Metamorphosis

 

By Sazzy

 

Written 2005

 

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Codes:

uber J/7

Rating :

NC-17

Setting:

various locations in the UK

Timeframe:

March - September 2005

Thanks:

To Jay, aunty_pasta, Raven_voy and MercyCroft for their beta reading efforts.

Also to GB Brooke for giving me all those colourful Swedish words!

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.

 

n.b. This story takes place against a military backdrop.  Though I have tried to make those aspects of the story as accurate as possible, I am not an expert on the army and its workings, so please forgive any unintentional mistakes.

 

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CHAPTER 1

 

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Andrea groggily opened her icy blue eyes and immediately wished she hadn’t.  Her head pounded mercilessly and a wave of nausea swept over her, forcing her to screw her eyes shut again against the harsh lights of the room.  She took a few shuddering breaths as her stomach continued to churn.  She tried to bring her hand up to massage her temple and found that her arm was secured to the bed she was lying on, along with the rest of her limbs.  The attempt to move her arm also brought into painful focus the fact that her whole body seemed to ache from inside, within her muscles and bones.

 

Where the hell am I?  What the hell happened? She thought hazily.

 

The searing pain in her head made it hard for her to think straight and she lay still for a moment trying to let the sickness in the pit of her stomach subside.  Tentatively she opened one eye again, testing out whether it sent her head spinning once more.  Heartened that she managed this small task with no side affects this time, she opened the other one, her gaze trying to take in the room she was in.  From her prone position she couldn’t see much apart from the white ceiling and bright white strip lights that dangled from it.  As she tried to twist her body round so she could get a look at the rest of the room a fresh wave of pain shot through her leaving her gasping on her back her eyes tightly shut again.

 

What the fuck is wrong with me? Think! Think!

 

She attempted to blot out the pain and recall what had happened prior to waking up there.

 

We were at the warehouse, that's right.  And...yes…we had been surveilling it for a long time.  Months? Yes, surveillance for months, and then - things came to a head when D.I. MacKenzie received that tip off.  Cowley's men were getting ready to ship out and we had to hurry.  We had to up the schedule and get that warrant - quick smart.  Not even enough time for proper backup. And then...and then...we had to press gang uniform into helping us out.

 

Andrea swallowed back another bout of nausea, which came rolling up her throat.  She concentrated, as well as she could under the circumstances.  She remembered:

 

We were waiting…Constable Walker was looking at me...apprehensive, looking for reassurance.  No doubt he’d heard those rumours about me being the cool, unflappable one in the squad.  Of course they were true.  Mind you, I’d also heard the rumblings about me being too arrogant for a mere sergeant…

 

The threads of Andrea's memory were just beyond her reach.  She recalled giving Constable Walker her patented 'Trust Me I'm A Senior Officer' reassuring grin, despite feeling uncharacteristically nervous about the mission herself.  Considering her current situation, Andrea supposed that she had been damned right.  She'd seen Inspector MacKenzie give them the signal and then…She found it hard to recall the exact details now with the muddled state of her brain.  Brief flashes assailed her mind instead.

 

I was cuffing a prisoner…there was the gas…seeping in from the vents…the others were gagging and coughing…falling to the ground…the doors were locked…there was pain…intense pain in my body…like a fire erupting from within…I couldn’t move…I was on the floor…Walker’s lifeless face was staring at me…

 

Her eyes shot open trying to block out the horror of the last image.  But it wouldn’t go away.  The young man who only minutes before had been looking to her for reassurance had been lying on that cold stone floor, blood trickling from his nose, mouth, ears and eyes.  Eyes which remained open, staring…She felt fresh bile threatening to explode from her throat and swallowed several times to stop it.

 

Am I dead too? Is this…hell? she pondered.

 

She refused to believe that, the pain seemed too real for this to be some afterlife.  Though then again she guessed that was the point of hell. 

 

Perhaps she could try calling out to see if anyone came, though the fact that she was secured to the bed didn’t suggest whoever was around had kindly intentions.  Instead she gritted her teeth and tried moving one of her arms against the restraints again.  The pain started almost immediately, a tingling sensation at first building into an unbearable burning in her arm, but she continued pulling at the restraint.  Just when she thought she might pass out from the sheer agony of it her arm popped free.  She lay back, panting with the exertion as the pain dimmed.  Steeling herself she repeated the effort with her other arm.

 

After taking a few more deep breaths she pushed herself up into a sitting position.  Sweat was pouring down her face from the effort of breaking the restraints and she brushed her now matted blond hair from her face and looked around the room.  There wasn’t much to report.  It was sterile, almost like a hospital room, apart from the lack of equipment and windows.  There was a single door opposite her, breaking the monotony of the plain white walls.  As her eyes came back to the bed they widened in amazement.  She stared dumbfounded at the restraints she had managed to break.  They were solid steel - steel that was now twisted and broken.

 

How on earth did I manage that?  They aren’t real metal, surely?

 

She gingerly reached out and touched them.  They seemed real enough.

 

Suddenly a piercing pain stabbed though her brain and her hands shot to her temple as she leant forward and let out a small moan.

 

I have to get out…get out of this place…find some help…

 

Another sharp pain assaulted her mind and she could no longer think any coherent thoughts.  All she knew was the overwhelming desire to run, to get away.  Without even thinking, driven on by adrenaline that was blocking out any other pain she might be experiencing in her body, she wrenched her legs free of the table, the steel that held them buckling too.

 

The door…run at it…knock it down

 

Under normal circumstances she would have known that thought was utterly ridiculous but her body seemed to have taken over, since her mind was incapable of functioning properly at this moment.  She charged at the door with her shoulder and it crashed to the floor in front of her.

 

There are people…people in the corridor…they’re coming for me…

 

Instinctively Andrea lashed out at the nearest person.  He went flying back down the corridor a good ten feet through the air.  The others looked momentarily shocked before converging on her en masse and pouncing on her.  She let out an almost feral cry as she flung the potential captors from her one by one, smashing them against the walls.  She sprinted down the corridor and skidded round the corner.  Three more sets of eyes turned to converge on her.  She was about to rush at them when suddenly the pain returned.  Only this time it was so much worse, just like back in the warehouse -  intense, burning agony.  Her limbs seemed to seize up and she crashed to the floor.  Breathing heavily and lying immobile on her side, she could see three sets of feet heading her way.  She glanced up and saw a pair of blue-grey eyes framed by red hair before the darkness consumed her.

 

………………..

 

Andrea wasn’t sure how long it was before she came to again, but thankfully the agonising pain in her body seemed to have stopped when she did.  She was happy to find she wasn’t bound to a table this time, either.  Someone had deposited her in a chair, where she sat slumped, her head lolling forwards.  She rubbed the back of her neck and blinked a few times, noting that she was wearing a black jumpsuit.  She wondered what had happened to her clothes.  Focusing ahead of her, she discovered she wasn’t alone in the room.

 

The only furniture, apart from her own seat, was the table directly in front of her.  Behind it sat the red-haired woman she had seen briefly in the corridor before she had passed out.  She was studying a file before her on the desk, the hair from her neat bob flopping down slightly about her face as she did.  Now Andrea got more than just a brief glimpse, she realised the woman wore a military uniform, which she assumed was an army one.  On top the woman wore an olive green v-necked jumper, under which there was a collared shirt, starched to within an inch of its life.  Around her neck was a dark green tie, with a crest on it.  The jumper was topped off with a pair of epaulets on the shoulders, a single crown on each of them.  On her bottom half she wore trousers that matched her shirt; the ensemble finished off with a pair of stout, shiny black boots poking out under the table.  Andrea wasn’t sure what rank the crowns signified, but she was sure she was about to find out as the woman’s blue-grey eyes flicked up.

 

“Ah, you’re awake…Andrea is it?” she asked evenly, taking another glance down at her folder.

 

Andrea deduced that the file was about her, making her wonder why the military would possess such a thing.

 

“That’s right,” replied Andrea frostily, “My friends call me Andi, you can call me Miss Hallstrom.”

 

The blue eyes regarding her barely flickered at the open hostility, maintaining an even gaze the whole time.  Andrea refused to look away, returning the stare in kind.

 

“Well, Miss Hallstrom,” said the other woman after a few moments of this, “I’m Major Kate Jarvis.  My friends call me Kate, you can call me Major, or Ma’am at a push.”

 

“Decided to do away with the restraints this time did you, Major,” asked Andrea sarcastically, rubbing her arm where she had been bound before.  She took a moment to survey the rest of the room, noting the mirror that took up most of one wall to the side.  She wondered who was sitting behind it.

 

“I’m sorry about that, we weren’t entirely sure what condition you would wake up in,” said the Major.

 

“I would say I woke up in a pretty poor one,” stated Andrea coolly, “So would you mind telling me what the hell I’m doing here, wherever here is, and what the fuck happened to me?”

 

The Major sighed and folded the file in front of her closed.  Pushing back her chair she walked round to the front of the desk, perching herself on it to look down at Andrea.  Andrea thought the positioning was intended to be deliberately intimidating, placing the other woman higher than her.  She could now see that the other woman was a good few inches shorter than she was, perhaps somewhere in the region of five foot five, but still managed to exude a sense of power and authority in the way she carried herself.  The way her eyes bored into her also told Andrea that this woman wasn’t someone to be messed with.  Andrea considered that she could get up too, to continue to play the challenge game, since she would have the height advantage.  She decided to concede for the time being, at least until she found out what was going on.

 

“What exactly do you remember?” asked the Major, her voice still cool and in command.

 

Andrea was getting an increasingly uneasy feeling about the situation, wondering what the military had to do with police investigations, even ones that went bad.  She also thought that she should have been in a hospital, not undergoing a virtual interrogation.  She supposed she didn’t have much option but to answer at the moment, though something about the whole situation was raising her hackles. 

 

“Somehow I think you know these details already,” said Andrea, flicking her eyes at the file, “But anyway, it was a raid, we went in and then it all went pear-shaped.” She took a moment to close her eyes, to try and think, but the rest of her memories were still jumbled.  “It was a setup - once we got in there we couldn’t get out.  Then gas was flooding in…everyone was collapsing…that’s about it.”

 

The Major merely nodded, digesting what Andrea told her.

 

“Are the others here?” asked Andrea, when the Major didn’t offer up anything.

 

“The others?” enquired the Major, her brows knitting together in confusion.

 

“My colleagues, at least the ones who survived,” clarified Andrea, thinking of poor Constable Walker.

 

The Major pursed her lips for a moment before answering. “You were the only survivor.”

 

“What?” said Andrea in shock, “Inspector MacKenzie, Madison, Humphreys…all…”

 

“Dead, yes I’m afraid so,” finished the Major for her as Andrea trailed off.

 

Andrea just stared at her dumbfounded. 

 

“How?” she asked in a small voice, not quite able to comprehend that they were all gone.

 

“I can’t tell you that right now…”

 

“Look, will you cut all this secretive bullshit!” cried Andrea suddenly, leaping up from her chair, “I’ve just seen all my colleagues murdered in front of my eyes and quite frankly I’ve had enough of this crap!” she continued, jabbing her finger towards the Major who didn’t flinch in the slightest, “If you’re not going to answer my questions, I’m leaving.”

 

“I’m afraid I can’t allow that,” said the Major, reaching out to place a restraining hand on Andrea’s arm

 

“Oh yeah, and who’s going to stop me?” seethed Andrea, her eyes challenging the Major to be the one.

 

The Major didn’t have to answer as the door opened to allow two soldiers to enter, both shouldering weapons.

 

“Am I some sort of prisoner here?” demanded Andrea.

 

“Not exactly,” disclosed the Major, “But we can’t allow you to leave for now, it’s for your own safety too.”

 

“My own safety?” scoffed Andrea, “How did you work that one out?  This is bollocks!”

 

Andrea yanked her arm away from the Major’s grasp and made for the door, hoping that the guns were more for show than anything.  She couldn’t quite believe that the British Army were about to shoot her, no matter how much they wanted her to stay put.  One of the men stepped across to block her exit.

 

“I can’t let you do that, ma’am,” he said seriously, hand still firmly on his rifle.

 

“Just get out of my way,” said Andrea angrily, trying to barge past the shorter man.

 

He resolutely blocked her way and she felt her anger building. 

 

I’ve had enough of this! she thought angrily to herself, If they’re not going to help me, I’ll get out of here and get some answers myself – I am a bloody detective after all.  Who did they think they are, anyway, trying to incarcerate me against my will?

 

She made a grab for him, to try and haul him out the way, and she found herself locked in a tussle with him as he tried to hold her at bay.

 

“Will you please try and calm down,” came the Major’s voice from behind her.

 

Something about the tone gave Andrea pause – the other woman had actually sounded concerned, the first flicker of emotion she had detected in the steely voice.  She wasn’t about to give up now, though, and she finally managed to push the soldier to one side.  The other one now grasped her from behind, wrapping his arms around her to pin her arms to her sides.  They spiralled across the room and the Major actually had to dodge out of the way as they careened into the table, sending it skidding across the tiled floor.

 

Andrea twisted her body as they moved across the room so she could use their momentum to drive the man into the wall on the far side.  He let out an “oof” as she thumped him into the solid concrete, before pulling back and using her weight to bash him against it again.  On the third thump he let go of his grip, tumbling to the floor.  She turned her eyes to the rest of the room, the Major staring at her as Andrea stood breathing heavily from the fight with the soldier.  Andrea wondered if she was going to try and stop her too.

 

Before she could find out, the pain was back, burning inside her.  Andrea staggered, grabbing onto the table to try and support herself as it stabbed through her limbs.  She tipped back her head and let out a cry as another fiery burst rocked through her, clenching her fingers on the table edge.  Her eyes fell on her hand, and she could see that her fingers had driven straight into the table’s metal surface, leaving four indentations.  She glanced up in confusion, seeing the Major still watching her with…what? A look of concern? Sympathy? Then another wave hit, and Andrea crashed to the ground, happy to let the darkness in once more.

 

………..

 

Andrea opened her eyes, and thought that waking up in strange places seemed to be becoming a bit of a habit.

 

Of course it had happened to her before a few times, she considered, but in all the previous cases there had been drink involved.  Now she just felt like she had the hangover, without the pleasure that came before it.  At least the burning within her body had subsided again.

 

Looking around, she saw that she was on a bed in what appeared to be a medical bay.  There were various monitors and equipment round the room, along with other medical paraphernalia.  It all looked very sophisticated and sterile, not your typical NHS [1] hospital, she considered.  There were also a couple of other empty beds, besides the one she occupied.  As with all the other rooms she had been in since the accident, there were no windows.

 

A beeping at her bedside made her realise that she herself was hooked up to one of the monitors.  Her fingers felt out some sensor pads attached to her forehead, and she immediately peeled them off.  The monitor started going crazy, emitting a high-pitched whine.  The noise quickly attracted attention - a man in a white coat dashing over to her bedside.  The balding man let out a sigh as he realised the cause of the alarm.

 

“Are you trying to give me a heart-attack?” he asked, pushing his metal-rimmed glasses back on his nose and attempting to give her a stern look.  She could tell he wasn’t practised in the art.

 

“I just don’t like being hooked up to things I don’t know about,” she informed him.

 

“We were only checking you were ok,” he said, rolling his eyes, and reaching over to take the sensors from her hands, “I think we can assume you are, though.”

 

“So I can go then?” she asked, sitting up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed to rest on the floor.  Since it didn’t seem there were any army personnel about, it struck her as the perfect opportunity to make good her escape.

 

“Woah, hold on a minute!” he said, holding up a hand, “You’re ok, for now, but we need to find out what’s causing those seizures, unless you want to keep having them?”

 

“I guess not,” she reluctantly conceded, “So you’re a doctor are you?”

 

“Was it the white coat that gave it away?” he asked cheerily, “Or maybe my sparkling bedside manner?”

 

“The white coat, definitely,” she replied, “And the name badge.”

 

“Ah,” he said, looking down at the badge on his coat that displayed his picture and name, “Indeed.”

 

“So, Dr Whitman,” she said, having read the name, though noting that the badge didn’t give any indication as to the facility he was attached to, “Maybe you can give me some answers.”

 

“Answers?” he queried.

 

“Well, no one seems to be terribly forthcoming about what’s happened to me and what I’m doing here,” she explained.

 

“Well…er…I’d love to….” he began apologetically.

 

“But you can’t, right?” she finished for him.

 

“Sorry,” he said, with a shrug, “I think we’d better wait for Major Jarvis.”

 

As if on cue, the doors to the sickbay swished open and the Major strode confidently in.  Andrea got a brief glimpse of a couple of soldiers stationed outside the doors before they shut behind her again.

 

“Speak of the devil,” muttered Andrea under her breath as the Major walked over to them.  The doctor shot her a quick look, having caught the words, before he turned to face the Major who stood expectantly before him.

 

“Report!” she ordered briskly, standing to attention and fixing her gaze on him.

 

“She’s fine…for now,” he informed her.  Andrea thought there was more he wanted to say, but quite possibly not in her presence.

 

“I can have a word with her then?” asked the Major.

 

“Yes, but please try not to antagonise her again,” said the doctor with a slight tone of admonishment.  Andrea could tell the Major didn’t like it from the steely look in her eye, and the doctor quickly excused himself, no doubt wanting to get away from the imposing stare.

 

The stare now switched to Andrea.  “How are you feeling, Miss Hallstrom?”

 

The question surprised her - she had been expecting more cold evasion. She thought the Major almost carried off the attempt at concern, but the question was just a touch too forced in its politeness.

 

“Fine, thank you, Major,” replied Andrea evenly.

 

“Good,” nodded the Major, pausing as if deliberating whether to continue.

 

“You have something to tell me at last?” prompted Andrea.

 

“Yes,” confirmed the Major, “Though I need you to sign something before we go any further,” she added, handing Andrea a sheet of paper.

 

“The Official Secrets’ Act?” asked Andrea, glancing down at it.

 

“Yes,” confirmed the Major, offering Andrea a pen, “You need to sign it before I can tell you anything about where you are or what happened.  And anything I do tell you is top secret and not to be disclosed to anyone in the outside world, is that understood?”

 

“Perfectly,” said Andrea, taking the pen and scrawling her signature on the document.  She wondered what she had stumbled onto that revolved around secret army bases.

 

“Thank you,” said the Major, taking the signed document, and filing it away in a leather document holder.

 

Andrea was surprised again when the Major then proceeded to sit down on the bed next to her, though she did leave a couple of feet between them. 

 

“This is probably going to be quite hard for you to comprehend or believe,” began the Major, slowly, turning her eyes to Andrea, “But I need you to hear me out, ok?

 

“Ok,” agreed Andrea warily, “Though I can comprehend quite a lot.  You’d be surprised what sort of things a police officer encounters.”

 

“Nothing like this, I can assure you,” remarked the Major.

 

The Major pursed her lips for a moment, searching for a place to start.

 

“You are at the Intelligence Corp’s Superhuman Research Unit,” said the Major seriously, leaving no space for doubt that what she was saying was fact, “This base is intended as a place where army and civilian scientists can investigate the occurrence of genetic mutations in the general populace, and the potential for these to be harnessed for the benefit of the country.”

 

“Hold on a minute,” interjected Andrea, “Genetic Mutations?  Superhuman? You can’t mean…?”

 

The Major simply raised her eyebrows, waiting for Andrea to finish.  Andrea frowned in return, thinking she must have misunderstood.

 

Since Andrea didn’t seem to want to voice her suspicions the Major continued on instead, “Yes, I mean people with special abilities, what you might colloquially call ‘super powers’”

 

Andrea laughed. “You have to be kidding!”

 

The Major merely stared at her unwaveringly.

 

“You’re not kidding?” said Andrea dubiously, taking in the look on the other woman’s face, “You’re seriously telling me that the British Army has some top secret base where they’ve got a load of super powered mutants running around?”

 

“Not a load, we currently have three,” the Major informed her, “Four including you.”

 

Andrea’s eyes widened. “Me?”

 

“Yes, Miss Hallstrom, you.”

 

“This is crazy! I’m not some mutant freak,” cried Andrea, leaping to her feet.

 

The Major rose from the bed, slowly sucking in her breath as she did, as if to contain what her first reply had been.

 

“I wouldn’t let the others hear you calling them that,” she said eventually, pinning Andrea in place with her blue-grey eyes.

 

“Well, they won’t have to, if you just let me out of here,” retorted Andrea, heading for the doors, “I’m not hanging around to be experimented on for the ‘benefit of the country’ - I’m not some bloody guinea pig.”

 

“Do you really think the ability to rend metal with your bear hands is normal?” the Major called after her, stopping Andrea in her tracks.

 

She swivelled back round.  She had thought that perhaps it was all some delusion or dream, since her memories were rather fragmented, but it appeared that it had really happened.

 

“I don’t have bloody super powers!” she stated adamantly, refusing to accept it.  She thought that there had to be some other explanation, something to do with that gas maybe.  “This is ridiculous, I’ve never been able to do anything like that before.”

 

“No,” conceded the Major, dipping her head slightly, “We think you may be a special case.”

 

“Oh lucky me!” cried Andrea, throwing up her hands in exasperation, “You mean there’s something else as well as being a freak?”

 

“How many times do I have to say….”

 

“Look just save it!” snapped Andrea angrily, cutting her off, “Why don’t you give me some more of that whatever it is that stopped the seizures and let me get out of this nuthouse.  I do have a life to get back to, you know.”

 

“I would suggest you try and stay calm…”

 

“Oh, you would, would you?” replied Andrea sarcastically.

 

Calm? Calm?  She wants me to stay bloody calm?  All this bollocks she’s spinning about me being some kind of super-powered mutant weirdo and she wants me to stay calm?

 

“Maybe I don’t want to stay calm!” she exclaimed, stepping into the Major’s personal space and staring fiercely at her. 

 

She barely registered the movement off to her side, before she felt a sharp jab in her arm.  She just had time to give the doctor a surprised look before the sedative took hold.

 

…….

 

Major Kate Jarvis closed the file in front of her and leaned back against her leather chair, letting out a long sigh.  Closing her eyes, she ran her fingers through her auburn hair before bringing them down to pinch the bridge of her nose in an attempt to relieve some of the tension in her body.  Finding that decidedly ineffectual she loosened her collar, removing the tie from around her neck as she did, and placing it down on her solid wooden desk next to the report.  Her jumper quickly followed.

 

Swivelling her chair around, she got up and crossed her office, undoing her cuffs and rolling up her sleeves slightly as she went.  Reaching the cabinet along one wall, she drew out a tumbler and poured herself a good helping of whiskey.

 

She thought what a long day it had been as she shook her head.  She sniffed the glass once to savour the smell of the single malt before taking a good swig, enjoying that slight burning sensation that accompanied its travel down her throat.  Taking the glass with her, she made her way over to the window.  It was dark out, but she usually found it relaxing to stare off at the stars.  Unfortunately, the low clouds in the sky obscured them tonight.

 

Bloody Scottish weather; it was always either raining or foggy or both.

 

She took another sip from her glass before turning her mind back to what was bothering her – the difficult Miss Hallstrom.  From the moment she had met her, she could tell that the woman was going to be a handful.  She just seemed to carry herself with this arrogant attitude the whole time. 

 

And as for those cool, icy blue eyes…

 

Kate shook her head again; she knew she had a reputation for her deathly stares, but she thought the other woman could possibly outdo even her. 

 

Kate wondered if that was part of the problem - that she was seeing it as a kind of personal contest, and she supposed she ought to try and rein in her own urge to meet the challenge.  It was quite possible that Miss Hallstrom was doing it deliberately, just to get a rise out of her.  The woman certainly seemed to have a knack for rubbing people up the wrong way, if what Kate had read was anything to go by. 

 

She guessed there was always the possibility that the attitude was all part of some defence mechanism.  She had to try and remember that this would all be pretty unbelievable and unsettling for the younger woman, not to mention the trauma of what she had seen. 

 

Rubbing the back of her neck, she pondered over whether the headstrong woman would ever fit in at the unit; manage to cope with the strict regime.  Somehow she thought it was going to be one hell of a battle.  A knock at the door prevented her from deliberating it further.

 

“Come in,” she called, turning away from the window.

 

The door was opened by Dr Theodore Todd, the chief scientist on the base.  He was an incredibly intelligent, if somewhat serious man, and Kate knew he could always be relied upon for an objective assessment of any situation.

 

“Ah, Theo,” she said in greeting, moving back over to her desk to pick up the Hallstrom file, “I presume you’ve heard about our new recruit then?” she added, sliding it across to him as he took the seat on the other side.  She continued to stand, feeling the need to pace across the carpet.

 

“Doc did mention it yes,” he confirmed, picking up the folder, and starting to leaf through it, “Along with a mention of a slight…attitude problem.”

 

Kate laughed. “If you call a chip on her shoulder the size of Wales a slight problem, then yes.”

 

Theodore continued to read, raising an eyebrow every now and then at the contents of the file.

 

“I’m just not sure she’s going to fit in around here,” remarked Kate, continuing her travels around the room.

 

“You’ve faced challenges before,” he said, glancing up, “Just look at what you’ve managed with Tardelli.”

 

“Indeed,” she agreed, “But something tells me our Miss Hallstrom is going to be a whole different prospect.”

 

“You think she’s going to be trouble?”

 

“Not necessarily, though she certainly is antagonistic,” she admitted, “But it’s not just that.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, there’s a lot more going on under the surface I think, there’s just something else about her…”

 

“‘Her arrogant disregard for authority’ maybe?” suggested Theo, quoting from the report in his hands, “Or perhaps her ‘forthright, sometimes abrasive expression of opinion’”

 

Kate stopped her pacing and let out a rueful laugh, “It does make interesting reading doesn’t it,” she noted.

 

“Scary more like,” he commented, “I’m surprised she didn’t get sacked from the police force a long time ago.”

 

“You obviously haven’t got to the bits about how, despite all that, she was brilliant at her job, brilliant in general,” she ventured.

 

“Brilliant?  A police officer?  Are you sure?” he asked doubtfully.

 

“She got a first in Biochemistry from Oxford,” revealed Kate, “Was top of her class apparently.”

 

“She was?” he asked in amazement, quickly flicking through the pages to try and find proof, “What on earth is someone like that doing as a police officer?”

 

“Good question,” she noted, “Unfortunately the file doesn’t disclose that.”

 

“So it seems there is more to our new girl than meets the eye,” he ventured, closing the file in his lap for the time being and turning his full attention to her.

 

“Indeed it does,” she agreed, “Did Doc also tell you about the problems she’s having?”

 

“Yes, it’s an unfortunate side effect of her particular mutation I think.  We’ll need to analyse it further to be sure.”

 

“Let’s just hope she’s willing,” muttered Kate.

 

“You don’t think she’ll want to stay?”

 

“Oh, I know she doesn’t want to stay,” declared Kate, “Unfortunately letting her loose is not an option at this moment in time.”

 

“Have you fitted her with a tracker then, just in case she does get any ideas about leaving?” he asked.

 

“Yes, I got Doc to do it while she was unconscious,” she confirmed, “Anyway, it’s late, I think it’s time to try and get some sleep and then take a fresh look at our new ‘problem’ tomorrow.”

 

After Theo had left, Kate quickly drained the last of her whiskey.  She sincerely did want to help Miss Hallstrom, she just hoped that it wouldn’t prove as hard going as the first attempts.  As she went to turn off the light in her office she had brief thought, wondering why she was quite so determined to help her.  Flicking the switch and exiting the room, she dismissed it as being the same way she felt responsible for all the operatives under her command.

 

………

 

“It will be all right won’t it?” asked Constable Walker nervously.

 

“Of course, just stick close, you’ll be fine,” replied Andrea reassuringly.

 

The young man nodded and she turned her attention back to Inspector MacKenzie, watching and waiting for his signal.  She crouched down behind the car, and could feel the sweat starting to prickle on the back of her neck, running on down her back and dampening her shirt where it was pressed tightly to her by her Kevlar vest. 

 

Why was she so anxious?  She had been on plenty of raids before, what was telling her something was wrong in this case?

 

“All set, Sergeant?” asked her senior officer.

 

“Yes, sir, everyone’s in position,” she informed him, taking the quick chance to make sure her blonde hair was tightly secured in its ponytail.  She didn’t need her hair getting in the way when trying to arrest someone.

 

He picked up his radio and barked his order, “This is MacKenzie, go!”

 

Andrea leapt up from her position, flicking out her Asp baton and closely following the team with the door-rammer.  It only took them a couple of strikes to break down the warehouse entrance and they were in.  The men inside started running as soon as they spotted the police swarming into the building.  Andrea picked a target and gave chase, tackling the man to the floor and pulling out her handcuffs as he protested loudly.  She yanked his arms roughly behind his back and attached the cuffs, satisfied to see Walker doing the same to another suspect close by. 

 

A soft hissing noise drew her attention and she looked around for the source of the sound.  Her eyes fell upon a vent close to the floor, through which white gas was issuing.

 

“Sir!” she called over to the Inspector.

 

“What is it, Sergeant?” he asked, coming to join her, before following her gaze to the vent, “What the hell is that?”

 

“I don’t know, sir, but I’m guessing it’s not good,” she offered.

 

“Agreed, let’s fall back,” he said, pulling out his radio to make the order to that effect.

 

She heard some frantic voices over the radio in response, and watched MacKenzie’s face take on a worried look.

 

“Some bastard has blocked the exits,” he said, looking around frantically, “There has to be some way out of this place!  You look over there,” he ordered, pointing for her to go over to the back of the building.

 

“Walker, you’re with me,” said Andrea, noting that the Constable was looking decidedly nervous.

 

They dashed over to the far side, searching all along the wall, looking for any means of escape, but it was hopeless - there was nothing.  The gas was now pouring in from a number of locations, and suddenly Walker started coughing at her side.

 

“Ahhh,” he screamed, “It hurts!”

 

She turned to look at him, horrified to see him clutching at his head in agony as blood poured from his nose.  He doubled over, letting out another gut-wrenching scream, before collapsing onto the stone floor.  Casting her eyes round she could see the rest of the team being similarly affected, staggering desperately around in pain or already felled by the gas.  Perhaps she could still help Walker, she thought, kneeling down at his side

 

Then it started.  Pain.  Pain like nothing else she had ever felt.  Pain that felt like it was erupting directly from within her.  It arced through her whole body and she screamed at the fire shooting through all her limbs.  She slumped onto the stone floor, crying at the agony.  She was still conscious, just lying there enduring the ongoing pain.  Walker’s eyes were fixed on her, cold…lifeless…

 

“Wakey, wakey!”

 

Andrea shot up, the sweat dripping down her face as she realised she was actually in the sickbay at the army base.

 

“Bad dream was it?”

 

She turned to face the speaker, taking a moment to compose herself, and fight away the nightmare’s images.  It also gave her the opportunity to study whoever it was who had rudely awakened her.  The man was another soldier, dressed in his fatigues.  She surmised that he was an officer, though, since he had two diamond shaped insignias on the rank slide on his shoulders.  He was slightly taller than her and possessed the build of a rugby player, she thought, with broad shoulders and a general sturdy look about him.  He had short, dark hair and dark eyes, while his skin had a slight olive shade to it, making her wonder if he was of some sort of Mediterranean heritage.

 

“You could say that,” she answered, running her hand through her damp hair, considering that she really needed to have a shower, and soon.

 

“Well, good job I woke you then,” he remarked, “I’m Lieutenant Chadwick, by the way, and you’re wanted by the boss.”

 

“Can I at least get a change of clothes first?” she asked, pulling at her sweaty jumpsuit, “God knows how long I’ve been lying around in this.”

 

“I suppose so,” he replied reluctantly, “Doc!”

 

Once the Lieutenant had informed him of her request, the doctor helpfully fished out some army issue clothes for her from a storage cupboard. 

 

“You’ve not got another sedative secreted away in these have you?” she asked, accepting them from the be-spectacled man.

 

He looked rather abashed, “Sorry about that,” he said, “It was for your own good though.”

