that, her blue eyes staring intently into the other room, dissecting the man inside.

 

Chadwick had the feeling it wasn’t interesting enough though, and that Pete Barnes’ days were numbered. They’d already established he didn’t have the special genetic marker Dr Hallstrom was on the hunt for. Supposedly that was going to unlock something Chadwick didn’t quite understand. He thought it was something to do with her experiments in controlling mutations, reminding himself he had been exceedingly lucky the one performed on him had turned out as well as it had. He could have ended up like Grant after all. Even though he didn’t understand all of what was happening, what he did comprehend was how important it was to Dr Hallstrom, which meant it was important to him too.

 

“How did your meeting with the reporter go?” asked Chadwick for want of something better to say. Standing in silence always made him nervous round Dr Hallstrom.

 

“On the surface she appears to know nothing of consequence,” replied Dr Hallstrom.

 

“But you’re not sure,” commented Chadwick, immediately regretting his choice of words when the piercing blue stare fixed on him.

 

“I think it would be wise to keep an eye on Miss Ferguson.”

 

“I could just take her out,” offered Chadwick, fancying the idea of using his new power on a person. He wondered how much pain someone could withstand before he finished them off.

 

Dr Hallstrom seemed to be considering it for a moment before shaking her head. “No, that may only draw more attention to her unfocussed investigations. We’ll watch her for now. If she does appear to be getting closer we can always employ your option.”

 

Chadwick just nodded, faintly disappointed.

 

Dr Hallstrom continued on. “Have we had a report from Tertiary One this week?”

 

“Just this morning,” said Chadwick. “There’s not much in it, apart from an interesting conversation from the phone surveillance tapes.” Dr Hallstrom merely raised her eyebrows a fraction to indicate he should elaborate. “It was between your daughter and someone called Meg.”

 

An odd disapproving sound passed the doctor’s lips as he said the name. Chadwick also noticed the woman’s expression had become even more stern than normal. Obviously this Meg person wasn’t on her Christmas card list. He cleared his throat, unsure whether to go on. “It seems your daughter expressed some dissatisfaction with the situation on Duransay and that this Meg offered her a place to stay if she wanted some time away.”

 

Dr Hallstrom’s lips tightened into a thin line. “When was this?”

 

“The phone call was three days ago.”

 

The woman digested that for a few seconds, Chadwick knowing better to say anything when she was deep in thought. “Contact Tertiary One,” she stated eventually. “Inform them we are moving onto the next stage.”

 

Chadwick opened his mouth to object and then quickly shut it. He had to wonder if Dr Hallstrom was starting to take things too personally. Then again that would require her to possess emotions beyond greed and a lust for power. Yet he couldn’t help the suspicion that one of the reasons the doctor was so keen to see one over on the SRU was to teach Jarvis a lesson for daring to steal something that ‘belonged’ to the doctor. Not that he objected to Jarvis getting her comeuppance. Bitch deserves everything she gets, he thought nastily to himself as he left to make the communication.

 

…..

 

 

Kate ran her hand round the back of her neck under her open collar as she waited for the lift, trying to shake of the tiredness from her body. It wasn’t even midday and already she felt like it had been another long day at the office. She seemed to be feeling that way more and more recently, like all she had time for was work, work and more work. She certainly could have done without the weekly surveillance report she’d just been party too. As fascinating as what Tom Parsons thought of the latest signing for Manchester United or Bel Tardelli feelings about this weeks episode of Desperate Housewives were, Kate could have done without the blow by blow breakdown the surveillance team had readied for her. She knew they were only keen to impress with their thoroughness, but sometimes she wished they could be just a little less good at their jobs. She’d found herself looking constantly at her watch, mindful of the huge stack of reports from Kaminski that were waiting back on her desk upstairs. Eventually Private Ramis had twigged and drawn the session to a merciful close.

 

Kate tapped the button for the lift again as if that would make it come quicker. The only good thing about the mountain of paperwork waiting her was the distraction it provided from her other problems. It had been four days since her heated words with Andrea on the beach and they’d barely exchanged more than a handful in passing since. Of course Kate wanted to, but there just never seemed to be an appropriate time. Either she was dashing off to a meeting or training or any of the other tasks the Colonel or Kaminski deemed were demanding of her attention. Part of her just wanted to tell them to get lost, but she would never do that. It was too important to all of them to track down this organisation, to stop anything like what had happened to Andrea happening again. If ever she doubted that what she was doing was the right thing, then she just had to recall stepping into that darkened cell to find Andrea battered and very nearly broken. Even now it brought a faint sick sensation to her stomach, not to mention the rage.

 

Finally the lift pinged its arrival and Kate pushed all those disturbing memories to the back of her mind as the door slid open. They quickly came rushing back as she caught sight of the single occupant inside. Her stomach gave a lurch as a pair of blue eyes flicked briefly to meet hers before staring back at the wall. Kate stepped silently into the lift, turning and pressing the button for the second floor, staring straight ahead herself.

 

The weight of the silence in the airless space was crushing and Kate found herself drawing her fingers round her collar again. Without looking she could feel Andrea next to her, feel the tall presence right beside her but seemingly a world away. Kate watched the counter of the lift progressing up through the floors, soon she would be at hers and out of time again.

 

Suddenly she reached forward and pressed the red emergency stop button. The lift ground to a halt, Andrea stumbling slightly beside her at the abruptness of it. Kate swung to face her.

 

“We need to talk.”

 

Andrea’s expression was hard to read. Did she want to? Or was she about to snap Kate’s head off again? Kate ploughed on anyway.

 

“I know I haven’t had much time to give you recently, and I’m sorry about that,” she paused, seeing if she could gauge any kind of reaction. Andrea just stared back at her, unblinking. “It’s just that what we’re doing, it’s really important.” She stressed the words, but whether Andrea believed her was another matter. “We have to find these people before anything else happens.” She didn’t remind Andrea what the previous things were, thinking that probably wasn’t a good idea given the cool reception she was getting. Realising she was still talking about work, she changed tack. “From now on I’m going to devote some more time to you though. Tonight, I promise, I’m all yours, we can talk or whatever you want to do.”

 

Finally Andrea’s expression softened slightly. “Can I trust that promise?”

 

It sounded like a plea for reassurance as much as a question. Searching the young woman’s eyes and seeing the fear that lay hidden behind them, Kate felt an odd pain in her chest. She reached out, softly drawing her fingers down Andrea’s cheek, relieved when the other woman didn’t back away.

 

“Yes, you can trust it,” said Kate with utter conviction. She took time to savour the touch, able to feel the pulse at Andrea’s neck as her fingers slipped lower. There hadn’t been enough such tender moments recently. The emotions of those missed chances swelled up within her and she had to swallow down the lump in her throat. Withdrawing her hand she tried to compose herself, knowing it wasn’t the right time to let those emotions out just yet. Instead she reached for the emergency button, hitting it again to resume their upward journey.

 

She glanced sideways as the lift hummed into life. “There’s a card game later isn’t there?”

 

Andrea nodded. “At 7 o’clock.”

 

“Then I’ll make sure I’m round at yours by nine at the latest.”

 

…..

 

 

Andrea absently watched the other players at the table as she sipped her coke, not really concentrating on the cards being dealt onto the green baize table in front of her. She had to resist the urge to look at her watch again to check if it was any closer to nine. She supposed she could have just waited in her quarters, but not only was that faintly desperate, but also she’d just be clock-watching there too, only on her own.

 

“It’s your bet, Andrea,” prompted Tom from beside her.

 

Picking up her cards, she scanned them quickly, keeping her expression even as she noted she had absolutely nothing of value.

 

“I raise five,” she stated, throwing the chips down as she did.

 

The betting moved round the table, Andrea paying just enough attention to participate in the game, though her heart wasn’t really in it. She was far too pre-occupied with what might await her later. Each of the other players placed their bets – Harry, Bel, Tom, Private Ramis, Lieutenant Bridges and finally Colonel Parsons. Finding the last participating in the poker game had been quite a surprise, but he seemed to be intensely focussed on it. So much so that Andrea hadn’t seen him glance at his son opposite him once. There were also a few others gathered round the sectioned-off area of the messhall, watching the table with interest. For once Nisha was absent from a social gathering, a small blessing in Andrea’s otherwise troubled day. Of those who were watching, Andrea suspected the interest lay in seeing if one of the lesser ranks could get one over on the Colonel.

 

“I raise fifty,” said the Colonel at that point, garnering a few gasps from the watchers.

 

Tom chucked his cards down. “That’s me out, I fold.”

 

He sounded far more annoyed than the supposedly friendly game justified, even if they were playing for real money by secret accord. Andrea saw Tom was shooting his father a filthy look that was being resolutely ignored. Though she had nothing to merit the bet, Andrea matched it. None of the other players seemed keen on joining the higher stakes, leaving just Andrea and the Colonel to keep upping their bets. Out of some perverse sense of loyalty to Tom, Andrea determined she’d stay in to the bitter end. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t afford it, and she had a sneaking suspicion the Colonel was also bluffing. The small bob at his throat he put down his chips was almost imperceptible, but for someone as experienced at watching other and gauging whether they were lying as Andrea, it was a telltale sign.

 

“I call your fifty and raise one hundred,” said the Colonel.

 

Andrea kept her expression even, not breaking eye contact for a second. At least the interesting turn in the game gave her something else to think about other than Kate. She’d done enough of that over the last four days, over and over again. Bumping into her in the lift had been unexpected, Andrea not quite prepared or knowing what to say. She only hoped that she could believe Kate’s words about finding more time for her.

 

“I call your one hundred and raise two hundred.”

 

That earned another round of muttering from the assembled throng. The Colonel stared at her across the table, fighting to keep is face unreadable though Andrea thought she detected a stirring of annoyance.

 

“I call your two hundred and raise five hundred.”

 

There were actual gasps this time. Internally Andrea smiled to herself, though her face betrayed nothing. He was far too desperate to have a genuinely good hand. Still it was getting closer to nine and she didn’t want to be prolonging the game all night just to teach him a lesson.

 

“I call your five hundred,” she stated. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”

 

The flash of panic in his eyes confirmed her suspicions before he even turned his cards over. “Jack high,” he said nervously.

 

Andrea finally allowed the smile to show on her face as she flipped her cards over. “Queen high.”

 

She heard Tom laugh, while the Colonel simply looked thunderously at Andrea as she reached forward to claim the pot. Once she had all the chips she turned to speak quietly to Tom. “Can you look after that for me,” she said, “I’ve got somewhere to be.”

 

Tom nodded. “Sure, good luck.”

 

Andrea looked at him curiously. She hadn’t told him where she was going or about any of her recent problems with Kate, but it seemed some things didn’t need saying. “Thanks.” She addressed the table as she got up. “Thank you all.” Her eyes landed on the Colonel last. “It’s been fun.”

 

As she headed for the door she was sure she could feel his furious eyes boring into her back. Once out in the corridor she turned for the elevator, almost colliding directly with someone coming towards the messhall. Sophie rebounded a couple of steps, somewhat unsteady on her feet.

 

“Oh, hello, Andrea,” said Sophie, her Scottish accent even thicker in her apparently inebriated state.

 

“Hello, Sophie,” said Andrea, making to go round her, not really having the time nor desire to speak with the other woman.

 

Sophie moved across to block her though. “Hey, where you going in such a hurry? Got a hot date?”

 

“Not exactly,” said Andrea through clenched teeth. She could have quite happily used force to move the other woman, but she was in enough trouble for her temper as it was.

 

“Uh oh, trouble in paradise, is it?”

 

Andrea stared at her, receiving back an unfocussed gaze. “Just get out of my way, Sophie.”

 

“She’ll get tired of you eventually,” Sophie continued to goad, “if she hasn’t already.”

 

Andrea bristled, fighting to control her thoughts which were attempting to agree with Sophie in her head. “I’m not talking about this with you.”

 

“Why not? We do share something in common after all.”

 

Andrea gave a snort of derision. “I hardly think some failed dalliance fifteen years ago is comparable to what Kate and I have.”

 

She finally made it past the other woman, starting to stalk down the corridor.

 

“I suppose you’re right,” called Sophie after her, “if you ignore what happened last year.”

 

Andrea halted in her tracks, a painful icy fear clutching her heart. Slowly she turned round. Sophie was stumbling up the corridor after her.

 

“After all it was just a stupid drunken moment…” said the other woman.

 

Andrea hardly dared ask, but had to. “What was?”

 

Sophie stopped, trying to focus on her and failing miserably. “Oh, didn’t she tell you?”

 

The icy chill was sweeping through Andrea’s whole body now, her stomach clutching as it hit. “Stop pissing about, Sophie, and just tell me.”

 

Sophie suddenly seemed unsure of her course, perhaps sensing Andrea’s increasing level of fury. “Well, it was nothing really…”

 

“Just fucking tell me!”

 

Andrea’s shout resonated up the corridor, Sophie actually flinching back slightly before she answered. “We kissed.”

 

Andrea’s heart flipped and then plunged, sickness striking her gut. “When?”

 

“Last July.”

 

Reeling, Andrea couldn’t take it in, couldn’t comprehend the betrayal. Through her confusion something occurred to her. “Wait a minute, July? You’re saying that when I was being tortured by Dixon and Chadwick you two were busy cosying up to one another?”

 

“Er…well…” stammered Sophie.

 

“I can’t fucking believe this!”

 

“It wasn’t like that…” attempted Sophie, all her cocky bravado having evaporated on seeing Andrea’s reaction.

 

“And just what the fuck was it like?” demanded Andrea. “Please explain? Was it an accident? Did your tongues just accidentally slip into one another’s mouths?”

 

“Well, no.”

 

“Exactly! Helvete!”

 

Sophie still tried to get some words out amongst Andrea’s curses. “Kate was drunk and I … er … I …”

 

“You took advantage of her?”

 

“No! She kissed me.”

 

The tightness across Andrea’s chest increased. “She kissed you?”

 

“I mean, she didn’t really mean to,” mumbled Sophie. “She was upset. She thought you’d left for good. I was like a substitute for you.”

 

Andrea laughed mirthlessly. “And I bet you hated that!” Sophie gave no answer and Andrea shook her head in disbelief. “I thought not.”

 

Sophie attempted to place a placating hand on her arm. “Andrea, please, it meant nothing…”

 

Feeling the other woman’s tainted touch on her sent the blood rushing directly to Andrea’s brain, clouding it with a mist of red. She swung her fist, striking Sophie hard across the jaw. The other woman was catapulted into the wall before collapsing on the ground, crimson blossoming on her lips. Andrea stared furiously down at her.

 

“Maybe not to you.”

 

…..

 

 

Kate leant back on the sofa wondering where Andrea was. She’d made sure to arrive in plenty of time, so for once she was the one sitting around twiddling her thumbs, even if presently they were twiddling absently round a cat’s ears. Gerry purred happily at the attention, rubbing up against Kate’s thighs. When the door whacked open he started and immediately leapt off her lap, taking cover. Seeing the stormy look in Andrea’s eyes, Kate wondered if she should do the same. She’d barely made it up off the sofa by the time Andrea had slammed the door and strode over to her.

 

“So when were you going to tell me?”

 

Lost as to what had caused Andrea’s obvious fury, Kate could only come out with a startled. “What?”

 

“About you and Sophie,” explained Andrea.

 

“Me and Sophie?” repeated Kate stupidly.

 

Andrea shook her head, slapping herself lightly on the forehead. “What a fucking idiot I must be!”

 

Kate tried to reach out despite the obvious danger signs. “What’s happened?” she asked.

 

Andrea flinched away from the attempted touch. “God knows what you’re up to when you’re supposed to be working.” She shook her head again, closing her eyes in disbelief. “I bet you two have been having a right laugh at my expense.”

 

“What are you talking about?” tried a still confused Kate. “There is no me and Sophie.”

 

Andrea fixed her with a penetrating ice blue stare. “So you didn’t kiss her last summer then?”

 

Kate’s heart sunk to somewhere in the region of her boots. “Oh ... that.”

 

Andrea choked out a scoffing laugh. “Yes that! Is that why she transferred here, so you two could be together?”

 

“No, of course not,” insisted Kate. “It was just that one kiss, and that was a stupid mistake.”

 

“You really expect me to believe that? Why didn’t you tell me if that was all it was?”