 

“Really,” she remarked doubtfully, before looking expectantly at the two men, “What, you want me to strip off in front of you?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.

 

“It’s not like I haven’t seen it all before,” commented the doctor while the other man merely leered at her.

 

She shot the doctor a withering look, and he hooked the Lieutenant’s arm and forced him to swing round to give her a modicum of privacy.  She peeled off the jumpsuit and pulled on the khaki t-shirt she had been given.  It was obviously designed for a man, she realised, since it was rather tight across her ample chest.  She pulled up the camouflage combat trousers that went with the t-shirt.  It was hardly her choice of fashion, but she supposed that at least it was clean.

 

“I don’t suppose you have some shoes too?” she asked straightening up, noticing that the Lieutenant was already peering round at her. 

 

I wonder how long he was watching, bloody pervert! she thought, shooting him a filthy look.

 

“Size?” asked the doctor, rooting through the cupboard contents again.

 

“Seven,” she replied.

 

He tossed her a pair of standard black army boots that she yanked on and laced up.

 

“Right, lead on,” she instructed the Lieutenant.

 

They exited the sickbay into a non-descript corridor.  The walls of the corridor were white, it possessed a bare, stone floor and it was brightly lit.  The only other thing of note was that there were a number of cameras dotted at intervals along its length.  The lieutenant indicated the direction for her to go, and two other armed soldiers fell in behind them as they made their way along. 

 

“How long was I out?” she asked the officer at her side.

 

“Nearly a day,” he answered.

 

“A day?  Bloody hell! What day is it now then?”  she asked, realising she had no idea how long it had been in between her previous bouts of consciousness.

 

“It’s Thursday,” he replied.

 

Wow, this guy is a barrel of laughs! She thought to herself, I’ve met more responsive planks of wood. 

 

Given what he had told her, she realised it had only been two days since the raid, since that had been on Tuesday.  Assuming that the current Thursday was in the same week!

 

They entered a lift at the end of the corridor.  As the Lieutenant pressed one of the buttons, Andrea noticed that they went from two at the top, through one and ground to six minus numbers. She realised they must have been underground, explaining the lack of windows.  On the ride up she had a brief chance to assess her situation, recalling what the Major had been trying to tell her during their previous encounter. 

 

She contemplated that it must all be an elaborate deception to cover up the real truth.  Though she also considered they could have come up with something slightly more plausible than all the nonsense about super powers.  She surmised that the only way she was going to get out of here and find out what was really going on was to play ball and wait for an opportunity to present itself.  Obviously this was a high security facility, so they were hardly likely to let her stroll out the front door even if she could slip her present guard.

 

As the lift reached the second, and topmost floor, the doors swished open on quite a different vista.  Gone were the sterile corridors of the underground.  Instead they were in what looked like some kind of modern office building.  Along this corridor there was lush blue carpet, plants and pictures hanging on the walls.

 

She followed the lieutenant down the corridor to the end, where it opened out into a reception area.  There was a single man sitting behind a desk, looking for all intents and purposes like a secretary, apart from the fact that he wore an army uniform.  Behind him was a large window, giving Andrea a view of the countryside outside – definitely not London then.  Andrea thought it could have been anywhere, since she couldn’t see any prominent landmarks or other buildings, the trees and hills stretching out into the distance.  The sun was just lowering behind the hills, meaning it was some time around late afternoon.

 

The lieutenant guided her over to a dark wooden door that bore a shiny gold placard in the centre with “Major Kate Jarvis” engraved in it.  He knocked once and a call came letting him know it was fine to come in.  He held the door open for Andrea and she entered the office.

 

“Thank you, lieutenant,” said the Major, looking up from her desk on the far side of the room, “That will be all.”

 

He nodded and closed the door after him as he went, leaving Andrea to cross to the chair in front of the desk on her own.  She glanced round the imposingly large office as she went.  It was sumptuously decorated, plush deep red carpet, expensive-looking dark wooden furniture.  The walls were lined with a number of framed photos of groups of military people, some candid shots, others official regimental pictures with a list of names underneath.  There were also what looked like commendations, though Andrea couldn’t quite make out the writing on them.  And of course there was the obligatory picture of the Queen.

 

The desk sat just off to the left of centre, with a small window overlooking it.  There was a metal filing cabinet pushed up against the wall behind the desk, with a bookcase next to it, displaying an array of weighty tomes. 

 

The large window that occupied much of the right-hand wall lighted the whole room.  Underneath it was a comfortable looking couch, with a low coffee table in front of that.  Next to the couch was a small wooden cabinet, with a model of a sailboat on top of it.  Andrea thought it was slightly out of place in the office of an army officer.  Even more incongruous was the sight of a telescope on a stand in the corner, and some framed star charts on the wall by it.  The overall impression of the room was of order and neatness, no less imbued by the woman sitting behind the desk in her immaculate uniform.  Andrea did note that she looked slightly less formal that day, with the tie and jumper missing from the ensemble, the Major’s shirtsleeves rolled up to just above her elbows instead.

 

The blue-grey eyes regarded her evenly as she approached the desk, revealing little.  Andrea was impressed; she usually found it pretty easy to read people, but the Major had a good command mask in place.

 

“Take a seat, please, Miss Hallstrom,” instructed the Major, though her tone was tempered with softness.

 

Andrea complied, maintaining eye contact the whole time to see if she could get the Major to look away.  She didn’t.

 

“Would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee, water?” offered the other woman.

 

“Water would be fine, thank you,” replied Andrea.

 

The Major crossed over to the small cabinet by the window and Andrea realised it was for drinks as the woman delved in and produced a bottle of water, pouring it into a glass.

 

“Thank you,” said Andrea again as the Major proffered the glass, before sitting back into her high-backed chair.

 

Andrea sipped at the drink, her throat rather sore and dry.  She supposed she hadn’t actually consumed anything for two days; no doubt they had been maintaining her on a drip or something.  The Major herself drank from a stainless steel mug, Andrea catching the scent of strong coffee emanating from it.

 

“I think we got off on slightly the wrong foot yesterday,” disclosed the Major, placing her drink down on a metal coaster, “Despite what you might think, we really do want to help you.”

 

“By keeping me here against my will?” countered Andrea.

 

The Major regarded her, her eyes narrowing slightly.  Andrea could swear that if a pin dropped at that moment she would have heard it.

 

“Perhaps I should try and continue my explanation of what this place is and what happened to you, since you didn’t give me much chance yesterday,” suggested the Major after the pregnant pause.

 

“As long as you’re not going to start going on about mutations and super powers again,” replied Andrea scathingly.

 

The Major let out an audible sigh, leaning forward on her desk before speaking.  “I know you don’t want to believe it, but it’s the truth.”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes, leaning back and folding her arms to suggest that she certainly didn’t believe it, not for a second.  The Major tapped a few keys on the keyboard to her side and swivelled her flat computer monitor so Andrea could see it as well.  Grudgingly Andrea leant forward to look at the screen, which displayed a series of images of her dead colleagues.

 

“What the fuck are you showing me these for?” said Andrea angrily, glaring at the Major.

 

“To shock some sense into you perhaps?” offered the Major, “And to make the point that for all intents and purposes you should be dead too.”

 

Andrea didn’t think much of the Major’s way of making a point.

 

“Don’t you wonder how you survived?” asked the Major.

 

“Dumb luck?” suggested Andrea tetchily.

 

The Major flicked off the monitor, the last image of a dead Inspector MacKenzie disappearing into the ether.

 

“No, Miss Hallstrom, it was much more than ‘dumb luck’,” answered the Major, “You’re an intelligent woman, so I know you’re going to understand when I explain it to you.  You have a special gene in your genetic makeup.  In your case this gene was dormant and under normal circumstances you would have lived your life and been none the wiser as to its existence.  Unfortunately the gas incident changed all that.”

 

Andrea listened intently.  For some reason the look in the Major’s eyes was telling her that the other woman was speaking the truth.  She thought it could be something to do with how the Major had also dropped the timbre of her voice ever so slightly to soften it.

 

“In order to save your life the dormant gene activated,” continued the Major, “In turn activating the special abilities associated with it and preserving your life.”

 

“So you’re saying I’ve now got super powers?” posited Andrea doubtfully, “I don’t feel much different.  What exactly are these powers meant to be then?”

 

“We know about as much as you do at the moment, which is pretty much nothing,” the Major revealed candidly, “Apart from the shows of enhanced strength you’ve already displayed, we don’t know what you’re capable of without further investigation.”

 

“Helpful,” noted Andrea sarcastically, “And the seizures?”

 

“We’re not entirely sure about them either, but we think that since your powers were never meant to be active, your body isn’t adapted to them.  You appear to lack the ability to control or switch off your power. In effect whenever you use them they run out of control and cause the muscles of your body to seize up.”

 

“But I’m all right now then?”

 

“For the time being, yes.  The doctor has given you some strong inhibitor drugs to stop your abilities triggering.  That’s one of the reasons we need you to stay here, so we can continue to investigate and monitor your condition.”

 

“Keep me here like some little rat in a cage you mean?” bit back Andrea, “I am a person, you know, not some sort of commodity to be used for whatever use the government sees fit.”

 

“We do know that,” replied the Major earnestly, “We are very aware of just how individual all the people here are.  We only want to look after you - part of what we do is teach people how to explore their abilities, harness them, control them.  We have a team of experienced scientists and doctors all here for your benefit.  I can assure you, you won’t receive better care anywhere else.”

 

Andrea considered her words, reluctantly conceding that the Major was probably right.  She didn’t think she would get expert help at any normal hospital.

 

“So you’re in charge of this place then?” asked Andrea, changing tack.

 

“That’s right, I’m the senior officer on the base,” confirmed the Major, “In command of the company stationed here.”

 

“And what exactly did you do wrong to be lumbered with this job?” Andrea asked confrontationally. 

 

She detected the slight tightening around the Major’s eyes, the minor pursing of the lips.  It was barely detectable, but there was definitely a story there, thought Andrea.

 

“We do a lot of good work here,” replied the Major.  Andrea recognised the evasive answer, and the way the Major’s voice had once again taken on its hard edge.

 

“And does anyone ever get to leave?”

 

“Contrary to what you might think, this is not a prison, it’s a research facility,” stated the Major, “However, I think you’d agree that we can’t just have super powered people wandering around the country unchecked, it’s a threat to national security.  Any superhumans we discover are offered two choices – either they can stay here with us, or they can have a special chip implanted and leave.  The chip monitors their whereabouts at all times and checks they don’t use their powers in the outside world.”

 

“Great, give me one of these chips and I’ll get out of here then,” said Andrea.

 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea in your case.”

 

“So I am a prisoner?” noted Andrea bitterly.

 

“If you’d just stop and think for a second,” said the Major, her voice edged with annoyance at Andrea’s persistent obstinacy, “You could have a seizure at any time out there and we wouldn’t be around to help you.  You’ve been lucky so far, but the doctor thinks they do have the possibility to be fatal.”

 

Andrea was stunned. Fatal? Not only am I a genetic freak, but it could kill me?

 

“That’s why we want you to stay, so we can help you,” said the Major.

 

Andrea narrowed her eyes suspiciously.   “And what do you get out of it?”

 

“Obviously we’re doing research too,” replied the Major, “So we would want you to help us with that.”

 

“And that’s it?” Andrea asked sceptically, “The army is out here at this top secret base, just carrying out some harmless research for the good of humanity?”

 

The Major remained silent, her hands neatly folded on the table between them.

 

“Let me guess, you can’t say anything more?” said Andrea, suspecting that there was much more to this place than what she had been told so far.

 

The Major dipped her head slightly in acknowledgement.

 

“What about my real life, my job?” asked Andrea, “People are going to wonder where I am.”

 

“We can arrange extended sick leave for you.”

 

“Of course you can,” said Andrea, shaking her head.  It seemed she really had entered the world of secrets, where anything could be covered up or arranged, “And my flat, my mortgage, my bills?”

 

“We’re not on another planet, you know,” said the Major, and Andrea thought she could almost see a slight smile touching the corners of her lips. “You can still talk to people by phone, pay your bills.”

 

“Just be monitored and watched while I do it, right?” remarked Andrea, “Just to make sure I’m not compromising national security?”

 

“We do have to be careful,” replied the Major, indirectly answering the question.

 

“So are we ever actually allowed out, into the real world I mean?”

 

“It is possible, but let’s take one step at a time, shall we?” replied the Major, leaning across the table once more and fixing her eyes on Andrea again, as if she was about to make an important point, “We have to know we can trust you first.”

 

“You trust me?” laughed Andrea, “Well, I certainly don’t trust you, so I guess the feeling’s mutual.”

 

Neither of them spoke for a moment, simply maintaining the gaze across the table, Andrea surprising herself by being the first to look away.

 

“So, if I do agree to stay and learn how to control my powers,” she said, still finding the concept that she had them somewhat laughable, “So that I’m no longer a danger to anyone, including myself, can I then leave for good, with one of those chips?”

 

“I don’t think you’ll want to do that.”

 

“But if I do?”

 

“Then you will be free to go,” agreed the Major.

 

“Well,” said Andrea, leaning back now that she had got that concession, “I guess I don’t have much choice for the time being do I?  It looks like I’m staying…for now.”

 

“Good,” said the Major, also sitting back in her chair.

 

“So where do I actually live while I’m here?” asked Andrea, thinking of that shower she desperately wanted.

 

“Why don’t I show you?” offered the Major, getting up from her chair and gesturing to the door.

 

………

 

As they silently made their way along the corridors, Andrea wondered if all new recruits got this personal treatment from the Major.  Though, since there had only been three others so far, she supposed it was a distinct possibility.  They were still on the same floor as the Major’s office, as they came to an area set off from the rest of it by a security door.  The Major stepped up, allowing a device to scan the retina of her eye.  The computer made some positive sounding beeps and the door slid open.

 

The area beyond the door seemed much like the one they had just left, apart from the fact that Andrea could hear the strains of rock music wafting down the corridor.  She looked quizzically at the Major.

 

“That will be Mr Parsons,” said the other woman in answer, “Don’t worry, they’ll be plenty of time for introductions to your fellow members of the unit tomorrow.”

 

They finally came to a door that the Major pushed open.

 

“After you, Miss Hallstrom,” she offered, holding out her hand.

 

Andrea walked into what looked remarkably like any other studio flat that she might have come across back in London.  It all looked brand new and spotless – there was a large lounge/dining area with immaculate furnishings directly in front of her, a small kitchen behind a counter off to the side, plus a couple of doors leading off to what she could only assume were the bedroom and bathroom.  She noted that there was also a large window on the far side, outside of which she could see more countryside in the dusk light.  She guessed it probably didn’t open, just in case she tried to leg it.

 

“These are your quarters,” the Major informed her, “You should find everything you need, at least for tonight.  We can see about getting some of your own things brought here tomorrow.  If you do need anything else then you can call someone on this,” said the Major giving her what looked like a wristwatch.  “It’s a communicator,” explained the Major as Andrea turned it over in her hand, “We use them to communicate within the confines of the base.  Think of it a bit like a mobile phone, just dial the number you want.  If you need anything tonight, dial 01, and someone will come to see you.”

 

“Thanks,” said Andrea, trying to take it all in.

 

“Well, I’ll leave you to it, you’ll get a proper briefing tomorrow,” said the Major turning to go, “Goodnight, Miss Hallstrom.”

 

“Wait,” called Andrea suddenly, stopping the Major before she got to the door.  “If I am going to stay here, can we get one thing straight?” she continued as the Major swivelled back round.  “The only people who ever called me ‘Miss Hallstrom’ were my teachers when I’d done something naughty.  I know I told you to, but it’s driving me nuts!  Please, call me Andrea.”

 

The Major smiled, the first time Andrea had seen her do it. “Well, good night, Andrea.”

 

Andrea watched the door close behind the Major and then promptly smacked herself on the forehead.

 

“Call me Andrea?”…” Call me Andrea?”  That was smooth!  What the fuck was I thinking?  Am I trying to ingratiate herself with the ice queen Major or something?

 

Sighing, she plonked herself down on the large couch in the centre of the room, opposite which sat a massive television, hanging on the wall.  She considered that it was actually better than her flat, and a hell of a lot tidier.

 

She leaned back against the soft cushions, closing her eyes for a moment, trying to process all she’d been exposed to over the last couple of days. 

 

So this is to be my life from now on, is it, poked and prodded like some lab rat?  Mind you I could think of worse people to be prodded by than the Major.

 

She bolted upright wondering where the hell the last thought had come from. Thinking more about it, she supposed the other woman wasn’t unattractive - quite the opposite in fact, if she was being honest about it.

 

Especially those eyes…the way they seem to add a whole other level of communication beyond the verbal...

 

Andrea mentally shook herself.  She was sure the Major knew damn well the power she could command with her looks, in combination with that strong, yet also subtle voice.

 

The woman was army through and through, however, considered Andrea - she was screaming authority from every pore and Andrea had always had trouble with that particular concept.  She was sure Inspector MacKenzie had wanted to bang her head against the wall on more than one occasion.  Thinking of him reminded her of why she was there - images of her fallen colleagues swimming to the fore of her mind.  She vowed that she would get answers about what had happened at that warehouse.  Somewhere out there was the person responsible, and there was no way they were going to get away with it. 

 

She tried to think happier thoughts, bringing to mind an image of MacKenzie when he was alive, though he was giving her another dressing down in the memory she recalled.  She guessed people in command just couldn’t handle being told when they were wrong, and Andrea had no compunction about doing that.  She didn’t see the need to pontificate on things - say what you thought and meant, that was her credo.  Unfortunately, that didn’t always go down too well with others.  Somehow, she didn’t think it would go down too well with the Major either. 

 

The Major’s not my type at all anyway, she thought, before catching herself again -  Why does my mind keep wandering off like that? Tiredness, no doubt.

 

Andrea considered that the other woman was so stiff; you could lay her down and iron your clothes on her.  A sudden image of the Major, lying down, flashed to mind, and Andrea quickly shook it away.  

 

How long has it been since Meg?  Four months? Five?  How time flew when you weren’t having fun.

 

Andrea decided now was probably a good time for that shower, and she wandered off through one of the doors to the side of the main area.  She found herself in the bedroom, which was tastefully furnished, like the rest of the quarters, with a large bed dominating the room.  There were built in wardrobes along one wall and she pulled open one of the wooden doors.  An array of clothes hung, and were neatly folded, inside – all army issue. 

 

Looks like I’ll have to get used to greens, browns and khaki! she thought ruefully.

 

Moving through to the bathroom she noted the large corner bathtub and separate shower cubicle, making her realise that this place was definitely better than her flat.  Turning on the shower she started to peel off her t-shirt, before stopping herself.  She looked around the room, wondering if there were hidden cameras anywhere.  Shaking her head, she continued to disrobe – I’m getting far too paranoid, but then that’s what happens when you get involved in this secret squirrel shit!

 

Stepping into the shower, she let the steaming water drum down on her in an attempt to wash away the past two days.

 


 

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

 

CHAPTER 2

 

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

 

 

Andrea walked down the corridor, her steps echoing upon the stone floor and reverberating off the plain white walls that seemed to stretch on forever.  The only other sound was that of her breathing, ragged and harsh against the silence that pervaded the corridor.   She couldn’t even remember how long she had been walking, searching for a way out.

 

She came to a junction and cast her eyes down the right hand branch.  It was no different, only more whiteness disappearing into the distance.    Turning to the left hand branch Andrea was met by a pair of wildly staring eyes.

 

“Why did you leave me?” wailed the man in front of her, his voice loud in the otherwise empty corridor.

 

Andrea stumbled back against the wall in shock.

 

“Walker? I…I…thought you were dead?” she stammered.

 

“You left me, why did you leave me?” he moaned again.  Andrea could see now that he was deathly white.

 

 A thin trickle of blood started to drip from his nose.  It splashed garishly on the floor, a bloom of red against the white monotony.

 

“You should have stayed with me…”

 

Andrea turned and ran back the way she had come, the dead man’s continued pleas a haunting call after her as she fled down the corridor.  Turning a corner she suddenly found herself face to face with him again.  She pulled up quickly as he tried to latch onto her, to stop her from running again.

 

“Why didn’t you help me?” he beseeched her.

 

“I couldn’t, there wasn’t anything I could do!” she desperately tried to explain, still panting from her frantic run. 

 

“No!” he cried, becoming angry and grabbing onto her arm. “You should have stayed with me!”

 

“Let go!” Andrea shook him off and turned away.

 

Only there he was again, right in front of her before she could even take a step.  Andrea dodged under his flailing arm and ran, knowing only the overwhelming urge to get away from him.  Her heart was hammering wildly in her chest; the sweat was dripping down her face; she could barely breathe.  Yet Andrea knew she had to keep going.  Rounding another corner, Andrea didn’t notice the lack of floor until it was too late and she was plunging off the drop, landing heavily face-first on the hard stone floor.

 

It was then that she sensed someone standing in front of her, watching.  She started to raise her head…black boots…uniform trousers…

 

“Oi! Rise and shine!”

 

Andrea sat up abruptly in bed, trying to shake off the dream and recall where exactly she was.  Standing watching her with his dark eyes was a soldier.  He waited expectantly with his hands on his hips.  Ah, yes, the army base, she remembered. 

 

“What time is it, Lieutenant….” she asked, trying to recall his name while she composed herself.

 

“Chadwick,” he answered, “And it’s 8am.”

 

“8am?” she cried, a frown furrowing her brow. “Why the hell are you waking me so bloody early?”

 

He shrugged his shoulders unapologetically.  “8am is hardly early for the army.  We thought we’d let you have a lie in, actually.”

 

Andrea pushed her blond hair away from her face and rubbed her eyes.  “Lucky me,” she said sarcastically.  “I presume, since you’re waiting there, that I have somewhere to be?”

 

“I’m here to escort you to your briefing,” he informed her.

 

“Right, well, if you’d just give me a minute,” Andrea said, indicating the door.

 

She waited for the door to close behind him, before clambering out of bed.  Andrea stretched her long limbs to get some life back into them.  The Lieutenant seemed to have a nasty habit of waking her in the middle of dreams, she considered, as she opened the wardrobe looking for something to wear.  She didn’t know what it was about him, but she didn’t like the man.  There was just something creepy about him, beneath the stiff military exterior.  It appeared that the concept of privacy was somewhat foreign to him too, since he had just strolled straight into her bedroom in order to wake her.  Not to mention the way he had stared at her the day before when she had been dressing.

 

Peeling off the large t-shirt she had found to sleep in, she put on the army issue clothes she had dug out of the wardrobe.  Wearing the semi-uniform reminded her of her early days in the police force when she was a young officer on the beat, before she moved on to bigger and better things with CID [2].  That seemed like a whole other lifetime right now. 

 

Once she was dressed, Andrea followed the Lieutenant out of her quarters, noting that it was just the two of them today.  The lift deposited them on the fifth underground level, where the doors opened onto the plain surrounds of the subterranean portion of the base.  Walking along, she wondered exactly how far the base extended, while at the same time trying to ignore the unwelcome reminder of her earlier dream the featureless corridors elicited.

 

The Lieutenant finally came to a halt in front of a door marked SRU Briefing Room 1. “Here we are,” he said, “Time to meet your fellow freaks.”

 

Andrea shot him a look, surprised at his terminology, though she herself had used the description the day before.   He appeared totally unrepentant at having used the insulting term, and pressed the entry button, allowing the door to slide open.

 

Inside was something akin to a lecture room, with a series of desks and chairs, leading to a larger desk at the far end.  On it sat a projector, while a white board took up the wall behind the desk.  Three people sat at the tables in the main part of the room, and they all swivelled round to regard the new entrants.

 

One of the men leapt up from his seat to come and greet them. “Chad! Nice to see you!”  The man’s eyes flicked to Andrea, offering her a wink. “So who’s the new girl?”

 

Andrea noticed that the Lieutenant looked decidedly annoyed by the way the young man had addressed him, his jaw twitching as he clenched his teeth.

 

“This is Miss Hallstrom,” the Lieutenant replied frostily.

 

“Well, pleased to meet you, Miss Hallstrom,” said the other man, in what Andrea had now identified as a strong Manchester accent, “I’m Tom Parsons.”

 

She took the hand he had offered up. “Andrea.” 

 

As Tom shook her hand enthusiastically, Andrea took a quick moment to study his face.  He seemed to be about her age and had an open, friendly expression.  He possessed a pair of baby blue eyes and short fair hair.  She supposed he would have been considered quite handsome, if she was into that kind of thing.

 

“And I’m Harry,” said another man, pushing Tom out of the way so he could take her hand instead.  “Harry King,” he added with a smile.

 

He was slightly younger than Tom, perhaps somewhere in his early twenties.  His features were quite a contrast to those of the other man; his hair was black and his eyes equally dark.  Both men wore clothes similar to her own - variations of casual military wear - though neither displayed any sort of rank anywhere.  Andrea assumed they were civilians like her.

 

The Lieutenant pointed out the final occupant of the room. “And that is Miss Tardelli.”

 

Andrea looked over to the woman, who had remained seated.  She received back an icy stare from a pair of dark eyes.  The woman had a latin look about her and, judging by the name, Andrea guessed she was of Italian heritage.

 

“Don’t worry about Bel,” whispered Tom, leaning over to Andrea, “Believe it or not, that’s her friendly expression.”

 

Taking in the still challenging look she was receiving, Andrea wondered what the woman might look like when she wasn’t being ‘friendly’.

 

“So, Chad, what’s the scoop then?” continued Tom, nudging the burly Lieutenant in the arm.

 

“Would you please refrain from calling me that,” the Lieutenant muttered with obvious annoyance.

 

Tom wasn’t letting up, though. “Ah, come on, Chad, you know it’s just because we love you.”

 

“Yeah, Chaddy,” joined in Harry, leaning into the man on the opposite side to Tom, “You’re our pal aren’t you?”

 

The Lieutenant stepped away from them as if he was worried he was about to catch something.  “My name is Lieutenant Chadwick.”

 

“Whatever you say, Chad,” said Tom teasingly, and Andrea noticed that Harry was stifling a laugh behind him.  She guessed that winding up the Lieutenant was one of their common activities, though the man was so dour it didn’t seem to be particularly hard to get a rise out of him.

 

Suddenly the door slid open and Major Jarvis stepped into the room, immaculately turned out in her pressed uniform, complete with dark green jacket.

 

“Good morning, Major,” chorused Harry and Tom.

 

Andrea glanced over at them in surprise, noting how they had subconsciously stood to attention in her presence.  It seemed she commanded a lot more respect from them than the Lieutenant did.

 

“Tom, Harry,” acknowledged the Major with a nod, “Andrea,” she added turning her blue-grey eyes in Andrea’s direction.

 

“Major,” replied Andrea evenly.  She supposed she could be civil for now until she discovered what they had in store for her.

 

The Major made the last of her greetings by calling over to the woman in the chair, “Good morning, Bel.”

 

“Good morning, Major,” responded the dark woman, with a half-smile.

 

So she did speak! And smile too!  thought Andrea. Obviously only to selected people, though.

 

The Major turned back to Andrea. “I presume Lieutenant Chadwick has made the necessary introductions?”

 

“We got about as far as names, yes,” replied Andrea. 

 

However, one of the things Andrea really wanted to know was what exactly was superhuman about the people in the room.  None of them looked any different to a normal person, though she wasn’t quite sure what she had been expecting – someone with two heads perhaps?  She supposed she would find out sooner or later what special abilities they possessed, apart from a capability to annoy army lieutenants.

 

“Good,” remarked the Major.  “Right, the rest of you are with me,” she ordered, indicating the others.  “Dr Todd will be here in a moment to give you an introduction to the facility,” she informed Andrea, before exiting with the other three obediently in tow.

 

Andrea found herself faintly disappointed that the Major wasn’t going to be briefing her, but didn’t have much opportunity to contemplate that further as a tall man wearing a white coat strode briskly into the room.  He introduced himself as Dr Theodore Todd, and promptly dismissed Lieutenant Chadwick, who was only too happy to get out of there.  Dr Todd offered her a seat, before he proceeded to outline the background and function of the Superhuman Research Unit to her in what seemed to be a well-rehearsed speech. 

 

Dr Todd had no compunction about bombarding her with a great deal of information in one go.  He was like a lot of scientists and academics she had met – intelligent, precise, logical, but slightly lacking when it came to interpersonal skills.  She found his no-nonsense, factual approach quite refreshing.

 

She was surprised to discover that the base was actually on an island, just off the west coast of Scotland in the Firth of Clyde.  She supposed that was certainly one way to make sure no one left unexpectedly, unless they fancied swimming several miles to the mainland.

 

Apparently the unit had been in existence for approximately nine months.  There was a mixture of army and civilian personnel on the base, all of who had quarters within the main complex.  The base also hosted a number of recreational facilities, along with the various research labs and training facilities for both the “special operatives” and the regular troops stationed there.  

 

The unit had been set up in response to the discovery of genetic mutations that could lead to the development of special powers.  The government had decided that this wasn’t really something for public consumption, instead creating this secret facility where the whole subject could be researched. 

 

Andrea wondered if research was all they were really interested in.  For a start there was the way Dr Todd had used the term “special operative” when referring to the superhumans, suggesting an active role in something.  Plus there was the fact that the army were running the show.  And not just the army, but the Intelligence Corps, which hinted at something clandestine.  She would have thought that if research was all they were up to, then there would be no need for the army to be involved.  She decided not to voice her suspicions for now – she needed to get a better idea of the unit and whom she could and couldn’t trust first.

 

Dr Todd then moved onto her particular case, reiterating to her what the Major had told her the day before about the problems with her particular mutation.  From what he told her, it turned out that all the other operatives at the unit had possessed their mutation since birth, though not necessarily all the abilities associated with it.  Andrea’s enforced mutation meant that they would have to take things slow with her, especially due to the seizures she had been having.  The doctors would carry out a series of investigations to determine what exactly the nature of her mutation and powers were.

 

At that point, Dr Todd invited her to join him in one of the labs on the floor below where they could start assessing her condition properly.  Entering the lab, Andrea noted the vast array of technical equipment spread round the room.  There were a number of computers, microscopes, scanning devices and quite a few things she had no idea as to the function of - only that they looked highly advanced and expensive.  It appeared that a lot of money was coming into this project from somewhere.

 

“If you’d like to take a seat,” offered Dr Todd, going over to search something out on the far side of the room.

 

While Andrea was waiting the door to the lab swished open, and she spotted Dr Whitman joining them.

 

He smiled amiably as he headed her way. “Morning, Miss Hallstrom.”

 

“Morning,” she replied, “And Andrea is fine.”

 

“Well, you can call me Doc, since everyone else seems to insist on doing so,” he said, with a fake air of exasperation.

 

Andrea looked at him in bemusement. “Aren’t there several doctors here, though?”

 

“See, that’s what I keep telling them,” he said, obviously pleased to find someone who could see his point of view, “But Mr Parsons came up with it, and now it seems to have stuck.  I think half the people here don’t even realise I have a proper first name.”

 

Dr Todd came back over at that point, having retrieved whatever he had been looking for. “Ah, Doc,” he noted, “Now you’re here to monitor things we can get on.”

 

Doc leaned over to whisper to Andrea, “See, even he calls me it!”

 

Andrea smiled at his annoyance, especially as she thought he was feigning it on purpose to try and put her at ease. 

 

Doc wheeled over a monitor, from which he produced some wires and sensors. “OK, now I’m just going to place these on you so we can check out exactly what’s going on in your brain to begin with.  I hope you’re not going to be pulling them straight off again?”

 

“I think I can cope with them this time,” replied Andrea.

 

Doc smiled. “Good, because you’ll need to get used to it, what with the number of tests Theo here is likely to want to run on you!”

 

“Thank you, Doc,” interjected Dr Todd with a slight hint of exasperation.  “Though he is right,” he added, addressing Andrea, “We will need to run an extensive set of tests, looking at all aspects of your mutation.  It may seem like some of them are utterly pointless, but I just ask you to be patient and bear with us.  We need to be thorough so we don’t miss anything.”