 

Kate tried to find a plausible explanation, though she didn’t really know herself. “You weren’t around at the time, and then I just sort of forgot about it.” It sounded lame even to her ears.

 

Andrea obviously found it equally unlikely, starting to pace off round the room, her shoulders bunched, her lips pursed tight. When she got to the window she swung back round. “No that’s right I wasn’t around was I – I was busy being kidnapped and tortured while you two were getting your rocks off!”

 

“It was actually before that while you were staying at Meg’s,” started Kate, before changing tack when she saw how well that was going down, “but that’s not really the point! You made it perfectly clear you never wanted to see me again and so I got very, very drunk...”

 

“And then your lips just fell onto Sophie’s in a drunken stupor.”

 

Kate sighed. “You just don’t want to listen do you?”

 

“Not to your lies and bullshit, no. Every time I trust you again you betray me.”

 

“It was hardly a betrayal,” fired back Kate, needing to regain some ground in the argument. “You were the one who left! And if we’re talking exes, what about you and Meg – what exactly were you doing when you were staying there?”

 

“Nothing! I’m not a tart like you.”

 

“You could have fooled me! You were all over her that day I came to see you at her place, wandering around half-naked and draping yourself over her.” Recalling the memory stoked Kate’s anger further. How dare Andrea accuse her after that performance!

 

Andrea stubbornly crossed her arms. “That wasn’t real.”

 

“Oh, I see, you can flirt and deliberately to try to make me jealous, but God forbid I do the same.”

 

“So it was intentional then, you kissing Sophie? Some sick game?”

 

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

 

“But it’s what you said,” snapped Andrea, cutting her off. “Jesus, no wonder you’re always busy, you’re always at it with her!

 

Kate threw her hands up in the air. “This is crazy! I’m not having an affair with Sophie! We had one kiss, one! Just after you had told me you never wanted to see me again. I was drunk at the time and I realised straight away it was a mistake. Not that I should be having to satisfy your insane jealousy with any sort of explanation!”

 

“That’s right you never have to explain anything to me do you? Why bother when I’m such an insignificant part of your life.”

 

“That’s rubbish!” cried Kate. She made a last attempt at reason, though why she was bothering and pandering to Andrea’s ridiculous accusations she didn’t know. “Certainly some things about my work I can’t tell you, but you know that.”

 

“Well maybe I’m sick of it!” interrupted Andrea again. “I never know when I might see you next, when you might have a bit of your precious time to spare me.”

 

Kate had just about had enough. She didn’t need this, not on top of everything else. “And you’re really making it so appealing to share that time with you at the moment! Yes I work hard, but that’s because my work is important, for all of you. I thought you might support that, but no, you’d rather give me grief and cause trouble with the other operatives or staff every chance you get.”

 

Andrea pouted. “That’s not fair, they all deserved it.”

 

“Of course, they always do,” said Kate with exasperation. “I’m meant to be the commander of this base, but how can I do my job properly with you undermining me?”

 

“Because it’s always about you isn’t it?” said Andrea. “Embarrassing you am I?

 

“Quite frankly, yes!” stated Kate. She took a deep breath as she rubbed roughly at the temple. “Christ, sometimes I wish I’d never told everyone about us.”

 

That was met with a snort of derision. “Rather have kept me as your dirty little secret would you, your bit on the side to have whenever you fancy? A bit like Dixon?”

 

Kate blanched as his name was brought up. Was everything going that way again?

 

Andrea continued her tirade. “Though of course everyone did know about that didn’t they? Made you look a right prat when it turned out he’d been sneaking away secrets from under your nose.”

 

The painful memories reminded Kate of exactly why she’d sworn never to get involved with anyone under her command again. Yet here she was having made the same mistake for a second time. She considered that. Was it a mistake? Right now it seemed so. She met Andrea’s eyes, seeing a warring mixture of anger, pain and disgust beneath her furrowed brow. There was no sign of what had drawn Kate to the young woman in the first place, no warmth or love.

 

“Why are you being like this?” said Kate, wondering when it had all gone so wrong. The happiness of Christmas seemed such a long time ago now, though it had barely been a month. “You’ve been off ever since we went to see your mother…”

 

“Oh, we’re back to that again are we?” Andrea said quickly. “You were the one who was encouraging me to make up with my family! You just don’t like that I might have someone else I’d like to spend my time with, you want me waiting here for you.”

 

“That’s crap!”

 

“Plus you don’t like my family…”

 

“That’s not true…”

 

“Don’t lie to me!” shouted Andrea. “Don’t lie to me any more,” she added again in a quieter yet still fury-ridden voice. “You can’t stand my mother. And after I gave your family a chance, even your bitch of a sister.”

 

“Penny has her faults…”

 

“Being a raging homophobe being one of them.”

 

Kate didn’t like to hear her family disparaged even if some of them were deserving of it. “Like your mother was so welcoming! She was practically chasing me out the door with a shotgun at your house.”

 

“Perhaps she sensed how you were treating me, somehow knew that you were a dirty cheat!”

 

Kate bit her lip. “For the last time, I didn’t cheat on you!”

 

Andrea didn’t want to listen though, staring out at the dark night outside. “I never thought you’d be the one to let me down again, I thought I could trust you.” She bowed her head as she shook it. “I should have known after all those other times, you just can’t help it. What a fool I was. Everyone always lets you down.”

 

Andrea’s poignant words were quickly followed by a loud bleeping noise from Kate’s wrist. She glanced at it. “Shit!”

 

“Fucking typical” cried Andrea, her head snapping up. “Bloody work! Again!”

 

“I’m sorry…”

 

“You’re always fucking sorry!”

 

Suddenly Andrea darted for her, ripping the communicator from Kate’s wrist in one swift movement. It started to bleep again, the sound being abruptly cut off when Andrea crushed it in her hand. She opened her fingers, letting the shattered remnants tumble to the carpet.

 

“That might have been important,” Kate said in annoyance.

 

“More important than me?”

 

A hammering at the door interrupted them again.

 

“Go away!” screamed Andrea.

 

“Major?” came a muffled voice from the other side of the door. “Are you in there?”

 

Andrea stared at her. “Don’t answer it.”

 

Kate could see the challenge in the other woman’s eyes, it was a test, one she was about to fail. “I have to.”

 

For a second she thought Andrea might try to physically stop her, but instead the young woman just stepped back silently, allowing Kate to walk past and pull open the door. A private stood in the corridor, breathing heavily as if he’d run there.

 

“Oh, thank goodness! There’s an emergency, you’re needed … both of you.”

 

Kate allowed herself a brief sigh. When was there never an emergency? She hardly dared look over her shoulder, eventually taking her courage in her hands.

 

“Are you coming?” she asked Andrea.

 

The other woman thought about it for a good few seconds, just staring back at Kate with a thunderous look on her face. Already Kate was regretting the way the conversation had gone, but there was no time to rectify it now. As always duty called and if nothing else she would always do that.

 

“Fine,” said Andrea eventually, “let’s go.”

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 13

 

“Down there, do you see them?”

 

Andrea followed Harry’s wide-beam flashlight, spotting the group of three people precariously perched on the crumbling hillside.

 

“Yep, hold on we’re going down.”

 

She swooped down towards the outcrop, the landscape of Kythira typical of many of the Greek islands with its sandy shores bounded by steeply rising scrub-covered rocky hills and mountains. Kythira itself was one of the less frequented on the tourist trail. Unfortunately for its small population it had been visited by a much less welcome guest on that particular day. At 22:33 local time a powerful earthquake had hit, its epicentre located just off the small island in the Aegean Sea. The remoteness and inaccessibility of parts of the island made it hard for the regular rescue services to aid effectively, which is where the SRU came in.

 

Andrea flew in closer, lowering Harry to the ground before landing herself. On seeing them, the three Greek villagers backed away, unsure who the two black-clad figures swooping out of the night sky were. They were a couple in the fifties and a younger woman somewhere in her twenties, their daughter Andrea presumed. Behind them she could see the remnants of what had been their house, the white brick now a pile of rubble.

 

“It’s ok, we’re here to help,” Harry attempted, lowering his torch so they could see him under the light of the moon that had peaked out from behind the clouds for a moment. All he received in return were blank stares. He glanced back to Andrea. “I don’t suppose that mighty brain of yours knows any Greek does it?”

 

Andrea shook her head. “Afraid not.”

 

Before they could decide the best way to convince the frightened villagers that being carried off into the night by flying foreigners was a wise course of action, a low rumbling broke the silence of the night.

 

“Aftershock!” cried Andrea as the ground began to shake beneath her feet.

 

The Greek man lost his footing, starting to slide off down the loosening rocks of the hillside. Andrea dashed over and grabbed his hand before he disappeared into the dark. Behind her the older woman screamed, starting to babble something frantically in Greek. Over her the sound of rocks breaking split the night. Andrea looked over her shoulder, immediately seeing what was causing the woman’s agitation. Several large sections of the hill had come away in the tremor and were tumbling directly for them.

 

Andrea quickly deposited the man on firmer footing and leapt in front of the villagers. The woman screamed again before she was drowned out by the sound of crashing rocks, the hillside reverberating around them with the force of it. Andrea watched the deadly cascade heading for them knowing she was going to have to be quick. As the first large chunk reached them she caught it, using its momentum to hoist it over her head and then toss it over the villagers behind so that it crashed down out of harm’s way further down the slope. The rocks flew at her in quick succession, each one lofted up and flung away. They were coming too quick though. As she threw one she already saw another sailing past out of the corner of her eye.

 

“Look out!” she cried.

 

The rock bounced past the couple but was heading straight for the younger woman who seemed frozen to the spot, eyes staring widely at it. Suddenly Harry flung himself at her, pushing her out the way, putting himself in its path.

 

“Harry!” yelled Andrea, but it was too late. The rock smashed into him. Andrea only had a second to stare in horror before she had to turn her eyes upwards again, deflecting the last few lumps still tumbling down the hill towards them. Finally the avalanche slowed and ceased, Andrea immediately running over to where Harry had fallen. She scanned the hillside, looking for his body but it was nowhere in sight. Then she spotted it, she had nearly missed it in the darkness – his black uniform on the ground but no Harry inside it. Picking it up, Andrea glanced around in confusion.

 

“Psst!”

 

Andrea couldn’t quite pinpoint the source of the whisper until it came again.

 

“Psst! Over here!”

 

Making her way over to a large boulder, she saw Harry peeking out over the top of it. The moonlight caught the bare white skin of his shoulders as he craned up higher.

 

“Could you pass me that?”

 

Despite the situation, Andrea had to stifle a laugh as she mutely handed over the uniform and other equipment.

 

“Yeah, very funny,” grimaced Harry. “One of these days they’re going to work out a way for my clothes to come with me when I do that gaseous thing.”

 

Andrea was just grateful he could do it at all, else he would have been squashed under the rockfall. She turned round to give him some privacy. “Just hurry up so we can get these people out of here. I’m sure…”

 

She was cut off by a voice over the communication link in her ear. Base to Unit 2, verify your position.

 

Andrea felt an odd mix of emotions on hearing Kate’s voice. The journey to the small island had been uncomfortable to say the least, cooped up in the back of the Hercules trying to avoid looking at, let alone speaking to the other woman. Andrea had very nearly not come on the mission at all. When Kate had asked her back in her quarters, Andrea’s first instinct had been to tell the other woman to go fuck herself. However, a brief rational thought reminded her that it was Kate she was pissed off with, not whoever it was that needed their help.

 

Base to Unit 2, please confirm your status.

 

Andrea wondered if she detected a touch of concern in Kate’s voice, or whether it was just the annoyance that seemed so common recently.

 

“Are you going to answer that?”

 

Andrea swung to Harry who was dressed again, his own earpiece back in place. “Why don’t you?” suggested Andrea.

 

Harry gave her a suspicious look, but responded to Kate’s hail to inform her they were fine and about to head back down to the temporary base camp just outside Kythira Town. As they walked back to the villagers, Harry watched Andrea, the young woman trying to keep her expression even. “What’s going on?” asked the young man. “Did you two have a fight?”

 

“I really don’t want to talk about this now, Harry,” replied Andrea. “We have a job to do, let’s just do it.”

 

Harry shrugged. “Fine. Talking of which, are you going to persuade them to put these things on?”

 

He held up three harnesses, developed by the unit to make it easier for Andrea to ferry other people around when she was flying. It was all very well carrying someone in her arms, but it was a little personal and also got quite tricky when there was more than one person to contend with. This way she could hoist as many as she could comfortable grip in her hands, having no problem with the weight. Luckily another slight shake from the ground went a long way to convincing the villagers they should trust the people who had just saved their lives. Once they were all safely secured, Andrea took hold of the grips on the back and leapt up into the sky.

 

In the relative safety of the sky the island actually looked beautiful, the rays of the moon catching the white and grey of the rocks as the clouds scooted across in front of it. It also lit up the crests of the waves on the sea, and Andrea swung out over it, following the coastline to their destination on the beach to the west of the main town. Andrea flew in slowly, wary of scaring her passengers further, before finally depositing them gently on the sand. The older woman fell to her knees, kissing the white grains in what Andrea thought was a bit of an overblown gesture. They were quickly joined by a group of army personnel and one civilian, looking slightly out of place in her suit and high heels on the uneven surface.

 

“If you’d just like to come with us,” Kaminski said to the villagers, a Greek soldier quickly translating her words for her.

 

Andrea was surprised Kaminski had come with them, but then again she was a control freak. She probably didn’t trust anyone else to ensure there wouldn’t be any unfortunate stories about flying people appearing in the paper the next day.

 

The villagers mutely nodded their assent to the official’s request, too weary to object. After they had been led away, Andrea caught Kaminski before she followed. “Going to brainwash them again are you?” she asked pertinently. “Is that why you brought Marcus along?”

 

Andrea glanced past Kaminski, able to see her brother’s distinctive blond head amongst the mainly dark ones of the gaggle of islanders that had been rescued so far. They were all being led into a hastily erected tent on the beach, one of several that made up the unofficial base of operations. Despite herself, Andrea couldn’t stop her eyes drifting to the one designated as the command tent. The entrance flap was pinned back and Andrea was able to see Kate poring over some maps while in heated debate with other officers.  As on the hillside the swell of emotions filling Andrea was uncertain, a jumble of anger, hurt and, annoyingly, longing.

 

“Actually your brother requested to come,” said Kaminski, breaking her thoughts. “I think he wanted to see what you do.”

 

“Really,” said Andrea, non-commitally, thinking it an odd request to make. Still everyone else was there, why not her brother too? As well as Kaminski and Marcus, the operatives had also been joined by a detachment of troops, the Colonel and Sophie. Andrea wondered if they also just wanted to see what they did, or if there was there some other reason for their presence. Were they really spying on the operatives? Or perhaps assessing someone in particular?

 

A commotion at the tent with the Greek islanders drew Kaminski away and Andrea supposed she’d better report in and see what else there was still to do. Nearing the command tent she caught the last few angry words from Kate to the Colonel. “…we’re still getting aftershocks, I’m not sure it’s advisable.”

 

“That’s an order, major,” said the Colonel, emphasising Kate’s rank as he always did when making a point.

 

Kate looked like she was about to object further but caught sight of Andrea approaching and held her tongue. Another thing to not mention in front of me, eh? Andrea steadfastly refused to meet Kate’s eye as she blandly gave her report, staring instead at a point on the green material of the tent.

 

“Unit two reporting in. We picked up three villagers from the slopes to the north of Fratsia.”

 

“Did you encounter any problems?”

 

Still Andrea refused to look in response to Kate’s question. The other woman hadn’t sounded particularly concerned, more like she was asking because she had to, possibly for the Colonel’s benefit.

 

“There was one aftershock, but it wasn’t a problem.”

 

“Good, in that case I want you to head back out … with Nisha.”

 

Finally Andrea’s eyes did slip to Kate, unable to hide her annoyance. “You want me to take Nisha?” she asked in disbelief. “What’s wrong with Harry?”

 

Kate met her gaze, eyes a stormy grey in the low light. “In case you’d forgotten I’m in command here. I don’t need to justify my decisions to you.”

 

“Oh, I hadn’t forgotten,” said Andrea snidely. “How could I?”

 

“Good then, you’re with Nisha. Take her up for a recon of the south-west range.”

 

Andrea held her gaze for a few seconds, feeling the tense undercurrent to the conversation. There was so much more going on beyond what was being said, yet with the Colonel standing right beside them Andrea wasn’t about to make an issue of it. Whatever she felt, and however tempting it might be to see how awkward it made things for Kate, airing her feelings in front of the older man was unappealing. It became even less appealing when Sophie also appeared from further back in the tent, carrying some printouts which she handed to Kate. Having done so, she hovered far too close to the other woman, their shoulders practically rubbing together as Sophie said something about the content of the papers. Andrea didn’t hear the words, too deafened by the rush of jealousy driving the blood to her head. Sophie was sporting a split lip from their earlier encounter and all Andrea wanted to do was leap over and give her a black eye to match.

 

Eventually Kate glanced up from reading. “Didn’t I give you an order?”

 

Andrea could swear Sophie was grinning as she gave her clipped response. “Yes, I was just going.”

 

“You might be needing this,” offered Sophie, helpfully holding out a new harness.

 

Andrea snatched it off her. “Thanks,” she said through gritted teeth. Seeing they’d turned back to studying their data, she stomped off down the beach, searching out her flying partner.

 

…..

 

 

Kate peered up from the printouts, watching Andrea angrily kicking the sand up as she made her way down the beach. She couldn’t hear what Andrea said when she reached Nisha, but the forceful way she shoved the harness at the young woman and then crossed her arms impatiently as she fumbled with it gave a good indication of her mood. Kate knew now wasn’t the time to be thinking about such things, not the time to be distracted, but she couldn’t help it. That fact just added to her annoyance and anger.

 

“Someone’s pissed at you.”

 

Kate glanced to Sophie, eyeing up her split lip. “I wonder why? Thanks for blowing that with Andrea, by the way.”

 

“Hey, don’t blame me!” said Sophie holding up her hands. “How was I to know you’d kept it a secret?”

 

“I hadn’t kept it a secret, there is no bloody secret! It was one silly mistake!”

 

“Then why didn’t you tell her?”

 

“I don’t know!” said Kate in frustration. She really didn’t have time to think about this now. “Either way, she now seems to think you and I are having a torrid affair, so if you’d like to move away just a bit…” Kate gave Sophie a small push on the arm to shift her away slightly. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Andrea shooting them daggers before grabbing an ill-prepared Nisha and shooting up into the night sky.

 

“And you’re pandering to her jealousy and temper tantrums are you?” asked Sophie pointedly.

 

Kate clenched her teeth, not liking being reminded of that fact. “Why did you tell her, Sophie? Was it really an honest mistake or are you deliberately trying to split us up?”

 

Sophie’s face darkened, her eyes becoming cold. “How could you think that? Jesus! How long have we been friends? I thought you knew me better than that?”

 

“So did I.”

 

Sophie shoved the remaining papers at her. “Here, have your reports! I’ll be with Kaminski, at least she trusts me.”

 

As Sophie marched off, Kate felt the sting of the words, wondering if she could alienate anyone else that day.

 

“If you’re done with sorting out your personal life, there is work to be done,” came a gentle voice from beside her.

 

Kate looked to the Colonel, noticing the softness in his eyes. He was in kindly surrogate father mode, rather than stern superior officer. She sighed. “Sorry, Colonel.”

 

He reached out to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I just don’t want to see you making another mistake, Kate, confusing your private life with your work. I won’t be able to save you this time.”

 

Kate took a deep breath and straightened herself up. “Don’t worry, I know my duties and responsibilities, I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

 

….

 

 

Throughout the flight to the southern range, Andrea remained silent, her mind turning over the scene on the beach again and again. Was Kate deliberately trying to piss her off now? She couldn’t have been more cold and officious if she’d tried. As for sticking Andrea with Nisha, that had to be some form of revenge or punishment. Making Andrea’s internal point for her, the young woman piped up with some more inane chatter at that moment.

 

“I might come back here for a holiday, you know, it’s got some great beaches, especially when you see them from up here.”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes, but didn’t reply. She’d quickly worked out there was no point, Nisha would just ramble on regardless.

 

“Hey, Strommy! Down there!”

 

Ignoring the use of the awful nickname which Nisha persisted in using despite, or perhaps because of, how it annoyed her, Andrea cast her eyes downwards. The spotlight picked out a series of three houses, collapsed in on themselves like so many others they had encountered. The white brick buildings weren’t built to withstand earthquakes, the red tiles of the roof now scattered over the hillside. A figure came into the circular glow on the ground, waving frantically at them. Andrea flew down, dropping Nisha to the earth much less gently than she had her other passengers. The young woman tumbled over a couple of times before picking herself up and dusting her black uniform down. She gave Andrea a quick annoyed look but didn’t make an issue of it. As Andrea pushed up her goggles, the frantic Greek man ran up to them.

 

“You help?” he asked in broken English.

 

“Show us,” said Andrea, hoping that was short enough for him to understand.

 

He tugged her towards the first of the houses. “In here, my wife.”

 

Bending down to peer amongst the remains of the house, Andrea couldn’t immediately see anything. “Nisha, can you bring that light over here?”

 

The young woman obliged, shining it amongst the rubble. The beam drifted over a flash of blue amongst the bricks. “There,” said Nisha, holding the light still on the material.

 

“Ok, keep the light steady on her, I’m going to move some of this … carefully.”

 

Nisha touched her arm, Andrea flinching despite herself, reminded of the last time the other woman had touched her there. “Why don’t you let me,” suggested Nisha, handing Andrea the light.

 

Before Andrea could object, Nisha stepped forwards and placed her hands on the broken bricks. They shimmered for a moment and then suddenly fell away in a stream of liquid, leaving the Greek woman free of the house if a little wet. Andrea raised an appreciative eyebrow. “Nicely done,” she conceded.

 

Despite being buried the woman was conscious and seemingly uninjured, though they’d need to get her back to base to be sure. Securing the two islanders in spare harnesses Andrea took to the skies once more. They were half way back when she felt a tug on one of the straps, the one holding Nisha.

 

“There’s some more people down there!”

 

Andrea saw where she was indicating, two women waving up at them. “We haven’t got any more harnesses,” said Andrea. “We’ll drop these two off and come back.”

 

Knowing they had to return for the two women, Andrea didn’t hang about at the base camp, simply dropping off the two people they’d already rescued and taking off with Nisha again before anyone could object. She was thankful no one had spotted them, relieved one person in particular hadn’t been alerted to their presence. It was just easier to avoid her for now. In ten minutes they were almost back to the spot Nisha had seen them when a voice came over the communication line.

 

Base to Unit 2.

 

Andrea ignored Kate’s hail, not really wanting to speak to the other woman at all at that moment.

 

Base to Unit 2.

 

“Just answer the damn woman, Strommy,” said Nisha tetchily from below her.

 

Andrea gritted her teeth and replied frostily. “Unit 2 here.”

 

We’ve had reports of a fractured gas line in your area, you’re to abort the recon and return to base.

 

“We’ve found some more people,” said Andrea. “We’re going back to get the last of them.”

 

That’s an order Unit 2, you are to abort the recon and return to base immediately.

 

Andrea felt a tug on the harness once more, Nisha trying to get her attention. “We’ll be fine, we can do it.”

 

Unit 2, confirm you have received and are following orders.

 

“Come on,” goaded Nisha, “not scared of a bit of gas are you?”

 

Andrea saw through the unsubtle attempt to sway her. Yet at the same time she knew the women were relying on them to return. Even if they weren’t in any obvious immediate danger, if there was a gas leak, then that could change. It depended on where exactly the pipe was located.

 

Unit 2, please confirm.

 

“Unit 2 to base, we’re going back for the remaining people.”

 

Negative, unit 2, Andrea don’t…

 

Andrea pulled the earpiece out. She wouldn’t let Kate try to dissuade her. She could take her orders and shove them somewhere unpleasant. Andrea considered she was quite capable of making a decision herself.

 

“Ooo, disobeying orders, very rebellious.”

 

Andrea offered Nisha a withering look for the comment. Swinging lower over the landscape she made her way back up the hillside, trying to recall the exact location of the women.

 

“I think it was just over the next peak,” offered Nisha, sensing Andrea’s uncertainty from the erratic flight pattern.

 

“Thanks…”

 

Andrea’s words were cut off as she felt a sudden loss of weight from her hand. Her eyes shot down in time to see Nisha plunging into a clump of gorse on the ground, leaving Andrea holding just the handle end of the harness. She looked at it in confusion, seeing it had broken. She didn’t have time to contemplate how at that point. Luckily they hadn’t been that high up and the vegetation had broken the other woman’s fall with a soft if prickly cushion. Starting to descend, Andrea heard the faint rumble indicating another aftershock. Suddenly a deafening boom split the night. A powerful force cannoned into Andrea, knocking her out of the sky. She crashed to the ground, hitting the rocks hard and tumbling haphazardly down the hill. Her dense bones protected her from any serious damage and eventually she managed to gain some control and bring herself to a halt. Clambering unsteadily to her feet she realised her uniform was smouldering slightly and she patted it out. The gas line! Casting her eyes up the hill she could see the devastation the explosion had wrought.

 

“Nisha!” she cried frantically, starting to run back up over the blackened earth. When she saw the mangled body up ahead her stomach sank. Sprinting the rest of the way, she fell down next to the young woman, quickly feeling for a pulse. To her eternal gratitude there was one, faint but there. In the sudden silence Andrea heard a faint crackling, realising it was coming from the earpiece she’d left dangling from her uniform. She quickly re-inserted it.

 

…Unit 2, please respond!

 

“We’re here,” replied Andrea, “but we have a person down…”

 

……

 

 

Andrea shifted in her chair, the heat in the conference room stifling. She pulled at the collar of her black uniform, not having had the chance to change since they’d got back to Duransay. Everything had been crazy, a flurry of activity centred around transferring Nisha from Kythira as quickly as possible. Doc had stabilised her on the Greek island, but she hadn’t regained consciousness, suffering from a number of bad burns. She was down below presently where the medics were assessing the full extent of her injuries. Upstairs they were having a hastily convened meeting to determine what had happened and Andrea was right in the firing line.

 

“Did you check the harness was secure?” asked Kaminski pertinently, seeming to be in charge of the questioning at present.

 

“No.”

 

Kaminski fixed her with a stare from behind her glasses. “Why not?”

 

Andrea ground her teeth together. Because I was distracted by my girlfriend and her little fuck buddy? Her eyes drifted up the table to where Kate sat in her starched, imposing number two uniform, indicating the seriousness of the meeting. Obviously she’d found the chance to change at some point. Her hands were clenched together on the polished wood, eyes fixed forwards, her face an unreadable mask. Andrea continued to stare, hoping for some support or at least a reassuring glance. Neither was forthcoming. “I…forgot,” she said eventually in answer to Kaminski’s question.

 

“A costly oversight.”

 

Andrea railed at the suggestion she was responsible. She felt guilty enough without Kaminski’s help. “I’m telling you, it was defective, it broke!”

 

Kaminski glanced down at some papers in front of her. “We recovered the harness from the accident site, it wasn’t broken.”

 

“What? That’s bullshit!” exclaimed Andrea. “Somebody’s covering something up! The harness broke away from the handle.”

 

The Colonel chipped into the conversation from his position at the head of the table. “I’ve seen it myself,” he confirmed. “It wasn’t done up correctly and worked itself loose.”

 

“That’s crap!”

 

The Colonel’s eyes bored into Andrea. She had basically called him a liar. Andrea didn’t care, furious that no one would believe her. At the other end of the table Kate still sat in stony silence, not having said a word the whole time. Instead Kaminski continued on.

 

“Of course, you wouldn’t have been in that situation at all if you had followed orders.” She hit a button on a remote control and suddenly Kate and Andrea’s voices filled the room, echoing eerily round the space.

 

“… you’re to abort the recon and return to base.”

 

“We’ve found some more people, we’re going back to get the last of them.”

 

“That’s an order Unit 2, you are to abort the recon and return to base immediately.”

 

Kaminski skipped ahead a bit.

 

“Unit 2 to base, we’re going back for the remaining people.”

 

“Negative, Unit 2, Andrea don’t…”

 

The recording cut off. Even to Andrea it sounded bad, though she would never admit as much. Kaminski turned to her side to address Kate.

 

“That is your voice is it not, Major, giving the order to abort?”

 

Kate’s expression didn’t change, her eyes still fixed on the wall. “Yes,” she answered tightly.

 

“And the other voice is Miss Hallstrom, who wilfully disregarded your direct order?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Kaminski nodded. “Do you have any other comment, Major?”

 

“No.”

 

Andrea felt her fury rise at Kate’s continued indifference. It seemed she was on her own. Luckily she was more than capable of sticking up for herself. “There were still two people who needed our help,” she pointed out to Kaminski. “We were going back for them.”

 

“Despite the order not to?”

 

“It was my judgment we could perform the rescue without significant risk. Miss Tendulkar agreed with me.”

 

Kaminski digested that, taking a very deliberate sip of her water and placing it down with aching slowness before she answered. “Quite a faulty judgement wouldn’t you agree?” she looked to her papers again, not expecting an answer to her rhetorical question. “Especially since the women in question were safely picked up by some of the local rescue services later. They were far enough away to escape the explosion from the gas pipeline.”

 

“It wasn’t necessarily a bad call,” Andrea attempted. “In hindsight obviously it looks that way. However, I made the decision given the information I had available to me at the time.”

 

“Though it wasn’t your decision to make, was it? Did you not trust the one made for you?”

 

Andrea didn’t answer that. “If the harness hadn’t broken we would have been well clear of the blast.”

 

“The harness you didn’t secure, you mean.”

 

“No, the harness that broke,” she repeated, getting annoyed with the need to keep doing so. She slammed her fist on the table. “Fucking hell, why won’t you people believe me?”

 

She studied the faces round the table, imploring them to listen, but each one regarded her sceptically. The last one she came to was Kate. Her expression was the most worrying of all, a vision of detached disappointment. Andrea sagged back in her seat with a sigh of resignation, a sickening dismay gnawing at her stomach. Kaminski was the one to speak again.

 

“There will of course be a full independent investigation…”

 

Andrea snorted. “Run by you?”

 

Kaminski ignored her comment as she continued. “In the meantime it is our opinion that you should be suspended from duty for disobeying orders and reckless endangerment of a colleague.”

 

Andrea didn’t say anything, realising now there was little point. They had made their decision already.

 

“You had best hope Miss Tendulkar pulls through,” added Kaminski, “else the charges could be more serious.”

 

Andrea pulled her lips tightly together, holding in her resentment and anger. As Kaminski rose from her seat, Andrea realised the meeting was over. Kaminski and the Colonel were already out the door. Andrea shot to her feet and slammed it before Kate could follow them.

 

“What the hell was that?” she demanded furiously.

 

Kate swung slowly to her, the deadly expression still firmly in place on her face. “What was what?”

 

“That! In the meeting,” cried Andrea, gesticulating wildly at the now empty room. “You couldn’t have made their case for them more if you’d been sitting at Kaminski’s desk and typing it for her.”

 

“You disobeyed an order and someone got hurt. What do you expect me to say?”

 

“A little support might have been helpful, rather than casting me to the wolves! I could practically see Kaminski licking her lips as she tore into me.”

 

Kate’s eyes flashed with anger, each of her following points rammed home with a finger jabbed at Andrea’s chest. “You have to take responsibility for your actions some time, Andrea! You were the one who disobeyed my order. You were the one who forgot to check the harness. You were the one who dropped Nisha into the blast area of that explosion.”

 

“You think it was my fault?”

 

“Wasn’t it?”

 

Andrea took a couple of steps back, stunned. She knew Kate was pissed at her for a whole host of reasons, but she’d never expected the other woman not to believe her. “I’m telling you, the harness was faulty. Yes, I disobeyed your order and I’m sorry for that, but I honestly thought we should get back for those people. It would have worked out if not for the faulty harness.”

 

Kate’s expression didn’t soften and though her next question was delivered in a much quieter tone than her previous outburst, it was no less deadly in its venom. “And is that the real reason you disobeyed the order?”

 

“Sorry?”

 

“That you wanted to get back and rescue the people,” Kate clarified. “Or was it a good way of sticking two fingers up at me?”

 

Andrea folded her arms across her chest defensively, she knew full well Kate had a point but she couldn’t admit that. Instead she turned the question round. “And what about how you were out there? Sticking me with Nisha in the first place…”

 

“That wasn’t my idea.”