 

Andrea nodded.  “As long as you don’t mind the odd question along the way, I kind of like to know what’s going on.”

 

“Fine,” he agreed, “I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have, as long as they don’t step into areas I’m not at liberty to discuss.”

 

……

 

Some hours later, Andrea wearily made her way back to her quarters.  It seemed she was finally allowed to walk about the base unescorted as she travelled up in the lift alone.  She contemplated getting off at the ground floor and seeing how far she might get before she was stopped.  She didn’t think it would be far, with the number of cameras and soldiers she had observed about the place.

 

She tiredly rubbed her neck, thinking that Doc hadn’t been wrong when he made a joke about the number of tests Dr Todd would want to run.  Most of the time it seemed like she was hardly doing anything, flexing particular muscles or thinking about particular things, but she had seen that Dr Todd looked rapt in the results he was getting on his computer screen.  It had all seemed like one long physical, rather than anything to do with super powers – she hadn’t been called upon to do anything out of the ordinary once in fact.  She still wasn’t even sure what it was she was capable of, though Doc had warned her about trying anything to investigate herself while on her own.  All she knew so far was that she had exhibited some sort of enhanced strength.

 

Part of her was itching to know more about it, though at the same time she had to admit that it was all a bit daunting and maybe even a little scary – the prospect that there was this whole other side to her that she herself knew nothing about.  She had always prided herself on her ability to meet any challenge, and had rarely found things in life that she couldn’t overcome or control.  So to now have to place herself in the hands of others to such an extent was somewhat anathema to her. 

 

Having finished for the day, Doc had offered to take her up to the messhall on the ground floor where the superhumans, scientists and regular soldiers could get something to eat. She had declined his offer though – she didn’t expect to be around this place long enough in order to have the need to make friends or socialise.  She’d already discovered that her quarters came equipped with a fully stocked fridge the night before, so it wasn’t like she had to go to the messhall.  These were hardly the sorts of people she would want to be friends with either – a load of squaddies and some juvenile superhumans.  The only people she had felt any sort of connection with so far were the two scientists she’d been introduced to, and that was mainly a kind of grudging respect for their intelligence.  She resolved that she would just do what she had to do until she could get out of there and back to her normal life.

 

Thinking of her real life, Andrea realised that she needed to arrange a few things back in London, not least of which was Gerry.  God knew what he must be thinking.  She realised she should really have asked one of the doctors about making a call to the outside world.  Since she was heading up to the second floor anyway, Andrea guessed she might as well drop in on Major Jarvis.  No doubt she would need her permission for any such request.

 

Striding along the corridor, she saw the eyes of the soldier at the desk outside the Major’s office nervously regarding her rapid approach.

 

“Is Major Jarvis in?” Andrea asked the young man brusquely.

 

“Er…yes,” he answered, somewhat taken aback by her brisk tone.

 

“Good,” she replied, not waiting for any other confirmation before strolling over to the door and knocking on it.

 

The young soldier bumbled up from his desk. “Wait, you can’t just…”

 

Andrea pushed open the door before he had the chance to reach her, and before she got any sort of answer to her knock.  The Major’s eyes flicked up from her desk, a quick flash of annoyance passing across her features before the cool impassive mask was back in place.  Andrea was disappointed she hadn’t managed to catch the Major out a little more, although she wasn’t entirely sure why.  Something in Andrea just felt the urge to try and rile the other woman, just to see what reaction she got – maybe because it seemed like such a challenge to get one at all.

 

The young soldier pushed past Andrea’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Major…”

 

“It’s all right, Anderson,” said the Major with a dismissive wave of her hand.  “Come in, Miss Hallstrom, have a seat,” she added, gesturing to the one in front of her desk.

 

So I’m back to being Miss Hallstrom am I? Perhaps I did manage to rile her just a little bit.

 

Andrea made her way to the indicated seat, the blue-grey eyes watching her intently the whole way across the room, and as she lowered herself into the comfy chair.

 

The Major leant forwards slightly so her hands rested together on the table. “Now, what can I do for you?”

 

“I need to make a phone call,” answered Andrea, getting straight to the point.

 

“May I ask whom you’re calling?”

 

“You may, but do I have to answer?” countered Andrea.

 

The Major regarded her for a moment, showing no visible sign of being perturbed by Andrea’s deliberately obtuse take on her question.  However, the pause before she spoke was evidence enough.  “I’m afraid you will need to, before I can agree to it.”

 

“I want to speak to one of my colleagues, Maria Fernandes,” said Andrea.

 

“About?”

 

“Jesus!” cried Andrea, “Shall I just tell you everything I want to say now?  It’s not like you won’t be listening in and recording it anyway, I’m sure.”

 

“This is a top secret facility,” remarked the Major, still not rising to the bait and maintaining an even tone, “We can’t allow unmonitored communication off the base.  This isn’t anything personal against you, it’s the same for everyone here.”

 

Andrea sighed. “All right, if you must know, I need to get her to look after Gerry for me.”

 

“Gerry?”

 

“My cat,” clarified Andrea.

 

“Your…cat,” repeated the Major slowly, and Andrea could swear she was straining to stop a smile creeping onto her face.

 

“Yes, my cat. Does it seem so unusual that I would have one?” challenged Andrea.

 

“No, not at all,” replied the Major, though her expression indicated otherwise.  “I think that should be fine,” she continued after a moments thought, “Though please keep off the subject of where exactly you are, or what you’re doing here, or we will be forced to cut you off.  I’m sure you can come up with some feasible excuse for your absence, visiting family perhaps?”

 

“She won’t believe that one!” scoffed Andrea before she could stop herself. 

 

The Major looked at her quizzically, one eyebrow raised, but Andrea refused to elaborate further on the subject.

 

“Yes, I’m sure I can make something up,” Andrea said instead, getting back to the point in hand.

 

“In that case, if you want to head back to your quarters, I’ll arrange for your phone to be activated,” the Major informed her.

 

“Thank you,” said Andrea grudgingly, getting up and heading for the door without waiting to be dismissed.

 

“Oh, and Andrea,” called the Major, waiting for her to turn back before she continued, “Please don’t barge unannounced into my office next time.”

 

 

………

 

 

Andrea forcefully closed the door to her quarters, trying to restrain herself from seeing if she could rip it off its hinges and fling it across the room.  She just felt so frustrated and trapped.   

 

In fact, why should I restrain myself? she considered, If I’m cursed with these new powers, then why shouldn’t I use them to let off a bit of steam? Why do I need someone to tell me when and where I can use them?

 

Doc’s warnings about trying to use her abilities un-monitored flashed through her mind, but Andrea dismissed them; Doc probably just didn’t want her to find out anything before him.  Andrea knew she desperately needed some outlet for her pent up aggression.  Talking to the Major certainly didn’t seem to help, since Andrea found herself losing her cool whenever she did.  That disturbed her too - she was famed for being the cool, calm one back at the station.  Her icy stare alone was renowned for eliciting confessions from criminals. 

 

Andrea felt her anger building again as she thought of the rigid army officer and the reactions she stirred.  Snatching up one of the kitchen stools, Andrea gripped the wooden seat in one hand and one of the metal legs in the other.  With a single yank the stool splintered in two.  Andrea looked at its remnants with satisfaction – see, there was nothing to it!

 

Casually discarding the seat part, she started to bend the metal leg. The effortlessness of it was amazing; anyone would think it was some twig that she was bending with such ease. The steel groaned in protest at the punishment, before finally giving way and snapping.  The broken sections clattered noisily on the tiled floor as they joined the rest of the shattered stool.

 

Just as Andrea was looking around for something else to mutilate, it hit her – intense, agonising pain.  She staggered clumsily against one of the kitchen units, sending the utensils on the work surface flying, before tumbling to the floor.  Huddled in a foetal position, Andrea simply prayed for the pain to stop as it shook through her body.   When the darkness finally overcame her, it was a merciful release.

 

……

 

The cool surface of the tiles as it pressed against her cheek was the first thing that pervaded Andrea’s senses when she finally regained consciousness.  Gingerly rising into a sitting position, she rubbed her elbow where it had been bashed on the unforgiving floor.  Glancing up at the clock on the wall, Andrea realised she’d been out for about thirty minutes.  She supposed it could have been worse, especially if someone else had discovered her.  Luckily she’d been spared the embarrassment of explaining why she’d chosen to ignore the repeated warnings about using her powers alone.

 

Clambering unsteadily to her feet, Andrea made her way over to the sofa.  Her hands were shaking disconcertingly as she rested them on her thighs, and she closed her eyes to take a few deep breaths.  In through the nose; out through the mouth. In.  Out. Relax.

 

She supposed it was just the present situation that was affecting her, making her lose her perspective and compromising her judgement.  Maybe the chance to call Maria, and connect with the real world, would help her with that - remind her that she still had friends and a life outside of the base.

 

Picking up the phone, Andrea listened for the dial tone, relieved to find the Major had kept her word and enabled the connection.  As she keyed in Maria’s home number, Andrea just hoped her fellow officer wasn’t on duty that day.

 

After a couple of rings the call was picked up. “Maria Fernandes,” came the answer from the other end.

 

“Maria, it’s me,” said Andrea, grateful to hear her good friend’s voice.  They had been at Hendon [3] together and had remained fast friends ever since.

 

“Andrea? Christ!” exclaimed Maria, “Are you all right? Where the hell are you? What’s going on?”

 

“Woah, slow down!” interjected Andrea, “One thing at a time.”

 

“Sorry,” replied Maria, “It’s just that after what happened at that warehouse, and then not knowing what had happened to you…I’ve been worried.”

 

“It’s all right,” Andrea reassured her, realising how anxious her friend had been from her frantic tone, “I’m ok.  Well, as ok as I can be given the circumstances.”

 

“But where on earth are you?”

 

“I…can’t say,” replied Andrea, fully aware of who might be listening.

 

“You can’t say?  I’ve been worried out of my mind and you can’t say?  What’s going on? Are you in some sort of trouble?”

 

“I’m sorry, Maria, I wish I could tell you more, but you’re just going to have to trust me on this one for now,” explained Andrea.  “How are you anyway?”

 

“Me?” said Maria, surprised at the question. “I’m fine, though busy since…” she trailed off for a moment.  “I just can’t believe all those guys are dead,” she finished quietly.

 

“Me either,” agreed Andrea sorrowfully, as their faces filled her mind once more.  “Anyway, I need to ask you a favour,” she continued, not wanting to linger on those thoughts any more than she had to.  She also thought she better get onto what she had to ask, before she said something she shouldn’t and they got cut off.

 

“Go on, you know I’ll do anything to help if I can,” replied Maria sincerely.

 

“Can you go and pick up Gerry from my flat, look after him for me?” Andrea found herself inexplicably starting to well up as she thought of her home, with Gerry waiting expectantly for her return.  She considered it must just be the fact that she was cut-off from reality that was getting to her.

 

“Of course,” answered Maria without hesitation, “Good job you made me take that spare set of keys, though you always were the organised one!  Do I need to know anything special - what food he likes?  Any little habits?”

 

Andrea tried to pull herself together, stop her mind wandering to thoughts of home and colleagues she would never see again. “No, he should eat pretty much anything, little pig that he is.  Especially since he’s been on his own there for 3 days, poor bugger.  Just give him a cuddle from me to say sorry, ok?”

 

“No problem,” said Maria, “Do you know when you’ll be back?”

 

“No, I’m not sure.  I’ll try and call you again when I know a bit more.  Just tell anyone else who asks not to worry, and that I’ve gone off to have a bit of time on my own after the recent…trauma.”

 

“Ok,” noted Maria, before pausing as if waiting for Andrea to say something else.  The only audible sound was the faint hiss of the phone line. “Aren’t you going to ask how Meg is?” said Maria eventually.

 

Andrea didn’t reply immediately.  She hadn’t really wanted to talk about Meg on this monitored line.  To be honest she hadn’t really wanted to think about her at all – it still dragged up a few too many painful memories.

 

Maria continued, since Andrea failed to say anything, “She misses you, Andi.  I still don’t know why you two broke up.”

 

“It was complicated,” said Andrea, supposing she had to say something in response, “I know she’s your friend so I don’t want to say too much.  Maybe you should speak to her.”

 

“I have!” said Maria, her voice carrying an edge of exasperation, “But she’s as evasive about it as you are!  I think you’re both just being stupid; you two were great together.”

 

“Look, Maria,” said Andrea, perhaps a touch more tetchily than she had intended, “Even if it wasn’t all over, there’s no chance for us to get back together now.”

 

“Because you’re off at this place you can’t talk about?”

 

“That’s right,” Andrea stated.

 

“Is this place anything to do with the accident?” asked Maria, seemingly unable to resist her natural instincts to investigate.  “Only there’s been a lot of weirdness around that, you know, the investigation was…”

 

The line went dead, cutting Maria off in mid-sentence.  Andrea stared at the phone in her hand for a moment, not quite believing what had happened.

 

What the fuck?   This is…unacceptable!

 

Leaping up, she stormed out of her room to get some answers.

 

…….

 

Kate sat on the couch in her office, drinking her coffee and listening attentively as Theo filled her in on the day’s tests.  Apparently there wasn’t a great deal to report as yet, though she hadn’t really expected there to be at this early stage.  They all knew how careful they had to be when dealing with superhumans and their powers to avoid any nasty accidents, especially at the beginning when no one really knew the extent of them.  As he finished up she decided to probe him for some other types of information.

 

“So, how did you find Andrea?” she asked nonchalantly.

 

“Well, considering what we spoke about two days ago, she was actually remarkably accommodating,” he replied.

 

“She was?” said Kate in surprise, “I wonder if it’s just me she doesn’t like then?”

 

“Or perhaps she doesn’t like what you represent?” offered Theo, earning him a questioning look from Kate.  “I mean authority, control,” he explained, “She strikes me as the sort who likes to maintain those for herself, judging by the number of questions she was asking about the tests.”

 

“Possibly,” Kate allowed, “Maybe I should check with Lieutenant Chadwick and some of the other officers, see how she is with them.”

 

“As I said, she was mostly fine with me.  She was a little reluctant and suspicious, but nothing that I would classify as openly hostile or antagonistic.  And she and Doc seemed to get on well, though she did turn down his offer of joining him in the messhall.  Perhaps you need to pull back on the full military side of yourself when dealing with her, if you’re having difficulty.”

 

Kate raised both eyebrows questioningly as she stared at him. “Are you suggesting I’m too rigid and overbearing?”

 

He laughed at her expression since it pretty much proved his point. “Not exactly, though you can be intimidating.”

 

Now it was Kate’s turn to laugh.  “I really don’t think I’m intimidating Andrea! I don’t think anyone is capable of that.  I mean you should have seen her in here earlier, making demands like she owned the place.  Though I’m still not sure whether that’s all a front,” she added, putting down her mug and shifting her position so she could stare off out the window for a moment. 

 

“Go on,” prompted Theo.

 

Kate tried to decide what it was that was making her doubtful.  “I don’t know, I just think that underneath all the outward arrogance and hostility, there is someone who does actually care what people think of her.” She turned back to face Theo. “There’s definitely something driving her to succeed in whatever she puts her mind to – just look at what she’s accomplished at university and in the police,” she noted, recalling what she had read in the young woman’s file, “Despite her rather individual approach to her job, she still managed to get into CID at a young age.  They must have seen potential in her.”

 

“Indeed,” noted Theo.  “Though the sort of people who strive for success so hard are also often the ones who don’t like failure,” he added with a hint of caution, “And have trouble admitting that they might be wrong or when they need help.”

 

Kate nodded. “Mmm, I wonder if that’s the case here?”

 

“Meaning?”

 

“Meaning is she trying to hide any insecurities she might be feeling by being overly aggressive in her attitude?” clarified Kate, “Or is she just like this all the time?  I don’t really know her well enough yet to know.”

 

“No, I guess only time will tell,” he conceded, “There’s also the possibility of post-traumatic stress affecting her behaviour.  Don’t forget she did see all her colleagues die in front of her eyes.”

 

“Yes,” agreed Kate, “It would be odd if that hadn’t had some impact on her.  So she could be covering that up too.  Maybe you could get Doc to have a surreptitious word with her.  Nothing too obvious, just mention the fact we have counsellors here that are for anyone’s use.  Something tells me she won’t be keen if we try to force the issue.”

 

“No, I believe you’re right. I’ll speak to him,” confirmed Theo.

 

Kate sighed and added a rueful smile. “Well, I sincerely hope she isn’t quite this annoying all the time.  I’m just not used to such blatant disregard for protocol!”

 

“Though you yourself have been known to bend the rules from time to time,” commented Theo, “Not to mention be a touch stubborn.”

 

Kate stared at him, furrowing her brows in a look of consternation.  The stern look didn’t quite reach her eyes, though, since she knew he was just teasing her.  “Whose character are we assessing here exactly?” 

 

Before he could reply the door to her office flew open, thumping into the wall, and Andrea strode in.

 

“Why the hell did you cut my phone call off?” she demanded, storming straight over to the coffee table, her pale blue eyes flashing with anger as she stared down at Kate.

 

Kate shot back a deathly look, but kept her mouth tightly shut for the time being.  She didn’t trust herself not to say anything she might regret later.  Taking a few deep breaths, she slowly rose from the couch and stepped purposefully round the coffee table.  She moved so that she was right up in Andrea’s personal space, intending to evoke a sense of menace with her proximity.  However, the younger woman didn’t flinch, despite her closeness. 

 

Kate narrowed her eyes into her most severe look of annoyance and fixed them on Andrea.  The tension in the room was palpable as the younger woman just stared resolutely right back at her, neither of their gazes wavering.

 

“Theo, could you leave us to it?” said Kate eventually, her lips barely moving and her eyes never shifting from their combative regard of Andrea.

 

“Er, sure,” he replied somewhat hesitantly, perhaps afraid they were about to come to blows.

 

Kate waited until he left the room before she spoke.

 

“Miss Hallstrom,” she began, her voice low, dangerous, “I realise you are not one of my soldiers, and therefore not directly under my command.  However, I would expect that even you could follow common courtesy.”

 

“Courtesy?! You want to talk about courtesy?”  snapped back Andrea furiously, her breath hot against Kate’s face, “How about you chopping off my phone conversation?”

 

“I believe I did warn you that might happen…”

 

“Yeah! If I said anything about this place!”

 

“So what were you talking about?” asked Kate, trying to keep calm in the face of Andrea’s continued fury, though she was finding it hard. 

 

“Like you weren’t listening in!” scoffed Andrea incredulously.

 

“Believe me, I have far better things to be doing than listening to your personal phone calls,” Kate informed her.  Kate considered that she should have been the one bawling out the young woman for barging into her office again, but she tried to remember what she and Theo had discussed – pull back on the military side.

 

Andrea crossed her arms across her chest in a defiant stance. “Really,” she said doubtfully.

 

Kate almost rolled her eyes – it was like dealing with a petulant child!

 

“Look, I don’t know the particulars of why your conversation was terminated,” said Kate, attempting to be reasonable, “I’ll find out why my men found it necessary to cut you off, ok?”

 

“Ha! They probably just thought it would be funny!  Abusing their little bit of power by getting one over on the new girl.  Maybe I wasn’t giving them anything juicy enough to listen to?  Nothing to give them their kicks?”

 

Kate found herself bridling again, and she clenched her fists at her side to resist the urge to slap the other woman.  It was one thing to listen to Andrea rant on, but when she started insulting her men that was something else.

 

“My officers are professionals,” stated Kate seriously, “They do not monitor conversation for some sort of cheap thrill.  I’m sure your personal life is infinitely fascinating, but they are just doing their job.”

 

“Well, you should know all about my personal life,” countered Andrea, “You do have that handy little file on me.”

 

Kate heaved a sigh.  “Contrary to popular belief the government doesn’t make a habit of spying on the people of this country.  The only information in that file is data of public record, such as where you were born, your family, your schooling.  Plus we have your work records and reports, that the Met [4] were kind enough to forward to us.”

 

Andrea threw up her arms and made a tutting noise. “Oh, I bet that made interesting reading!  I’m sure MacKenzie had a few choice things to say.  Let me guess – I was a complete pain in the arse who showed a distinct lack of regard for the command structure and protocol?”

 

“A quite accurate summary…of parts of it,” agreed Kate honestly.  However, she sensed an opportunity to diffuse the situation at the same time.  “Though he was actually quite glowing in his praise of your results.”

 

“He was?” replied Andrea, taken aback. 

 

“You sound surprised,” noted Kate.  She stepped away and sat back down on the sofa so she appeared less threatening. “Yes, amongst his remarks he did note that though you were…difficult…you actually showed an amazing dedication to the job and that he thought that it was just your desire to do what you thought was right that made you overstep the mark sometimes. He also mentions the times you went out of your way to help your colleagues when you didn’t have to.”

 

Andrea didn’t reply, and Kate thought she looked slightly confounded by her sudden change of tack.  Most probably she had come in here wanting and expecting a fight.  Kate wondered if she was finally making some sort of headway with the younger woman.  If she could get past all this outward hostility she thought that Andrea could be an asset to the unit.  Not only was she highly intelligent, but the number of commendations in her file suggested that she was someone you could rely on in a crisis and who would be loyal to you – once you had won her respect and trust.  Perhaps she should offer something up about herself to try and start the process of winning her trust.

 

“Andrea,” she began, switching back to using her first name to indicate the fact that she was trying to make peace, “I’m not going to judge you on your past record.  We’ve all made a few mistakes in our time; I know I have.  All I care about is what goes on here, now.”

 

Andrea continued to regard her evenly with her piercing blue eyes.  Kate wasn’t sure if she was thinking about her words or contemplating her next riposte.

 

Kate continued, supposing she might as well see how far she could get before Andrea leapt in again, “You know, you might find things a bit easier around here if you relaxed a bit.  I realise the regime can seem strict, but not everything is intended as personal affront to you.  Perhaps if you tried to make a few friends you would see that.  I hear Doc invited you to the messhall but you turned him down?”

 

Too late, Kate realised her mistake.

 

“Oh, more checking up on me, eh?” remarked Andrea scornfully, “And how long did it take for that little bit of information to wind its way to you?”

 

Kate sighed to herself, realising any hope of a rational conversation had gone for the evening.

 

“You think you know me do you?” said Andrea with an air of resentment.  Kate leaned back on her couch, letting the ongoing tirade wash over her.  “You want me to make friends and be happy like a good little camper when all that’s happened to me since I got here is that I’ve been restrained, injected with sedatives, poked, prodded, spied on and generally been made to feel like some lab rat?  I am a human being!  I have rights!”

 

Andrea shot her one last furious look before turning on her heel and storming back out the door again, which shook on its hinges as she slammed it behind her.

 

Well, that could have gone better, thought Kate to herself, tipping her head back on the soft cushions and closing her eyes.

 

 

 

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

 

CHAPTER 3

 

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

 

 

Andrea strained under the weight she was attempting to hold up.  A few beads of sweat broke out on her forehead and slipped down the smooth skin of her cheek, where she tried to brush them away with her arm.  She had been at this for three days straight now – test after test in the company of doctors Todd and Whitman.  The days seemed to merge into one another, and she could hardly believe it was nearly a week since she had first woken up at the Superhuman Research Unit after the warehouse accident.

 

Today’s particular investigation was the first time she had actually felt like she was exerting herself during the many tests they had performed.  She just prayed that didn’t mean she was about to experience another one of the extremely painful and paralysing seizures that had beset her attempts to access her abilities.  Since her attempt at a bit of interior design with the stools in her kitchen, she hadn’t risked trying anything on her own, realising that maybe the scientists did know what they were talking about.

 

At the moment Doctor Todd had her under a weight-lifting contraption, in one of the specialist gyms at the army base.  It could be made to simulate various weights electronically by increasing the down-force exerted on the bar she held aloft.  Her arms wobbled slightly and she wondered just how much weight was on it right now.

 

“Are you ok?” asked Doc, monitoring her vital signs the whole time as he did every day.

 

“Yes, fine,” she replied, locking her arms once again.

 

Dr Todd flicked his dark eyes up from his computer screen. “You think you can take some more weight then?”

 

“Yeah, sure,” said Andrea confidently, “I mean, what are we up to now?  A hundred kilos or so?”

 

The two doctors exchanged a glancing look, but didn’t reply straight away.

 

Andrea looked at them warily. “What?”

 

“Er…you’re holding up slightly more than a hundred kilos,” began Doc slowly.

 

“Go on…”

 

“Well, the down-force is currently 1500 kilograms,” he outlined, “That’s about equivalent to a small family car.”

 

“Helvete!” cried Andrea in surprise, the Swedish swear word slipping out.  She lost her hold on the bar and just had time to dodge out the way as it came crashing back down onto its supports.

 

She dashed over to look at Dr Todd’s monitor, the scientist moving aside to allow her access.  The figures shown were just as Doc had said.  But that couldn’t be right, she told herself dazedly - the weight of a car?  That was just…impossible!

 

……

 

 

Kate stood on the concealed side of the one-way glass, watching as Andrea dropped the bar and scurried across to look at Theo’s computer.  Obviously something had shocked her, judging from the bemused expression that had now settled on her face.  The pair of them hadn’t spoken directly over the weekend, since the argument in her office on Friday, and Kate considered that that was probably a good thing.  Hopefully, a bit of space would have given Andrea the chance to calm down and start to accept the situation she was in.  Judging by her current reaction, though, she was still having difficulty comprehending the fact that she now possessed superhuman powers.

 

From what Theo had discovered so far, it seemed her strength was phenomenal – they weren’t even sure what her limits were yet.  Kate found that thought slightly disturbing - someone as volatile and headstrong as Andrea with all that power.  She supposed it was down to her to ensure that Andrea accepted her abilities and learnt to control them, though she wasn’t sure how willing a pupil she was going to be.

 

Deliberating the prospect of trying to handle the wilful woman, Kate felt a pounding sensation building at the back of her brain.  She still wasn’t certain if Andrea just liked being argumentative for her benefit, or if that was how she was with everyone.  Kate had faced many challenges in her time in charge of the unit, both personal and professional, but the clash of personalities with Andrea was certainly up there with the toughest.

 

As promised, Kate had looked into why Andrea’s phone call had been cut off, hoping perhaps to try and show the younger woman that she was on her side.  Apparently the surveillance team had been instructed to prevent any discussion of the incident at the warehouse that had landed Andrea with them.  The strange thing was, Kate herself knew nothing of this order, meaning it had come from one of her superiors.  She wondered what it was they were concerned about and were trying to hide.

 

Now Kate thought back to Andrea’s arrival at the unit, when she had been so disorientated and shocked, Kate suddenly realised what it was that had been bugging her about it.  She realised there should have been no reason for Andrea to be brought to them at all.  Before the accident, Andrea had been a regular person, with no indication that she had the dormant gene that could grant her superhuman powers.  So how had they known she would wake up with superhuman abilities?

 

Kate may have only been transferred to the Intelligence Corps recently, but she had been in it long enough to know when something didn’t quite add up.  She resolved to speak to General Parsons next time he made one of his regular visits to check up on progress at the base.

 

Seeing that Andrea had now resumed her place under the bar, Kate decided she really needed to get back to her office and the mountain of paperwork that sat waiting for her there.  After all, Andrea may have been the most troublesome of her responsibilities right now, but she was by no means the only one.

 

…….

 

 

A couple of days later Andrea sat on a low bench in the gymnasium, wiping the sweat from her brow with a towel as the two doctors engaged in a heated debate.  From what she could garner, Doc was of the opinion that Dr Todd was pushing her too hard.  There had been a couple of times when Doc had been forced to step in when one of Andrea’s seizures had started during the experiments.  She could see his point since the seizures were extremely painful, leaving her gasping and in agony as her muscles seized up.  Luckily a quick injection from Doc was usually enough to counteract the effects, but she would rather not have to endure them at all.

 

“Ok,” said Dr Todd eventually, “How about we call it quits for today?”

 

“Fine by me,” agreed Andrea as they looked to her for confirmation, “Though I am curious to know when I’m going to find out the results of all these tests.  We’ve been at this for days now.”

 

“I’ll be making a proper report to Major Jarvis tomorrow,” Dr Todd informed her, “You’re more than welcome to attend.”

 

Andrea raised a single eyebrow to indicate her slight surprise.  “Really? Are you sure you don’t want to check with the Major first?  You might have some top secret things you want to discuss about me.”

 

“I’m not trying to hide anything from you,” said Dr Todd reasonably, “You know everything we do.”

 

“All right,” conceded Andrea, getting up from the bench and flicking the towel over her shoulder, “Yes, I would like to attend, thank you.”

 

“Now that’s settled,” interjected Doc, “How about some dinner?”

 

Andrea weighed up his offer for a moment.  Her instant thought was to refuse, and go back to her room on her own, as she had done every other night since she arrived.  However, even she had to admit that it was getting pretty boring spending so much time alone.  She was really starting to miss her home comforts and her friends.  She had been provided with all mod cons in her quarters – she even had a Playstation to go with the massive television – but that didn’t make up for the lack of personal touch.  What she wouldn’t give for some of her books right now, so she could bury herself in them. 

 

She remembered that the Major had mentioned that she could have some of her belongings brought to the island, but that meant she would have to see the Major to arrange it.  Since their last encounter, Andrea had been trying to avoid the other woman as much as possible.  Andrea didn’t like the capacity the Major seemed to have to unsettle her normally unflappable demeanour.  Something about her just made Andrea want to act up to see what happened, to see what reaction she got.  She realised it was rather childish, yet she couldn’t seem to help herself.  She supposed the report Dr Todd was going to deliver would give her the perfect opportunity to bring up the subject of her belongings without her needing to make a special trip to the Major’s office.

 

In the mean time, she guessed it couldn’t hurt to go along with Doc.  She wasn’t so stubborn that she couldn’t admit that maybe she did need to socialise with the people there, if only to try and maintain her sanity.  Anyway, she reasoned, Doc really wasn’t that bad and at least he wasn’t one of the military personnel.  Andrea had continued to receive a chilly reception from most of the soldiers she had encountered, especially the annoying Lieutenant Chadwick.  She sensed there was a more deeply routed antagonism between the majority of soldiers and the superhumans; one that had been there even before she had arrived.

 

“Ok, why not,” replied Andrea eventually, in response to Doc’s offer.

 

Doc was flabbergasted by her response. “R-really?” he stammered, “You’re going to come to the messhall?  With me?”

 

A smile twitched the corners of Andrea’s lips when she saw his obvious surprise. “That’s what I just said, wasn’t it?”

 

“Yes,” agreed Doc, a stunned look still on his face, “It’s just that I’ve asked you every night and each time you’ve turned me down.”

 

“I guess you must have finally worn me down,” said Andrea jokingly, “Now come on, before I change my mind.”

 

Doc shrugged at Dr Todd, and then quickly scurried after Andrea as she headed for the door.  As they made their way to the messhall, Andrea had to admit to herself that there was another reason she felt like company.  She hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else, but ever since she had arrived on the island she had be plagued by nightmares. 

 

Nearly every time she closed her eyes they were there – Walker, MacKenzie, Madison.  Sometimes it was all of them, sometimes just one, but it was always the same theme – them chasing after her, her unable to get away from their bloodied faces.  She shook her head to try and clear the images that were now impinging on her waking thoughts too.  She had been hoping that the nightmares might lessen with time, but if anything they were getting worse.  Doc had mentioned something in passing about counselling facilities, and she wondered whether she should speak to him about it.  She had her suspicions that he had been prompted to mention it to her, though, and was concerned exactly how confidential any such sessions would be.  The last thing she wanted was the Major and everyone else at the base knowing about her inner demons and insecurities.  Maybe if she could find out more about what had caused the accident and who was responsible, it would help her lay those ghosts to rest.  Though there wasn’t much chance of that while she was stuck on the island, she realised.

 

Stepping out of the lift on the ground floor, Doc led her to a set of double doors along the main corridor.  As they entered the large dining hall, Andrea could swear that the level of conversation dropped a couple of notches.  She could see several sets of eyes swivelling in her direction from the mixture of soldiers and civilian personnel that sat at the tables.