 

Andrea ignored the interruption. “If I’d still been with Harry he could have avoided the explosion. Anyway, that’s not really the point. It was an accident. Unfortunate, yes, but not caused by negligence on my part.” Something suddenly occurred to Andrea. “In fact, those harnesses are new, they shouldn’t break like that.”

 

Kate’s brow furrowed. “Are you saying it was sabotage?” she asked doubtfully.

 

“Possibly,” allowed Andrea, thinking over it now it had occurred to her. She hadn’t really studied the harness. Was it tampered with?

 

“The Colonel stated there was no sign of that.”

 

“He must have been mistaken.”

 

From the look on her face Andrea could tell Kate didn’t give much credence to that suggestion. She stiffened, her voice back to its even command tone. “If that’s the case, then the investigation will show it up.”

 

If that’s the case?” scoffed Andrea, shaking her head as she turned away to pace off across the room.

 

“I’m just trying to be pragmatic,” said Kate from behind her, “look at things from all sides.”

 

Andrea whirled round. “I don’t want you to look at it from all sides!” she cried angrily, feeling the heat rising within her once more. “I want you to be on my side! I want you to stand by me, not leave me dangling out on a limb on my own like this.”

 

Kate didn’t react to the strong words, her tone still scarily emotionless. “You know I have to be objective in my position. I can’t take your side just because…”

 

She trailed off, though the intended words were plainly obvious. Andrea rested her hands flat on the table, shaking her head to herself as she looked down at her reflection in the polished surface.

 

“So this is what it comes down to again is it? Your job is more important than me?”

 

Kate moved closer, though still maintained a discrete distance. “I didn’t say that…”

 

“But that’s what it comes down to,” interrupted Andrea, not wanting to hear whatever feeble excuse was coming. “When push comes to shove you’d choose that over me.”

 

“Have you forgotten last year?” Kate reminded her. “How I very nearly lost it all coming after you?”

 

“No, I haven’t forgotten,” said Andrea quietly, pushing back the surge of unpleasant memories, “but that was different. You didn’t have to make a conscious choice; it was the only real option. You’d already been suspended; coming after me got you your job back in fact.” She gave a hollow laugh at the irony. “Plus no one knew about us then, there wouldn’t have been any questions asked about whether your judgement was impaired by your feelings.” She paused, still staring intently downwards. “That is if you still have any…”

 

Andrea didn’t finish the sentence, not wanting to voice any more of her fears lest it make them real.  Suddenly Andrea’s head snapped up. “You don’t believe me do you?” she said, needing to know exactly where she stood.

 

“What?”

 

“It’s a simple enough question. Do you think I caused the accident? Do you think I deliberately disregarded your order out of spite and that I forgot to secure the harness properly? Yes or no?”

 

In the engulfing silence that followed Andrea felt her heart thudding in her chest. Her mouth was dry, hanging on the answer. For a few seconds she actually held her breath.

 

“Yes.”

 

The pain in her chest was all encompassing, Andrea surprised she managed to stay standing as the sickness swept through her, settling somewhere deep in her stomach. After a few seconds she realised she was still holding her breath, frozen in place, staring disbelievingly at Kate. Her own words came back to haunt her. Everyone always lets you down. She just didn’t think it would be quite so painful this time. Pulling her hurt together in a ball of rage, she let rip.

 

“You never really trusted me did you? You don’t … can’t trust anyone, can’t let anyone too close. You were so worried that you’d be betrayed like you were with Dixon that you didn’t even give us a chance, not really.” Andrea moved closer, right up in Kate’s personal space so she could feel the full heat of her fury. “Oh, you made all the right noises, just enough to make me think things would be ok, but when it comes down to it, you’ve been holding back. You can’t commit yourself fully, can’t lay it all on the line for someone else. If that had been you they were having a go at in the meeting I would have leapt to your defence, sod propriety, duty or the job.” Andrea took a shuddering breath, practically shaking with fury, feeling a few tears stinging at the back of her eyes too. “I bet in a perverse way you’re glad to be proved right. Just as you suspected, I’ve let you down like that wanker Dixon. No need to consider I might have a point about the accident, your little prediction is nicely fulfilled, congratulations!”

 

Throughout the whole of her rant Kate had maintained a solemn regard of the younger woman, her expression barely wavering even when Andrea was right up in her face, practically spitting her words out. Andrea stepped back, faintly disturbed by the lack of reaction. At least an angry retort might have indicated some sort of passion, some sort of emotion. Instead there was … nothing.

 

“You know what, I’ll be glad to get away from this place for a while,” said Andrea, battling the tumult of pain and hurt rising in her by focussing on her anger.

 

“Where are you going to go?”

 

Andrea noted the lack of a plea for her to stay. She didn’t know why she had hoped for one. Just another disappointment to add to the rest. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly, “but don’t worry you’ll be the first to know,” she added snidely. She held up her right arm. “And I won’t be performing any rudimentary surgery this time so neither you nor Kaminski need to worry about me going AWOL or blowing the unit’s cover. She can even send some cronies to watch over me if she likes.”

 

Still Kate showed no sign of emotion, her impassivity just annoying Andrea further.

 

“I’m sure you’ll all have lots of fun without me,” Andrea remarked sarcastically. “There’s Kaminski – you two are made for each other - and I’m sure Sophie will be dashing in to offer her particular brand of support again.”

 

Finally there was a tiny flicker of emotion behind the hard grey eyes, though still no words. Andrea simply shook her head and deliberately shoved past Kate on the way to the door, though there was plenty of room to step round her. Andrea paused on the threshold, glancing over her shoulder, hoping against hope for something, anything. Kate’s lips parted as if to speak before being pressed firmly together again. Andrea turned and stepped through the door, slamming it shut behind her.

 

 

…….

 

 

The phone was on its third ring by the time Meg managed to stumble out of her bedroom into the lounge. She tripped over the previous night’s pizza box, discarded on the floor, cursing as stumbled and banged her shin on the coffee table. Whoever was calling at this ungodly hour better have a bloody good reason, she ranted to herself as she finally limped to the small table holding the phone. She snatched up the receiver.

 

“Yes!”

 

“Meg, it’s me.”

 

Even from the short sentence of introduction, Meg could tell something was seriously wrong, her annoyance at being woken swiftly disappearing. “Andi? What is it? What’s happened?”

 

“Can I come and stay?”

 

Meg didn’t even need to think. “Of course.”

 

“Thanks, I should be there later today, this evening probably, if that’s ok?”

 

“Anytime is fine. I haven’t got a shift today, so I should be in. Just text me when you get to London.”

 

“Thanks, Meg…I’ll see you later”

 

“Bye, Andi.”

 

Meg placed the phone back in its cradle, pondering over the early morning call. Obviously something had happened between Andrea and Kate; there was no other explanation for the hour or tone of the call. She supposed she would only get some answers when she saw Andrea later. While she was contemplating whether to bother going back to bed or make a cup of tea, there was a rapping knock on her door.

 

What the fuck? Why am I suddenly in demand at this time of day?

 

She crossed back over the room, taking care to avoid the littered obstacles this time. She made a mental note to have a tidy up before Andrea arrived, knowing how she hated disorganisation. Taking a quick glance through the peephole she got a shock that fully wakened her. Easing the door open, she stared in amazement at her visitor.

 

“Dr Hallstrom?”

 

“Hello, Meg,” said Andrea’s mother in that deceptively soft tone of hers. “Can I come in?”

 

“Er … sure.”

 

Meg stepped aside, seeing the brief look of disgust that flitted across Dr Hallstrom’s face as she saw the state of the small flat. Closing the door, Meg tried to shake off the bizarre feeling of coincidence. One minute she had been speaking to Andrea and then suddenly her mother was on her doorstep.

 

“Would you like a tea, coffee?” asked Meg, remembering her manners, though feeling slightly self-conscious standing talking to the imposing woman in just her boxers and vest.

 

“No.”

 

“Then what can I do for you?”

 

Dr Hallstrom just smiled. Only it wasn’t a nice smile. Meg felt uneasy, oddly threatened even though it was her home. She was about to ask again what Dr Hallstrom wanted, but as she went to speak her throat suddenly became tight. She coughed and it came out as a gagging gasp. Clutching at her neck, Meg struggled to catch a breath. It felt like someone was squeezing her throat with their fingers. Yet the only other person in the room was Dr Hallstrom and she was standing a few feet away, still smiling. Meg looked imploringly at her.

 

“Please…” she managed to croak out. She fell to her knees as she started to feel light-headed.

 

Dr Hallstrom stepped closer, but didn’t reach out to offer any help, just staring down her nose at the fast-fading young woman. “Goodbye, Meg.”

 

The last thing Meg saw was the evil smile and piercing blue eyes watching her slip into oblivion.

 

…..

 

 

Chadwick knocked again, surprised when the door was immediately opened by Dr Hallstrom. He stepped in and swiftly closed the door lest any nosy neighbours saw too much. Now he was in the poky flat he immediately saw the body of a young woman amongst the debris littering the floor. She looked like she had been pretty in life. In death she was just another bit of discarded rubbish.

 

“I could have taken care of that for you,” he noted.

 

Dr Hallstrom straightened the cuffs of her shirt under her suit jacket. “I wanted to take care of this one personally. You can handle disposing of her though. Somewhere no one will find her.”

 

“Yes, Dr Hallstrom,” said Chadwick, a bit peeved he had to do the dirty work without any of the fun.

 

“Good. Tertiary One’s actions had a better than expected result, but we should still be ready in time.”

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Andrea slowly drifted up from sleep, automatically reaching out to the space next to her. As her fingers slid over empty sheets a brief moment of disorientation swept over her, an odd feeling of displacement until her mind awoke fully and caught up with her body. She blinked a couple of times, focussing on the high white ceiling before her head flopped to the side to study the rest of the room. It was the same vista that had met her waking eyes for the last month or so, that of the guest bedroom at her mother’s house.

 

Andrea pulled herself up in bed, now fully aware of her location and the fact that she was alone, just as she had been since she’d left Duransay some four weeks previously. At the thought of the island her memories surged up to ambush her, taking advantage of her less than wakeful state. Visions of a time when her bed wasn’t empty crept into her mind, thoughts of a warm body pressing up against her, soft auburn hair tickling her face.

 

“No!”

 

The jolt of saying the word out loud brought her starkly back to the present. She forced the memories back down, along with the gnawing sense of loneliness they evoked. If she let thoughts of Kate overwhelm her she might never get out of bed as the longing was usually swiftly followed by the feelings of hurt and betrayal all building into a swirling, confusing mass. Better not to think about it at all.

 

Swinging her long legs out of bed, Andrea padded across the lush carpet and out into the hall, seeking out the kitchen and a warming cup of tea. Not that the house was cold, it was just her heart caught in a chill. Coming down the stairs and into the kitchen she was surprised to find it already occupied, her mother sat on one of the stools at the counter. A quick glance at the clock revealed it was only 7:30, the other woman having not left for work yet. Despite the early hour she was immaculately turned out as always in a light grey suit as she sipped her cup of coffee while reading the morning paper. Andrea felt decidedly shabby in comparison in her pyjama bottoms and vest as she braved the cool tiles to hop to the kettle. Her small gasp of shock at the coolness was enough to draw her mother’s eyes up.

 

“Good morning,” she said, offering a warm smile. “Tea?”

 

Since the other woman had made the offer, Andrea plonked herself down on another stool. “Thanks.”

 

While her mother made it, Andrea mused over the bizarreness of the situation. Her mother making her morning cups of tea was not something she would have imagined possible a few months previously. It was funny how some things changed, though not always for the better. Before that thought could lead her back down confusing paths she was presented with a warm mug.

 

“Are you off out at all today?” asked her mother, settling back down on her own stool once more.

 

“I thought I might catch up with, Greg, see if there’s any news.” Greg Bannister was an old colleague of hers who now ran his own private investigation agency. He’d even made some noises about her joining him, now she was at a loose end.

 

“There’s still no word on your friend then?”

 

Andrea shook her head. “No, nothing. It’s just a bit bizarre her taking off to visit family in New Zealand like that when she’d invited me to stay. She’s always been bit flighty, but even for her it seems a bit sudden, especially without letting me know.”

 

“It is peculiar,” agreed her mother. “Maybe she didn’t have time to call you or she couldn’t get through if you were on a plane?”

 

Andrea shrugged. “Maybe, though I’ve not been able to get her on her mobile since either. New Zealand is hardly the third world - you’d have thought she’d have a signal.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll track her down eventually, I wouldn’t worry.”

 

Andrea took a sip of her tea, expertly made she noted, but then she wouldn’t expect anything less than perfection. “I’m just lucky you were there to offer me somewhere else to stay.”

 

“As I said at the time, I’m happy to help in any way I can.” The older woman placed her mug down, fixing Andrea with her blue eyes. “I still mean that. You can stay as long as you like.”

 

Once upon a time Andrea would have been running for the hills at the prospect of spending more than five minutes in the same room as her mother, let alone a month living under the same roof. When she’d turned up at Meg’s a month ago to find the other woman absent she’d considered finding a hotel to stay in instead – it wasn’t as if she couldn’t afford it. Yet she’d not really wanted to be alone, not after all that had happened. In a strange twist of fate her mother had called Andrea at her moment of deliberation and before she really knew what she was doing she’d blurted out a request to come and stay. Luckily it hadn’t been rebuffed. In fact her mother had been amazingly accommodating, even taking a few days off work to spend time with Andrea.

 

“Thanks,” said Andrea, “though I’m hoping I won’t be under your feet too long.”

 

“Really it’s not an imposition, but I can understand you wanting your own space. It’s a shame you sold your place in Islington.”

 

“Tell me about it,” agreed Andrea.  “Still I have the money from selling it, I could get somewhere else.”

 

“This is permanent then, the job in Scotland’s finished?”

 

“I … don’t know,” replied Andrea honestly. There still hadn’t been any official ruling on the accident in Greece, but Andrea wasn’t sure she’d want to go back even if she was cleared. However, considering not even Kate believed her version, it was unlikely anyone else would or that she would get a favourable outcome to the investigation. Kate had called Andrea a couple of times, to keep her informed of progress. Each time Andrea’s hopes had soared on hearing the other woman’s voice, only to be dashed by the formality of the tone. In the end they hadn’t spoken about their relationship at all. Andrea wasn’t even sure there was one anymore. Yet she was afraid to bring up such concerns. At least as it was now she could maintain some sort of illusion of hope. Seeing her mother was still waiting for further elaboration she added. “There’s a few outstanding issues to clear up.”

 

“Personal issues?”

 

Andrea sighed. “Partly.”

 

“If you want to talk about it…?”

 

Andrea stared at the woman next to her, not for the first time wondering who she was and what she’d done with her mother. “Thanks for the offer, but I’ve done enough thinking about it without re-hashing it out loud.” The only person she really needed to talk to was Kate, but Andrea wasn’t about to make the first move in that direction no matter how much she might want to. It was up to Kate to come to her. Only it didn’t look like that was likely to happen. An involuntary shiver crept down Andrea spine at the thought the other woman wasn’t bothered enough to try.

 

Her mother must have seen the shudder as she suddenly changed the topic of conversation. “Since you’re going to be here for a little while longer, I was wondering if you’d like to escort me to the annual cancer research charity fund-raising ball at the ICC this weekend?”

 

“Don’t you have some other date you’d rather take? You can’t be short of offers.”

 

“No, but I’d like to take you.”

 

“So I can listen to a load of scientists bang on about DNA and genetic strands?” asked Andrea doubtfully.

 

“There’ll be free food and drink,” cajoled her mother gently, “and it would do you good to get out and have a bit of fun.”

 

Andrea still wasn’t convinced, though she supposed it did beat another night moping around the house waiting in vain for the phone to ring. “All right, I will go to the ball.”

 

…..

 

 

Kate’s head pounded as she came to, her feelings of disorientation only increasing as she opened her eyes to be greeted by a harsh white light. She couldn’t see any walls or doors due to the bright white glow that filled the room.  She blinked a couple of times trying to recall how she came to be there, wherever there was. Her thoughts were a jumble...

 

I was waiting for Emma in the corridor…that arrogant schoolgirl was there, unhelpful as always… I went into Dr Hallstrom’s office and then…

 

The memories became harder to distinguish and Kate tried to bring her hand up to rub her sore temple. Only she met with resistance, finding her wrist strapped down to the hospital style bed she was lying on. Her unease growing, she tried to sit up, but her other limbs were also bound.

 

“Hello?” she called out, her voice echoing round the empty space. “Is there anyone here?” When there was no reply, Kate became increasingly annoyed. She tried to focus a concussion wave onto the restraints, but to her consternation one wasn’t forthcoming. Concentrating again met with the same result. Her powers didn’t seem to be working. Fighting down her rising anxiety she injected more confidence than she felt into her words. “Whoever you are, you better let me out of here now!”

 

“I can’t do that.”

 

If she hadn’t been tied to the bed, Kate would have jumped at the sudden response right next to her. Her head snapped to the side, seeing Dr Hallstrom looming over the bed.

 

“Let me out of here now!” Kate demanded, struggling futilely against the leather restraints.

 

“Now calm down, Kate,” said Dr Hallstrom, trying to place a comforting hand on Kate’s arm. Kate got another flash of memory – a syringe heading for her neck – and flinched back into the bed. “We just want you to help with our research.”

 

Kate stilled. “Research into what?”

 

Dr Hallstrom gave a half-smile. “If I told you that I’d have to kill you.”

 

Kate stared in consternation as the other woman broke into entirely inappropriate laughter. Suddenly it stopped; the room silent once more. Looking up at the doctor Kate saw she’d produced another syringe from somewhere.

 

“Now just stay calm this won’t hurt…much.”

 

Kate tried to shuffle as far away as possible, but there was nowhere to go. Out of the corner of her eye she caught some movement behind Dr Hallstrom. Someone else was in the room.

 

“Help!” shouted Kate in desperation as the doctor inched closer.

 

The figure moved round into full sight, their face bearing a striking resemblance to the one grinning manically above her. She realised she knew the young woman.

 

“Andrea?” cried Kate in a mixture of surprise and hope. “Andrea, help me!”

 

Blue eyes stared blankly back at Kate almost as if they were looking right through her, like she wasn’t there. Above her, Dr Hallstrom was almost upon her, needle glinting in the bright light. Glancing to the side again Kate saw the young woman was gone to be replaced by the schoolgirl. The vacant blue-eyed stare was still in full effect though.

 

“Andrea!” cried Kate again in a last ditch attempt.

 

The girl looked back coldly, her face a mask of cold detachment as the doctor’s needle touched Kate’s neck.

 

Kate jerked awake in bed, gulping in some much needed breaths. The dreams seemed to be getting worse. Kate supposed it was the vague link between Andrea, her mother and her own real memories of her time at Birmingham University that had caused her mind to come up with the ever more bizarre scenarios. Ever since Andrea had left a month ago she’d been cropping up in them increasingly as her current self, always with a similar outcome – ignoring Kate’s pleas for help. It didn’t take much deductive reasoning to work out the meaning behind that. Why Erin was always cast in the role of the villain was another matter.

 

Not wanting to dwell on that or Andrea further, Kate rolled out of bed, trudging out into the kitchen area to make a much needed cup of coffee. She leant heavily on the kitchen counter as she waited for it to brew, running her hands though her dishevelled hair. Glancing at her reflection in the microwave door she grimaced.

 

“Boy, I look good,” she told herself with heavy sarcasm, pulling at the bags under her eyes. Too many late nights working, followed by disturbed nights’ sleep were taking their toll.

 

A meow from down by her feet came in response to her statement and she glanced down. “Thanks, I know I look like shit, no need to agree.”

 

Gerry gave another curious mewl, rubbing himself against her calves.

 

“Ok, ok, you just want food,” Kate deduced, wondering at her level of sanity given she was now talking to cats. That was how it started. Next thing she would be living alone surrounded by a horde of them as the neighbours avoided knocking on the door of the mad old cat lady. It wasn’t as if she was even that fussed about cats, but she had sort of inherited this one. Reaching down to fondle his ears as she shovelled some brown jelly-goop into his bowl, she knew it was more than that. If she was being honest she liked having him round for the reminder of Andrea.

 

Kate swallowed down the sudden lump in her throat, quickly withdrawing her hand and straightening up. She hastily made her coffee and got dressed in her uniform before any more maudlin thoughts could catch her out. She was supposed to be being strong, focussing on her job as she should have been doing all along, not getting distracted and letting her judgement be coloured by personal feelings. Unfortunately that seemed to be easier in theory than practice. Despite being absent, Andrea’s presence still loomed large in her thoughts.

 

Exiting her quarters, Kate turned for the lifts to make her usual morning trip down below. On the way she gave some cursory greetings to those she passed, but her thoughts still followed her, rolling round her mind. Kate spent a good deal of her waking time alternately missing, cursing and longing for Andrea. Yet they hadn’t managed more than a couple of staid words in the past month. Each time Kate called under the pretext of updating Andrea on the investigation, she’d had thoughts of broaching the subject of what had happened between them. Yet when it came down to it she didn’t know what to say and just ended up sounding officious and aloof. Though part of her wanted to chase off after Andrea as she’d done before and plead with her to come back, another part of her maintained that she hadn’t done anything wrong. Andrea was the one who’d broken the rules and nearly killed someone, then flown off the handle when Kate had tried to remain objective. If anyone should be chasing someone to apologise it should be Andrea. At least that was Kate’s opinion at that moment. In a few minutes it might be different again. It wasn’t as if Andrea had been beating a path to her door to even talk, so Kate could only imagine what sort of a reception she might get if she did make the first move.

 

The lift slid to a halt on the second underground level and Kate stepped out, the corridor quiet and empty given the early hour. Though the soldiers were used to early morning starts, the civilian staff tended to keep regular hours. So Kate was surprised to find someone else had beaten her to her destination that morning, Marcus coming out the door to the sickbay before she reached it. He didn’t spot her immediately and Kate had a brief moment to be unnerved by the reminder of Andrea before his blue eyes flicked to her.

 

“Morning, Major.”

 

“Morning, Marcus, been in chatting with Doc have you? You’re brave at this time of the morning.”

 

Marcus shifted in an unusual display of nervousness. “Er…no…he’s not in yet, I was just visiting.”

 

Kate’s brow creased. As far as she knew there was only one patient to visit. Before she could question him further, Marcus spoke again.

 

“Anyway, I best be getting on, I have to go off base for a few days.”

 

“Anything I should know about?”

 

“No, it’s nothing important, just something I need to sort out for Miss Kaminski.”

 

Again Kate was perturbed by his words. After solving Andrea’s problems, Marcus had stayed on at the base to monitor her condition and carry out other research in conjunction with the scientists. However, the frequency of his work for Kaminski seemed to be increasing, while the degree to which Kate knew what exactly it was he was doing was decreasing. Shaking off the unease of losing control, she pushed open the door to the sickbay. The nurse on duty gave her a nod of greeting as she crossed the room, used to her visits by now. Once by the only occupied bed, Kate reached out a comforting hand, touching the young woman lying there gently on the arm.

 

“Good morning, Nisha.”

 

As usual there was no response. There hadn’t been one for the last month and Kate didn’t expect there to be one any time soon. Bilateral damage to the reticular formation of the midbrain - that was Doc’s fancy name for it. To anyone else it was a coma.  The obvious outward signs of the trauma the young woman had suffered were starting to fade, Doc claiming the burns would heal nearly fully in time with minimal scarring, but there had been no sign of her regaining consciousness since the accident.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said, not for the first time. It never got any easier, failing those under your command. Clearing her throat she attempted to inject a more upbeat tone into her words. Doc had claimed it was good for Nisha to hear voices; that it might help with the recovery. She decided to go for one of Nisha’s favourite topics. “So I see you’ve managed to attract another handsome doctor to your bedside,” she said jokingly. “That would be quite the pleasant sight to wake up to, Dr Hallstrom peering down at you with those big blue eyes.” Unfortunately her words only served to remind her of the blue eyes she missed gazing down at her.

 

“I’m sure yours would be just as welcome.”

 

Kate started from her thoughts, swinging round to see the unexpected sight of Anna Kaminski behind her.

 

“What are you doing here?” Kate asked more sharply than she had intended, still unnerved by how the other woman had snuck up on her, not to mention the even more unsettling thought that Kaminski had just paid her an indirect compliment.

 

Kaminski moved closer to look down at Nisha in the bed. “I’ve come to visit Miss Tendulkar.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

Kaminski’s head turned up to Kate. “Yes. I’m not a monster you know. I wanted to see how she was doing.”

 

The thought of a compassionate Kaminski stymied Kate for a moment before she regained her equilibrium. “There’s no change as far as I know,” she informed Kaminski. “I was just talking to her.”

 

Kaminski absently stroked a tender hand over Nisha’s shoulder. “Yes, Doc said that might help. I’ve tried a few times myself.”

 

Again Kate found it hard to find her voice. The conversation was just bizarre, almost as if Kaminski were a real human being. Saving her from having to comment, Kaminski stopped her stroking and turned fully to Kate.

 

“Just to let you know, I’ve re-scheduled our regular meeting for next Friday. The Colonel is still away at Chicksands and Lieutenant McAllister has some personal business to attend to this week.”

 

It was the first Kate had heard of Sophie having something personal to deal with. Then again they hadn’t exactly been speaking much after the debacle a month ago. The Colonel she did know about. He’d been away at headquarters since the accident. Kate wasn’t sure whether she should be worried by that fact or not.

 

“Is there anything I should be aware of before then?”

 

Kaminski shook her head. “I don’t think so. We’ve not detected any more leaks since the accident, almost as if our culprit is laying low, or possibly out of commission or absent.”

 

Kate glanced down at the bed. “You don’t think…”

 

“I was more inclined towards the absent theory.”

 

Kate stiffened. “You mean Andrea.”

 

Kaminski shrugged. “It seems quite the coincidence, don’t you think, that everything goes quiet on that front as soon as Miss Hallstrom leaves the base?”

 

“Coincidence being the operative word,” pointed out Kate. “Maybe the real mole decided to take advantage of the chance to deflect suspicion.”

 

“Or maybe I’m just right.”

 

Kate felt the heat rising within her, fighting to control her annoyance at the other woman’s persistence. “You’ve had it in for Andrea from the start,” she said, “for no good reason that I can see.”

 

“And you’ve stuck up for her from the start,” retorted Kaminski, “but then we all know the reason for that.”

 

Kate clamped her jaw shut, taking some deep breaths through her nose before she lost her cool completely. When Kaminski next spoke though, her tone had softened.

 

“Don’t blow it now, Major,” she began, pausing before she continued as if she was finding the next words hard to say. “I was impressed with your dealing of the accident on Kythira, that you allowed good sense and judgement to take precedence over … personal feelings. But you need to remain objective. That’s the only thing that’s saved you so far, given past mistakes.”

 

Kate wanted to tell Kaminski just where she could shove her patronising objectivity, but held her tongue, aware of the heightened scrutiny of her actions since the accident due to her relationship with Andrea. That was one of the reasons she was making such a determined effort to remain impartial.

 

“I’m fully aware of my duty and responsibilities,” said Kate evenly.

 

“Good, then you should be able to remain equally aware when the enquiry into events on Kythira starts the week after next.”

 

Kate struggled to keep her expression even, suspecting it was a deliberate attempt by Kaminski to blind-side her. Then again the other woman could have kept it to herself even longer if that was her intention. “The investigation is complete?”

 

“Nearly.”

 

“And…?”

 

“You know I can’t reveal anything until the enquiry.”

 

Kate realised as much, but that didn’t stop it irritating her.

 

Kaminski continued, her voice dropping to a discrete whisper. “Let me just say I would keep my distance and impartiality intact if I were you.”

 

Kate frowned – was Kaminski actually trying to warn her of potential trouble? It didn’t make sense, the other woman had been after her job for ages and Kate would have assumed Kaminski would leap at the opportunity to discredit her.

 

“Telephone calls to a certain address in Birmingham probably aren’t a good idea either,” added Kaminski.

 

Kate drew back. “You’ve been listening in.”

 

Kaminski shook her head. “Not personally, I’ve just read the reports, same as anyone else could.”

 

“Then you’d also know those calls have been purely of an official nature to keep Miss Hallstrom informed of progress while she is suspended.” Miss Hallstrom? Since when did I start calling her that?

 

“Yes, still it might be better to let someone else deal with such communication to avoid any questions.”

 

But then I wouldn’t even have a vague pretext to call her, to hear her voice. “I think I can handle a couple of telephone conversations without losing my objectivity, and I’m sure you’re monitoring everything closely both here and off base.”

 

A faint twitch at Kaminski’s eyes proved to Kate she had been correct in her assumption. Most likely they were watching Andrea. So far the tracking device hadn’t registered any use of her powers while off base though. Not that I was checking. Not wanting to discuss it further she left Kaminski to it, wondering how much longer her head could win out in the ongoing conflict with her heart.

 

……

 

 

Chadwick entered Dr Hallstrom’s office at Quadrant Research, having to do a double take as he saw the woman standing turned away from him at one of the bookshelves. She wore a long ball gown, open at the back to reveal smooth white skin before silver material slid over a pert backside. Chadwick had the strong urge to slide is hands over it too, resisting at the thought it might be his last action ever if he did. Dr Hallstrom turned, Chadwick unable to stop staring at how the dress stretched across her chest, clinging to the curves of her body.

 

“Did you have something to tell me, Mr Chadwick?”

 

“Uh…yes…” he stammered, trying to engage his brain. Looking up at her face didn’t help; she looked stunning with a few wisps of her blonde hair teased out of her elaborate do to frame her cheekbones.

 

“And?” she prompted again.

 

Chadwick cleared his throat and pressed on. “Best estimate is that Mr Barnes will only last until the end of the week.”

 

Dr Hallstrom nodded. “I see. Then we are going to need a new subject.”

 

“Tertiary one could help us out,” suggested Chadwick, “let us know the latest surveillance from the SRU.”

 

“Not this time, they’re temporarily unavailable,” said Dr Hallstrom. “Don’t worry though, I have other avenues to pursue.”

 

Considering there was only one other mutant he knew of available to them, Chadwick had to wonder just how far Dr Hallstrom would go in the name of research.

 

 

 

…..

 

 

Andrea glanced at the clock on the dashboard, knowing before she even saw the glowing 19:45 that she was late. The traffic coming into town had been terrible, but then it was a Saturday night. She was just one of many revellers heading into Birmingham city centre for a night out. The heavy traffic was only exacerbated by an accident at Five Ways when she was nearly there, snarling up all entrances to the roundabout. Things would have been so much easier if she could have just skipped the whole nightmare of Birmingham’s convoluted road system and flown to the International Convention Centre instead. Such use of her powers would have raised blazing red warning signals back on Duransay, though, no doubt followed by a visit from some officials. Andrea wondered if Kate herself would come. Unlikely, she considered, it was probably beneath a major to deal with such mundane tasks. Andrea had to wonder what would be serious enough to garner the other woman’s attention.

 

Another good reason for not flying was the havoc it would wreak with her hair and dress. The strappy red number was hardly built for zipping through damp clouds at near zero temperatures. At least the car had heating, even if it had spent most of the last couple of miles moving at about five miles an hour. Finally Andrea saw the sign for the ICC’s parking lot and turned off the main road into it. Given she was late it was hardly surprising that finding a parking space proved problematical. She’d already completed one circuit of the car park before she spotted a space, manoeuvring sharply into it before anyone else stole in. Quickly grabbing her matching red handbag and jacket, she slipped on her high heels, having been driving in flats. Jumping from the car she slammed the door behind her, took a step and pulled up sharply at the tug on her dress.

 

“Skit runk!”

 

This is why I never wear damn dresses, she cursed to herself as she opened the door again to remove her skirt.

 

“Why does foreign swearing always sound so sexy?”

 

Andrea’s eyes flicked to the end of her car, seeing Christine Ferguson watching her with some amusement, the orange lights of the car park shining off the reporters dark hair. She was well insulated against the cold night air in a long black coat with a thick purple scarf wrapped round her neck. Her usual tatty, bulging bag was slung over her shoulder.

 

“Miss Ferguson,” acknowledged Andrea, smoothing down her skirt and clicking the lock button on her keyfob. “You know a girl might start to think you were following her with all these chance meetings.”

 

“Who says I’m not?”

 

Andrea looked to her, receiving a cheeky grin and a wink back. Shaking her head at the other woman’s audacity, Andrea started walking briskly for the entrance to the centre, the click of her heels on the concrete echoing loudly round the multi-storey car park. Christine had to half run to catch up given her shorter stature.