 

“Don’t worry,” Doc whispered too her, obviously having picked up on the reaction too, “They just don’t see many new people round here.”

 

“Really,” said Andrea doubtfully.  More likely they had heard all about her from the likes of Lt Chadwick.  She could see him now, at a table in the corner, laughing with a group of soldiers as his eyes flicked to her.

 

“Come on, let’s get something to eat,” offered Doc, heading over to the counter along one side of the room.

 

Andrea noted that the conversation seemed to resume as they made their way across the room and Doc handed her a tray for her food.

 

“Good evening, Doc,” greeted the man behind the counter, “And, who is this we have with you?” he asked, switching his attention to Andrea, a broad smile on his face.

 

He was another soldier, though he wore a short apron over the front of his camouflage trousers that rather detracted from the overall military impression.  He was a short, stocky man, with an unruly shock of red hair.

 

Doc made the introductions, “Andrea this is Corporal Lister, Lister, this is Andrea,”

 

“Nathan, please,” said the cook, wiping his hand on his apron and extending it towards Andrea.

 

“Nice to meet you, Nathan,” replied Andrea amiably, shaking his hand.

 

Nathan took back his hand and looked at them expectantly. “So what can I get you?”

 

“I don’t know, what have you got?” asked Andrea, scanning the dishes laid out on the hot-plate surface as she did.

 

“Well, on the menu we have either spaghetti bolognese, salmon or some vegetarian thing that you’ll have to ask my colleague Bill about,” he informed her, “But if there’s something special you’d like, I’m sure I could rustle it up.  We should treat our new guests well after all.”

 

“Spaghetti would be fine, thank you,” she noted with a smile.

 

“Good choice,” Doc whispered in her ear as Nathan dished some up, “You’re never quite sure what you might get when Nathan ‘rustles you up’ one of his specialities.”

 

“What was that?” asked Nathan, placing the steaming plate on Andrea’s tray.

 

“Nothing,” said Doc innocently, “Fish for me, please.”

 

“Hmm,” noted Nathan suspiciously, as he dolled out Doc’s request, “You don’t want to listen to this lot,” he added to Andrea, “I mean, are you really going to listen to the culinary recommendations of a bunch of squaddies and scientists?  Philistines the lot of them!”

 

Having picked up their cutlery and a couple of drinks, Doc led her across the room.  Through the troops she spotted the other superhumans at a table on their own, and realised that Doc was heading in their direction. 

 

“Can we join you?” he asked when they got there.

 

Tom turned round and shot them a smile.  “Sure, grab a seat,” he said, “Nice to see you here, Andrea.”

 

“Oh,” said Doc suddenly, just as Andrea was sitting down next to the young blond man, “You know what, I’ve just realised there was something I forgot to do back in the lab.  I’d better head back down there,” he continued, turning to go.

 

Andrea frowned up at him from her seat, knowing when she had been set up.  She supposed she might as well stay, now she was there, though she would be having words with Doc later.

 

“So, how are you doing?  Settling in ok?” Harry asked Andrea.

 

“Fine, thanks,” replied Andrea, between mouthfuls of food.  She noted that Tardelli was eyeing her suspiciously from beneath her eyebrows in the seat next to the dark-haired young man on the opposite side of the table.

 

“I’m surprised you haven’t gone nuts, locked down in those labs with just Doc and Theo for company,” said Tom.

 

“They do seem rather keen on their tests,” Andrea admitted, continuing to eat the Bolognese that actually wasn’t half bad.

 

Tom laughed out loud.  “Keen?  They’re bloody fanatics!  We’ve all been through it, you know, when we first came here.  I swear, there were times I was tempted to try and tickle Dr Todd, just to see if I could actually get a smile to crack that face!”

 

“Now that I would like to see,” remarked Harry, sipping his drink.  “So what powers have you got then?” he asked Andrea.

 

“They don’t know for sure yet, some sort of super strength at least.”

 

“Ooh, better watch out who you’re shooting those looks at then, Bel,” said Tom, flicking a glance at Tardelli.

 

Tardelli narrowed her eyes at him, but said nothing.

 

Harry had spied the annoyed look on her face too.  “She’s just jealous because she’s the human icicle,” he teased.

 

“Human icicle?” queried Andrea, picking up her own drink.  As it touched her lips she realised it was frozen solid.  “Helvete!” she exclaimed, setting the chilly glass down on the table.

 

“Very funny, Bel,” said Tom, rolling his eyes.  Tardelli merely smirked at him in return.

 

Tom tutted once more, before switching his attention back to Andrea and fixing her with an eager look.  “Anyway, enough shop talk, what we really want is the gossip!”

 

“Sorry?” asked Andrea, pushing her plate to one side having finally finished it.

 

“Oh come on,” he said in exasperation, “It’s not like we get many new people round here, at least not ones that aren’t bloody soldiers.”

 

“I see, and what exactly would you like to know?” Andrea asked warily.

 

He thought for a moment.  “How about letting us know if there’s anyone special?”

 

“Special?”

 

“You know, a boyfriend, a husband?”

 

“No,” answered Andrea simply.

 

Harry sat up taller in his seat all of a sudden. “Really?” he remarked, “Well, if you need someone to show you around the base, show you the facilities then I’m your man.” He smiled warmly at her before taking another swig from his mug.

 

“I’m a lesbian,” stated Andrea succinctly.

 

Harry’s face suddenly went red as his drink lodged itself firmly down his windpipe.  When he started making choking noises, Tardelli thumped him resoundingly on the back.

 

“You don’t have a problem with that, do you?” Andrea asked, half-jokingly.  It never failed to amuse her, the varied reactions revealing her sexual orientation provoked, especially from men.  The comments she got usually ranged from ‘but you’re too feminine’ to ‘can we watch’.

 

“Er…no…no…” stammered Harry, recovering from his coughing fit.

 

“You’ll have to forgive Harry, but we don’t get many beautiful women round here,” said Tom, desperately trying to stop himself from laughing.  “So, there’s no girlfriend then?” he asked, correcting his earlier assumption.

 

“Not at the moment,” replied Andrea.  She didn’t really want to disclose any more for now.

 

Tom shrugged in disappointment.  “Ah well, probably for the best.  What with you being stuck out here with us for the time being.  Maybe we could go cruising for some action on the mainland some time, we can check out the women together!” He flashed Andrea another of his grins. “What’s your type anyway?”

 

“I don’t really have a particular ‘type’,” Andrea replied, “It depends on the person.”

 

“Ah, good answer,” he noted, nodding sagely.

 

Just then, Andrea became aware of another presence hovering behind her and Tom.  She swivelled round to see that the Major was standing there.  She was out of her normal stiff uniform, instead sporting the same more casual camouflage outfit as the rest of the soldiers, the sleeves of her shirt neatly rolled up to just above the elbows.

 

“Good evening, everyone,” the Major said, casting her eyes round the table and offering them a smile.  The blue-grey eyes finally came to rest on Andrea. “I’m glad to see you here, Andrea.  Getting to know the others are you?”

 

“Yes, thank you,” replied Andrea, a hint of insolence in her tone to indicate that indeed she was and that she was doing it quite well on her own.

 

Perhaps sensing the frosty atmosphere, Tom stepped into the conversation.  “So…did you take The Flyer out at the weekend then?” he asked the Major.

 

The Major laughed, “You’re not still angling for me to take you on her are you?”

 

“Oh come on, I promise to be good,” he pleaded.

 

“Really,” noted the Major, a doubtful look on her face, “Why do I think it’s more likely that you’ll run the poor girl into the ground in an attempt to see just how fast you can make her go?”

 

He put his hand on his chest to show his mock hurt at the suggestion. “As if I would!”

 

“The Flyer is very picky about who’ll she’ll let handle her, you know” explained the Major, “She’s quite temperamental.  You need to know how to use just the right amount of toughness allied with a soft touch.”

 

Andrea had to mentally shake herself when she realised she was staring at the way the Major’s lips formed the words ‘soft touch’.

 

“I can be soft and subtle,” insisted Tom.

 

Harry burst out laughing opposite him.  “You’re about as subtle as a brick!”

 

“This from Mr Hit-On-The-Lesbian “ noted Tom, causing Harry’s face to redden at the reminder of his earlier faux pas.

 

Andrea spotted the brief quizzical look that passed across the Major’s face, as she tried to work out to what Tom was referring.

 

“So,” continued Tom, turning his attention back to the Major, “I presume that’s a no to me coming for a spin?”

 

The Major smiled down at him again, clapping her hand on his shoulder.  “I’m afraid so, but keep trying, Mr Parsons, you may wear me down eventually.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll see you all tomorrow.”  Andrea watched her striding confidently back across the messhall and out the doors, only realising she had been staring again when Tom prodded her in the ribs.

 

“Sorry, what did you say?” asked Andrea, turning back to him.

 

“I was just asking if the Major was your type,” he repeated.

 

“Definitely not!” she stated, perhaps a bit more forcefully than she had intended.

 

“Oh, shame,” he remarked, “Well, I certainly wouldn’t say no,” he added with a wink.

 

Andrea’s brows knitted together as she regarded him with a mixture of surprise and doubt.

 

“I think she’s rather attractive, don’t you?” he offered.  Andrea found she was starting to get rather uncomfortable with where the conversation was heading as he continued with his explanation, “She’s got that whole older woman, power thing going on.  And as for that voice…It almost makes you want to step out of line to get that husky dressing down.”

 

“Oh yeah, I know what you mean,” joined in Harry, nodding in agreement.

 

“Maybe,” conceded Andrea, “But she’s so…military!”

 

Tom laughed, “Well, yes, she is a Major!  But once you get to know her a bit, you’ll see there’s more to her than that.  She’s not like Chaddy and some of the other cretins round here.  Most of them think we’re a bunch of freaks, whereas she treats us like human beings.”

 

“If you say so,” said Andrea sceptically.

 

“Just give her a chance,” Tom suggested seriously, fixing his pale blue eyes on her.

 

“So what’s this ‘Flyer’ anyway?” asked Andrea, trying to steer the conversation off the present topic.

 

“It’s the Major’s boat, The Dorset Flyer,” explained Tom, “She’s got it moored over at Troon harbour and takes it out most weekends. You might have seen the model of it in her office?”

 

“The yacht on top of the drinks cabinet?”

 

Tom nodded, “That’s the one.  I’ve been trying to get her to take me out on it for bloody months, but she always goes out alone from what I can tell.”

 

“Or maybe she just doesn’t want you along?” commented Harry.

 

Tom ignored his comment and the conversation shifted focus.  Andrea was glad her personal life was no longer the main topic, as the others revealed more about themselves during the course of the discussion.  At least Tom and Harry happily revealed more about themselves, Tardelli remained silent most of the time, looking like she’d rather be pulling her teeth out with a pair of rusty pliers.

 

There was another choking incident when they got on to discussing previous jobs, and Andrea revealed her background in the police.  After composing himself, Tom had confessed that he had been in prison immediately before coming to the unit.  In fact, he had been given the offer of staying in prison or coming there, which had been a no-brainer as far as he was concerned.  Harry had also quite willingly joined the unit, wanting to discover more about his mutation.  So it seemed Andrea was the only reluctant member of the group.   Talking to the pair of them, she realised that perhaps she had been wrong to distance herself from them in the first place.  They were in the same boat as her, after all.

 

When the messhall started to empty, they decided to head up to their quarters for the night.  As they reached the corridor where all their rooms were located, Andrea pulled Tom back for a moment, to speak to him on his own.  Harry and Tardelli continued on without them, though Tardelli shot Andrea a filthy look over her shoulder as they went.  Andrea was rather bemused by the other woman’s behaviour, but she wasn’t going to lose sleep over it for now.

 

“What you said in the messhall, about going to the mainland…” she began, casting her eyes about nervously to check no one was in around.

 

“Yes?” prompted Tom.

 

“Were you just joking, or can you actually get off the base?”

 

He sucked in a breath for a moment, regarding her evenly, weighing up what he should say in response.  “Not here,” he finally said.

 

“Huh?” said Andrea, confused by his meaning.

 

He cast his eyes up at the ceiling and over the walls.  “You never knowing who’s watching or listening,” he explained quietly, “Let’s go outside…”

 

…….

 

 

The following afternoon Andrea sat in the Major’s office, listening attentively as Dr Todd outlined the results of his investigations.  She’d had an interesting discussion with Tom the evening before, once they’d found a suitably secluded spot to talk out in the chill night air.  It had certainly given her plenty to think about in terms of how she might get off the island.  For now, though, she was more interested in what Dr Todd had to say.

 

He had started off by explaining all the tests he’d been running.  Since she knew all about those anyway, Andrea had taken the opportunity to observe the Major as she sat behind her desk, nodding in response to Dr Todd’s points.  She seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say, her eyes fixed on the scientist who stood to the side of the desk so he could address all those present, which included Doc in the seat next to Andrea. 

 

“So, our investigation are only really just beginning,” continued Dr Todd, “But we do have some initial findings.    I think the best analogy for how we think your powers work is that you’re a bit like a rechargable battery.”

 

“A battery?” interjected Andrea doubtfully, not sure she liked being compared to a small cylindrical object.

 

“It is just an analogy,” he explained, “What I mean by it is that you take in energy, store it, output it in another form when needed and then replace the energy you’ve used once again.  In your case the energy you take in is in the form of light.  Even normal daylight or the artificial light in a room seems sufficient to recharge you, though again that would be something we’d need to investigate further.  Anyway, this light energy is stored in your body in the form of chemical energy which can then be used to give you superhuman strength.  As soon as you use any of this energy, such as by lifting a heavy object, it is immediately replaced automatically by your body, without you having to think about it.”

 

“Ok,” nodded Andrea, as he paused for a moment to check they were all still with him, “Though I’m sensing there’s a ‘but’ coming.”

 

“And you would be right,” he admitted.  “As we mentioned before, because your power-granting gene was never intended to be active, though it is present, you don’t seem to have the necessary control over your power.  Basically, what happens is you’re unable to control the absorption of the light energy by your body.  What this means is, even if the “battery” is fully charged, that is you’ve reached the limit to what you can store, your body still keeps trying to absorb more.”

 

Andrea furrowed her brow.  “That doesn’t sound good.”

 

“No,” Dr Todd agreed, “And it’s that which leads to the seizures you keep having.  Whenever you access your abilities, you use some of the energy stored in your body.  Then the re-charging process starts and doesn’t stop.  The energy overloads your muscles until you basically pass out from the pain, stopping the absorption process.”

 

“Great,” said Andrea ruefully, “So what you’re saying is I can’t use these powers without the prospect of becoming unconscious every time.”

 

“Not unmonitored or without some external intervention, no.  And not only that, unconsciousness is not the worst that could happen.”

 

“You still believe one of these attacks could kill me?” she offered through pursed lips.

 

“We don’t know for sure, but it is a possibility, and not something we would want to chance.”

 

“Me either,” she agreed, “Though, wait, I haven’t been passing out when we’ve been running these tests.”

 

“Indeed not,” he replied, “And I was just getting to that.  Though you can’t access your powers without risk naturally, we think we may be able to give you a helping hand.  Doc has been working on something all week.”

 

Andrea and the Major shifted in their seats to focus their attention on the balding man instead.

 

Doc started briefly, like he hadn’t been paying attention to the other doctor’s words, and had only just realised all eyes were on him.  “Right, yes,” he began uncertainly, “Well, as you know we’ve had to give you a few injections this week when you’ve had any problems, using an inhibitor drug that we’d previously developed.  So I’ve come up with a special device based on that.”

 

He reached over and picked up the box he’d earlier placed on the desk, opening it to produce what looked like some sort of armband with small electronic equipment attached to it.  “You wear it strapped around your arm so that it touches your skin,” he outlined, “What it does is monitors the energy levels within your body and if they start to go over your threshold then it delivers a very small dose of the drug to you.  The dose is small because obviously you don’t want your powers inhibited completely for any length of time.  Instead the dose should be just about enough to curtail the automatic energy absorption and that’s all.”

 

He handed the band to Andrea and she studied it, turning it over in her hands a couple of times.  Something that she had been bothering her all week was why exactly they had this inhibitor drug in the first place, though she supposed she should be grateful that they did now.

 

“You’ll need to wear it all the time, apart from when you’re sleeping,” continued Doc, “Since you never know when you might accidentally activate your powers.  There’s a refillable compartment on the side there for the drug,” he said, pointing to where he meant, “Though you shouldn’t need to top it up very often, since each indivdual dose is very small.”

 

Andrea flicked her eyes back up to him.  “Thank you,” she said, “Though I guess this means I won’t be leaving here any time in the forseeable future?”

 

“We wouldn’t recommend it for now, no,” agreed Doc regretfully, “We still have so much more to find out about your powers.  There could be other aspects of it that we haven’t even discovered yet.  We may also find some better way to help you control them.”

 

The room went quiet for a moment as they all considered what they had heard.  Andrea realised this made her dependant on them for now, a position she wasn’t keen on. 

 

“Thank you, gentlemen,” said the Major eventually, now it appeared the two scientists had finished, “If that’s all, I’d like a word with Andrea on her own.”

 

Both men nodded and left the room, leaving the two women alone.  Andrea wondered why the Major wanted to talk to her.  Of course she herself had intended staying behind to speak with the Major anyway, but the other woman had preempted her.  For some reason that galled Andrea.  The Major got up from behind the desk and came round to perch herself on the front of it, closer to Andrea.  Her eyes regarded Andrea evenly, giving no clue to the purpose of the upcoming conversation.

 

“We’ve not had much of a chance to speak the last week or so,” said the Major, after a moment’s perusal of Andrea, “I’ve just been wondering how you’ve been getting on?”

 

“Getting worried that I’ve been too quiet are you?”

 

The Major let out an audible sigh at Andrea’s response, rubbing her hand over the back of her neck as she did. “Why don’t we sit over on the couch?” she suggested, gesturing in its direction and moving off, before Andrea had any chance to disagree.

 

Andrea supposed the Major thought the comfortable setting might make her less antagonistic.  She hadn’t even intended to be difficult when she came in, the previous sharp retort just slipping out.  Getting up from her chair, she crossed to the expansive sofa beneath the window, taking a seat next to the Major.  Andrea sat up straight as the Major leaned back into the cushions, crossing her neatly pressed trousers and placing her hands on her raised knee.  Despite the outwardly relaxed demeanour, the Major’s eyes never left Andrea. 

 

“Look,” said the Major, “We can go on like this if you like, sizing each other up all the time, playing this game of one-upmanship, or we can start to try and get on with each other.  Since it seems like you’re going to be spending some more time with us for now, I think the latter is the more preferable option, don’t you?  However, if you want to carry on with the former, I’m quite happy to oblige, though, quite frankly, it is getting rather tiresome.”

 

As the Major finished Andrea contemplated her words for a moment.  She supposed it was all a bit stupid.  She had been disorientated, not to mention annoyed, when she had first arrrived at the base.  Everything had seemed so far out of her control and no one was giving her answers.  In that situation she didn’t see why everyone shouldn’t be as unnerved as she was.  Now she’d had the chance to settle in, she guessed there wasn’t much point carrying on with her confrontational attitude all the time.  Also, if she was more willing to go along with them, she would arouse less suspicion.  Hopefully that would give her more opportunity to put her plan to get off the base into action.  Though the revelation that she needed the inhibitor drug to control her seizures certainly made that prospect more difficult.

 

“Ok,” conceded Andrea eventually, “We can call a truce if you like, though that doesn’t mean I’m any happier about the situation.  If I had my way, I’d leave this island right now and never come back.  I’d like to just forget all about mutations and super powers and go back to my normal life.  However, I’m not stupid, and I know I need your help for the time being.  But don’t think that I’m just going to meekly play along from now on - I’ll still be asking awkward questions and wanting answers.”

 

“Of course, I would expect nothing less,” noted the Major with a hint of sarcasm.

 

“Hmm,” commented Andrea, catching the tone, “Far be it from me to contradict anyone’s expectations.”

 

The Major’s brow knitted together in confusion at Andrea’s remark. “I’m sorry?”

 

“You read that report on me before we even spoke for the first time, right?”

 

“Yes, some of it.”

 

“So you can’t tell me that it didn’t put a few preconceived notions in your head, about what I was like, how ‘difficult’ I might be,” ventured Andrea, “Well, I don’t like to disappoint,” she added raising her eyebrows and tilting her head to the side.

 

The Major let out an incredulous laugh.  “So you’re telling me that you’ve been acting up because I expected you to?”

 

“Partly,” agreed Andrea with a shrug.  She wasn’t going to admit that it was hardly as pre-meditated as she was making out.  It served her purpose better for the Major to think she was in control and had deliberately acted the way she had, rather than the truth that it was more a defensive by-product of how insecure she felt.

 

The Major ruefully shook her head.  “Ok, in the spirit of concession, I’m willing to admit that I may have made some assumptions about what you would be like.  I was wrong to assume the worst,” she confessed, causing Andrea to raise her eyebrows again.

 

“You looked surprised,” noted the Major as she watched Andrea’s reaction.

 

“I guess I wasn’t expecting you to so readily admit to any kind of misjudgement,” Andrea disclosed honestly, “I thought you army types were always right and stuck by your decisions.”

 

“So you had a few preconceived ideas of your own then?”

 

“Sorry?” said Andrea curiously.

 

“You saw my uniform and thought – rigid, inflexible, rule follower?”

 

Andrea had to smile at being caught out.  “Ok, you may be right,” she allowed.

 

“So we both got a few things about each other wrong then?”

 

Andrea dipped her head in agreement.  She wasn’t sure why the Major was being so accomodating all of a sudden, but she wasn’t complaining.  Or maybe the other woman had been trying to be accomodating all along, and Andrea had been too caught up in her quest to be as recalcitrant as possible to notice.

 

“How about we start again, without all our preconceptions and judgements?” ventured the Major, “Of course we do have rules here, and I would expect you to abide by them, just as I would expect anyone else to.  But that doesn’t mean we’re totally  inflexible.  I realise that you’re a civilian and can’t be expected to follow all the strictiness of a military regime, though I would presume you have some experience of following orders from your time in the police.”

 

“I’m sure you read that I wasn’t always the best in that regard.”

 

The Major made a small laugh at Andrea’s frankness.  “I did read that, yes, but since we’re starting off on the basis of making no assumptions, I shall reserve my judgement until I’ve got to know you and can draw my own conclusions – how does that sound?  In return, I hope you can reserve judgement on me?”

 

“That sounds fine by me.”

 

“Good,” commented the Major, offering Andrea a smile of acknowledgement. 

 

Andrea thought it noticeably softened her face, making her seem almost human.  She had to concede that maybe this was the better way to proceed after all.  Being obdurate was all well and good, and it had made them realise she couldn’t be easily bossed around or controlled.  However, now she felt less unsettled heself,  she supposed there wasn’t any harm in co-operating.  At least until they pissed her off in some other way.  Then they’d find that she could still be a bitch on wheels.

 

“Since we’re in the mood for concessions, you mentioned before about getting some of my belongings brought here,” said Andrea.

 

“That’s right, if you want to get someone to organise it for you, we can arrange for them to be picked up and brought here,” the Major informed her.

 

“In which case I’ll need to make another phone call,” said Andrea tentatively.

 

The Major’s eyes met hers for a moment, though neither of them spoke.  Andrea presumed the Major hadn’t forgotten the irate scene in her office the last time Andrea had tried to call one of her friends either.

 

When the Major spoke again, her tone had become notably more pinched, “That should be fine.”

 

“Just as long as I watch what I say, right?” remarked Andrea.  “Since we’re on the subject, I may as well ask if you found out why my last phone call was disconnected?”

 

“I did look into it,” began the Major slowly, weighing up how much to reveal, “It was because you started talking about the accident at the warehouse.”

 

Andrea regarded her curiously.  “Why would that be deemed a topic unfit for discussion?”

 

“To be completely honest with you, I don’t know,” admitted the Major, “The order to prohibit that subject came from above.”

 

“And you’re telling me you don’t know any more?” Andrea thought this was getting more and more suspicious, and making her even more anxious to find out the truth behind the accident.

 

“No, I don’t. This is the army and sometimes I’m not privy to why my superiors order certain things.   There is a command structure, so it’s not my place to question them either,” said the Major candidly.  Despite her words, which were trotting out the standard military response, Andrea couldn’t fail to notice the edge of frustration in her tone.

 

“So,” continued the Major, seemingly wanting to get off the subject, “How are things otherwise, any other problems?”

 

“Apart from the fact that I suddenly have super powers and have to take some strange drug to control them?”

 

The Major’s eyebrows edged up her face, though she stopped from completely rolling her eyes.  “Yes, apart from that.”

 

Andrea restrained herself from smiling at the expression on the other woman’s face.  “Yes, I think everything else is ok.”

 

“Nothing else bothering you at all?” asked the Major again.

 

Andrea wondered if there was something specific she was probing for.  If she didn’t know better she would think the Major somehow knew about her nightmares, but of course that was ridiculous.  “No, nothing else,” she confirmed.

 

“In that case, you can go and make your call if you want.”

 

“Thank you,” said Andrea, getting up from the sofa, the Major following suit.

 

“I’m glad we had this chance to talk civilly for a change,” said the older woman, “I hope it’s a sign of better things to come.”

 

Andrea made a small smile since the Major was regarding her with a rather soft look on her features.  “Me too,” she nodded, before turning and leaving the room.


 

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

 

CHAPTER 4

 

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

 

Andrea felt the bang on the back of her head and swivelled round to grab whoever was responsible, her hands clutching at thin air as she spun on her heels.  She cursed to herself – this was like trying to catch the wind!  Glancing round the room she tried to spot her opponent, bouncing on her toes in readiness for their next attack.  It did her no good though, as a swift punch to the stomach caused her to reflexively double over, though it hadn’t in fact hurt.

 

She stayed in her hunched position, deciding it was time to try a different tack.  She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the room, trying to feel the air as it shifted to indicate the movement of the other person.  There!  Her arm shot out and made purchase on something solid.

 

Andrea straightened up, holding her attacker up off the floor by the scruff of his neck, his legs flailing frantically as he tried to squirm free.  It still amazed her that she was capable of such a thing with no effort at all.

 

“Hey, no fair! You were faking!” cried Tom, holding onto her arm and futilely trying to release her unshakeable grip.

 

“I didn’t realise there were rules,” she replied nonchalantly, “I certainly didn’t see you playing by any.”

 

Another voice interrupted them, “Ok, ok, you can put him down now.”

 

Andrea turned to see the Major crossing the floor of the cavernous room towards them.  They were on the lowest underground level of the base, which housed the largest rooms in which the superhumans were trained how to use their powers.  Andrea released her grip on Tom, who stumbled slightly as he found his feet again.

 

“Thanks,” he noted ruefully, rearranging his shirt.

 

“Very clever,” the Major remarked as she reached them, “You deduced where his next attack was coming from the displacement of the air?”

 

“That’s right,” confirmed Andrea, “With Tom being so fast it’s no good trusting your eyes, you need to go with a certain amount of instinct.”

 

“I’ll have to remember that one for next time,” said Tom sceptically, “Instinct indeed.  I just think you got lucky!”

 

Andrea laughed.  “But I did get you!”

 

“So how’s the inhibitor working out,” asked the Major, interrupting their banter.

 

Andrea brought her left arm around to check on it.  “Fine, I’ve not had any problems with seizures since I started wearing it.”

 

“Good,” commented the Major, “Well, if you’re up for it, how about giving it a go with Tardelli?”

 

“Should be interesting,” Andrea noted with a wry smile.

 

Ever since she’d arrived at the base, Tardelli had been giving her a frosty reception.  Which was kind of apt, she supposed, since the other woman’s powers revolved around the cold.  Andrea still hadn’t worked out exactly what Tardelli’s problem was, particularly since she seemed reluctant to even speak in her presence. 

 

“Ok, let Tom and I go back to the observation room and we’ll send her in,” suggested the Major.

 

As they left, Andrea took a moment to re-affix her hair that had become dislodged from its ponytail during the session with Tom.  This was the second day she’d actually been engaged in utilising her powers properly, after Doc had produced the armband that allowed her to do that safely.   Despite her initial reservations about the whole super power thing, she had to admit there was a certain thrill about being able to do something no one else could. 

 

Waiting for Tardelli, she paced across the floor in her army issue boots.  She was kitted out in other army training gear too, though she had dispatched with the jacket, wearing only a vest on her top half.  She’d be happy when her own clothes finally turned up and she didn’t have to spend every waking hour in military clothing.  At least she’d managed to speak to Maria a couple of days ago and get her to sort out some stuff to be sent to the base.  They’d even managed to have a whole conversation without being cut off, though Andrea had to be careful to steer Maria away from any potential danger areas.  Anyway, if things went well, she would have the opportunity to have a more candid discussion with her soon.

 

The sound of the door swinging open on the far side of the room broke her out of her thoughts.  Tardelli skulked into the room, her usual surly look on her face, her dark eyes sizing Andrea up.  Andrea offered her a sarcastic smile in return.  Both of them circled round the room maintaining their distance until the beeps sounded, indicating the training session had been activated.

 

Suddenly the room sparked into life, with obstacles popping in and out of the floor and walls and projectiles flying round the room to try and distract them.  The object of the exercise was to catch your opponent and get them to submit.  Though any excessive violence was frowned upon, as Andrea had found out when she’d managed to lay out Harry the day before.  She hadn’t meant to punch him quite so hard but she was still getting used to her enhanced strength.  An icy blast past her face brought her back to the present and her current opponent.  From the look in the other woman’s eye, Andrea wasn’t convinced that Tardelli was going to adhere to the restrictions on excess force.

 

Rolling across the floor, Andrea snatched up one of the discarded projectiles and lobbed it in Tardelli’s direction.  With Andrea’s superhuman strength spurring it on, it whizzed across the room and smacked hard into Tardelli’s head, the dark-haired woman crashing to the floor.  With Tardelli down and dazed, Andrea sprinted across to her, determined to push home her advantage.  She leapt over a couple of obstacles that sprung out and managed to grab hold of Tardelli before she could orient herself again.  Picking her up she flung her easily across the room, where she impacted against the wall.

 

Andrea was beginning to enjoy herself, toying with the other woman.  Suddenly Tardelli surprised her though, by composing herself quickly and firing off another ice blast before Andrea could get to her.  Andrea found her feet encased in thick blocks of ice, securing her to the floor.  Tardelli grinned evilly as she staggered up off the floor. 

 

Andrea was reluctant to take her eyes off the woman as she approached menacingly, but she realised she needed to free herself quickly.  Bending down, she made a fist and drove it into the ice, satisfied when it split into tiny pieces with just one powerful punch.

 

However, just as she raised her eyes, she realised she hadn’t been quick enough – Tardelli was upon her.  A thick wedge of ice flew up and struck Andrea on the chin, sending her flying.  Andrea tried to scramble to her feet, only to find that she couldn’t get any purchase on the floor – she was lying on a thin sheet of ice.  Then Tardelli was on top of her, her arms gripping Andrea biceps.  For a moment Andrea thought Tardelli had made a mistake getting so close where Andrea had the strength advantage, until she suddenly felt a chill sweeping through her entire body from within.  

 

Pain lanced sharply through her, and Andrea gasped as she struggled to move her arms.  Her limbs were so numb she could barely feel them.  She realised with horror that Tardelli was freezing her from the inside out.  She stared incredulously up at the other woman wondering if she was actually going to stop.  Andrea couldn’t even open her mouth to speak as Tardelli merely sneered down at her, her breath an icy whisper from her mouth.  Andrea felt her eyes drooping as the effort to keep them open became too much.  As the darkness swept in to claim her, she thought she could hear a faint voice.

 

“I said stop!” came the voice more forcefully from right beside them now.

 

Suddenly Tardelli’s icy hands were whipped off her arms, and Andrea could sense the feeling slowly coming back into her body.  Opening her eyes, she saw that it was the Major who had intervened, her hand still gripping Tardelli’s arm where she’d had to haul her off Andrea.

 

“What the hell did you think you were doing?” demanded the Major, finally letting go and shoving her hands on her hips as she regarded Tardelli with a steely gaze.

 

Tardelli shrugged her shoulders.  “I didn’t realise how far it was going,” she replied nonchalantly.

 

“Bollocks!” cried Andrea, clambering unsteadily up off the floor, “You knew exactly what you were doing - you were trying to bloody kill me!”

 

“Vaffunculo!” spat back Tardelli, Andrea presuming the Italian word wasn’t a pleasant one, “Like you weren’t trying to do the same to me! I was just defending myself.”

 

“By freezing my blood solid? What the fuck is your problem?”

 

“I guess it must be you!” said Tardelli aggressively.

 

“Fulla helvete!” Andrea snapped, deciding to play Tardelli at her own game by using the Swedish swear words.

 

“Puttana!”

 

“Skitstövel!”

 

 “That’s enough! Both of you!” ordered the Major, stepping between them with her hands up to keep them apart, before the name calling degenerated to something worse.

 

Andrea and Tardelli stared at each other from either side of the Major, a baleful glance in evidence at both ends of the officer’s arms.

 

“Perhaps now is a good time for a break,” suggested the Major, glancing between them.  “Isn’t it?” she added strongly when neither woman seemed to notice her first comment.

 

“I suppose so,” agreed Andrea reluctantly, shooting Tardelli one last disparaging look before turning and heading for the door.

 

……

 

Andrea stepped out of the door to her quarters and started walking in the direction of the lift.  Accompanied only by the sound of her boots brushing across the carpet, she thought the corridors were unusually quiet.  Normally she bumped into someone on the way - a soldier, one of the other superhumans - but today there was no one.  Reaching the lift she pressed the button to summon it, pacing nervously back and forth as she waited for it to travel up to the second floor.  She wasn’t entirely sure why she was nervous, only that she had this anxious feeling in the pit of her stomach.  The ping to indicate the lift had arrived resounded loudly in the oppressive silence.  She stopped her pacing and positioned herself in front of the doors as they slid open.

 

She was surprised to see that there was already a single occupant of the lift, standing with their back to her, their head hunched over as they leaned against the back wall.  Even odder was that they didn’t exit the lift, or even turn to acknowledge her in any way, remaining resolutely where they were.  She found herself reluctant to join them in the enclosed space, but told herself she was being stupid and forced herself forwards.  Turning away from the silent person, she pressed the button for the second underground level, taking a nervous gulp of air as the doors slid shut once again.

 

As the lift shuddered into life, she could sense the presence of the person behind her, but refused to look round.  If they wanted to play silly buggers then that was fine by her.

 

Suddenly a hand clapped onto her shoulder, causing her to practically jump out of her skin.

 

“Helvete!” she exclaimed, lapsing into Swedish in her surprise, “What the fuck are you…”

 

Her words died on her lips as she spun round to regard the other occupant of the lift.

 

“I-Inpsector MacKenzie,” she stammered in shock, “What are you doing here?  I thought you were dead.”

 

“I am dead, Andrea,” he replied, his eyes cold as he stared at her, “You killed me.”

 

“No, no, it was an accident…” stuttered Andrea, backing up until she was pressed against the doors, “…the gas…”

 

Mackenzie lurched slowly forwards.  “You could have helped us.  You could have saved us.”

 

“There was nothing I could do,” stated Andrea as determinedly as she could, though she was anything but inside.  “I was paralysed!” Which was a bit like how she felt now, stuck in the lift with the menacing Inspector.

 

“You failed us, you let us down,” continued MacKenzie, seemingly ignoring her words as he loomed towards her.

 

“No, I couldn’t help you,” repeated Andrea, leaning as far back as she could in a futile attempt to get away from him.

 

Mackenzie grabbed hold of Andrea’s forearms, pinning her against the doors. “How did you survive when we didn’t?”

 

“I don’t know!” she cried, a chill sweeping through her body from where his bony fingers gripped her.

 

“I always knew you’d abandon us when the time came,” he noted with a sneer on his face, “I knew I couldn’t rely on you.”

 

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice small.

 

“Sorry isn’t good enough.” Mackenzie’s face was right up in front of her now.  As his eyes bored into her, it dawned on Andrea that she should be able to feel his breath on her face, only she couldn’t.  He wasn’t breathing at all.

 

Suddenly the doors of the lift flew open and Andrea fell backwards out onto the hard concrete floor.  Glancing up she saw that MacKenzie had disappeared; there was no sign of him in the lift. 

 

Suddenly another voice broke the silence. “He’s right you know, you are a failure.”

 

“Dad?” cried Andrea in amazement, swinging her head round.

 

“You never could stick at anything could you, no wonder you left them all to die.”

 

“You mean stick at what you wanted me to,” said Andrea angrily, clambering to her feet to face him.  This was more familiar territory to her – an argument with her father about how she had failed his expectations.

 

“All that time and money we spent on your education and for what, so you could waste your life?”

 

“My life is not a waste!”

 

“What a disappointment you are.”

 

“Leave me alone,” Andrea snarled, brushing past him to carry on down the corridor.

 

Only when she got to the end MacKenzie stepped out in front of her again “Running away again are you?”

 

“No!” she exclaimed, turning away from him.

 

“Face it, you failed us all!”

 

“No!”

 

Andrea shot up in bed, her t-shirt clinging to her body where the sweat had been pouring down her back.

 

It took her a moment to get her bearings and realise where she was.  It had just been another nightmare, though certainly a doozy of one.  She took a few deep breaths and brushed her disarrayed hair back from her face, before flicking on the bedside light.   Stumbling in the direction of the kitchen area, she grabbed a glass and filled it with ice-cold water.  Steadying herself by resting a hand on the worktop, Andrea gratefully gulped down the water.  

 

Attempting to go back across the darkened room, she banged her shin on the coffee table, letting out a curse as she did.  Flopping down on the sofa, she put her head in her hands.  When were the nightmares going to stop?  And now, not only were her colleagues after her, but her father had decided to join in too.  Who was going to be next?  Her mother?  Her brother?  Her university lecturers?  Her primary school teacher?

 

The repeated nightmares made her more determined than ever to get some answers to what had happened at the warehouse.  Someone was responsible and it wasn’t her.

 

…….

 

The following evening Andrea was in her quarters once again.  She delved into the large cardboard box, rummaging at the bottom until she found what she was looking for.  Withdrawing the book, she smiled to herself – good old Maria.  A knock at the door stopped her from further investigation.

 

“Come in,” she called, quickly placing the book under a pile of others on the coffee table.

 

She was surprised when the door opened to reveal the form of Major Jarvis.  Of all the people she might have expected to pay her a visit in her quarters at night, the Major was one of the more unlikely.

 

“Good evening,” said the Major, having stepped into the living area, “I just wanted to check you got all your things ok.”

 

“Yes, thank you.  As you can see I’m just doing a bit of unpacking,” Andrea explained, indicating the open boxes scattered around the room, with their contents spilt haphazardly onto the floor or table.

 

The Major’s eyebrows rose noticeably as she regarded the mess. “I see you’ve already found your clothes.” she remarked, her eyes coming back to Andrea who was dressed casually in jeans and a form-fitting t-shirt.

 

Andrea wondered at the remark for a moment, but then disregarded attributing any significance to it – she supposed it was only natural that the Major would notice her change of attire after so many days spent in army fatigues.  “Yes, they were one of the first things I unpacked,” answered Andrea, “No offence, but it’s nice to get out of that military stuff.”

 

The Major made a small laugh.  “I know what you mean,” she said, “Believe it or not I do occasionally get out of my uniform too, though it may not seem like it.”

 

Andrea had to pull her mind up sharply when she found it wandering alarmingly to thoughts of what exactly the Major had on under her uniform.  In her distraction she failed to notice that the Major was now glancing over the books on the table.  As she picked up the top one, Andrea’s heart leapt into her mouth.  She prayed the other woman didn’t look down further in the pile.

 

“Not exactly light reading,” remarked the Major, looking at the front cover that read ‘From Chance To Choice: Genetics and Justice’ [5].  She flipped over to the back to read what it was about.  “Quite a coincidence considering your current situation,” she added with a wry smile.

 

“I like to keep abreast of a wide variety of topics,” said Andrea, moving over quickly to take the book off her as nonchalantly as possible. “Would you like a drink?” she found herself saying as a diversionary tactic.

 

The Major looked almost as surprised as Andrea by the offer.  “Thanks,” she replied after a moment, “I’ll have a coffee.”

 

Andrea moved over to the kitchen, still perplexed by how the suggestion had snuck its way out of her mouth.  She had half-expected the other woman to politely refuse anyway, but it seemed the Major was on a mission to confound her expectations at the moment.  First they’d had a civil chat in her office a couple of days ago, and now here she was seemingly round for a friendly visit.  Or maybe there was some ulterior motive that the Major hadn’t got to yet.

 

Fishing out some mugs, Andrea glanced over her shoulder.  “How do you take it?”

 

“Black, please, no sugar.”

 

Andrea was pleased to note that the Major had followed her towards the kitchen and away from the books.  She was now sitting on one of the high stools at the counter.  Fortunately the Major didn’t notice or comment on the fact that one stool seemed to be missing.

 

Andrea fixed the requested drink, making herself a tea at the same time.  Crossing to where the Major sat, she set the drinks down and took up a position on the stool opposite the other woman.

 

“Thank you,” said the Major, picking up the mug and actually sniffing the contents for a moment.  Andrea raised her eyebrows at the rather candid gesture.  The Major glanced up, suddenly realising what she had been doing.  “Sorry, force of habit,” she laughed.

 

“You obviously like your coffee.”

 

“A little bit too much,” agreed the Major, “I keep telling myself I won’t have any past 6 o’clock at night, but it always seems to tempt me.  And then I wonder why I can’t sleep.”

 

Andrea picked up her own drink and took a sip.  It was rather hot, but she needed something to stop her conspiratorial mind drifting again, as it had as soon as the Major had mentioned her sleeping habits.  “Was there any other reason for your visit?” asked Andrea, not really sure what she was expecting or wanting the Major to answer.

 

The Major took a sip of her coffee before answering.  “No, just making sure everything is all right.  I like to make sure all our operatives are happy.”

 

It took a moment for Andrea to realise the Major was waiting for a response.  She had barely registered the words that had issued from the other woman’s lips, so focussed was she on the way they played across the rim of the mug instead.  The light from the lamps just highlighted the moisture dappled on them, generated by the warmth of the mug.  “Right,” noted Andrea, guessing that was a safe enough bet for something to say.

 

The Major peered up from her mug, showing no sign she had noticed Andrea’s distraction.  “So, how are you getting on with the others?”

 

Andrea’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.  “You mean how am I getting on with Tardelli?” she deduced.

 

A small smile curved the Major’s lips.  “Well, I don’t think anyone could have failed to notice the slight ‘antagonism’ between you two,” she said diplomatically.

 

“If you call ‘slight antagonism’, wanting to kill me,” agreed Andrea.  “I guess I just rub some people up the wrong way,” she noted, cocking her head to one side as a not-so-subtle indication of who those other ‘people’ were.

 

“Yes,” remarked the Major, picking up on the reference, “Though I hope that we’re getting on better now?”

 

“I suppose so,” replied Andrea noncommittally.  She wasn’t going to concede anything to the other woman just yet.  Especially not with the tricks her body was presently trying to play on her.  She wondered if it was just the relaxed atmosphere or late hour that was causing it to rebel so badly.  The small smiles the Major kept offering up certainly didn’t help, nor did the way her voice had gotten even huskier as she drunk the coffee.  Andrea didn’t think the Major even realised what she was doing.

 

“At least we seem to be able to have a conversation without any doors being in danger of destruction,” joked the Major.

 

“For the time being,” Andrea agreed, deciding it was probably safer just to keep her answers short.

 

“So, there’s nothing you know of that’s upset Tardelli?” asked the Major, returning to the main topic of discussion.

 

Andrea shook her head.  “No, she’s barely said two words to me since I got here.  Well, apart from some choice Italian swear words.”

 

The Major laughed again.  “You seem to know a few choice words too, Swedish I’m guessing?”

 

“That’s right.  I was born in England but then lived in Sweden until I was six, before coming back to this country,” explained Andrea, surprising herself again by offering up such personal details.  Something about the Major was making her feel like she could confide in her, though.  It did cross Andrea’s mind that it could all be a well-practised routine to elicit information – Andrea was no stranger to those herself.  “Perhaps you should try speaking to Tardelli herself,” suggested Andrea, trying to steer the conversation away from her background before she revealed too much.  “Maybe she can tell you what’s got up her nose, because I sure as hell don’t know.”

 

“Yes,” nodded the Major, “Though something tells me I won’t get far - Bel is almost as stubborn as you are.”

 

Andrea raised a single eyebrow.  “I just like to keep you on your toes.”

 

“My toes are well and truly worn out from all the time I’ve spent on them recently,” admitted the Major.  “Apart from Tardelli, is there anything else bothering you at all? Any other problems?”

 

Andrea regarded her for a moment, pondering whether she should mention the nightmares.  This was the second time the Major had asked her this, and she was beginning to wonder if it was just genuine concern or something else.  Andrea decided against bringing up the dreams – she still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of admitting any weakness to the Major or anyone else at the base. 

 

“I don’t think so,” said Andrea in answer.

 

“Ok,” said the Major, though something in her face suggested to Andrea that she didn’t quite believe her.  “Well, I suppose I should leave you to your packing,” added the Major, finishing the last of her drink and slipping off the stool.  “Thanks for the coffee.”

 

Andrea walked over to the door with her.  “You’re welcome.”

 

“Good night,” said the Major, flashing Andrea a quick smile as she departed.

 

Andrea closed the door and let out a long sigh.  She tried to tell herself that the tension she had been feeling was just from the prospect of the Major uncovering the book and nothing else.  Thinking of that, she headed back over to the table and fished it out from the bottom of the pile.  Opening it at the back, she peeled away the last sheet where it was attached to the cover.  A single small piece of paper fell out into her hand.  As Andrea read the brief text she smiled to herself – at last she might get some answers about the accident.

 

…….

 

 

Andrea clambered up the ladder and onto the quayside.  She quickly glanced around to check she hadn’t been spotted, but the stone jetty was deserted.  Her only company were a few seagulls perched on the tethering posts that lined the walkway, most of them dozing in the moonlight that reflected off the damp flagstones.  She reflexively pulled her collar up to ward off the chill wind that whipped in off the sea, and turned towards the town.

 

As soon as she had received the note from Maria the day before, Andrea had known it was time to put her plan into action.  Tom had already informed her about the supply boats that came to the island and exactly what times they docked.  With her newly enhanced strength it had been no problem hanging onto the side of the ship until they had departed from the island where the base was located, avoiding the final checks made by the soldiers.  Once they were on the way back Ayr, which was the closest town on the mainland being a few miles distant, Andrea had clambered on board and hidden herself until they reached the harbour. 

 

Tom had also been able to tell her about the various pubs around Ayr, one of which she was heading to now.  It made Andrea wonder exactly how many times he had been off the island, or whether he was all talk.  He could easily have come by the information from some other source, other than personal experience – some of the soldiers; the men from the supply boat.  It occurred to her that perhaps he wanted to see how she got on before trying anything himself.  Or more precisely, he wanted to see what happened to her when the Major found out. 

 

Andrea knew the Major would not be happy, to put it mildly.  Most likely the army officer would tear into her with venom when she caught up with her.  And Andrea had little doubt that they would track her down eventually.  She had made sure she left behind the communicator, which probably had a tracking device in it, but these were resourceful people, and Andrea suspected she wouldn’t have long at large.  That didn’t matter, though, as long as she had time enough to get what she wanted.  Andrea had deliberated about leaving behind the armband she had concealed under her shirt too, but had decided against it – the last thing she needed was to have a seizure in the middle of town.  Instead she had carried out a thorough inspection of the device, but hadn’t uncovered anything obviously suspicious.

 

Thinking of the reaction her impromptu trip off base might generate, Andrea’s mind drifted back to the Major.  It was a shame she was going to anger the other woman, just when they had been starting to get along.  She tried to picture the exact reaction she might get - most probably a mixture of anger and disappointment.  It was something she was used to generating in others, but for some reason she felt particularly disturbed that she was about to evoke it in the Major. 

 

From the way Tom and Harry’s had spoken in the messhall, she could well imagine that the Major could be very imposing when she was angry.   Andrea had caught a few brief flashes of the Major’s ire herself, but had to admit that the older woman had done well to maintain her composure in the face of Andrea’s belligerence.  However, Andrea thought that this latest escapade would be one thing too far in her challenging of the Major’s authority.

 

But in the end what could the Major do to her anyway by means of punishment?  Andrea was practically incarcerated on the island, as it was.  Perhaps she would lose some privileges or something, but it would be worth it if Maria could give her the answers she was looking for.  That was the main focus of her trip, and the Major and the army base couldn’t be her concern her right now.  It had been over two weeks since the accident, yet the images of her dead colleagues still haunted Andrea’s dreams every night.  She owed it to herself and them to find out what had happened that day.  They deserved justice and she deserved some peace.

 

Walking down the street, which ran from the harbour along the bank of the River Ayr, she thrust her hands into her pockets and kept her head lowered.  There were quite a few other people out for a drink that Wednesday night.  The stiff breeze whipped a few odd strands of her blond hair into her face and she had to reach up to brush them away.  She was surprised quite how busy it was, what with it being mid-week, though it was probably a good thing – she was less likely to arouse suspicion in a crowd.   The sound of laughter filtered out onto the street from an inviting looking pub, but Andrea passed it by – she had a specific destination that night.  There certainly wasn’t a shortage of pubs along the street she noted; all seemingly having names centred round things nautical.  There was The Smugglers, The Boathouse and the one she was heading for - The Anchor.

 

Pushing open the door, Andrea was pleased to see it too was crowded.  She barely caused a flicker from the throng as she crossed to the bar.  Though the frontage of the pub made it look like a traditional Scottish hostelry, inside it was actually smartly decorated – obviously having fallen foul of the trend for pub modernisation and homogenisation.  If it wasn’t for the predominance of Scots accents floating around the room, Andrea could just have easily been in a pub back in London. 

 

Waiting for the barman, she cast a quick glance over the drinks on offer, including some rather suspicious looking local beers that she was going to steer well clear of.  She also took the opportunity to study the other occupants of the pub.  They were quite a wide variety of people all mingling together – office workers out for a post work drink; a few salty looking sailor types; groups of young townies.  Andrea’s police side had suspicions that a good number of the last group were underage.  Once she got served, she decided to stick with a reliable bottle of Budweiser.  She took a grateful swig of as she checked her watch again.

 

Luckily she didn’t have to wait long before her friend arrived.  Andrea spotted her as soon as the short, dark-haired woman stepped in the door.  As Maria’s eyes met hers, Andrea couldn’t help breaking out into a huge grin – it was so good to see a familiar face. 

 

Maria smiled in response and quickly joined her at the bar. “Andi, it’s good to see you!” she said, wrapping her arms around Andrea and pulling her into a warm embrace. 

 

Andrea held on to Maria for a touch longer than she would normally have done. “And you too.”

 

“How are you?” asked Maria, pulling back, her face displaying obvious concern, “And what the hell is going on?”

 

“I’m fine, and it’s a long story!” replied Andrea, “How about I get you a drink, and we can talk about it?”

 

Getting another Budweiser, they headed off to a table to the side of the bar.  Andrea couldn’t quite believe Maria was there; it made everything seem almost normal again.  However, then Andrea had to launch into her explanation of everything that had happened the past two weeks, and the illusion was shattered.  She could see Maria’s draw dropping in incredulity as Andrea’s tale progressed, and she realised how utterly ridiculous much of it sounded.  She had to impress on Maria that she was telling the truth and hadn’t just lost her mind.  It said something about their friendship that Maria was willing to accept what Andrea was telling her without any proof.

 

“My god,” was all a stunned Maria could manage, once Andrea had finished.

 

“I know, pretty unbelievable, huh?” Andrea knew she must have shocked Maria since the normally effusive woman was stuck for words. “It all started with that raid at the warehouse.  There’s something really suss about that whole thing, not just because they didn’t want us speaking about it.”

 

“Yeah, well even odder is the fact that we aren’t even investigating it any more,” revealed Maria.

 

“What?” cried Andrea a bit too loudly.  A couple of other drinkers swivelled round in their seats for a moment, staring at her, before turning back to their own conversations. Andrea continued on in a quieter voice, leaning forward to whisper her comments.  “But how can that be, twelve people died in that warehouse!”

 

“I know,” agreed Maria, “And don’t think there haven’t been questions asked, but the case has been sealed, and all our documents shipped out.”

 

Andrea shook her head.  “Something is seriously wrong here.  Who ordered the closure of the case?”

 

“It came right from the top apparently, the Chief Constable himself.  Even I haven’t been able to dig up anything on it, and I’ve certainly been trying.”

 

Andrea slowly sucked in a breath.  This wasn’t what she had been hoping to hear.  “And what about Cowley, is he still under investigation at least, since it was his warehouse?”

 

“No, everything about him has been shipped out too.  Not that you had that much on him anyway, the mystery man that he is.  No one even knows what he looks like, or even what his first name is.”

 

“Which is why he should still be under investigation!” Andrea declared with frustration.  “This is unbelievable we spent months tracking his network of deals and now it’s all been shut down?”

 

“All I can do is keep plugging at it, trying to find things out where I can” noted Maria ruefully, “But it’s pretty much like banging your head on a brick wall to tell you the truth.”

 

“Well be careful,” said Andrea, “Someone obviously doesn’t want this investigated, someone with influence.”

 

“You do seem to have a habit of finding trouble,” Maria remarked, “Though I think even you’ve outdone yourself this time.”

 

Suddenly Andrea let out a sigh. “Oh, great,” she muttered to herself.

 

“What is it?” asked Maria, confused by the outburst. 

 

Andrea indicated the far side of the bar with her eyes. “Looks like my keeper is here to fetch me.”

 

Maria turned her head to follow Andrea’s gaze.  Standing on the far side of the room, scanning the crowded bar, was Major Jarvis.  She was alone and looked rather out of place standing in the bar in her full uniform.  However, none of the bar’s other occupants seemed to be too bothered by her presence.  Andrea supposed that the soldiers stationed on the base were allowed shore leave, and that perhaps this was one of their regular haunts, being close to the harbour.  Andrea deduced she must have caught them off-guard enough for the Major to follow her without first changing into something less conspicuous.

 

“I don’t think I would be running away from that,” noted Maria, still looking over her shoulder at the Major.

 

“I beg your pardon?” asked Andrea, not sure what she was getting at.

 

Maria swivelled back round to face Andrea. “Oh, come on, you can’t tell me you haven’t noticed how gorgeous she is?”

 

“I suppose so,” admitted Andrea grudgingly, not willing to confess that indeed she had, but had found the concept too disturbing to ponder for long.

 

“Now I really know something is wrong! Ok, where’s my friend Andi, and what have you done with her?”

 

“Ha, ha,” replied Andrea, rolling her eyes as Maria poked her to check she was real.

 

“I know you never could resist a woman in uniform.”

 

“I resisted you didn’t I?” replied Andrea, trying to get off the current topic.

 

They didn’t have the chance to discuss it further as the Major had finally spotted her target, and was heading their way.  Andrea considered that she could make a break for it, but no doubt there were other soldiers outside.  Instead she remained seated as the Major approached, her eyes dark beneath her furrowed brow.

 

“Andrea, if you could please come with me,” requested the Major when she reached the table.  The words were polite, but her voice so low and deadly that Andrea could barely hear it over the general hubbub of the room.

 

Andrea simply stared mutely up at her for a moment, just to let her know that she was reluctant about agreeing, before rising from her seat.  Andrea glanced back at her seated friend.  “Sorry, Maria, I’ll talk to you later.”

 

“Sure, Andi,” replied Maria, obviously having caught the major’s stern demeanour and not wanting to intervene.

 

“My apologies, Miss Fernandes,” said the Major evenly, “But, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to have a chat with one of my officers, if you wouldn’t mind, to apprise you of the delicacy of this situation.  You can wait here, and he’ll be in momentarily.”

 

Maria flicked her eyes to Andrea to verify that it was all right to comply. “Er, of course, no problem,” she replied, having got a consenting nod.

 

Andrea followed the Major silently outside and into the back of a waiting black car. Neither of them spoke as the driver started it up and pulled off into the evening traffic.  They sat next to each other in the back, but the Major’s eyes were resolutely trained forward, her face a mask of cold disapproval.  Andrea wondered exactly where they were going, but didn’t ask – she wasn’t going to be the one to break the deathly silence.  If the Major wanted to give her the silent treatment that was fine, she could give as good as she got.  Andrea didn’t really feel like talking in her current mood anyway.  She had been hoping the talk with Maria would clarify things, but it had just left her with more questions.  Why had the case been closed?  Who had taken away the case papers?  It was all so bloody frustrating!

 

Glancing out the window and away from the thinly veiled annoyance that radiated off the other woman, Andrea watched the people of the town going about their normal business, enjoying their nights out.  Before she realised what she was doing, she found she had mangled the door’s armrest in her powerful grip.  Looking down at the twisted metal and plastic, she wondered if her life would ever be normal again.

 

After several more minutes with just the sound of the engine purring away to fill the silence, Andrea could stand it no longer.

 

“Well, aren’t you going to tell me off, tell me how irresponsible I’ve been?”

 

“So you do realise that you have been then?” The Major’s voice was bitingly cold as she stared out the front of the car.  When the streetlights periodically lit up the interior, Andrea could see that the Major hands were clenched tightly into fists as they rested on her thighs.  The barely suppressed rage, waiting to erupt in Andrea’s direction, was palpable.

 

“That’s not what I said,” retorted Andrea defiantly, “But I’m sure it’s what you want to say.”

 

“But will it do me any good?” remarked the Major pointedly. 

 

“Sorry?”

 

“It seems no matter what I tell you, you just ignore it anyway,” clarified the Major, “There hardly seems to be much point does there?”

 

“I suppose not,” Andrea agreed insolently, “So we’ll just sit in silence all the way to wherever we’re going shall we? Or maybe we could play a bit of I-spy, or sing a song to pass the time?”

 

The Major thumped her fist on the seat between them. “This isn’t some game, Andrea!” she exclaimed, whipping her eyes round to pin Andrea in place.  The fiery look in them practically roasted the young woman where she sat. 

 

“Do you still think we’re doing all this out of some private vendetta against you?  Do you really think we have the time to bother?” the Major demanded furiously, each question emphasised with a pointed hand gesture. “I know you find this concept hard to grasp, but we are trying to do something good out at the base.  All we’re interested in his helping you, yet you seem determined to throw it back in our face.”

 

“Right! Of course!” replied Andrea with disdain, “And there’s nothing in it for you lot, poking and prodding the weirdos to see what we’re all about.”

 

The Major threw up her hands in exasperation. “Oh, we’re back to that are we?  Yes, it helps us to gain knowledge about you and your powers, but you can’t say that we’ve used you.  We’ve kept you informed as to all we’ve been doing, explained everything you’ve wanted to know about.  We treat you fairly don’t we?”

 

Andrea stubbornly refused to reply, rather than concede the point.  She resolutely crossed her arms across her chest instead.

 

“Don’t we?” repeated the Major sharply, her eyes boring into Andrea, demanding an answer.

 

“I suppose,” mumbled Andrea in reply, looking down at her lap and wondering at how fast the Major had managed to make her feel about the size of a flea and as welcome as one too.

 

“And yet you still keep acting like a spoilt child,” continued the Major scornfully, “Running off and wasting mine and everyone else’s time chasing after you!”

 

Andrea’s eyes flicked up as something struck her. “And just how did you find me so bloody fast?”

 

The Major glanced away, momentarily stymied.

 

“There’s a tracking device somewhere on me isn’t there?” deduced Andrea from the Major’s reaction.  “Where is it?  In the armband?  I knew I should have left that damn thing behind.”

 

The Major still failed to meet her gaze. “It’s not in the armband.”

 

Her sudden change in mood was making Andrea nervous. “Where is it then? Somewhere in my clothes?  You bastards went through them before you delivered them to my room didn’t you?”

 

“No,” replied the Major, taking an audible breath and turning her eyes back to meet Andrea’s, “It’s implanted in your right arm.”

 

Andrea’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Implanted…in…my…arm,” she repeated dumbly.  “Implanted in my arm?” she said once again with more force as the full implication hit her.  “You claim to treat me fairly, respect my rights, but then you go and sneak a tracking device on me?  Under my skin, in my body?”

 

“Well, it looked like we needed one didn’t we?” replied the Major caustically.

 

“That’s hardly the fucking point is it? You violated me!”

 

“And I am sorry we did,” insisted the Major, “It was in the first days when you were with us, when you kept having those seizures…”

 

“So you thought you’d take advantage and carry out a little surgery while I was unconscious?”

 

“We didn’t know what you might do.  If you had left the island at that point you could have had a fatal seizure and we wouldn’t have been able to help you.”

 

“And I’m sure my health was foremost in your mind!” Andrea said with derision, “Nothing to do with you wanting to stop me running off and letting everyone know what’s really going on at your top secret base.”

 

“I would be lying if I said that wasn’t part of the reason, but we do want to help you…”

 

Andrea cut her off with a disdainful snort. “I can see you’ll always have some excuse to justify your actions.  It’s funny how people in power can always explain away their decisions with dubious logic.”

 

“So you want me to just cut you loose do you?” the Major fumed back, obviously not liking Andrea’s disparaging assessment of her character, “So you can tell the whole world about the base?”

 

“Yeah, that would be a start,” agreed Andrea aggressively, “Anyway, why didn’t you pick me up as soon as I left the island, if you’ve got this damn tracker beaming my every move back to you?”

 

The Major didn’t reply, resolutely holding Andrea’s gaze instead.  The space in the back of the car seemed even more oppressively enclosed than it really was with all the high emotions swirling around it.

 

“You wanted to see who I was meeting, right?” surmised Andrea after a moment, “Just another little bit of spying, eh?  You just can’t help yourselves, can you?  You want to control every little thing on that island and off it.  Forget about the fact that we are human beings with rights or the capacity for independent thought.  No, we all have to be good little drones, following the rules, toeing the line.  God forbid we might actually have an opinion or want to leave!”

 

“This is not all about you!” the Major interjected, her voice harsh and unforgiving, “We have to maintain tight security, there’s more at stake here then you realise.”

 

“Oh really?  Then why don’t you enlighten me?  Oh, I forgot, you can’t – national security and all that bollocks!”

 

The Major looked like she was about to shoot back another angry salvo, but she caught herself.  Her lips became a tight, thin line as she took a few deep breaths through her nose.  “And has it ever occurred to you, in your selfish desire to do what you want, what that might mean in the grand scheme of things?” she finally asked.

 

Andrea held her gaze, a quizzical look crossing her face.  What was the Major talking about now?  Andrea considered it could be some sort of disarming tactic to try and distract her from the previous discussion, since the Major was on a loser with that one.

 

“You may find that there are people out there who do not have quite such noble intentions towards superhumans as us,” purported the Major.

 

Andrea was confused.  “What do you mean?  I thought our existence was a secret?”

 

The Major didn’t answer immediately, and in the dim light Andrea could just make out the thoughtful expression on her face.  Andrea decided to wait and see what the Major was going to offer up, since her anger seemed to have subsided for a moment.

 

The Major eventually reached whatever internal decision she had been considering, her voice softer as she continued on. “Ok, I’m going to tell you something in the hope that you will understand one of the reasons we need to be so careful, even though I shouldn’t really be doing it.”

 

Her comments peeked Andrea’s interest – it appeared the Major was about to violate some sort of protocol regarding what she was allowed to tell her subordinates.  Andrea wasn’t sure why she was doing it, but she wasn’t about to stop the other woman.  She dipped her head slightly to acknowledge she understood. 