 

“You’re here for the charity ball are you?” she asked when she drew level.

 

“Am I going to be quoted on any comment I give?”

 

Christine laughed. “No, I was just being friendly.”

 

Andrea raised a doubtful eyebrow. “And why are you here?” she asked in return. “Not attending the charity ball that’s for sure.”

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

Andrea gave a quick glance downwards towards Christine’s legs. “I don’t think jeans are normal attire for such occasions.”

 

Christine gave another chuckle. “We could make an investigative reporter out of you yet, or maybe a detective.”

 

Pulling up at the door, Andrea shot Christine a quick quizzical glance. Something in the way she had said the last part of the sentence made Andrea think she already knew full well that had been Andrea’s former job. However, Christine gave no outward sign of anything untoward. Instead she wasn’t even looking at Andrea, reaching for the door instead.

 

“Ladies first,” she offered, gesturing for Andrea to go in before her.

 

The heat of the foyer was a welcome contrast to the chill outside. “So why are you here?” asked Andrea again.

 

Christine shrugged. “Just seeing if there’s anyone interesting around.”

 

Andrea doubted the other woman was quite as disorganised as she made out, suspecting there was a real purpose for a presence even if she wasn’t going to reveal what it was. Her eyes swept the large entrance area looking for her mother amongst those milling around. The foyer was busy with people for a variety of different events in the centre’s multitude of entertaining halls and venues and Andrea couldn’t immediately see her. Possibly her mother had given up and gone in already, she considered, so started for the hall where the ball was being held. After a few steps she realised she was not alone.

 

Andrea looked to her side, seeing Christine wrestling to unwind her long scarf as she walked. “So is there anyone interesting?” Andrea asked.

 

“There is now.”

 

The suggestion in the other woman’s voice was hard to miss. Andrea might have been off the scene for a while, but she wasn’t completely oblivious to flirting. Deciding it best to ignore it for now, she was grateful to catch sight of her mother standing outside the entrance to hall four, checking the time on her thin watch. It perfectly matched the silver of the stunning dress she was wearing.

 

“Sorry I’m late,” said Andrea as she approached.

 

Her mother turned, greeting Andrea with a warm smile. “It doesn’t matter, we probably just missed the boring introductory speeches.” The smile quickly faded as her mother spied the other person hovering. “Miss Ferguson, what a coincidence to see you here,” she said coolly.

 

“Good evening, Dr Hallstrom,” said Christine, offering her hand.

 

Andrea’s mother ignored it, addressing her daughter again instead. “Shall we go in?”

 

Andrea nodded, giving Christine a parting glance. The other woman just smiled enigmatically before spotting another latecomer and grabbing them for a comment. Inside the large banqueting suite a couple of dozen round tables dotted the room, each decked in a white dining cloth and set out ready for dinner. As her mother had suspected someone was up on a stage at the end of the room giving a speech on the sources of funding for cancer research. The two woman quietly made their way to their table, Andrea finding herself sat between a professor from Cambridge and a charity campaigner. Her mother sat down opposite. Once the speeches were finished dinner was served and Andrea found the conversation round the table surprisingly stimulating.  The professor in particular seemed impressed by her knowledge of stem cell research, remarking on how she was a chip off the old block with a tip of the head to Andrea’s mother. The warm smile Andrea received from the other woman in return gave her an odd feeling of gratification. By the time they got to the rich chocolate pudding the pair of them had succeeded in monopolising the conversation and attention of all those round the table.

 

Once the dinner was finished, Andrea gave her excuses, heading for the bar but only ordering a coke since she was driving. Leaning on the bar she surveyed the dancers who had now taken to the floor at the front of the room. It wasn’t long before she had company, her mother wending her way through the crowd and procuring a white wine off the barman.

 

“I hope you weren’t too bored during dinner,” she commented as she turned to follow Andrea’s gaze out over the dance floor.

 

Andrea shook her head. “I actually found it quite interesting.”

 

“You certainly made quite the impression with Professor Dawkins,” said her mother. “He was asking where you worked; I think he was hoping to poach you.”

 

“I just like to keep up with things, that’s all.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Andrea gave her mother a faint frown, to which the other woman raised her eyebrows innocently.

 

“What? I didn’t say anything.”

 

“You didn’t need to,” said Andrea, “I could practically hear you thinking it.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with wishing the best for your daughter is there?” asked the other woman. “Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to pressure you into anything you don’t want to do, I’ve learnt my lesson.” Her mother leant in. “But maybe if you were bored at home one day you might like to pop in to the research institute, just to see?”

 

“Maybe,” said Andrea non-commitally, though she was strangely interested in the idea.

 

Her mother leant back once more, taking another sip from her drink. “What was that reporter asking you about on the way in?” she asked, perhaps deeming it safer to switch the topic.

 

“Nothing in particular,” said Andrea, “I think she was just generally nosing around, though she does seem to be doing that in our vicinity quite frequently.”

 

“I gathered you’d met her before when we saw her at the university. Was that from your time in the police?”

 

“No, after that,” replied Andrea. “I’ve just bumped into her a couple of times. What was it she was interviewing you about that time?”

 

“Just my research.”

 

Andrea’s brow creased as she pondered over the likelihood of it just being that. Her mother obviously spotted the thoughtful look.

 

“You suspect she was after something more?”

 

Andrea shrugged. “I don’t know. As fascinating and important as your work is, it just doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing to interest a reporter like Miss Ferguson.”

 

“What sort of a reporter is that?”

 

“One with a nose for a good story!”

 

“Well, she’s not going to get one of those from me,” said her mother, “unless it’s about tumour necrosis factor related apoptosis-inducing ligand receptors.”

 

They both laughed at the unlikely concept. Drinking from her glass, Andrea continued to absently watch the dancers. Unbidden a memory of the last party she’d attended swam to the fore of her mind. Recollections of being one of those dancing happily were bittersweet and Andrea found herself looking away, down at her hands. The Celtic pattern of the ring on her right-hand caught the lights from the dance floor. She wasn’t sure why she continued to wear it really.

 

“I think I’m going to go outside for a bit of fresh air,” she said, not waiting for a reply from her mother. Suddenly she just needed to get out.

 

Barrelling out into the mall area outside the room, Andrea cursed her own feelings. Why she kept hoping for something she didn’t know. It was obvious Kate didn’t want to see her, else she would have been down by now; she’d had a whole month after all. Even more annoying was the fact that Andrea still wanted Kate to come and see her. She’d managed to maintain her righteous indignation at the incident with Sophie and the lack of support over the Kythira accident for a good week after leaving Duransay, but then the feelings of missing the other woman had started to take over. Andrea was still pissed at Kate, enough to maintain her dignity and wait for Kate to make the first move, but not so much not to realise she was still hopelessly in love with her. Following those feelings was the fear that they were one-sided – another good reason not to make a fool of herself and run back to Duransay.

 

Walking aimlessly along the wide corridor she passed other party-goers, smiling, laughing, holding hands. Needing to find somewhere quiet she spotted the doors to the Symphony Hall which had no performance that night. Inside only a few lights were on, just enough to highlight the cavernous space famous for its superb acoustics. Once upon a time both her mother and her violin teacher had harboured thoughts she might one day play there. Andrea considered she had probably deliberately not tried as hard as she could in her lessons, just to spite the pair of them. She was a decent enough player but certainly not symphony orchestra standard. The rows of red seats were empty as she passed up the aisle towards the semi-circular area at the far end where the orchestra sat. As she had hoped the hall was an oasis of calm from the bustle outside and in the banqueting suite. Sitting on one of the musicians chairs her eyes swept the dimly lit room, taking in the many levels supported by golden columns. As she completed her circuit, something that caught her eye amongst the orchestra chair. Andrea got up and bent down to pick up a black case. Would it be rude to give it a go? She gave a guilty glance around, but she was still alone. What would it hurt?

 

Flicking the catches on the case, she carefully drew out the violin from within along with its bow. It was a beautiful instrument and she treated it with due reverence as she tested the tuning for a moment before nestling it under her chin. As the notes of the melody she played drifted round the room, Andrea closed her eyes, picturing that the hall was full and that she was playing to the appreciative audience. Her bowing became more confident as she lost herself to the music before finishing in a flourishing crescendo. A single resounding handclap echoed round the room and Andrea’s eyes snapped open to see Christine Ferguson appearing out of the shadows on the stalls.

 

“Would it be too much to ask for an encore?”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes before shaking her head. “I think I should put this back where I found it just in case you’re not the only one prowling round here.”

 

“I prefer the term ‘waiting with intent’,” said Christine with a cheeky smile.

 

“So have you come across anyone else interesting in the course of your waiting?” asked Andrea as she placed the violin back in its velvet home. “Any juicy stories for tomorrow’s paper?”

 

“I tend to be more one for the in-depth investigation; I like my stories with a bit of meat.”

 

“And what’s on the menu at the moment?”

 

Christine grinned. “Now that would be telling.”

 

From the way Christine was looking at her, Andrea got the distinct impression she might be one of the courses. What she wasn’t certain of was whether the reporter’s interest was purely in pursuit of a story, given how she’d bumped into her at two incident scenes, or whether it was more personal.

 

“By the way,” continued Christine, “I didn’t get a chance to say before, but I like the dress, very … red, and very … revealing.”

 

Andrea glanced down, supposing it was. No wonder the Professor’s eyeline had wavered rather during their conversation. “Thanks,” she said, “and you look very … practical.”

 

Christine laughed. “Not all of us get invited to such exclusive gatherings, though I do have an offer of another one for you.”

 

Andrea raised her eyebrows waiting for Christine to elaborate.

 

“Lunch,” the other woman clarified.

 

“With?”

 

“Me.”

 

“Which is why it’s exclusive,” deduced Andrea.

 

“Precisely.”

 

Andrea considered it for a moment. “Is it business or pleasure?”

 

Christine gave a sly grin. “What makes you think it would be anything but pleasure?”

 

Despite herself Andrea couldn’t help laughing. Christine was confident if nothing else. “I get the impression you’re never completely off the job,” noted Andrea.

 

“Occupational hazard I guess,” conceded Christine. “How about if I promise to try and keep reporter type questions to a minimum?”

 

Andrea wasn’t sure why she was even considering it, though there was something intriguing about the reporter. “And can I reserve the right not to comment?”

 

“Been taking lessons off your…” Christine paused as if she was considering the next word carefully, “…friend, the major?”

 

The name was like a dash of cold water in the face, Andrea annoyed at the lurching sensation in her chest.

 

“Sorry, did I say something wrong?” asked Christine, genuine concern in her tone.

 

“No,” said Andrea stiffly.

 

“Ok” said Christine doubtfully, but seeming to sense she shouldn’t press. “So are we on for lunch, some time next week?”

 

Andrea pulled herself together. Why shouldn’t I? “All right.”

 


 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Chapter 15

 

Monday mornings had never been Kate’s favourite time and the current one was no exception. It didn’t help that her sleep had been fitful the night before, bizarre dreams of being trapped in experiments punctuated with bouts of wakefulness wishing her bed wasn’t quite so empty. On top of that she had a fresh batch of documents from Kaminski to wade through sitting on her desk. Kate wondered when the other woman had the time to produce them, considering maybe she was secretly a robot that never slept. Even the strong coffee in her mug did little to lift her mood and Kate resigned herself to a long morning ahead.

 

A couple of hours and three coffees later she hardly seemed to have made a dent in the paperwork. Giving up for a moment, she levered herself out of her seat, stretching stiff muscles as she crossed to gaze out the large window. It was another grey March day outside, a few spots of rain hitting the glass as Kate aimlessly scanned the windswept landscape of the island. Even with the inclement weather she had a strong urge to be outside. Maybe she could just pop outside for a minute, fly off into the sky, no one would notice. It was just the sort of thing Andrea would do.

 

Kate shook her head, smiling ruefully to herself at the mental image. How she wished Andrea was there doing something disruptive like that now; anything for a bit of excitement. A knock at the door made her start and for a second her mind ran ahead, thinking it was Andrea come to complain about something or other. She had to remind herself there was no chance of that this time, no matter how much she might hope otherwise.  Turning away from the window she called out admittance, finding it was Tom and Bel instead. Kate sat wearily behind her desk, gesturing for them to take up some seats opposite.

 

“What can I do for you?” she asked, trying to keep the tiredness out of her voice but failing.

 

“We can come back if it’s not a good time…” began Tom before getting a quick kick in the shins from Bel. He let out a small yelp, rubbing at his leg. “All right, no need to get violent.”

 

“Just tell her,” said Bel.

 

“Why can’t you tell her?”

 

“Because it’s your fault.”

 

“My fault?” exclaimed Tom. “I think you had a little something to do with it!”

 

Kate decided it was time to intervene, coughing loudly to get their attention before speaking. “As riveting as this domestic is, can someone just tell me whatever it is you have to say. I am quite busy.”

 

Tom clasped his hands together nervously in his lap. “Well…you see…the thing is…er…”

 

“Oh for God’s sake!” cried Bel. “I’m pregnant.”

 

Kate starred at her as silence engulfed the room. Somewhere deep down she knew she should congratulate them, offer a smile and reassuring platitudes. Unfortunately such thoughts were overshadowed by the ones concerning how she really didn’t need this now. “Pregnant? But…how?”

 

Tom started to answer. “Well, you see, we…”

 

“I don’t need a biology lesson, Mr Parsons,” snapped Kate. “What I meant was how could you be so stupid?”

 

Bel leapt up from her seat. “We’re not stupid! Sometimes things just happen. And thanks for your support by the way!”

 

She started storming for the exit, Tom hurrying after her as Bel continued to rant. “See, I told you we shouldn’t have said anything to her, not at the moment.”

 

He tried to placate her as they made it to door. Kate wondered if they thought she couldn’t hear or if they were deliberately speaking so she could to make a point. “Sorry, I thought she might be more understanding.”

 

“Yeah, right, because she’s been so available and accessible the last month or so.”

 

Tom looked abashed.

 

“Christ, you’re not still making excuses for her are you?” Bel glared back at Kate. “Because I’m not!”

 

With that she yanked open the door and barged out. Tom gave Kate a faint apologetic shrug and followed. Kate sagged into her chair, resting her head on the back of it as she closed her eyes and let out a long sigh.

 

You handled that well! Idiot!

 

Rubbing her hand over her face she wondered at their words. Was that how they really thought of her now? Had she been distancing herself from everyone, burying herself in work? Disturbed at the thought she rose from her chair, crossing to the cabinet by the window. She needed something stronger than coffee. As she pulled out the bottle, she couldn’t help her eyes drifting to the wall in front of her where the framed charts Andrea had bought her for Christmas hung, mocking her with recollections of a happier time. The whiskey felt good as it burnt down her throat and she poured a second one before she lowered herself onto the sofa.

 

Her muscles felt tight about her shoulders as she leant forwards to place the drink on the coffee table and she wished she could have gotten a relaxing massage about then. A searing vision of the last one she’d had in her office shot across her mind, unsettling in its intensity - Andrea’s hands slipping down her shirt, kneading hard but tenderly before moving lower…

 

Kate grabbed her drink and downed it in one as the heat pooled between her legs. The drink did little to calm her, though, and another knock at her door just grated across her taut nerves.

 

“Yes!”

 

The door to the office was pushed open by Sophie who gave Kate a quizzical look as she made her way across the room.

 

“Drinking in the middle of the day?”

 

“Yes,” stated Kate without apology. “Want one?”

 

Sophie sat down next to her. “No, thanks.” She peered curiously at Kate. “Are you all right?”

 

“Sure! I’m just great,” cried Kate with heavy sarcasm. “I spend all my time sat behind a desk rather than out in the field, Kaminski and the Colonel are on my case twenty-four-seven and my operatives think I’m a hard-nosed bitch. Things couldn’t be better.”

 

“And is it really those things making you this cranky?”

 

“What else would it be?”

 

Sophie sighed. “Last time I looked neither of us was stupid. You can try and fool yourself, but we both know this is to do with Andrea.”

 

“Andrea isn’t here.”

 

“Precisely.”

 

Kate rounded on the other woman, annoyed at having her feelings picked over. “And why is that, remind me? Oh yes, you blabbed to her about that stupid kiss last year!”