 

“Though the existence of superhumans isn’t publicly known,” outlined the Major, “We know of at least a couple of ‘groups’, shall we call them, that are more than interested in getting their hands on superhumans, or any data pertaining to them, such as we collect.  We’ve had a few close calls at the base, but so far we’ve managed to keep security pretty tight.”

 

Another streetlight flashed it’s glare through the back of the car just in time for Andrea to catch the tightening around the Major’s eyes when she said the words ‘close calls’.   Andrea wondered what exactly they had been?  Had someone tried to sell information? Had one of the other operatives escaped?  Whatever it was, it had certainly annoyed the Major.

 

Andrea decided to defer those questions for now.  She didn’t think the Major would be too receptive to discussing them anyway, if her expression had been anything to go by.  “And why would these ‘groups’ want a superhuman or this information?”

 

“Just think of the power that would give someone,” ventured the Major, “Having a superhuman on your side, or maybe even the ability to create your own superhumans.” 

 

“What?” exclaimed Andrea, her confusion increasing.

 

The Major nodded seriously.  “Yes, we think that’s definitely on the agenda for these groups.  Imagine that, a whole army of superhumans, for hire to the highest bidder.” 

 

“And is that possible, to create a superhuman?” asked Andrea doubtfully, “I thought you needed this special gene.”

 

“Normally, yes,” confirmed the Major, “But there may be other ways to enhance a regular person, using DNA from a superhuman.  In order to do that though, you need to have a source of that DNA.”

 

Andrea tried to process the other woman’s words as she spoke, “But surely, if you think about it, you’re one of these ‘groups’ too.  You’re doing all the things that you’re talking about them doing.  Hell, perhaps you want to create superhuman soldiers too!” 

 

“There is one big exception, we’re here to serve the country,” the Major stated emphatically.  “These people are only out to serve their own best interests.  And I doubt they would have many qualms about how they got their information.  You think our tests and experiments are tough?  Well, try and picture what such ruthless people might do if they got their hands on you.  And not just you, your actions put everyone at the base in danger – Tom, Harry, Bel.”

 

Andrea was silent for a moment, digesting what the Major had revealed.  If these groups really did exist, she could see how valuable an asset a superhuman would be.  She had a brief thought about seeking one of then out, though the Major’s warnings about their intentions rung in her ears.  However, Andrea didn’t know if she could trust the other woman or not.   It was in the Major’s interest to keep Andrea with her ‘group’, so why would she make any of these other ones sound appealing?  On the other hand the Major could be telling the truth, and Andrea certainly didn’t want to be the one responsible for landing any of the other superhumans in trouble.  She already had enough things weighing on her conscience as it was.

 

With Andrea still contemplating her options, the Major continued on, “Of course we do want to gain knowledge about you for our own interest, but we also want to help and protect you.  We can hardly do that if you start wandering off the island on your own.”

 

“Your own interest is about right,” Andrea said scathingly, “You make out you’re all concerned about us and our well-being, but more likely you’re just worried about your job!  It would look pretty bad for you, losing one of your people wouldn’t it?” 

 

Andrea could immediately see she had hit a raw nerve.  The Major’s eyes sparked angrily and a muscle in her cheek was visible as it twitched from where her jaw was clamped firmly shut.

 

Andrea pressed on, “Is that why you had to dash off after me in person, to keep it quiet?”

 

“No, for some stupid reason I felt responsible for you!”

 

“I don’t need anyone to look after me, I’m a big girl.”

 

“And what if you’d got into trouble, had a problem with your powers?”

 

“I’ve got your little device now, haven’t I?  I would have been fine,” insisted Andrea.  She wasn’t about to reveal that she’d had no intention of staying off the island for good anyway.  Even she could see that she needed help for now, but she didn’t mind letting the Major worry.

 

“You may have the armband, but there are still other things that could happen to you,” insisted the Major. “There may be other aspects of your power that we haven’t uncovered yet, that you wouldn’t have been able to cope with.”

 

“Again with the mock concern!”

 

“I am concerned!” cried the Major, “It seems someone has to be, since you have a blatant disregard for your own safety or that of anyone else.”

 

Andrea looked at her sceptically.  “Oh yes, I forgot, you’re trying to protect us all from these scary people who are just waiting to snatch us away?”

 

The Major tried to ignore Andrea’s sarcasm.  “Not just from those people, but also from the general public to some extent.  Think how you reacted when you learnt what you were.  I believe ‘freak’ was the term you used, and you’re a supposedly intelligent woman.  Do you think the average person is going to be too happy to discover he has ‘freaks’ living next door to him? Welcome them with open arms, invite them in for a cup of tea?  I don’t think so, do you?  More likely he’s going to want to put a brick through their window.  It’s not the way it should be, but there are a lot of narrow-minded individuals out there.”

 

“So instead we shut ourselves away and pretend we don’t exist?” challenged Andrea.

 

“For now, but in time, who knows?  We’ve known about this for such a short amount of time, these are just the first tentative steps.  We just have your best interests at heart, I wish you weren’t so blasted stubborn that you could see that.” 

 

“Yeah, well, I guess you’re going to have to keep trying.”

 

The Major sighed, realising she was making little headway. “Believe what you want. Just as long as you don’t continue to endanger yourself and others by your foolish actions, I don’t care.  Why are you so desperate to get off the island anyway?  What was it that you needed to discuss so urgently with your friend?  Or more to the point, what was so secret about it that you couldn’t discuss it over the phone?”

 

Andrea laughed bitterly.  “Like I’m going to tell you!  That’s exactly why I needed to see her off the island – so you bastards weren’t listening in!  Have you ever even heard of privacy?” 

 

“Yes,” the Major replied, “But as I said before, we have to know what’s going on at the base, and more importantly any communication off it.   Were you discussing the warehouse incident again?”

 

“We might have been.” Andrea wasn’t going to disclose any more voluntarily.

 

“I know it must have been hard for you, having lost all your colleagues like that…”

 

“Hard for me? You have no bloody idea!”

 

“You would be surprised,” said the Major so quietly that Andrea barely caught it.  Andrea wondered if the other woman had even meant to let it slip out, since the Major herself seemed to ignore it, adding instead, “I won’t have any idea unless you tell me.”

 

Andrea stopped for just a moment.  A tiny voice, way in the back of Andrea’s mind was prompting her to tell the Major, tell her about the nightmares.  Andrea squashed it down. “I’m not telling you anything.”

 

The Major sighed, rubbing her eyes in an overt display of her frustration.

 

Andrea pressed her advantage, “So does that mean you’re going to put me under the spotlights now?  Force it out of me?”

 

The Major’s eyes shot to Andrea in disbelief. “Who exactly do you think we are?”

 

“Do you really want me to answer that?”

 

The Major shook her head, obviously deciding she didn’t.  “No, we won’t be ‘forcing’ anything out of you.  I had hoped that you might volunteer the information, since I was good enough to explain the situation to you when I didn’t have to, but I guess not.  All this means is that we’ll need to keep an even tighter watch on you from now on, now you’ve shown you can’t be trusted.”

 

I can’t be trusted? You are unbelievable!” cried Andrea, “Fine, do whatever you want.  Stick a million little trackers on me, cameras all over my quarters – I’ll still find a way to outsmart you lot.”

 

“Were you planning this little escape the whole time?” the Major asked with an air of disappointment, “Just playing along until you got your chance?  For some reason I thought we were actually starting to make some progress, but I guess that was all just an act on your part.  Your arrogance and selfishness knows no bounds does it? Do you ever consider anyone else but yourself?”

 

The Major’s words stung, and Andrea was tempted to correct the assumptions.  The Major was partly right, though, Andrea had been planning to get off the island, but not for purely selfish reasons.  And it hadn’t all been an act.  In fact, if Andrea was being brutally honest, she had to admit that she’d actually started to have a grudging respect for the Major, maybe even like her a bit.  Andrea was hardly about to tell the other woman that now, in the middle of receiving a bollocking.  And especially not after the character assassination she’d just received.  Her stubborn side was telling her she should just remain silent and let the Major think she had been fooled instead.

 

Since Andrea had steadfastly refused to respond, the Major shifted in her seat, leaning closer.  She got so close that, even in the low light, Andrea could make out the whites of her eyes.  Andrea felt like a small animal caught in headlights, unable to move under the intense stare.  When the Major started speaking again, her voice had dropped to its lowest register, whispering out across the short distance between them with deadly menace. 

 

“I really don’t care if you like me or not, or anyone else at the base for that matter.  All I care about is the well being of my people.  So let me make it perfectly clear that if you ever, ever do anything like this again, I shall make you will wish you had never been born.”


 

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CHAPTER 5

 

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Kate ducked her head inside the door of the pub, quickly pulling back her hood and shaking the rain from it.  She ran her hand though her auburn hair in an attempt to put some life back into the bob that had gotten rather damp in the quick dash between the boat and the quayside pub.  That was despite her heavy duty, all-weather jacket.  It seemed the Scottish rain could beat anything, even a coat touted to be able to withstand arctic conditions.  Given the horrendous weather, Kate was surprised to see the pub was still pretty busy that Saturday lunchtime.  She should have known that a bit of rain would hardly be enough to keep the Scots from their drink.  In fact she could hear the whiskey calling to her now.

 

Making her way over to the bar, she found a single malt already waiting for her on the dark wooden bar.  Taking it she offered the barman a quick smile before she put the glass to her lips and downed it in one gulp.

 

“Cheers, Angus, just what the doctor ordered on a foul day like today. I’ll have another, and whatever you’re having.”

 

“Thanks, Major,” replied the man in his thick Ayrshire accent.

 

Kate rolled her eyes and then fixed them on the barman as he put her glass to the optics.  “Angus, how many times have I told you - I come here to get away from people calling me that.  If I wanted to be the Major, I would have worn my uniform.  It’s Kate, please.”

 

He put her fresh drink back on the bar, bringing his finger up to tap on his nose.  “Sorry, Kate.  Incognito today are we?”

 

“Hardly,” laughed Kate, “I think everyone in this town knows exactly who I am.  It’s your favourite source of gossip isn’t – what goes on at the mysterious army base?”

 

“Someone has a high opinion of their own importance.”

 

“So you’re saying no-one ever mentions it?” queried Kate with the quirk of an eyebrow.

 

“You can hardly blame them,” he said with a shrug, “You turn up here less than a year ago with all you weird and wonderful equipment and your exclusion zones and your secrets.  Of course that’s going to be a goldmine for rumours in a quiet corner of Scotland like this.  And then you only go and encourage the gossip with nuggets like that little confrontation in here two weeks ago.”

 

Kate frowned for a moment and looked down at the light brown liquid in her glass.  She was unable to keep the dark look from her face as she recalled how she’d had to turn up in the bar and haul Andrea away with her after the young woman had gone against the Major’s wishes and left the island base.  Even worse was that Andrea had been meeting and talking to a colleague of hers.   Kate just couldn’t believe Andrea’s recklessness sometimes.  The friendly inquisitiveness of the locals was one thing, the attentions of a trained police officer was something else.  It was hard to imagine Andrea had ever been a successful police officer herself if that was the way she normally went about things - ignoring her superiors and risking the confidentiality of her cases. 

 

Angus noticed Kate’s momentary distraction and obviously realised his mistake in bringing the incident up.  “Though that didn’t keep them occupied long,” he added, trying to lighten the tone again, “Before you were relegated back to your usual place as second favourite topic of conversation.”

 

Kate glanced up at him again.  “And what do we come behind?”

 

“The state of the Scottish football team of course.”

 

Kate let out another laugh.  “Ah yes, I can see how we’d come second to such a rich vein of material as that!”

 

“Don’t you be starting now!” replied Angus jokingly, “You English, coming up here and rubbing it in, like you’ve done so well since ’66. [6]

 

“Ok, point taken,” agreed Kate, sipping at her drink this time.

 

Angus picked up a glass, starting to wipe it dry with his tea towel.  “So, no sailing today then?” he asked, deciding a switch to a safer topic was in order.

 

“Sailing?” repeated Kate incredulously, “Have you seen the weather out there?”

 

“That?  Och, that’s a just a wee breeze, and you call yourself a sailor!”

 

It was true that Kate would normally like to spend at least part of her weekend sailing her boat out of Troon harbour, just up the coast from Ayr.  However, even she drew the line at taking the Flyer out in a force ten gale for pleasure.  The trip over from the island had been bad enough and she wouldn’t have bothered if she didn’t have a meeting to keep.

 

“Ah, looks like your friend is here,” noted Angus, causing her to swivel on her bar stool.

 

She quickly hopped off to accept the hug that was fast approaching, along with the kiss on the cheek that followed it.

 

“Sophie, good to see you,” said Kate with a smile, pulling back from her friend’s embrace.

 

“You too, Kat, though you could have arranged a bit of better weather for me.  I almost bloody drowned between the car park and here!”

 

Kate chuckled at Sophie’s disgruntled expression.  “I thought you would have been used to it, being a hardy Scot yourself.”

 

“It must be all those years away with the army that have made me weak.  Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Iraq have nothing on crappy Scottish weather!”

 

“You love it really,” commented Kate with a wink.  Ordering a drink for her friend, they went over to sit in one of the booths away from the bar. 

 

Kate had met Sophie McAllister at Sandhurst[7] fifteen years ago where they’d quickly cemented a firm friendship, having the common cause of being two women against the old boys network that still prevailed there.  They’d both been determined young women back then, intent of making the most of their army careers.  Not that it had all been serious – they’d also found plenty of time for fun and games, often at the male officers’ expense.  They made a slightly unusual pair, the petite, yet quietly confident and powerful Kate, and the more obviously larger than life Sophie, with her stout, muscular frame.  They’d gone their separate ways since then, into their respective postings and regiments, but they’d always kept in touch and met as often as possible.

 

Sophie scraped a hand through her short, dark hair as she took a swig from her pint of lager.  “So how are things going with you at the top secret base then?” she asked conversationally

 

“Not too bad,” replied Kate, “Though I’m having a bit of trouble with one of my new operatives.”

 

“Well, that’s what you get for babysitting civilians - no respect for the chain of command.  You know you never have told me what’s so special about these people that they need a whole squadron of the British Army’s finest to look after them.”

 

Kate regarded Sophie with friendly suspicion.  “And I’m not going to, no matter how much you try and wheedle it out of me or how many drinks you try and ply me with.”

 

“Now that sounds like a challenge!”  Sophie craned round in her chair.  “Angus, another whiskey for the good Major!”

 

“Sophie! It’s only one o’clock.”

 

“Since when did you care about a little daytime drinking?” scoffed Sophie, “I can remember you drinking a fair few of those pompous twats under the table at Sandhurst.  They never could quite get over the fact that a woman might be able to hold her drink better than them.”

 

“No,” chuckled Kate, remembering the sight of officers in their dress uniform tumbling to the floor in a drunken stupor, “Though it didn’t stop them coming back for more or trying their hand at other things.”

 

“Indeed, though as I recall you were a demon on that snooker table too.  I know I certainly made a packet from betting on you.”

 

“I’m glad I was able to provide such a good source of income.”

 

Sophie tipped her head nonchalantly to the side.  “Where do you think I got all those cigarettes and bottles of booze from?”

 

“I didn’t like to ask!”

 

Sophie smiled, raising her glass in Kate’s direction.  “Well, here’s to beating the twats!”

 

Kate clinked her smaller glass against it.  “To the twats!”  She finished off her whiskey, accepting the replacement that Angus had brought over.

 

“So, can you can tell me about this difficult guy then, the one that’s giving you problems,” asked Sophie, “Or is that secret too?”

 

“It’s a woman actually,” replied Kate.

 

“Ah, well that explains everything!” exclaimed Sophie, rolling her eyes, “You don’t have to tell me about women and what a pain in the arse they can be!”

 

“Oh, she’s that all right,” concurred Kate with a rueful shake of the head.

 

Sophie looked at her inquisitively having caught the tone.  “Sounds intriguing.”

 

“That’s one way of putting it.  You’re right about the civilian thing, though, it does make it tricky since they’re not directly answerable to me as such – it’s not like dealing with your average squaddie where they know exactly who’s boss.”

 

“So this woman is challenging your command then?” asked Sophie in obvious surprise, “Does she value her life?”

 

Kate laughed out loud, drawing a few stares from the other patrons.  “You don’t know Andrea,” she continued on more quietly, “She’s stubborn, wilful, headstrong and bloody clever too.  I think I may almost have met my match.”

 

Now Sophie’s dark eyes really did widen in shock.  “My god, I need to meet this woman!  Someone who can stand up to Kate Jarvis and live to tell the tale!”

 

“Well, she’s barely living,” allowed Kate wryly, “I had to really chew her out a couple of weeks ago for a blatant breach of protocol.”

 

“Ouch, I bet that hurt!”

 

“Indeed, though now she’s just avoiding me as much as possible which doesn’t make my job any easier.”  Kate took a moment to rub her hand across her temple and down her face as she was reminded of the frustration of trying to deal with Andrea since their talk in the back of the car.  She had hoped that Andrea might have seen sense after that, but if anything she was even more obstinate.

 

“Sounds like you have your work cut out then,” noted Sophie, “Though I have little doubt you’ll win her around.  You just need to turn on a bit of that Jarvis charm.”

 

Kate snorted a laugh.  “I hope so, I can’t really afford any more cocks ups, since I already have those two black marks against my name.”

 

“Two?  Iraq and…?”

 

“Adam.”

 

The single word was enough to cause Sophie to purse her lips thinly together.  “Ah, yes, I had tried to erase that whole mess from memory.”

 

“Me too.” agreed Kate.

 

“Well, it’s your own fault if you will insist on involving yourself with men,” remarked Sophie with a shrug of the shoulders.

 

“Uh oh, I sense the recruiting speech coming on,” sighed Kate, “Weren’t you telling me a minute ago how much of a pain in the arse women are?”

 

“That’s true,” conceded Sophie, “But they’re also wonderful, beautiful, intelligent…fantastic in bed.”

 

Kate choked on the latest sip of her whiskey, coughing a couple of times to try and ease its path down her throat.

 

“Certainly better than you’re going to get from any guy,” added Sophie.

 

“This from the self confessed lesbian – have you ever even slept with a man?”

 

Sophie made a face of disgust.  “No, and I don’t want to or need to, thank you very much.  Urgh, just the thought of penis,” Sophie shuddered.  “How can you even look at it without laughing?”

 

“Well, you never know until you try it,” offered Kate, “I did dabble on your side of the fence after all.”

 

“Now that’s flattering, I’m a bit of a dabble now am I?”

 

“No offence, but it really wasn’t my thing…” remarked Katherine.  She quickly spied Sophie’s slight frown, “Not that you were bad or anything…” she tried to explain rather tactlessly.

 

“Carry on, carry on,” said Sophie with a wave of the hand, “I’m just wondering how much deeper you can make this hole before you can’t get out.”

 

“Much, much deeper unless you take pity on me and pull me out?”  Kate attempted her most winning smile.

 

Sophie narrowed her eyes as she stared back at Kate.  Finally she gave in and sighed.  “Damn, you know I’m a sucker for that smile, always was,” she confessed.  “It’s just such a shame.”

 

“What is?”

 

“You being straight, it’s a major loss to the lesbian community, no pun intended.”

 

“Oh right, like I’d have them queuing up,” remarked Kate sceptically.

 

“Are you kidding?” cried Sophie, “You’d be fighting them off with a stick, especially if you let them see you in that uniform of yours.”

 

“Is that your normal ploy then?”

 

Sophie smiled wickedly.  “It never fails.”

 

Both women laughed heartily.  More drinks were ordered and the conversation drifted through a number of topics from more reminiscences of their time at Sandhurst, through their latest postings to the state of their respective love lives.  The last subject was fairly short from Kate’s point of view – she didn’t have a love life, at least not since the disaster that was Adam.  Sophie on the other hand seemed to suffer from the opposite problem – too many women and not enough time.  By the time Kate had moved onto the pints too, she found the discussion had come round to Iraq, where they had both served during the recent war, though with different units.  She wasn’t quite sure how they had got onto talking about it, and she was entirely comfortable with it either.  As Sophie made some comments, Kate remained quiet, studying her glass intently instead, sliding her fingers through the condensation on the outside.

 

As she stopped talking, Sophie noticed the other woman’s distraction.  “Sorry I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories,” she said gently.

 

“Forget about it,” said Kate quietly, not looking up.

 

“Should we though?”

 

“What?”  Kate glanced up.  Sophie was regarding her softly.

 

“Forget about it,” she clarified.  “I mean we’ve been best friends for how long now?  Fifteen years?  We’ve told each other everything over those years, shared the good and the bad, but you’ve never really talked about what happened in Iraq.”

 

Kate thought there was a good reason for that, it had been painful enough for her at the time and she really didn’t want to be dragging it up now, raking it all over again.  She’d been through it enough times over the past year as it was.

 

Sophie wasn’t being put off by Kate’s continued silence, though.  “I left it to begin with, I thought it was just the rawness of the pain that was keeping you quiet, but it’s been a year now and you’ve still not really said much about it.  I’m just worried for you - that you’re bottling it up.”

 

Kate exhaled slowly, deciding she owed her friend some sort of explanation.  “I appreciate the concern, and I’m not shutting you out on purpose.  The thing is there are aspects of what happened there that are classified and I find it hard to talk about any of it without mentioning those.”  That was only partly true, but it made a convenient excuse.

 

“Classified?  Even from me?” asked Sophie doubtfully.

 

“I’m afraid so,” insisted Kate, “I wish I could tell you.” 

 

“But have you talked to anyone about it?”

 

“Oh yes, I’ve had enough counselling to last me a lifetime,” she said, closing her eyes and shaking her head as she recalled the parade of psychiatrists and psychologists that she’d been forced before, “They would hardly have allowed me back to command if they didn’t think I was of sound mind would they.”

 

“Maybe,” admitted Sophie, still unsure, “Though it always struck me as a bit of a strange move.  One minute you’re in the infantry with the Devon and Dorset’s and the next minute you’re with the Intelligence Corps, hiding away on some secret island in Scotland.  Are you sure they trust your skills?”

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence!”

 

“You know what I mean, the Intelligence Corps is hardly the front line is it?  A load of desk jockeys snooping on phone calls and emails.”

 

Kate didn’t directly answer that, since she herself thought that way sometimes.  “After Iraq I was lucky to keep my job at all,” she commented instead, “In fact I might not have if Lieutenant Colonel Parsons hadn’t stepped in on my behalf and arranged my transfer.”

 

Sophie raised her eyebrows.  “I didn’t realise he saved your butt.”

 

“Yes, well he’s always looked out for me where possible,” replied Kate, “So when there were a whole host of people clamouring for my head or worse, he discretely organised extended leave before getting me the position in charge of the base.”

 

“Lucky you have friends in high places.”

 

“Tell me about it,” agreed Kate, “Especially after my other total lapse in judgement six months ago.” 

 

Sophie made to open her mouth but Kate quickly shot a hand up to stall her.

 

“Don’t even say anything.  I know it was stupid, we’ve already mentioned his name once in this conversation, let’s not bring it up again.  Anyway, coming so close after Iraq, I was extremely lucky to survive that one and I certainly won’t be getting a third chance.  Any more cock ups and it will be court-martial here I come.”

 

…….

 

 

Andrea crouched down in the undergrowth trying to find shelter from the harsh April weather that consisted of rain driving over the island like a million icy needles, whipped in from the Atlantic by the howling wind.  The inclement weather only added to her sense that the training games they were engaged in were an annoying waste of time.  Her soaked fatigues clung to her body as she dreamt of a warm bath and a good book.  She didn’t know why they had to be outside on a day like today and had noted how the Major had buggered off to the mainland and left them under Chadwick’s supervision.  She considered that maybe that was why they were stuck out there – the lieutenant was hardly the biggest fan of the superhumans after all.  He was probably safely ensconced in a jeep somewhere, watching them run around like idiots in the wind and rain.

 

“Knock, knock!”

 

Andrea turned to her companion with a quizzical look.  The bright blue eyes of Tom Parsons regarding her expectantly from beneath the brim of his peaked cap.  Like her he was soaked to the bone, though it didn’t appear to have dampened his spirits.

 

“You looked like you were miles away,” he noted.

 

“Sorry, I was just thinking how pointless these stupid games are.”

 

“Pointless maybe,” he allowed, “But I still want to win!”

 

Andrea merely rolled her eyes at his enthusiasm.  A grin was never far away from Tom’s face, whatever the situation.

 

“Oh like you don’t want to?” he commented, noticing her expression, “Don’t try and pretend you’re not competitive - you were practically trampling Bel into the dirt to get there first on the last one.”

 

“Yes, but that was Tardelli.”

 

Tom laughed at the deadpan delivery of the remark.  “You two really don’t get along do you?”

 

“Not for want of trying,” said Andrea with a sigh, “You and Harry have been fine, you’ve helped me out a lot in settling in here.  But with Tardelli…I don’t know what it is!   Even though she practically tried to kill me, I’ve attempted being nice.  I’ve tried to entice her into games of pool in the rec room, chat with her over meals, but she just doesn’t seem to like me for some reason.”

 

“I can’t imagine why.”

 

Andrea fixed him with a stern look.  “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Well, you can come across as a bit…er…,” he searched for the right word, avoiding her penetrating gaze, “…overpowering sometimes.  Maybe even a little arrogant.”

 

“I am not arrogant,” insisted Andrea indignantly, “I’m just confident of my own abilities.”

 

Tom shrugged nonchalantly.  “Like I said, arrogant.”

 

“Do you want me to trample you into the dirt too?” asked Andrea, raising a single eyebrow as she pinned him in place with her eyes once more.

 

Tom laughed again holding up his hands in supplication.  “I think you just take a bit of getting used to that’s all – all that plain speaking can be a bit of a shock to the system if you’re not ready for it.  And you are a bit of an egghead too, so it can be a bit intimidating to us mere mortals.”

 

“Oh, yes, I can see you quaking in your boots,” said Andrea sarcastically, “And as for Tardelli…intimidated is not the word I would use to describe her attitude towards me.”

 

“Ok, not exactly, but I don’t think she likes to come second best to anyone, especially not the posh new kid on the block.”

 

Andrea let out an incredulous laugh.  “Posh? Me?”

 

“Well, compared to Tardelli at least,” suggested Tom.

 

“I wouldn’t let her hear you calling her common, unless you fancy some of the same treatment I’ve been getting, or maybe your testicles handed to you on a plate.”

 

Tom was quick to refute her words.  “Hey, I never used the word ‘common’, I would say…good, honest working class.”

 

Andrea shook her head as she made a small chuckle at his choice of expression.  “Very diplomatically put.  But I’m hardly some upper class twit am I - I did have a normal job before I came here.”

 

“True, but to someone like Tardelli - who grew up on a council estate in London - you’re from a whole different world.  And then you’ve got the fact that she’s somewhat determined and strong-willed, just like you are, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.  You just rub each other up the wrong way.  That’s probably your problem with the Major too.”

 

“No,” corrected Andrea quickly, “She just gets on my nerves, full stop.  All that army dogma, all those rules, regulations and secrets.  Not to mention the embarrassing way she turned up at that pub two weeks ago and then gave me a right bollocking like I was some small child.”

 

“Well, you did sneak off the base without permission.”

 

Andrea narrowed her eyes at him.  “Whose side are you on exactly?”

 

“No one’s – we’re all meant to be on the same side, remember,” he replied, “I keep telling you to give her a chance.  I know you seem to think she’s got some personal vendetta against you, that it’s all her doing, you being stuck here, but it’s not.  She’s just doing her job.  If you’d stop and think for a minute, you’d see that she actually wants to help and make your time here as easy as possible.  She’s very approachable you know.”

 

Andrea snorted with derision.  “Are we talking about the same person here, because I could have sworn we were discussing Major Jarvis the woman who tore me an extra orifice not two weeks ago.”

 

“You’re just lucky she waited so long to do it,” commented Tom cryptically.

 

“What do you mean by that?”  Andrea was blindsided for a moment, mystified by his remark.

 

“Well, you gotta admit you were a complete pain in the arse pretty much since the moment you got here…”

 

“With some justification…” interjected Andrea.

 

“Ok, maybe,” allowed Tom, “But if you let me finish, the point I’m trying to make is that, though I said the Major is approachable, she isn’t a soft touch either.  She wouldn’t normally have stood for the sort of crap you were giving her for that long.”

 

A faint dawning was occurring in Andrea’s brain.  “Hang on a minute, is this your roundabout way of saying she actually likes me?”

 

“I’m just going by what I see and hear, and I’m telling you, no one normally gets away with acting that way or speaking to her like that.  At the very least, I think she understands what you’re going through and wants to help you, be your friend.”

 

“You seriously think she likes me?” scoffed Andrea, thinking he must be mad, “Now I know you’re joking!”   A stubborn thought flashed through her mind, hoping that he wasn’t, but she ignored it.

 

“You know what I think,” said Tom, a slight air of exasperation in his tone, “I think you’re just being obstinate because you don’t want to admit you might have been wrong about her.”

 

“If you say so,” said Andrea dismissively before turning her attention away from him.  She’d had enough of discussing the Major for the time being.  Ever since the incident in Ayr she’d tried to keep their interaction to a minimum.  She was unwilling to even consider that Tom might have a point, though deep down she knew he did.  She realised she had been somewhat obnoxious since her arrival at the base and had pretty much deserved everything she got, but the way the Major had spoken to her had wounded her pride. 

 

Concentrating instead on what they were currently doing, she dug out the compass from one of the many pockets in her combat gear, shaking the drips from the peak of her cap so she could read it properly.  That was another stupid thing about this exercise – why did they have to use a map and compass when there were perfectly good things such as GPS to navigate with?  And to make matters worse they weren’t supposed to be using their powers either.  She was just starting to come to terms with her new abilities, and now they were telling her not to use them – it was all very confusing.  Not that they’d learnt much more over the past couple of weeks.  She still had to wear the special inhibitor armband all the time, to make sure she didn’t have any unwanted seizures from using her powers.  Or power, to be more precise since it seemed to consist only of enhanced strength.  It was hardly the most interesting of abilities, she considered.

 

Brushing the rain from the plastic cover of the map she gauged where they were on the island.  “So what is this meant to be teaching us exactly?” she asked Tom.

 

“I don’t know,” he confessed, “Army tactics or something?”

 

“And have you wondered why we would need to know such things?” she pondered out loud

 

“Er, I dunno,” he replied, making a thoughtful face, “I thought it was just something to get us out and about a bit, rather than being cooped up indoors all the time, helping the boffins with their research.”

 

“Right,” said Andrea sceptically, “I’m sure that’s all it is.”

 

“You know your problem, you’re just too suspicious of everyone and everything.  No one would ever guess you were a policewoman.”

 

“I think it’s healthy to be curious about the world around me,” noted Andrea defensively, “We shouldn’t just accept things without asking questions.”

 

“And boy do you love to ask those questions,” recalled Tom, grinning, “Christ you even manage to annoy Dr Todd sometimes and that is some feat.  I bet you were a sodding nightmare in interrogations.  If it were me under the spotlight, I think I would have been confessing to anything to get out of there.”

 

Andrea regarded him dubiously, sizing him up while he maintained his best innocent expression.  “Hmm, I doubt that - I bet you were a handful too, always one step ahead of the law, a right likely lad.  I guess it’s lucky our paths never crossed.”

 

“For both of us,” he agreed, “Anyway, I’m a reformed character now, an upstanding citizen.”

 

Andrea couldn’t keep the smile from her face.  “Sure you are, that’s why I’ve heard all about your stash of contraband.”

 

Tom looked surprised at her revelation.  “Who told you that?”

 

“Ah-ha,” she said, wagging her finger at him, “I never reveal my sources.”

 

“It was Nathan wasn’t it,” deduced Tom for himself, referring to the supplies officer and de facto chef, “That man has the biggest mouth this side of the Clyde.  You’re not going to tell anyone are you?”

 

“What, like the Major?  As if!”

 

“It’s not like alcohol is banned on the base, anyway,” said Tom by means of explanation, “I mean they serve it in the bar – the squaddies would be rioting if they couldn’t have a pint of an evening.”

 

“And you just like to cater to their needs out of bar hours?”

 

“Exactly, supply and demand - I’m just fulfilling the natural need of your average soldier for booze.”

 

“And making a tidy profit while you’re at it?”

 

Tom grinned once more, dipping his head slightly to acknowledge the truth of her remark.  “It doesn’t hurt.  At least you know where to come if you need anything.  What is your tipple of choice anyway?”

 

“I’m not really that big a drinker,” she admitted.  She liked the odd one or two with friends but that was about the limit of it.  She didn’t really see the point of solo drinking, not to mention the lack of control that alcohol brought on.

 

“Call yourself a proper policewoman?” he cried, “Ok, something else then?”

 

Andrea thought for a moment before replying.  “I’m not sure if there’s anything else I need that I can’t get just by asking for it to be brought in.  I have to admit that’s one thing they have been good about, and I made sure I asked for some particularly obscure scientific journals, just to see.”

 

“Journals?  Flipping hell?  How old are you exactly – sixty? Do you ever have any fun?”

 

“I’m twenty-seven years old for your information,” Andrea stated, “And I know how to have plenty of fun, but our opportunities are slightly restricted on this island after all.  I did get a bunch of cds and the latest playstation games too if that’s more to your taste.”

 

“Ah, now you’re talking!” said Tom, a smile spreading across his face, “Don’t let Harry know, though, or he’ll be round your room faster than you can say Tekken.  But there are other things I can get, things that you might not want to ask one of the stiffs for.”

 

Andrea’s brow creased together as she wondered at his meaning.

 

“You know…” he said, tipping his head to the side and raising his eyebrows, before finally adding some crude hand gestures.

 

“Ah,” she said in sudden realisation, “You mean pornography.”

 

“Yeah, that kinda thing,” he confirmed, “I’m sure I can get hold of some stuff suited to your particular tastes.”

 

“You mean lesbian porn.”

 

“Yeah, come to think of it I wouldn’t mind seeing some of that myself…”

 

Andrea slapped him playfully around the head as he got a faraway look in his eyes, pleasant daydreams no doubt filling his mind.

 

“Oi!” he cried indignantly.

 

“Come on, let’s get going,” suggested Andrea clambering to her feet, “Then we might finally be able to get back to civilisation, or at least what passes for it on this godforsaken island.”

 

Tom rose too, indicating ahead of him with his hand.  “Lead on.”

 

On the way to their target, Andrea’s mind started drifting back to civilisation anyway, and the life she had lead before coming to the island.  She’d only spoken with Maria a couple of times since their curtailed meeting at the pub, and both had been brief conversations, with Andrea being acutely aware of who might be listening in.  She just hoped that Maria was having some luck into her investigation of the warehouse incident, though officially she was meant to be on other cases since that particular one was closed.  If Andrea had trusted any of the army officers on the base, she might have brought the suspicious way it had been swept under the carpet to their attention, but for now she had to rely on Maria. 

 

Eventually they came out of the meagre cover offered by the small copse of trees and a fresh gust of wind buffeted Andrea in the face, almost whipping the hat from her head.  She put her hand on top of it for a minute as she glanced around for the checkpoint. 

 

“There!” called Tom over the sound of the storm, pointing to the top of a rocky outcrop.

 

They both started running for the red and white marker, Andrea more from a desire to get there and then get back in the warm.  Reaching the foot of the slope, she spotted two other forms joining them from the opposite direction and also heading for the top at speed.  Andrea pulled ahead of Tom, scrabbling nimbly over the slippery rocks as he floundered behind her.  Despite the fact that she could see Tardelli gaining out of the corner of her eye, Andrea stopped for a moment to check on her partner.

 

“Don’t worry about me,” he yelled as she hopped back down the slope to help him up.  She could see he had gashed his arm on the stones where he had stumbled.  “Go!” he instructed waving her away frantically, “Tardelli’s gonna get there first!”

 

The dark haired woman had clambered past them now, intent on the winning post.  Harry, meanwhile, was sliding about somewhere back down the slope, far behind them all.

 

“I don’t care about that, you’re hurt,” replied Andrea, bending down by Tom.

 

“I care! I’ll be fine, go on!”

 

Andrea eyed him for a moment, evaluating the seriousness of his injury, before turning and resuming her push for the top.  She had to admit that part of her also wanted to beat the abrasive woman.  Andrea’s long legs carried her over the uneven ground more quickly than the shorter Tardelli and she drew alongside as they reached the crest.  Tardelli suddenly realised Andrea had caught her up, turning to offer her a surly snarl through the rain as they made the final sprint.  Andrea ignored her, forging on against the wind that battered them directly in the face now, sweeping across the exposed outcrop.  The tag on the checkpoint flapped tantalisingly in the air and Andrea made one final lunge to reach for it.

 

An icy blast suddenly clattered into her side, spinning Andrea away from the marker.  Stunned, she crashed to the ground, tumbling haphazardly across the wet stone that lay over the top of the precipice.  She didn’t realise she was at the edge until it was far too late and she was plunging off over it into thin air.

 

The wind whistled past her face and she just had time to get her arms up in a futile attempt to protect her head before she hit the rocks at the bottom.

 

Only she didn’t hit them.

 

It took a couple of seconds for that fact to register in Andrea’s mind and for her to realise she was no longer moving downwards either.  Peeling her arms away from around her head, she tentatively glanced down.  Her eyes widened in shock as she realised she was hovering in mid air, a couple of feet above the ground.

 

“Andrea?”

 

Andrea glanced back up to the top of the cliff where Tom, Harry and Tardelli were all peering anxiously over the edge at her.  Suddenly Andrea’s downward movement resumed and she fell the remaining distance to the ground, jarring her right elbow on the hard rock.  She was still sitting on the stones rubbing it when the others had finally made their way down to join her.

 

“How in the hell did you do that?” asked Tom in amazement, nursing his own arm.

 

Andrea glanced up at him.  “I-I don’t know…” she replied, stunned.  She looked back up at the cliff as if that would give her some sort of answer.

 

“However you did it, it was amazing – you were flying!” chimed in Harry excitedly.

 

“Hardly flying,” noted Tardelli, always one to look on the down side, “More like hovering and then falling.”

 

“Whatever it was, it’s a bloody good job I did it,” said Andrea, regaining her senses and rising to her feet to stare balefully at Tardelli, “Since you nearly killed me…again!”

 

“Yeah, but I didn’t did I?” replied Tardelli crossing her arms defiantly.

 

Andrea was getting increasingly angry at the other woman’s petulance.  “Fulla Helvete! We weren’t even meant to be using our powers!”

 

Tardelli uncrossed her arms, pressing forwards into Andrea’s personal space.  “What did you just call me?”

 

“Uh oh, here we go again…” managed Tom from behind them.

 

“A loose translation is ‘fucking bitch’” Andrea informed Tardelli matter-of-factly.

 

Tom just about managed to grab Tardelli before she launched herself at Andrea, hauling her away to the side.

 

“Just leave it, Bel!” he cried as she flailed in his grasp.

 

“You heard what she called me!”

 

“Yes, and you did almost kill her so why don’t you just count yourselves even?” Tom reasoned.

 

The sound of a vehicle approaching drew all their attention, and Andrea spotted an army jeep bouncing over the long grass towards them, leaving great muddy gouges in the turf behind it.  It halted at the edge of the rocks and Lieutenant Chadwick climbed out from the passenger side, a pair of binoculars still in his hand.  No doubt he had been watching the whole thing, including Andrea’s “flying”.  She still wasn’t entirely sure that she had done it - maybe it had been a freak gust of wind?  A really freaky gust of wind.

 

“Is there some sort of problem here?” he asked, glancing between Andrea and the still struggling Tardelli.

 

“No, no problem,” replied Andrea succinctly.

 

“No, everything’s fine,” agreed Tardelli as Tom released her, putting on a united front for the army officer’s benefit.  Whatever their differences, they would still stick together against the military personnel.

 

Chadwick eyed the pair of them doubtfully, before turning his full attention to Andrea.  “And what was that?  What you were doing off the cliff?”

 

“I think it’s called flying,” interrupted Harry helpfully.

 

“I know it’s sodding flying, you moron,” snapped Chadwick at the young man, “But how was she doing it?” he added pointing an accusatory finger at Andrea.

 

As the two men spoke Andrea was still pondering over how she had done it.  She wondered whether she could repeat the feat if she consciously thought about it.  She closed her eyes for a moment to help her concentrate.  Perhaps if she imagined herself rising off the ground, ever so slightly, just wafting up on the breeze.

 

“Hey! Get back down here!”

 

Andrea’s eyes flicked open to see the open landscape stretching out before her, the white crests of the waves on the choppy sea just about visible in the distance.  Casting her eyes downwards, she saw Chadwick looking furiously up at her from his position several feet below her dangling boots.  This time she made sure she kept thinking about maintaining her position so she didn’t come crashing down to earth with a bump.

 

“And just how are you going to make me?” she asked cocking her head to the side and drifting slightly further away from him.  It really was the most wonderful yet unsettling feeling she had ever felt, just hanging there in the air with nothing to hold her up.  Another blast of wind rocked her as she tried to prolong the fantastic experience.

 

Chadwick’s hand moved to rest on his handgun in its holster.  “I could always shoot you,” he said seriously.

 

“Hey, man, that’s not funny!” Harry said angrily, coming round in front of the lieutenant in a challenging stance.

 

“Well, tell your freaky friend to get back down here then,” said Chadwick, pulling the gun out and waving it in Harry’s face.

 

“It’s all right, I’m coming down,” said Andrea, floating back down to the ground next to the two men, “You can put it away, Chadwick.”

 

His dark eyes turned to her, his lip curving into a nasty sneer.  “Let’s get back to base shall we, I’m sure the docs and the Major will have something to say about this.”

 

……..

 

 

Andrea wandered into her quarters, flicking on the light to illuminate the darkness and going over to the fridge to grab a pepsi.  As she popped the cap and took a swig, she supposed that ingesting sugar and caffeine probably wasn’t a good idea when she was already on such a high.  No matter how many times she told herself, she still couldn’t quite believe it, but it was true – she could fly.

 

For the first time she actually felt good about the idea of being different from everyone else, of being a mutant.  Flying, now that was a super power really worth having, she considered, smiling to herself.  Everyone else seemed to think so too, if their reactions were anything to go by.  As soon as they’d got back to the base, she’d been whisked off to see Drs Todd and Whitman so they could investigate this latest development in her abilities.  However, Tom and Harry had also tagged along, fascinated to see what she could do.

 

Of course Doc wanted to take things slow as usual, ever cautious for her well-being.  She, on the other hand, was itching to try it out and they could barely keep her on the ground in the underground training room.  It was just such an exhilarating rush, that feeling of freedom, of floating in the air.  She desperately wanted to go outside and just fly off into the sky, but Doc had looked aghast when she had even suggested it.

 

She supposed she could attempt it anyway, though it wouldn’t be long before they discovered what she was up to, since they had bugged her.  That was something that still rankled - that they would have the audacity to plant a tracking device in her arm.  She subconsciously rubbed her right bicep where she knew it sat under the skin.

 

Andrea wondered how they would then stop her, even if they knew she had left. Chase after her in a helicopter?  Shoot her down?  It wasn’t as if any of the others could fly so they wouldn’t be able to catch her.  She might even be able to go faster than a helicopter, or even a jet – she just didn’t know at this stage.

 

Sitting down on the sofa, she guessed she would have to abide by doctor’s orders for the time being, and allow them to observe and closely monitor her first attempts.  It wasn’t like it had all been plain sailing earlier on, and she had been grateful for the padded floor of the room on several occasions.  Andrea didn’t really relish the thought that she might lose concentration while several hundred feet in the air over the island.  No amount of padding would protect her from a fall from that height.

 

When she’d pressed Dr Todd for an explanation of exactly how come she suddenly had this added ability, he had been rather evasive.  He’d made some noises about energy conversion and needing to investigate further, but Andrea suspected that he was about as surprised as she was.  Given that her ability to fly had only come to light nearly a month after the original accident, she wondered if there were any other dormant powers just waiting to burst forth.  That thought was a little scary and she considered that the scientists probably thought much the same thing.  And as for the Major…Andrea had little doubt that she wouldn’t be too impressed by this latest development when she heard about it.  This new power would make it even harder for them to contain and control her.   Chadwick would probably be running to her as soon as she got back from the mainland to fill her in, and then it wouldn’t be long before Andrea got a visit, she was sure of that.  A small flutter of anticipation skittered through her at that thought.

 

Needing something to distract her from that last troublesome sensation and her restless to desire to go and explore her powers right away, Andrea leant forwards to grab the large, padded headphones that sat atop her stereo.  She thumbed through her cds, selecting a suitable loud funky house compilation.  As the thumping beat started in the headphones, she leant back against the cushions and closed her eyes.

 

…….

 

Kate strode along the corridor, trying to get her head around the new information she’d been presented with before she got to her destination.  Chadwick had been waiting to see her as soon as she’d stepped off the boat from Ayr.  Luckily the bracing sea air on the return crossing had gone some way to sobering her up and his news had been an added dash of cold water.

 

After her initial surprise she realised that the fact that Andrea could fly was fantastic in one way.  It was certainly an interesting new mutation for them to get to grips with and could prove very useful.  Not to mention how thrilling it would be for Andrea.  Unfortunately that was where the problem lay.  Chadwick had already told her how Andrea had wanted to fly off when they were outside, how he’d practically had to drag her back against her will.  Once they’d got back to the base, she’d been eager to pursue things.  Kate was pleased to some extent – at least Andrea was finally showing some enthusiasm about her abilities – but on the other hand she was wary about the level of power she was exhibiting.  She considered that she only had Chadwick’s word for what had occurred at the moment, and she wasn’t entirely convinced she could trust her second-in-command’s opinion, especially when it came to Andrea.  The pair of them hadn’t hit it off at all.  Kate could understand that – she had her doubts about the man too.  If nothing else at least someone had a worse relationship with the Andrea than she did.

 

Given Chadwick’s unreliability as a source of information in this particular case, she had resolved to come and speak with Andrea herself.  Kate had gone via her quarters first and changed back into her uniform to try and add that final touch of sobriety, hoping that the last traces of alcohol weren’t detectable on her breath.  She was wearing her regular barrack dress of olive green shirt and matching trousers, but had foregone the tie and jumper, hoping that she would come across as authoritative yet at the same time relaxed.

 

Reaching Andrea’s door, she pressed on the entry chime.  When there was no response she tried again.  There was still no answer.  Kate made a quick call to the security centre to check Andrea’s location, but they informed her that she was indeed in her quarters.  Kate tried the chime once more, getting increasingly worried – maybe Andrea had had one of her seizures and was lying unconscious in her room.  Kate quickly used her command authorisation to override the lock on the door.

 

Stepping into the dimly lit room she spotted the bobbing blond head immediately, surprised by the degree of relief she felt at seeing Andrea was all right.  Kate crossed the room, seeing that Andrea’s eyes were closed as she listened to her music, the beat of which could just be heard drifting up from the sofa despite the headphones.  Kate found herself suddenly unsure how to proceed, an unusual occurrence for her.  Should she alert Andrea to her presence, thereby revealing she had let herself in the room and risk her ire, or should she just leave the young woman to it?  While she considered her options she couldn’t help studying Andrea’s face - the perfect bone structure, the smooth skin, the full lips. 

 

Kate shook her head – what was she, some sort of voyeur?  Watching while the other woman was unaware she had an audience?

 

Having decided she should take the latter of her options, Kate turned for the door only to be alarmed when a sound issued from Andrea’s mouth.  Kate froze in place, feeling like the kid that had been caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  She swivelled back to Andrea, trying to ready her excuses, only to see that the other woman’s eyes were still closed.  Another murmur slipped past Andrea’s lips and Kate suddenly realised that she was actually asleep.  Kate almost laughed out loud – how on earth could she sleep with that racket banging in her ears?

 

Relieved that she hadn’t be caught out after all, Kate was about to leave when she saw Andrea’s brow crease together in a frown, her eyes still firmly shut.

 

“No…leave me alone…”

 

The faltering, pleading words surprised Kate - they didn’t sound like the normally confident Andrea at all.

 

“…I couldn’t help you…”

 

It was obvious Andrea was having some sort of nightmare, and Kate was faced with the same decision as before – should she intervene or not?

 

“…no, no…”

 

Andrea was getting increasingly agitated now, her head flopping from side to side.  Kate couldn’t stand by and watch any longer.

 

She sat down next to the young woman and pulled off the headphones, the music suddenly louder in the room as they clattered to the floor.  “Andrea!” called Kate firmly.

 

“…no…please…”

 

Kate grabbed the other woman’s arms to shake her.  “Andrea!”

 

Andrea’s eyes flew open, flicking wildly around the room as she tried to get her bearings.  They finally settled on Kate, a searching uncertainty in them for the briefest of moments before recognition dawned.

 

“What are you doing in here?” demanded Andrea, sitting up straight.

 

It was only then that Kate realised she still had her hands on Andrea’s arms.  She quickly dropped them, folding her hands in her lap instead.  “I came to talk to you, but there was no answer to the chime.”

 

“So you just let yourself in?” challenged Andrea. 

 

Kate noted how she ran her hand roughly through her long hair as she spoke and thought the young woman was still rather unsettled by the dream she’d been having.

 

“I thought perhaps something had happened to you, such as one of your seizures.”

 

Andrea was momentarily stymied by the show of concern.  “Well, as you can see, I’m fine, so I’d be grateful if you didn’t barge in here unannounced in future.”

 

Kate thought Andrea’s annoyance stemmed more from the fact that she’d been caught in a moment of weakness, rather than Kate’s presence per se.  Considering that, she thought it best not to press Andrea on what she had been having a nightmare about for now.  Andrea would most likely deny having had one at all in order to save face and then just get more aggressive to cover it up.

 

“An interesting choice of music,” noted Kate instead, tipping her head to the headphones on the floor.

 

Andrea bent down to pick them up, putting them on top of the stereo and turning it off.  “I like a bit of loud dance music to help me unwind.”

 

“It was certainly that,” agreed Kate amiably, casting a look at the other cds arranged on the small table by the stereo.  “You got all the ones you wanted did you?” she asked indicating the pile with her eyes.  She was hoping to steer the discussion onto more lightweight topics while Andrea recovered her composure and calmed down a bit.

 

“Yes, thanks,” replied Andrea curtly.

 

“Quite an eclectic mix there,” commented Kate, reading a few of the titles before peering round the rest of the room.  She noted how the books that had been all over the place when she had last visited Andrea’s quarters were now neatly arranged in a bookshelf against the near wall.  It wasn’t large enough to hold them all, though, with a couple of cardboard boxes at the side containing the overflow.  “A bit like your choice of reading.”

 

“As I said last time,” Andrea said her tone starting to soften, “I like to keep abreast of a variety of subjects, as well as just reading for fun.  You can never have enough knowledge.”

 

Kate turned back to her with a smile.  “Ah, is that why you like to ask all those questions of our scientists?”

 

“I just like to check they know what they’re doing,” said Andrea, shrugging, “It’s not a problem is it?”

 

“Of course not, it’s good that you’re interested.  God knows none of the others have ever shown much of an interest in that side of things.  I’m sure Theo and the other doctors are only too happy to share their knowledge with you.”

 

“You might want to check with them before you make such claims,” suggested Andrea, the beginnings of a smile touching at her lips.

 

Kate made a small laugh.  Theo had moaned to her that Andrea was constantly pestering him with questions, though she thought he secretly enjoyed it.  It appeared that Andrea was only too aware of what she was doing too.  “I suppose it’s only to be expected with your scientific background,” commented Kate, “And the field of work of your family.”

 

Kate immediately noticed the thinning of Andrea’s lips at the mention of her family, deducing she had made a mistake bringing them up.  She had thought perhaps talk of home and family might be safe, but obviously not.

 

“What was it you wanted exactly?” asked Andrea, her tone now icy and her body language stiff, “Since I presume you didn’t come here to discuss my taste in music or literature.”

 

Kate supposed there wasn’t much chance to resume the friendly conversation. “I wanted to talk about what happened earlier, on the training exercise.”

 

“I thought you might.”

 

……

 

Andrea rose from the sofa, putting a bit of distance between her and the Major as she crossed to gaze out at the night sky.  She guessed this was going to be the part where she got the lecture on using her powers responsibly and so on, plus a telling off for giving Chadwick trouble, though he had been the one with the problem.  She took a few deep breaths trying to calm her thoughts.  She still hadn’t quite gotten over how the Major had disturbed her latest nightmare.

 

“So…?” came the Major’s voice from behind her.

 

Andrea turned back round.  “Hasn’t your little lapdog filled you in already?”

 

“If by that you mean Lieutenant Chadwick, then yes, he has given me a version of events, but I’d like to hear what you have to say too.”

 

“I’m sure he gave you full and detailed report, though perhaps omitting the part where he threatened to shoot me.”

 

The Major looked shocked.  “I beg you pardon?”

 

“You can ask Harry or Tom if you don’t believe me.”

 

The Major’s expression had now been replaced with one of concern and thoughtfulness.  “I didn’t say I didn’t believe you,” she said, fixing her eyes on Andrea, keenly studying her.  “And you did nothing to prompt this?”

 

This conversation wasn’t going the way Andrea had expected, it seemed the Major really did want to listen to her opinion.  Andrea had thought the Major would have flown in to defend her officer’s honour as soon as his actions were called into question.

 

“I was just floating off the ground a bit, but I wasn’t trying to go anywhere,” explained Andrea, “I was interested to see if I could repeat what had happened when I fell from the cliff.  And then Chadwick got his knickers in a twist and started waving his gun around.”

 

The Major shook her head, her auburn bob bouncing slightly from side to side as she did.  “I think I shall be having words with the Lieutenant.”

 

Andrea had been so busy watching the way the light caught the red in the hair that she wasn’t sure she had heard right.  “What you actually believe me?  You’re not going to check with the others?”

 

“Do I need to?”

 

“Well, no…”

 

“Good,” said the Major simply, actually offering Andrea a smile.  “So, how do you feel about it?”

 

Andrea was completely confused now.  “Feel about it?”

 

“About being able to fly of course, it must be quite an amazing feeling.”

 

“Er…yes…yes...it’s…”

 

Andrea was at a loss for words to describe the sense of joyful wonder she felt when floating off the ground.  The only comparisons she could think of off-hand were sexual and she didn’t think they were entirely appropriate for the Major’s ears. 

 

Wondering why her mouth was suddenly dry, she decided she needed another draft of her pepsi.  It was then that she realised her mistake – she had left it on the coffee table by the sofa, where the Major was still sitting looking up at her with her soft blue eyes, waiting for an answer.  Andrea could hardly go to the kitchen and get another one when it was obvious she already had a drink.  Now she was thinking about the drink, her conspiratorial mouth felt the need to poke her tongue out and lick her lips.

 

Andrea quickly walked back over to the sofa and sat down, picking the can up off the low wooden table and bringing it gratefully to her lips.

 

“Hard to describe is it?”  asked the Major, honest interest in her tone.

 

“What?” said Andrea looking to her side.  She had forgotten the topic of conversation for a moment in her desire to just get the drink.  “Oh, the flying, yes, it’s difficult to put into words.  It’s…wonderful, so…liberating…”

 

Andrea could mentally kick herself, it still sounded like she was talking about sex or something.  Why wasn’t the Major interupting?  Why was she letting Andrea burble on like this?  And why was her stiff khaki shirt open at the neck like that, revealing the slope of her chest?

 

“It sounds fascinating,” commented the Major, finally taking pity on Andrea.

 

Forcing herself to look the Major in the eye, Andrea decided they needed a change of subject.  She supposed she may as well go for something that had been nagging her since the Major seemed to be in a receptive mood.  “Can I ask you a question?”

 

The Major looked taken aback by the request, and Andrea stared at her quizically.

 

“Sorry, it’s just that you don’t normally ask for permission,” noted the Major in explanation of her reaction, “But, yes, fire away.”

 

“It’s about the accident, at the warehouse…”

 

“Go on…”

 

The Major’s tone had been slightly wary, but she hadn’t cut Andrea off so she pressed on.  “Maria told me that the case had been closed to the police, that all the paperwork had been sent elsewhere.  I was just wondering if you knew anything about it?”

 

The Major didn’t reply immediately, considering her response before she spoke.  “I’m going to be honest with you, ok?”

 

“Ok.” 

 

Now this was interesting, thought Andrea, the Major was actually going to be candid? Would wonders never cease?

 

“I’ve had my own suspicions about that incident.  Something about it just doesn’t add up, and I don’t just mean the fact that twelve people were killed.  I mean the whole thing with you and your powers too.”

 

“You make it sound like some conspiracy.”

 

“Not necessarily, but someone somewhere is keen to keep the details a secret.  Remember how I told you about the order to prohibit discussion of it, after your phone call was cut off.  I was telling you the truth, I really don’t know why that order was made, but I intend to find out as soon as I get the chance to speak to my commanding officer in person.”

 

“All well and good,” said Andrea, “But are you then going to tell me if you do find out something?”

 

“Yes, of course,” replied the Major straight away, “I’m not deliberately keeping secrets from you.”

 

Andrea narrowed her eyes for a moment, studying the Major’s face to assess her honesty.   “All right, I’ll trust you for now.”  Though she had said the words, they still surprised her.

 

The Major looked quite surprised too, though also pleased.  “Good.  Well, this does seem like a night for progress,” she remarked.

 

Andrea hadn’t intended it to be, especially not when the Major had caught her off-guard to begin with.  However, somehow the other woman had managed to steer the discussion successfully, without even appearing to try.  Andrea merely dipped her head in acknowledgement of the Major’s comment.

 

“Since I answered your question, I was wondering if I could talk to you about something else?” continued the Major.

 

Andrea supposed it would be churlish to refuse and nodded her consent.

 

“All right.  Before I go on, let me just say that I’m just concerned for your well-being, which is why I’m bringing this up.”

 

Andrea nodded again.  She was slightly wary of where the Major was heading, though also a little amused that the normally commanding woman seemed so nervous about Andrea’s reaction that she had to prefix it so.

 

“You’ve not really spoken about the accident with anyone have you?”

 

“No.”

 

“I just think you might want to.”

 

The Major wasn’t really pushing, the tone of her voice was gentle, but Andrea was still uncertain.  Though the Major had mentioned this before, no doubt being witness to Andrea’s earlier nightmare had coaslesced thoughts of it in her mind once again.  Andrea suspected that the Major knew full well that the accident had been the source of her nightmare. 

 

“Counselling can actually be helpful,” continued the Major, “And it would be entirely confidential,” she added, sensing Andrea’s trepidation.

 

Andrea glanced to the Major who regarded her evenly, her blue eyes now shading to gray in the low light.  Andrea knew she probably did need to talk to someone – her nightmares had continued unabated since she’d arrived at the base – and yet she was still reluctant to confide in a stranger.

 

“Well, just think about it,” said the Major eventually, “And if you do want to proceed come and see me..anytime.”

 

 

 

 

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

 

CHAPTER 6

 

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

 

Andrea opened the door to the recreation room and almost got bowled over as a young soldier came barrelling out past her in a hurry.

 

“Sorry!” he called over his shoulder as he dashed off down the corridor.

 

She watched him disappearing round the corner before she turned back to the door, shaking her head in bemusement.  Andrea entered the room where superhuman, soldier and scientist alike went to relax on their off hours.  Making a quick scan of her surroundings, she spotted Harry and Tardelli engaged in a game of pool on one of the two tables.  The other one was empty, as was the full-size snooker table next to it.  In fact there was no one else in the room at all, apart from them and Tom, sitting watching the big screen television. 

 

Andrea crossed to join him on the couch.  “Is it always like this when the bigwigs are visiting?” she asked him, referring to the emptiness of the room.

 

“Pretty much,” he confirmed turning from the tv to face her, “Everyone has to be on their best behaviour.  All the squaddies run around like headless chickens, desperate to make a good impression.”

 

“Is that why we got the day off then – they don’t want us embarrassing them in front of the top brass?”

 

“I never thought of it like that, but you could be right,” he agreed, “The Major probably didn’t want you asking the Lieutenant Colonel any tricky questions!”

 

“Would I do something like that?” she enquired innocently.

 

“Yes!” replied Tom as if the answer was obvious. 

 

He picked up the remote control and began flicking through the channels.  They all had televisions in their rooms, but it was more sociable to come and watch the one in the common room and Tom was nothing if not sociable.  “A-ha!” he cried having found something to his taste, “Excellent, ‘Soccer AM’ [8] is still on.”

 

He relaxed back into the cushions, before suddenly realising something. “Oh, is it all right if we have this on?  If there’s something you’d rather watch…”

 

Andrea smiled, “No, it’s fine.  Especially since Helen Chamberlain is quite fit.”

 

Tom chuckled.  “Yes, she is,” he agreed glancing at the presenter on the screen.

 

As they watched it for a moment, Harry and Tardelli came to join them, sitting in a couple of the other comfy chairs arranged around the television.  Andrea thought it a little odd, since there was no way they could have finished their game so quickly.  She glanced over her shoulder at the pool table, noting that half the balls were indeed still on the green baize, including the black.  As her eyes came back round to the screen, she spied Tardelli giving her one of her usual filthy looks. 

 

“So I’m guessing you’ve seen this before,” said Tom conversationally to Andrea as she was returning Tardelli’s look in kind, “You a footy fan are you?”

 

“Yes,” confirmed Andrea, “A die-hard Liverpool supporter”

 

Tom slapped his hand against his forehead.  “Oh no! Say it isn’t so!”

 

“Uh oh, don’t tell me…” began Andrea slowly, “You support Man United?”

 

“You got it!” he beamed, “The mighty Red Devils!  But at least I am from Manchester, what’s your excuse?”

 

“Believe it or not I was actually born in Liverpool,” revealed Andrea.

 

Tom stared at her disbelievingly and Andrea saw Tardelli and Harry had swivelled round too on hearing the information.

 

“You’re a scouser? [9] ” asked Harry incredulously.

 

“Technically speaking I suppose,” agreed Andrea, “But I only spent the first six months of my life there, so it’s not like I remember it.”

 

“Ah,” remarked Tom beginning to understand, “So where did you move to?”

 

“My parents moved back to Sweden with work, to the city of Uppsala,” she answered.

 

“So they were Swedish then,” deduced Tom, “Now I know why you keep coming out with all those incomprehensible swear words,” he added, shooting a grin at Tardelli, the target of most of those words.  As he turned back to Andrea his brow creased again in confusion.  “But you don’t really sound very Swedish either, in fact you sound like you come from somewhere in the Home Counties.” [10]

 

“Are we all meant to sound like the Swedish chef or something?”

 

“Er…no…”

 

She just raised her eyebrows at him, knowing that was exactly what he thought, despite his denial.  “We didn’t actually stay in Sweden very long either, to tell you the truth.  We moved back to the UK just after my sixth birthday.”

 

“Blimey, sounds like you were all over the place.  So where did you end up that time?”

 

“Birmingham.  Though we stayed put there then, at least all the time I was at school.”

 

“Birmingham?” said Tom with slight distaste, “Lucky you didn’t pick up that accent.”

 

“I bet she went to some posh-nob private school,” muttered Tardelli, “Rather than mixing with the riff-raff at the local comprehensive.”

 

Andrea fixed her with a dark look, though she couldn’t deny the remark - she had been sent to a selective girls school by her parents, but it had hardly been her choice.  All the strictness of it had been hard to stomach and she would have been just as happy at a state school, though she had to admit she probably wouldn’t have been taught half as well there.