 

“I might have told her that,” said Sophie, “but that was hardly the reason she left. You need to look a bit closer to home for that.”

 

“Are you saying it was my fault?”

 

“I’m not saying anything. What I actually came here to say is that you need to pull yourself together. People are starting to notice your lack of care and attention to duty.”

 

Kate let out a bitter laugh. “My lack of care and attention? That’s all I have been doing, my bloody duty!”

 

“Just not too well.”

 

Kate shot to her feet. “I’ve had enough of this crap. Thanks for your concern, Lieutenant, it’s duly noted. Now you can get out.”

 

Sophie clambered to her feet too, but made no move to leave. “You need to forget about her before this goes the same way as Dixon.”

 

“That’s your advice, is it, just forget about her?”

 

“She’s trouble,” insisted Sophie. “Just look at that whole thing in Greece, not to mention other numerous incidents before that.”

 

“I know she is … was … difficult, but it seems to me there’s something else, something you’re not telling me. What is it?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Sophie?”

 

“Just keep your distance.”

 

Kate laughed mirthlessly. “So it’s a secret, is it? Just like this mysterious ‘personal business’ of yours that you’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. What’s that, another cover for some special bit of arse-licking work you’re doing for Kaminski?”

 

Sophie visibly stiffened. “No.”

 

“Right! I thought it would be good having you here, but instead you’ve got your head so far up Kaminski’s arse you’re practically tickling her colon with your tongue.”

 

Sophie’s face was thunderously dark. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to fulfil your demands of me,” she seethed. “Maybe you should think about someone else’s needs for once though!”  Before Kate could add anything further she spun on her heel and stomped out the door, pausing when she got there to give a parting shot. “I won’t be here the rest of the week, I have more of that personal business to attend to. And if I was considering telling you what it is, I’m certainly not now!”

 

Sophie slammed the door shut after her and Kate flopped back down on the sofa.

 

Two for two! Fantastic!

 

Kate considered that maybe Sophie had a point, perhaps she was losing it. She needed to get away, try and get some perspective. She dialled the number on the phone automatically.

 

“Hi mum…”

 

…….

 

 

Andrea pulled her mother’s spare car into the visitor’s parking space outside Quadrant Research, killing the windscreen wipers before the engine. Drawing her coat close round her neck she clambered out, the incessant drizzle tickling at her face as the wind whipped it round the car park. Scanning her surroundings out of detective’s habit, Andrea noted the other cars put the brand new Volvo S80 she was driving to shame. Scientific research obviously paid much better than she had imagined, perhaps she had gone into the wrong career. She was about to turn for the entrance to the building when something caught her attention out on the road outside the gate. The research centre wasn’t on a busy road, being on an industrial estate on the fringes of Birmingham, so the car parked up stood out.

 

The faint wisps of steam off the bonnet indicated it had only just pulled up, yet no one got out. Trying not to stare, Andrea started walking for the door to the building, surreptitiously watching for any signs of movement in the car out of the corner of her eye. Had they been following her or were they watching the building for some reason? The former seemed more likely; quite possibly they were from the government, keeping an eye on her while she was away from Duransay. She had a good mind to march over to the car and tell them to sod off; she had a tracker after all. Restraining herself she continued walking the doors sliding open automatically on her approach and granting her access to the airy foyer.

 

“Good morning, Miss Hallstrom,” greeted a cheery and immaculately presented receptionist from behind the sweeping reception desk. Andrea had never met her before, but obviously her mother had alerted the woman to her arrival.

 

Andrea had been surprised how excited her mother seemed to be at the prospect of Andrea visiting the research institute after she had accepted her invitation from the weekend. In fact she’d arranged for Andrea to visit the very next day, despite the fact that it wasn’t normally one of her days there. She should have been lecturing at the university instead, but had deemed it more important to show her daughter round. Andrea still couldn’t quite get over that; her mother putting her before work.

 

“I’ll just buzz Dr Hallstrom if you want to take a seat,” offered the receptionist.

 

“No need,” interrupted a voice, “Dr Hallstrom is already here.”

 

Andrea could only assume her mother had been watching her arrival given her speedy appearance in reception. She now wore a white coat over the cream blouse and grey skirt Andrea had seen her wearing earlier that morning at home, the identity badge attached to her left chest pocket depicting a stern face not in evidence at that moment. Instead her mother was beaming.

 

“I’m so glad you could come,” she said.

 

Andrea shrugged. “It was tricky fitting you into my busy schedule, but I’m here.”

 

“Come on, let me show you round.”

 

As they went to go through the security barriers, Andrea’s mother looked to the receptionist. “If you would, Melissa.”

 

The receptionist seemed slightly unsure. “Shouldn’t I issue her with a badge?” she asked, indicating Andrea with her eyes.

 

“I think I can vouch for her,” said Andrea’s mother.

 

“Of course, Dr Hallstrom,” the receptionist said, quickly backing down and pressing a hidden button to allow Andrea access.

 

Her mother gestured Andrea forwards. “Come and see where miracles are made.”

 

The only time Andrea had seen her mother’s work before was back when she’d been at school, when she’d spent long afternoons waiting around at the University. Occasionally her mother had invited her to come and watch her experiments, but the details had been beyond her knowledge at the time and mostly she’d just been bored by it all. Other than that it had always been too important or complex for mere children to be witness too. Whereas before Andrea had been largely disinterested, now she couldn’t help be impressed by the facilities, appreciating the research being done even if she didn’t understand most of it fully. All of the other scientists they dropped in on seemed more than happy to take some time out to explain things to her, while her mother just hovered. Whenever Andrea glanced at her she caught the other woman watching with a fond smile on her face. Eventually the tour brought them to another door on the second floor labelled “Molecular and Population Genetics Team”.

 

“And this is where I do most of my work,” said her mother, with a mix of pride and what Andrea would almost have classed as fear in her voice.

 

Surely she’s not afraid what I will think?

 

Given the name on the door, Andrea was half expecting to find the lab full of other members of the “team”, but it was empty. Her mother had always like to work alone. The lab itself looked much like those Andrea had seen at the University, with slightly newer, more expensive looking equipment in the pristinely clean environment.

 

“So what are you researching at the moment?” Andrea asked more out of politeness than an expectation she was going to understand the answer.

 

Her mother smiled again. “The molecular and population genetics team aims to identify genetic factors that increase the chance of cancer occurring,” she said, sounding slightly like she was reciting from the recruiting brochure. “For example one of the areas we’re investigating at the more are the factors that make individuals susceptible to breast cancer. In addition to rare high penetrance susceptibility alleles for breast cancer there is evidence that a proportion of cases can be ascribed to low penetrance alleles. Such alleles are detectable through genetic association comparing the frequency of specific genotypes in cases and controls. It is probable that such alleles interact with lifestyle and environmental risk factors.”

 

Andrea stared blankly for a moment, realising her mother had paused for comment. Her mind fought hard to catch up with the detailed information. While it did her mother laughed.

 

“Maybe I should show you something to demonstrate,” she said, walking over to the nearest bench and pulling out a couple of stools. “If you don’t mind giving me a small sample,” she added, holding up a small syringe.

 

Andrea froze for a second. A small sample? Would her mother be able to detect her mutated genes if she took one? Would her secret be revealed? Or did it require specialist equipment to determine such things? Andrea wished she had paid a bit more attention back on Duransay now.

 

“Andrea, is everything all right?”

 

Andrea shook herself, quickly making a decision. “Yes, fine.” She sat on the stool, rolling up her left sleeve, just below where the regulator sat attached to her arm. Why she kept wearing it she didn’t know, it wasn’t as if she was allowed to use her powers.

 

“There’ll be a small prick,” her mother warned before swiftly inserting the needle and drawing out the blood into the tube.

 

Taking the sample her mother moved away for a while, spinning it round in some equipment and drawing a small fraction out onto a slide. Andrea rubbed at her forearm and drew her shirtsleeve back down. She wasn’t entirely sure why she had agreed and now she was feeling nervous as her mother silently slid the spot of blood under something akin to a microscope. Do I actually want her to find out? The thought held both appeal and fear. What will she think? Will she be horrified? Will she think I’m unnatural, reject me again?

 

“Actually there’s something I should tell you,” Andrea found herself saying.

 

Her mother glanced up from her intense study of the sample. “Yes?”

 

Mouth dry, Andrea licked her lips. “I … I just wanted to say how much I appreciate you showing me all this.” She couldn’t do it, not yet.

 

“It’s my pleasure.” She turned back to the device, making a few last adjustments. “Oh, this is interesting.”

 

Andrea’s heart nearly stopped. This is it, no turning back.

 

“Come and take a look.”

 

Amazed she could get her body to move with some semblance of normality, Andrea pushed herself up from the stool and peered into the twin eyeholes. The magnification was incredible and her mother had obviously added some sort of dye or agent to parts of the sample as some of cells glowed purple.

 

“I can explain…” Andrea started.

 

“Really?” said her mother with no small surprise. “You know something about STK12 cells?”

 

Stymied for a moment, Andrea frowned. “Sorry?”

 

“That’s what the glowing purple cells are. They’re an indicator of a natural immunity to certain types of cancer.”

 

Andrea could barely hide the relief in her voice. “Oh, yes, of course.”

 

“Why? What did you think they were?”

 

“Nothing,” said Andrea quickly. “You’re the expert of course.”

 

For a moment, her mother looked like she was about to question Andrea further on her odd behaviour, but instead she turned back to the device again, drawing the slide out.

 

“It’s quite rare, actually, do you mind if I keep the sample?”

 

Simply relieved Andrea nodded. “Sure, I hope it helps with your research.”

 

Her mother smiled. “I’m sure it will.”

 

……..

 

 

Kate played with the rim of her coffee cup as she studied the patterns on the wooden table before her, tracing her finger absently along the well-worn lines. She barely registered the other person taking up a seat to her right.

 

“So when are you going to tell me what you’re really here for?”

 

Glancing up from her study, Kate saw her mother drinking from own mug, eyes peering curiously at her over the top of it. Behind her, outside the kitchen window, dusk was drawing in fast. Kate had been in Weymouth the whole day having caught a flight down at the crack of dawn, but this was the first time they’d spoken about anything besides the weather or the latest gossip from her mother’s theatre group or the merits of the new one way system in town. All of which were very safe topics, good for avoiding discussing anything too personal.

 

Kate shrugged. “Can’t I just come and see you because I want to catch up?”

 

“Of course you’re always welcome,” said the other woman, carefully placing her mug down for a moment, “but I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times you’ve visited outside of holidays and other special occasions.”

 

Kate started to say something but got summarily cut off.

 

“It’s ok, I’ve gotten used to it after being married to your father for so long. Your career is important to you, I realise that and I’m proud that you’re so dedicated.”

 

Kate stared down at her coffee again, mumbling to herself. “Maybe a little too dedicated.”

 

She could feel her mother’s eyes boring into the side of her head, waiting for her to elaborate on the off-hand comment.

 

“It’s nothing,” muttered Kate, not looking up.

 

The doubtful tone was evident in her mother’s voice as she replied. “Right, you’ve come all this way for nothing,” she said, pausing before adding. “Something’s happened with Andrea, hasn’t it?”

 

Kate swallowed her latest mouthful of coffee a bit too quickly, choking slightly.

 

“What makes you say that?” she managed hoarsely.

 

Her mother quirked a silver eyebrow. “Aside from you gagging on your coffee?” she said pointedly. “Have you two had an argument? What have you done?”

 

“What makes you think it’s my fault?”

 

“So something has happened?”

 

Kate sighed. “Yes, we had a disagreement; I haven’t seen her in over a month.”

 

Her mother drew in a long breath. “I think I need to put the kettle back on,” she said, rising to her feet, “we could be here a while.” Moving over to the nearest worktop, she filled the kettle and flicked it on before turning back to Kate. “Come on then, you best tell me the gory details.”

 

Kate ran a hand through her hair, suddenly feeling tired. The visit had seemed like a good idea at the time, and she supposed deep down she wanted to discuss this, else why come?

 

“There was a mission,” she began slowly. “The details aren’t important, but there was a dangerous situation, I gave Andrea an order not to proceed, but she did anyway and someone got badly hurt.”

 

“How awful,” said her mother with genuine sympathy. She came to sit back down, forgetting the still boiling kettle, reaching out instead to put a comforting hand on Kate’s shoulder. “It was someone under your command?”

 

Kate nodded, thinking back to Nisha lying on her bed, plugged into various monitors. A small squeeze on her shoulder was enough for Kate to know her mother understood the weight of responsibility. “That’s terrible, for all of you. I presume it was an accident though?”

 

“Maybe, maybe not.”

 

The hand stilled, drawing away as her mother looked seriously on. “You think Andrea deliberately hurt this person?”

 

Kate’s eyes shot to her in shock. “No, nothing like that! There were just questions asked about her actions, about whether she was negligent.”

 

“And was she?”

 

“I…” Kate thought about it, still unsure, “…don’t know.”

 

“And you told her that?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Ah.”

 

Kate flopped back in her chair, drawing a tired hand over her face. “Exactly - ‘ah’. To say she was not amused by my lack of support is putting it mildly. She was suspended anyway, so she left the base and I haven’t seen her since. I thought a break might do us some good anyway. Things hadn’t been going great before then – arguing about the amount of time I spent at work amongst other things. I thought I’d be able to focus on work again, concentrate on keeping my job and doing it properly.”

 

“But?”

 

“If anything things seem to be getting worse!” said Kate with exasperation. “I’ve offended Sophie, pissed off another couple on the base who’re expecting a baby and I’ve still got a hundred and one things clamouring for attention that I don’t seem able to give. I don’t know what’s happened to me.”

 

Kate’s mother nodded silently to herself for a moment. “I think I have a fair idea.”

 

Kate looked to her, waiting for any enlightenment.

 

“It’s called love,” said the other woman gently. “It’s this little thing you might have heard of. You’re missing Andrea because you love her. Even if your head is telling you that you did the right thing, your heart begs to differ.” While Kate was digesting that though she’d already come to much the same conclusion herself, her mother continued. “Why didn’t you support Andrea, when there were these question about this incident?”

 

“Because I didn’t want it to seem as if I was allowing my relationship with Andrea to cloud my judgement.”

 

“So instead you went the other way and shut her out completely.”

 

Put so starkly Kate realised it didn’t look good. “I guess I might have been a bit harsh,” she confessed, before rallying. “But she disobeyed orders, someone got hurt.”

 

Hands thrown up in the air showed exactly what her mother made of that excuse. “Oh yes, God forbid anyone question the orders of the great British army.” She shook her head as something else occurred to her. “Though why should Andrea be called upon to follow your orders anyway? She’s a civilian isn’t she?” Kate could see the wheels of thought cranking in her mother’s brain as her face wrinkled at the brow. “Come to think of it, what was she doing on some dangerous mission too? When you were here at Christmas I just assumed she was a civilian member of the base staff, not necessarily directly related with what you do in the army, but it sounds like she’s a lot more actively involved in your work than that.”

 

“She is.”

 

Seeing that garnering another curiously interested look, Kate sighed to herself. “I guess there’s a few things I probably should have told you a long time ago.”

 

She’d deliberated over this particular conversation a number of times, certainly giving it a lot more thought than she had the revelation of her newly discovered sexuality at Christmas. That had seemed easy in comparison – at least being gay was a known if sometimes difficult to grasp quantity. Confessing to having superhuman powers was something else entirely. Yet it didn’t seem right to go on keeping it from her mother. Perhaps sensing her unease, the other woman moved her chair closer now, a gentle hand coming to rest over Kate’s where it sat on the tabletop.

 

“Go on, you can tell me anything.”

 

“I can trust you not to mention this to anyone else?”

 

Her mother looked aghast. “Of course! I do have some experience of the army and sensitive information.”

 

Kate felt abashed that she had asked, but she had to make sure. The last thing she needed was any more leaks being attributed to her. “This isn’t just about my work though, this is about me.” Heart hammering in her chest, Kate took one more deep breath and ploughed on. “I have … special abilities.” Her mother just look confused, forcing Kate to elaborate further. “What you might call superhuman abilities.”

 

The look of confusion was still in evidence. “Superhuman? As in a superhero?”

 

Kate laughed, more from the tension than anything else. “Not exactly, though … sort of.” She knew she was explaining it terribly but she couldn’t quite form the right words.

 

“So you like fly or something?” asked her mother doubtfully.

 

“Actually, yes.”

 

“You can fly?”

 

“Yes.”

 

The sound of the kettle clicking off was the only one in the room for a moment, the steam slowly dissipating into the warm room. Her mother’s blue eyes just held Kate’s, incomprehension and surprise evident in them.

 

“Please say something,” said Kate, increasingly worried.

 

“I … don’t know what to say,” admitted her mother. “You can fly?” she asked again, seemingly unable to grasp that concept.

 

“Yes,” repeated Kate, “and I can also create concussion waves from my hands.”

 

“What does that mean?”

 

Kate wasn’t sure she wanted to openly display her powers, but couldn’t think of a better way to explain it. Perhaps if her mother saw them she’d realise it wasn’t really anything that out of the ordinary. She pointed her finger at her mug, concentrating on producing the lowest intensity blast she could. It was just enough to overturn the cup, leaving it rolling across the kitchen table.

 

Her mother glanced between the mug and Kate, brow creasing.  “That doesn’t seem particularly impressive.”

 

Kate laughed nervously again. “Well, no, I can make them a fair bit more powerful than that.”

 

“How powerful?”

 

“Pretty powerful,” said Kate evasively, wanting to be truthful but wary of how much she should reveal. Her avoidance didn’t go unnoticed though, her mother crossing her arms and fixing Kate with a pointed stare. Kate had learnt such stares from the best, and caved in. “I could probably take out a fair bit of Weymouth if I really wanted to,” she admitted.

 

The other woman unfolded her arms and leant back in her chair, studying her daughter with an odd look on her face, like she didn’t quite know who she was looking at. “How long have you had these powers?”

 

“Since I was fourteen.”

 

Her mother’s mouth formed a stunned ‘o’ shape before she managed to speak. “And you kept it hidden all this time? Or did you father know?”

 

“No, he didn’t know,” said Kate. “No one did, until a couple of years ago.”

 

Given the catch in her voice, her mother was able to put two and two together and do the arithmetic. “Was this something to do with how he died, why you had all that time off?”

 

The reminders were painful, but Kate knew she had to be open. “Yes,” she said simply, unable to say anything more for a moment as visions of a desert thousands of miles away and a hail of bullets filled her mind. When her mother put a hand on her arm, Kate started out of her grim recollections.

 

“Go on,” encouraged her mother gently.

 

“I was there, when he died,” said Kate, her voice thick with emotion. “I saw it and I … lost control.” She took a deep breath. “I killed the Iraqi soldiers with my powers, wiped them out.” She put her head in her hands, rubbing her fingers over her temples as she closed her eyes. “But I didn’t know what I was doing, I also took out one of our own choppers … killed everyone on board.”   

 

“Oh, Kate.”

 

The sympathy in her mother’s voice tipped her over the edge and a few tears slipped out over Kate’s cheeks before she wiped them furiously away, composing herself before she looked back up. The compassion in her mother’s eyes nearly set Kate off again and she swallowed hard while the other woman spoke.

 

“Why did you never tell me about any of this?”

 

“At first I was scared,” admitted Kate. “Finding out you have weird powers when you’re fourteen is a bit of a shock,” she said, “as if puberty wasn’t bad enough anyway.” She could joke about it now, with the passing of years, but at the time it had been terrifying. “It’s not like there was anyone in the same boat, at least not that I knew of at the time. It was just easier to keep it to myself. Then over time I just used to hiding it.”

 

Her mother squeezed her hand reassuringly. “I’m sorry that you had to go through that on your own.”

 

Kate gave a lop-sided smile, heartened to hear the kindness in her tone. “So you’re not freaked out?”

 

Her mother shrugged. “I think I should be used to shocks from you now after Christmas.”

 

Kate grimaced. “Sorry.”

 

Her mother quickly stopped her saying anything else. “I’m joking,” she said. “Again it’s come as quite the surprise. But it doesn’t change who you are, you’re my daughter and I love you no matter what.”

 

They smiled at one another, a smile that confirmed that understanding. Kate felt enveloped by the comforting feeling that she would always have this place to call her home. Then suddenly she found herself wrapped up in a warm embrace, her mother eventually pulling back with a wry grin on her face.

 

“But you haven’t got any more shocking secrets have you? Only I am getting on after all, I’m not sure the old ticker could take any more shocks.”

 

Kate let out a relaxed laugh this time. “No, I think that’s pretty much it.”

 

“So this job of yours in Scotland, does that have something to do with all this too?”

 

“Yes, it’s not your ordinary army base,” confessed Kate. “It’s a research centre too, researching superhumans.”

 

“There are other people like you at the base?”

 

“Only a few, but yes.”

 

A look of realisation swept across her mother’s face. “Andrea. She has superhuman abilities too.”

 

It was more a deduction than a question, but Kate answered anyway. “Yes, she does.”

 

“And that other young man you brought here?”

 

The question threw Kate for a moment, her brain having to work fast to catch up. “Adam Dixon?” Her voice became colder. “Yes, he has powers, unfortunately.” Picking up on the tone, her mother gave Kate a curious look.

 

Kate rubbed roughly at her face, supposing she might as well confess everything while she was on a roll. “I never told you at the time, but it turned out he was playing both sides.” Kate went on to elaborate on the whole sorry saga – how she had let Dixon get inside her low defences at the time, how she had been blind to what he was doing and how she had barely kept her job in the aftermath. She also detailed the events of the previous year involving Dixon and Andrea. The whole time her mother looked on with increasing sorrow and sympathy, knowing how much such a betrayal of trust would have cost her proud daughter. Having finished recounting the past, Kate brought them back to the original discussion. “So as you can imagine I’ve been a bit circumspect about who I trust and how much I trust them. Just another thing Andrea got pissed off about - that I couldn’t stop worrying the same thing might happen again.”

 

Her mother sucked in a breath. “Yes, well, I could see how she wouldn’t particularly like being compared to a murdering traitor.”

 

“You know you are meant to be on my side, you’re my mother!”

 

“Is that what you came here for, so I could reassure you that behaving like an ass is the right thing to do?”

 

Kate made a scoffing noise. “I can see that’s not what I’m going to get if I was!”

 

“I think you’re a big enough girl to handle a few home truths,” said her mother, watching her seriously across the table. “Though I think you know them for yourself, you just don’t want to admit it.”

 

Kate sighed. “So come on then, you might as well hit me with your insight.”

“You pretty much admitted it yourself already – you’re scared to let anyone get too close after what happened with Adam Dixon. So instead rather than risk it, you pulled back when things started to get rough. In your mind you rationalised it as you doing your job, being impartial. But you can’t judge Andrea on what Adam Dixon did to you. You have to separate those two sets of feelings. You need to work out how you feel about Andrea regardless of the past. And you need to stop confusing your feelings with your work. You might think you’re doing the right thing for your career, trying to ignore your feelings, avoid having any sort of personal life, but the two don’t have to be in conflict. In fact you need one for the other if you want balance.”

 

Kate closed her eyes and shook her head. “I’ve been an idiot, haven’t I?” When there was no answer, her eyes flicked open again. “Now you’re holding your tongue?”

 

The other woman shrugged. “Ok, yes, you have. But it’s not me you have to tell, you need to go and speak to Andrea.”

 

“What if she won’t listen? I’ve been pretty shitty”

 

“What have you got to lose?” asked her mother in return.

 

“Besides my dignity?”

 

“Is that really important when compared with losing the person you love?”

 

Feeling sick at the prospect, Kate shook her head. “No, it isn’t.”

 

“All you can do is be honest,” said her mother. “Tell her the truth, tell her how you feel.”

 

 

……..

 

 

On the sixth unanswered ring Kate hit the end call button on her mobile and dumped it on the empty passenger seat next to her. It wasn’t the first time she’d tried to call Andrea, each one met with the same lack of success. Whether the young woman was deliberately ignoring her calls or whether she just hadn’t noticed them was undetermined. Kate hoped it was the latter but feared it was the former. She’d been trying since the day before, after the talk with her mother. Surely Andrea must have checked her phone by now?

 

Kate only had two days leave from the base, needing to be back for a meeting with Kaminski and the freshly returned Sophie and Colonel the following day. Knowing time was short, Kate had hired a car and driven up to Birmingham early that morning, her mother understanding her need to try and sort things out and forgiving the curtailing of Kate’s visit there. Only now Kate was sat outside Andrea’s mother’s house, still not able to get hold of her. There was only one thing for it. Sliding the car into first gear Kate headed towards the drive.

 

It was just after midday as she drew up in front of the house, and Kate wondered if anyone would be in. Possibly there would be a cleaner or some other household staff who at least might be able to give her a pointer to Andrea’s whereabouts. Or Andrea herself might be in. That possibility sent an odd anxiety shooting through Kate. Am I ready? Do I know what I’m going to say?

 

Drawing on her courage, she exited the car and strode purposefully to the front door, ringing the bell. Garnering no answer, she tried for a second time, not about to give up now when she was ready. When the door was eventually opened she had to do a double-take before speaking.

 

“Dr Hallstrom.”

 

“Kate,” greeted the other woman, “what a pleasant surprise.”

 

From her tone it didn’t sound as if the statement was entirely truthful. A nervous prickle shot down Kate’s spine on seeing the doctor, visions from her dreams floating to the fore. Pushing the away she focussed on what she was there for. “Is Andrea here?”

 

“I’m afraid not,” replied Erin, not offering anything else such as her location or an invite to come in and wait. Not that Kate much fancied spending time alone in the house with the other woman.

 

“But she is staying with you?” pressed Kate.

 

“Yes.”

 

Kate could see she was going to have to work for any information, her impression that Andrea’s mother disliked her only being reinforced by the cool conversation. “Do you know where she is today, or when she might be back?” she asked.

 

“Is there something important or urgent you need to discuss?”

 

“Yes,” replied Kate, taking her turn to be monosyllabic.

 

“Is it official or personal?”

 

Kate wondered what Andrea had told her mother about what had happened. Would she have confessed everything like Kate had done to her mother? Somehow Kate couldn’t picture Erin being quite as receptive, but then she didn’t know that much about their relationship. Andrea had been staying there for a month after all; they must have spoken at some point in regards to why Andrea was there. Thinking of herself being discussed by the woman in front of her made Kate uncomfortable and she returned to the point at hand.

 

“Does it matter? I just need to speak with her.”

 

“Have you considered that maybe Andrea doesn’t want to speak to you?”

 

Kate had, many times, but hearing it spelt out so coldly by Erin was like a punch in the gut. “Has she said as much?”

 

“Not in so many words,” allowed Erin, though it sound like it pained her to have to admit as much.

 

“Then I think I’d like to hear it directly from her.”

 

“I don’t know where she is, I’m afraid,” stated Erin.  “I would invite you to wait, but I have a meeting to get to.”

 

Kate doubted either statement was truthful, but saw no point contesting them. “Thank you for your help anyway,” she said sarcastically.

 

“It was my pleasure,” replied Erin with equal irony before closing the door.

 

Flopping back down into her car, Kate weighed up her options. She had to sort this out now; she couldn’t let it fester any longer, not when she had geared herself up for it. She deliberated over what she was planning for a second before reaching for the communicator. It took a couple of moments to establish the secure connection.

 

“This is Major Jarvis, could you run a tracker trace for me?”

 

She knew the personnel back on Duransay wouldn’t question her, no matter how much an abuse of her power it might be.

 

Go ahead, Major, came the response over the line.

 

“Could you locate Andrea Hallstrom for me and relay the co-ordinates to my GPS.”

 

Affirmative, Major, transferring now, came the efficient reply.  She’s currently approximately eight miles north of your present location. Would you like us to keep you advised of any movements.

 

“Yes, thank you,” replied Kate, ignoring the slight guilty feeling for using the tracking system this way. Noting her destination she pulled away from the house.

 

 

…….

 

 

“What would you like?”

 

Andrea surveyed the vast array of coffees detailed on the board at the back of the shop from mochas to lattes and everything in between.  They were typical of the sort of chain coffee shop they were in, just like any other in the country though this one happened to be in the centre of Birmingham. Eventually Andrea turned to her questioner.

 

“I’ll have a tea, thanks.”

 

Christine Ferguson frowned. “Tea? I thought you were Swedish, not British?”

 

Andrea raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Been doing your research have you?”

 

“Did you expect anything less?” replied Christine with a wink. It was something the other woman did often Andrea had noticed. That and offer cheeky smiles and grins. The overall effect was quite charming in a slightly obvious way. Seeing the assistant behind the counter was waiting, Christine gave their order and then proceeded to spend the next few moments delving in her oversize bag for some money. Once she had paid in carefully counted out coins they moved to the end of counter, waiting for their drinks.

 

“Your research is slightly faulty in this case,” Andrea remarked. “I was born in Liverpool even if we did move back to Sweden for a few years after that.”

 

“So there’s a whole host of scouser jokes, just waiting to be plundered then?”

 

“Not if you value your life,” said Andrea in deadpan tones, though the small smile she gave on the end indicated the humour in the comment.

 

Once they had their mugs they were lucky to grab a table in the window, swooping in as another couple left the busy shop and dumping their coats over the chairs to claim their position. It was just after lunchtime, but there were still plenty of people enjoying an afternoon coffee. Though she had originally agreed to lunch with Christine, Andrea had suggested a coffee instead. She still wasn’t quite sure what the other woman was after at this stage and thought it safer. They chatted amiably for a while about general topics, but all the time Andrea sensed the other woman itching to turn things onto a more personal theme. Pre-empting her, Andrea got in first with something that had been bothering her.

 

“So what’s your real interest in my mother?”

 

Christine carefully sipped her coffee, pushing an errant strand of brown hair out of the way as she did. Eventually she looked up, her dark eyes regarding Andrea intently. “Can’t I just be interested in her work?”

 

“You could. You know a lot about it do you?”

 

“A fair bit. What do you know about Quadrant Research?”

 

Andrea frowned, unsure what the reporter was getting at. “My mother’s a consultant there. They carry out research into cancer. Surely that’s not particularly newsworthy though.”

 

Christine shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. How about Delta Technics Ltd?”

 

The name didn’t mean anything to Andrea. “Sorry, I’m not familiar with them.”

 

“Really? Your mother is a director of that company too, along with several other biotechnology companies.”

 

“And is there something wrong with that?” asked Andrea.

 

“No, not necessarily, though finding out who owns either company or their financial backers is proving fiendishly difficult. Though Quadrant Research in particular certainly seems well provided for, possibly a little too well given what they’re supposedly doing there.”

 

“What exactly are you insinuating?”

 

“Nothing,” said Christine dismissively. “There’s just an interesting trail to follow, and that usually means there’s something to hide.”

 

Andrea shook her head at the other woman’s persistence. “Or that someone just doesn’t want nosy people finding out their private business.”

 

Taking a swig of her coffee, Christine gave another shrug. “If there’s nothing to find, then there’ll be no story and no one will have to worry.”

 

Andrea made a small scoffing noise. “Or you’ll just make one up, a bit like that one of yours in The Sun last year.”

 

Suddenly Christine’s eyes were on her, sharp, alert, searching. “About the secret army base? You read that in The Sun? Somehow that doesn’t strike me as normal reading material for Oxford graduates.”

 

Andrea noted the reference to her university, guessing Christine really must have checking up on her. “I just happened to come across it,” she said evasively.

 

“Really?” said Christine, not looking like she believed it in the slightest. She leant forwards, elbows on the table between them. “No particular personal interest in it then? For example you wouldn’t be stationed at that base with Major No Comment?”

 

Andrea laughed as if the idea was preposterous. “Doing what exactly?”

 

“You tell me.”

 

“I don’t think I will.”

 

“So it is secret?” pressed Christine, not to be deterred.

 

“No, that’s not what I said,” said Andrea evenly. “I didn’t even say I was stationed there.”

 

“But you are stationed somewhere, with the army?”

 

Seeing she could fast lose the conversation if she wasn’t careful, Andrea changed tack. “What story are you after?”

 

“Whatever one there is,” replied Christine. “And I know there is one,” she added with a tap on her nose. “Call it instinct. But in the spirit of cooperation I’ll share a bit of where I’m coming from shall I? You can either nod, shake your head or just continue to look non-comitally at me.”

 

Receiving no verbal confirmation one way or the other Christine forged on, Andrea just sipping at her tea as she listened carefully.

 

“My interest was initially piqued by