 

Sensing the slight atmosphere Tardelli’s comments had generated, Tom switched the topic back to football, having a long discussion with Andrea over the merits of their respective teams.  Every now and then Andrea’s eyes would flick to Tardelli who appeared to be quietly fuming the whole time.  As an advert break came on the television, Tom excused himself for a moment, Harry following him out the door on the pretext of getting something to eat.  That left Andrea alone with the glaring Tardelli.

 

Andrea stared back for a moment, the heat in the room palpable.  “Look, what is your problem, Belinda?” asked Andrea eventually, using Tardelli’s full first name in the knowledge that the other woman hated being called it.  True to form, she could see Tadelli’s jaw twitching in anger.

 

The dark haired woman got up from her seat, stalking slowly towards Andrea who rose to meet her.  Tardelli came to a stop directly in front of Andrea, only a foot or so between them.  She had to crane her head up to meet Andrea’s eye though, since she was a few inches shorter.

 

“Maybe I don’t like you moving in on things you shouldn’t,” she said with menace.

 

“Oh for Christ’s sake,” said Andrea rolling her eyes, “It’s not like I have any choice about being here.  We’re all in the same boat, can’t we at least try and get along?”

 

“That’s not what I meant.”  Tardelli’s voice was still deathly low.

 

Andrea looked at her in puzzlement.  “Sorry, you’re really not making any sense.”

 

“I wasn’t talking about you being at the base,” explained Tardelli, her lips barely moving as she spoke, her eyes never moving from Andrea’s face. 

 

“Well, what then?” demanded an exasperated Andrea.

 

Tardelli made a scoffing snort.  “Like you don’t know.”

 

“Believe me, I don’t!”

 

Tardelli looked like she could barely contain her anger, blurting out her furious words.  “I’m talking about you fawning all over Tom, shamelessly flirting with him!”

 

Andrea stared at her in incomprehension for a couple of seconds before bursting out laughing.  When she noticed that Tardelli didn’t look like she found it in the slightest bit amusing, she tried to reign in her mirth.  “Tardelli, in case you’d forgotten, I’m a lesbian,” she spelt out.

 

Tardelli’s ire was unabated though.  “So you say, but maybe you just fancied something different.”

 

Andrea couldn’t help it – she started laughing again, bringing up her hand to try and cover her merriment.  “I can assure you I am one hundred percent lesbian,” she said finally, “As lovely as Tom is, he does nothing for me in that department, we’re just friends.”

 

Tardelli maintained her intense regard of Andrea, though didn’t say anything.  Andrea hoped that meant she was beginning to realise her mistake.

 

“Why are you so interested anyway?” asked Andrea, before realisation dawned in a flash, “Oh! You’re jealous!

 

“I am not,” stated Tardelli, glancing away for the first time.

 

“You are!” crowed Andrea, “You like him!  Why don’t you say something to him?”

 

Tardelli flicked her eyes back to Andrea, uncertainty in them.  “Do you think I should?”

 

“Yes, why not?” urged Andrea, “What have you got to lose?”

 

“I could look like a total twat when he turns me down,” offered Tardelli, “And then we’d still have to work together.”

 

“Hmm, I guess that is a possibility,” pondered Andrea, “But I think he likes you too.”

 

“You do?” said Tardelli, unable to contain her excitement on hearing the words.  “You’re not just saying that?” she added more cautiously.

 

“No, no, he definitely checks you out when you’re not looking,” Andrea revealed, “And I know when someone’s checking out a woman.”

 

Tardelli laughed at that, and Andrea was glad that they seemed to have finally been able to break the tension between them.  Tardelli’s body language was suddenly much more relaxed and she took a couple of steps back to put a more appropriate distance between them.  “So have you never done it with a guy?” asked Tardelli.

 

“No, and never had the desire to either,” stated Andrea emphatically, “And don’t you dare even say something along the lines of ‘but how do you know you’re a lesbian if you’ve never slept with a man’.  Take it from me, I know.”

 

Tardelli put up her hands.  “I wasn’t going to say anything of the sort,” she insisted, “I was just curious.”

 

“So is that why you’ve been giving me the evils all this time?  You thought I was hitting on Tom?”  Andrea shook her head, laughing again.  She spotted that Tardelli had put her hands on her hips in a stance of annoyance, but could tell it was more for show than because she was really angry anymore.  “Sorry, sorry.  It’s not funny, of course not,” noted Andrea, still smiling.  “But hang on, though, you were mean to me as soon as I got here, long before I got friendly with Tom.”

 

“Yeah, well, I thought you were just some posh twit,” allowed Tardelli.

 

“And now?”

 

“I still think you’re posh, but maybe not quite such a twit!”

 

Andrea chuckled at the honest response.  “I suppose it’s a start.”

 

A sound from behind them indicated that one of the men had re-entered the room.  Seeing that it was Tom, Andrea leant closer to Tardelli.

 

“Here you go,” she said in a whisper, “Here’s your chance.”

 

Andrea made to get up, but Tardelli clutched her sleeve.  “Wait, where are you going?”

 

“Leaving you two alone!” replied Andrea with a sly wink, making it off the sofa and out the door past a slightly bemused Tom.

 

………….

 

 

Andrea sipped at her tea in the messhall, watching the first of the young soldiers arriving for their dinner.  It appeared the official part of their duties were over for the day as they smiled and joked while waiting to be served by Nathan and his fellow logistics personnel.  She sat alone, but none of the men or women came to sit with her once they had collected their food.  Andrea considered it strange how there seemed to be a divide between the sets of people stationed at the base, in particular the rank and file squaddies and the superhumans.  They did mix on occasion, such as in the rec. room, but where possible they seemed to like to stick to their “own kind”.   Scanning along the queue, she saw Lieutenant Chadwick who caught her eye in return, giving her a dirty look.  She wondered what the Major had said to him after the training incident.  She hoped he had gotten a good bollocking.

 

Continuing her sweep of the room, she took in the sight of Tom and Bel arriving together, smiling as they exchanged words.  Seeing Andrea they crossed to join her, bypassing the queue for food for the time being.

 

“If it isn’t Duransay’s very own cupid,” noted Tom jokingly as he sat down on the plastic chair opposite Andrea.

 

“I take it your little discussion this morning went well then,” said Andrea, casting a quick look at Bel.

 

“Indeed,” was all Tardelli said in return, though Andrea couldn’t fail to notice the smile on her face.  At least someone was happy and in love.

 

“Yeah, though I can’t believe Bel thought we were an item!” said Tom wagging his finger between himself and Andrea.

 

Tardelli gave him a playful punch in the arm, obviously not too pleased to be reminded of her mistake.

 

“Hey it’s not that far-fetched,” remarked Andrea with a laugh, “I am stunningly gorgeous after all.  What man could resist?”

 

“Shame you don’t want a man though,” Tom reminded her, “Though it’s true you could have your pick if you ever decided you wanted to give it a try.  Only yesterday I had to tell poor old Doc of your proclivities, when he started asking if I knew if you were single.”

 

Andrea laughed; she had suspected that Doc had a bit of a soft spot for her and Tom’s information just confirmed that.

 

“Maybe we can return the compliment,” suggested Tom, looking round the room a few times, “Find you a nice young army woman?”

 

“That’s all right,” insisted Andrea, “I think I can manage my own love life.”

 

As he got up to go and get him and Tardelli a drink, Andrea glanced round the room too, taking a bit more interest in the other women this time.  Her eyes had almost made a full circuit when they came to the door in time to see Major Jarvis and someone else officious that she didn’t recognise entering.  The Major was in a more formal uniform than usual and Andrea couldn’t help her eyes drifting downwards to where a pair of shapely calves extended from the skirt that formed part of it.  As if sensing the gaze upon her, the Major eyes flicked briefly to Andrea, the other woman smiling before turning back to her companion. 

 

“See anyone you like?” asked Tardelli.

 

Andrea almost jumped in her seat, not having realised the dark haired woman had been watching her.  “P-pardon?” she stammered.

 

“You were casing the room, I wondered if anyone had taken your fancy?” clarified Bel.

 

“Oh…er…no, not really,” replied Andrea with some relief.  Tardelli obviously hadn’t seen where her study had ended up, since she had her back to the door.  It had just been an offhand comment referring to all the women in the room in general and not a certain redhead by the door.

 

 “Who’s that, with the Major?” Andrea asked, regaining her composure.

 

Tardelli craned round in her seat.  “Oh, that’s Lieutenant Colonel Parsons,” she informed Andrea, “He’s the Major’s commanding officer.  He’s actually the one directly responsible for the base, though the Major basically runs it.  He only ever comes for flying visits every month or so.”

 

Andrea watched the older man for a moment as he chatted with Major Jarvis.  He was a few inches taller than the Major, and looked more like a kindly father than a hardened military officer.  He was about fifty-odd years of age, and had neat white hair and a slightly rotund figure.  The most striking thing about him were his bright blue eyes.  Suddenly something dawned on Andrea.

 

“Hang on,” she said, switching her attention back to Tardelli, “Lieutenant Colonel Parsons?”

 

Tardelli nodded, “Yep, he’s Tom’s dad.”

 

Andrea glanced over to Tom who was returning with his drinks.  She saw Tom take in the fact that his father was by the door and then just carrying on walking in Andrea’s, ignoring him.

 

“I’m guessing there’s some sort of history there?” Andrea whispered quickly to Tardelli before he got there.

 

“Yeah, I’ll fill you in another time, safe to say they do not get on.”

 

Tom remained silent as he sat back down, resolutely keeping his eyes away from the door.  Andrea drained the last of her tea before looking at her watch.

 

“Oh, I have to go and make a phone call,” she said, pushing back her seat.  Though it sounded like a feeble excuse to escape the rather uncomfortable atmosphere, it was actually true – she was meant to be calling her friend Maria.

 

Tardelli looked suspiciously at her and Andrea offered her an apologetic glance before hurrying out of the messhall for her quarters.

 

………..

 

Kate went over to the drinks cabinet in her office, pulling out two tumblers and the whiskey decanter. As she poured the golden liquid she saw the other occupant of the room taking up a seat on the couch next to her, overlooked by the large window. 

 

Even though it was dark outside, Lieutenant Colonel Parsons took a moment to glance out of it before speaking.  “So how are you, Kate?”

 

“I beg your pardon, sir?” she asked, placing his drink down before him but remaining standing herself for the time being.  Though he had used her first name rather than her rank, she wasn’t sure if this was going to be a friendly chat yet.

 

“Well, we’ve talked about the base, and the superhumans and the other personnel all day,” he outlined, turning from the window to look up at her, “But we’ve not really talked about you and how you’re getting on.”

 

“There’s not much to report really,” she said evenly, “Everything’s running fine, isn’t it?”

 

The Colonel eyed her for a moment with his piercing blue eyes.  “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

 

Kate turned away from him to avoid his gaze.  Normally it might have been considered rude to do such a thing to a superior officer but she had a feeling that this conversation wasn’t really from one officer to another.  She feared that it was something much more personal.  Subconsciously she found her eyes lighting on one particular picture on the wall that she was now facing.  It had been taken in Iraq just over a year ago, when her father was still alive.

 

“It was the anniversary of his death recently wasn’t it?” Parsons noted from behind her.

 

“Yes it was,” confirmed Kate quietly.

 

Silence enveloped the room as Kate stared at the smiling faces in the photograph.  They almost seemed to mock her with their joy.

 

Unable to look at it anymore, she turned back to the Colonel who was watching her with concern.  She came to sit next to him, offering him a reasuring smile.  “Honestly I’m fine,” she insisted, “All those counsellors were good for something.  I’m never going to forget what happened, but at least I’ve managed to come to terms with it.”

 

He simply nodded.  “You know if you do ever want to talk to anyone else though, then I am here.”

 

“Thank you,” said Kate sincerely, “But I think it’s easier with an independent person in a way, someone not so close to me.”  She paused for a moment.  “And someone who didn’t know him.”

 

It was Kate’s turn to stare out the window now as the emotions she usually kept so well hidden threatened to break through to the surface.  The Colonel didn’t say anything further for a while, leaving her to her contemplative thoughts as she gazed at nothing in particular in the night sky.

 

“He was a good man,” he said eventually.

 

“Yes, he was,” she agreed quietly, just about managing to get the words out past the lump in her throat.

 

“But more than that he was a good friend,” added Parsons, “And a good father.”

 

Kate bowed her head and closed her eyes for a moment.  She knew she had to get a grip of herself, since this was hardly going to be reassuring the Colonel that she was all right as she had maintained.  It wasn’t like it affected her ability to perform her duties normally, but Parsons presence in particular always seemed to have a way of bringing thoughts of her father to the fore.  She resolved that a change of topic was probably in order.

 

“Anyway, enough wallowing in the past,” she said dismissively, “There is something else I’ve been meaning to ask you about, connected with our new arrival.”

 

“Andrea Hallstrom?” he queried, “Is she still causing you problems?”

 

Kate had filed regular reports with the Colonel on Andrea’s progress, but had stuck to the facts, omitting anything about any personal character clashes.  However, he would also have had other general reports from Chadwick and various of the scientists.  Kate had little doubt which one of those was his source for thinking that Andrea was difficult.

 

“Nothing I can’t handle,” said Kate confidentally, feeling more like herself again now she had steered the discussion away from anything too personal.  “No, it was more related to what happened to her before she came here.   She wants to know about the accident at the warehouse, where all her the other police officers present were killed but she miraculously survived thanks to her dormant mutated gene.  As you know she did manage an impromptu off island sortee to meet one of her other colleagues recently…”

 

“Indeed,” noted the Colonel with a slight edge of disapproval.  Kate certainly hadn’t enjoyed having to inform him of that one.

 

“Anyway,” she continued, “Said colleague told her that the investgation has been closed to the police and the case papers transferred elsewhere.  As you can imagine she’s quite keen to know why and what’s happenning with the investigation.  I have admit to being rather interested too.”

 

Kate was surprised when the Colonel didn’t immediately respond.  Instead he got up from the couch, taking his drink with him and sipping at it as he paced across the room.  Eventually he turned round to face her.  “I’m afraid I can’t tell you what’s happening with the investigation, Kate.”

 

She eyed him suspiciously.  “But not because you don’t know, right?”

 

The Colonel glanced away, answering her question without words.

 

“What’s going on, Colonel?” she asked, curious.

 

“I’m sorry, Kate, but this comes right from the top.  The details surrounding the accident are on a need to know basis only.”

 

“And I don’t need to know?” she asked with a little annoyance creeping into her tone, “Andrea’s one of my operatives, under my command and my care.  If there’s something important I should know about that accident…”

 

“Major…”

 

“…then I think you should tell me.  It could affect…”

 

“Major!”

 

Kate finally stopped at the Colonel’s raised voice.

 

“I don’t like pulling rank on you,” he continued in a more even but deadly serious tone, “But I’m going to have to on this occassion.  I’m telling you as your commanding officer, and as your friend, to leave it.  You’re just going to have to take my word that it is being looked into.”

 

“By who?”

 

He didn’t answer, merely giving her a stern look to indicate she wasn’t getting any more.  When she just fixed him with an equally deathly stare he eventually sighed and came back over to the couch.  When he spoke, his voice was softer again.

 

“Kate, please, trust me, it is being dealt with,” he insisted, “Don’t push this.  You really can’t afford to make waves after what happened here six months ago.”

 

Kate gave him another severe look.  “You know I was willing to resign over that,” she stated, “If I’d known it was going to be used to beat me with whenever I questioned anything, then I would have.”

 

“I’m not beating you with it,” said the Colonel, trying to keep his tone calm, “I’m just trying to give you some friendly advice.  If you cause problems over this then I won’t be able to protect you this time.”

 

Kate weighed up her options for a moment before replying.  “Fine.  I’ll leave it for now, though I can’t promise anything on Andrea’s behalf.”  She didn’t like lying to the Colonel, but she could tell he was too tightly bound by the command structure to actively do anything.  Of course, she respected that structure too, she had dedicated her life to it and the army after all.  However, that didn’t mean she would blithely accept things when she smelt a rat.  She had other avenues she could pursue this through, she would just have to quietly follow those.

 

…….

 

 

An hour or so later, Kate rubbed at the back of her neck, easing the stiffness, as she waited for the lift to arrive.  It was days like this that she felt every one of her thirty-five years.  Having finally got rid of the Colonel, she thought that at least he had been suitably content with the way things were going at the base in general.  She just wished he would give her a bit more warning when he wanted to pay a visit in the future.  Not to mention the way they always ended up talking about her father whenever the Colonel did come to the base.  She supposed it was only natural since they had been best friends, and though she had told the Colonel that she had come to terms with his death, that wasn’t entirely true.  She still missed him desperately.

 

As the lift pinged to indicate its arrival, the sound of running footsteps behind her broke her sad thoughts.

 

“Major!”

 

She turned to see Lieutenant Chadwick hurrying down the corridor in her direction.

 

“We’ve got a problem,” he said, panting as he stopped before her.

 

Kate sighed – this was all she needed.  She had been looking forward to a nice relaxing soak in the bath with a glass of whiskey.  “What is it?” she asked tersely.

 

“It’s Andrea…,” he began hesitantly.

 

Kate felt a small constriction of anxiety in her chest - what had the young woman done now?

 

“Go on…”

 

“She’s gone off the island again.  Flown off under her own steam this time.”

 

Kate closed her eyes and exhaled slowly.  “Great,” she muttered to herself.  “When was this?”

 

“About ten minutes ago.  I thought you would want to deal with it personally, since you did last time.”

 

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” replied Kate, “Is her tracker still functioning properly?”

 

“Yes, luckily she only seems to have gone as far as Ayr – the movement’s stopped somewhere just to the south of town.  There is another problem, though.”

 

“Oh good,” noted Kate sarcastically.  “Well spit it out then,” she added when Chadwick seemed reluctant to continue.

 

“It’s the weather, the storm’s too bad to take the chopper, you’ll need to go to the mainland by boat.”

 

Kate sighed again, the crossing would be a rough one given the conditions.  “Well boat it is then.  Tell them to get ready, I’ll be down in five minutes.” 

 

As Chadwick dashed off, Kate took a moment to pinch the bridge of her nose in frustration.  Just when she thought they were making progress Andrea had to go and do something stupid like this.  She was going to be one sorry woman when Kate got hold of her.

 

………….

 

Kate struggled against the biting wind as she crossed the car park, pulling the collar of her coat up around her face in a feeble attempt to ward off the sheets of rain driving over the open ground.  She was certainly glad that she’d taken a few extra minutes to change out of the highly impractical skirt she’d been wearing as part of her number two uniform for the Colonel’s visit before she’d come out in the vicious weather.  She didn’t know why the army still insisted that female officers wore them for formal ocassions.

 

She had been annoyed when she had set off in search of Andrea, but now her anger knew no bounds.  She’d had to endure the three mile journey from the island to the harbour at Ayr in some of the roughest sea conditions she’d ever witnessed.  Normally her sea legs were pretty good, but even she had to admit to feeling a little queasy during the trip.  From the harbour she and one of the other soldiers had taken the car they kept waiting there out of town on Andrea’s trail.  Fortunately the young woman still hadn’t moved from her original position, which had turned out to be a remote pub up on the headland south of the town.

 

The door to the inn clattered noisily against its frame as Kate pushed it open, having to force it closed again against the wind.  She took a moment to shake the rain from her coat and hair, which hung limpy against her chilled cheeks.  Unsurprisingly the low-ceilinged bar was empty save for the barman and Andrea, who sat on a bar stool with her back to Kate, leaning heavily on the bar.  The barman shot Kate what she thought was almost a grateful look, the man no doubt guessing she was there for Andrea.  He descretely sidled away out a side door, leaving the pair of them alone.

 

Kate stalked over to the bar, clenching her fists to try and hold back her fury which was threatening to burst forth at any moment.  She stopped next to Andrea, staring at her downturned blonde head but not saying anything – she wasn’t sure she could be trusted to come out with anything civil.  Andrea didn’t seem to even realise Kate was there, hunched over the bar, morosely swigging at a pint of beer.  Kate noticed that Andrea’s power regulating armband was sitting on the bar, the young woman obviously having removed it.  That just added to Kate’s unease, knowing that Andrea could be so reckless as to remove the only thing that controlled her seizures.

 

Finally Andrea sensed the presence next to her and her head came round to look at Kate, her eyes blurrily trying to focus.  “Oh, hello,” she slurred almost incoherently, “Why don’t you join me for a drink? Barman!”

 

Andrea made a grand gesture towards the bar, only then realising there was no one there.  She cast her eyes around in drunken confusion.  “Hmm, he seems to have gone,” she observed with a shrug, “I suppose we could help ourselves.”

 

“I think you’ve had enough,” said Kate through clenched teeth.

 

Andrea was too inebriated to take in the menacing tone in Kate’s voice or the cold look in her eye.  “No, no, no, I can take a good few more yet,” she said waving her hand loosely, “I have the consti…conti….constit….,” Andrea stumbled over the long word, “…I can drink lots,” she settled for in the end.

 

“But not tonight,” stated Kate cooly.  “Come on, we’re leaving.”

 

Kate made to take Andrea’s arm but she shook the hand off almost falling off her seat in the process.  “Says who?” she shot back indignantly, “I like it here!”

 

Kate found her other hand drifting to her coat pocket where she had a strong dose of the inhibitor drug concealed – more than enough to nullify Andrea’s powers and most likely knock her out too.

 

“What have you got in your pocket, a gun?” queried Andrea, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.  Kate deduced that even in her drunken state the young woman’s observant nature had spotted the gesture. “Going to shoot me unless I come back with you?”

 

Kate decided she may as well be honest.  “It’s a strong sedative,” she informed the other woman.  “I don’t want to use it, but I will if you leave me no choice,” she added with just enough hint of threat to indicate she meant it.

 

“Ah I see!” exclaimed Andrea, “Want to pump me full of more drugs do you?  As if this isn’t enough!”  She picked up the regulator off the bar and slammed it back down onto the wooden surface noisily.  Kate thought it was fortunate that it was made of durable material.

 

That is for your own good,” Kate reminded her, “And you really shouldn’t take it off, unless you want to try and kill yourself.”

 

“Well maybe I do!” announced Andrea stubbornly, “I might have some control over that at least!”

 

Kate rolled her eyes and suddenly in that moment Andrea was on her.  She was quick and Kate futilely tried to stop the hand that had darted to her pocket, but it was too late.  Andrea triumphantly leapt back, clutching the sedative in its dispenser.  She tauntingly held it out between them for a moment before she flung it across the room with such force that it shattered against the wall, it’s contents spraying over the bare stone.

 

“Ha!” crowed Andrea, dancing from foot to foot, “Let’s see you stop me leaving now!”

 

She went to walk past Kate and out the door when Kate swiftly stuck out a booted foot.  Andrea tripped and fell with no coordination whatsover, landing heavily face first on the floor. 

 

Snarling angrily, she whirled round on the well-worn carpet. “You fucking bitch!”

 

Andrea leapt unsteadily to her feet, making a half-hearted swing for Kate with her fist.  Kate easily dodged under the flailing arm.  Andrea tried again, but Kate just side-stepped this time, sending the young woman careening past her and clattering into one of the tables, before she crashed to the floor again.

 

“We can keep doing this all night if you want,” said Kate standing over her with her hands on her hips, “Or we can get out of here?”

 

Andrea stared up at her balefully, showing no sign of moving from amongst the wreckage of the table.

 

Kate sighed wearily before reaching down and grabbing the collar of Andrea’s jacket, sticking her face up close to the other woman’s though the smell of alcohol on Andrea’s breath was quite overpowering.  “Get up, and get out that door now!” ordered Kate, “Before I decide to put my boot up your arse!”

 

Kate tugged on Andrea’s jacket and the young woman reluctantly clambered to her feet.  Kate shoved her in the direction of the door, before reaching back to the bar and picking up the power regulator.  “And put that back on!” she instructed irately.

 

Andrea took it with a sneer and shoved it in her pocket.  Kate couldn’t be bothered to make an issue of it any further, at least they had it should Andrea have a seizure.  As soon as the door to the pub was opened the driving rain hit them in the face again, and Kate bowed her head as they crossed silently to the car where Private Thompson was dutifully waiting.   Getting in the back, Kate ordered him to take them back to the harbour and he set off slowly through the raging storm, taking it carefully on the twisting cliffside road.

 

Kate sat for a moment, grinding her teeth, but the short cold walk to the car had done little to subdue her anger.  Andrea’s continued sullen obstinace was only fuelling it further, as the young woman sat with her arms crossed in an open show of defiance.

 

“So here we are again then,” commented Kate icily, “Am I the only one with a sense of déjà vu?”

 

“It does seem somewhat familiar,” replied Andrea nonchalantly, refusing to look in Kate’s direction.

 

“Is that it?” demanded Kate, bristling,  “No apology no excuses?  I cannot believe you!  I thought I made it clear last time why you can’t just leave the island, but, oh no, you just have to do what the bloody hell you want don’t you?” 

 

“Yes, that’s right!” Andrea shot back caustically rising to meet Kate’s anger, “You’ve obviously got me all worked out - I don’t give a shit about anyone else!”

 

“Obviously not!” shouted Kate.  “Dragging me out here again after you.  You think this is how I like to spend my time, chasing after petulant children?”

 

“Yes, yes I fucking do!”  Andrea’s blue eyes were suddenly sharp again as they shot to Kate to pin her in place.  “I think you just love controlling us all like your little pets!  I think it gives you a thrill, using your power over us.”

 

Kate seethed.  “You are so…so…”

 

“What?  Obnoxious?  Annoying?  Selfish?  Come on spit it out, let’s have it all!”

 

“Yes!  All those things and more!” agreed Kate furiously, “I don’t know why I waste my time on such and ungrateful bitch!”

 

“I don’t either,” noted Andrea scornfully, “I’m obviously a hopeless case, you may as well just lock me up when we get back and have it done with.  Pump me so full of your drugs that I can’t use my powers.  Then I’ll be no threat to you or anyone will I?”

 

Kate stared back at her, a deep fire in her eyes.  “Don’t tempt me.”

 

The silence pressed in opressively again as both women maintained their intense regard of each other without speaking.  Neither appeared willing to back down and look away.  The car suddenly jerked to the side, breaking the still of the moment, before resuming its straight course down the road.

 

“Careful Thompson,” noted the Major to the man in front of her.

 

“Sorry, Major,” he called back over his shoulder, “This weather is trecherous.”

 

Kate turned back to Andrea.  “Here I was thinking we had made some progress again,” she noted with an air of resignation, “But every time I think we’ve taken a step forward we seem to end up taking two or more back.”  She paused to shake her head.  “So was there actually any reason for this latest escapade?”

 

“I don’t know,” shrugged Andrea insolently, “I fancied a drink?”

 

“Don’t give me that crap!” yelled Kate.  She actually saw Thompson flinch in the driver’s seat at her sudden outburst.  “I’ve had just about enough of your rebellious bullshit!” she outlined furiously, “I’ve been lenient on you so far, believe it or not.  But this is it, no more nice Major!”

 

“You were being nice before?” Andrea wondered sarcastically

 

“Come on,” continued Kate, ignoring the comment, “I want to know what you were doing out here.”

 

“I’ve told you - I just fancied a drink,” insisted Andrea, jutting her chin out obstinantly.  “Can’t I want to get off your fucking island every once in a while?  Get away from you and all your fucking cronies?”

 

Kate gripped her hands together in her lap to resist the urge to lash out.  “I don’t believe you.”

 

“I don’t give a flying fuck what you believe!”

 

Kate felt her blood boiling – no one ever dared talk to her this way.  “Were you hoping to meet your friend Maria again, is that it?”

 

“Ha!” cried Andrea glancing to the ceiling, “You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried.”

 

“Really?” challenged Kate doubtfully, “I think you’re so desperate to find out about this accident that you’re willing to ignore any rules or regulations that might stand in your way.”

 

“You know nothing,” seethed Andrea.  Her head was bowed slightly as she looked at Kate so that her pupils peered out menacingly from the tops of her eyes.

 

“Well why don’t you enlighten me?” suggested Kate combatatively.

 

Andrea kept her mouth tightly shut, breathing heavily through her nose.

 

“No?” Kate wondered, raising her eyebrows, “Can’t do it?  It’s just the same old selfish bollocks as before isn’t it?”

 

“No!” spat Andrea adamantly.  “You want to know do you?” she demanded, leaning closer to Kate.  Her face was hovering mere centimetres from Kate’s now but Kate didn’t back down even when the hot breath hit her cheek.  “Ok, I’ll tell you why I wasn’t meeting Maria.  I wasn’t meeting her because she’s dead!  Did you hear me?  She’s fucking dead!” she screamed again, just in case Kate had missed the point.  “All right?  Satisfied now?  Now leave me the fuck alone!”

 

And with that she swung away from Kate to stare at the raindrops sliding down the outside of the window.  Kate was momentarily dumbstruck, all the wind taken out of her great fury in one easy blow.  Now all she felt was very stupid and insensitive.  Though she did consider that she could hardly have known that her friend’s death was what had upset Andrea and caused her to flee the island.  It did occur to Kate that Andrea must have heard the news via phone at the base, which meant one of her people would also have heard it.  She had a sneaking suspicion that Lieutenant Chadwick was that person and that he had deliberately omitted that crucial piece of information  when telling her of Andrea’s departure. 

 

Still, even then she supposed she had hardly given Andrea much of a chance to explain things.  She had turned up at the pub bristling for a fight and Andrea had been more than willing to oblige.

 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” she remarked softly.

 

“Yeah, sure you are,” replied Andrea, keeping her eyes fixed on the window.  “You’re probably happy that I’ve lost my outside contact now.”

 

“No, of course not,” insisted Kate, dismayed that Andrea could think that, though she also knew it was probably just the grief talking.  “I’ve lost people close to me, I would never wish that pain on anyone.”

 

Andrea didn’t reply, but Kate could see her jaw twitching behind her damp blond hair where she was biting her lip.

 

“What happened?”

 

Kate thought for a minute that either Andrea hadn’t heard or just wasn’t going to reply, but finally she started speaking in quiet haunted voice.  “It was just so pointless, so stupid,” she whispered, “She’d stopped someone for a random search and they…they stabbed her…just like that, out of the blue.  One minute she was just going about her job like every other day and the next minute…”  Andrea trailed off, her forehead now resting against the glass.

 

Kate wasn’t entirely sure what to do, faced with this new vulnerable Andrea.  Though it seemed like scant comfort, she reached out to put a hand on the young woman’s shoulder.  She was worried that Andrea might shake it off, but she didn’t show any sign at having even noticed it sitting lightly there.

 

“I’m sorry, I truly am,” offered Kate feebly.  “You two were good friends?” she asked for want of something better to say.  She knew from bitter experience that it didn’t really matter what she said, it wouldn’t help.

 

Andrea nodded, eyes still away from Kate.  “We’ve known each other for years, we were a right pair at Hendon, couldn’t keep us apart…” Andrea’s voice caught at her recollections.

 

Kate found a lump mounting in her own throat in the face of Andrea’s sorrow, especially so soon after the memories that had been stirred earlier that afternoon.  “I know what it’s like, to feel that hollow feeling in your heart when someone you love has been taken from you.”  Kate hoped she didn’t sound trite, it was hard for her trying to draw on her own feelings but she wanted Andrea to know she wasn’t alone.  “You feel like it’s never going to go away, like there’s no way that great gaping hole can ever be mended.  But it will heal.  It’s no consolation to you now, and it’ll take a while, maybe a long time. But it will heal, with help from others.”

 

Kate didn’t want to outright say that she was willing to be one of those ones to help, not so soon after they had been screaming the odds at one another.  Andrea might have thought it insincere.  She hoped instead that the remark was open enough to interpretation.

 

Andrea’s voice was faltering when she spoke.  “I just feel so useless, cut off out here.  I should have been there for her.” 

 

Andrea went quiet again for a moment and Kate wondered if she was going to say any more.  Peering through the gloom Kate suddenly realised why Andrea had stopped talking - she was crying.  Ever so quietly, perhaps trying to hide the fact, but she was crying nonetheless.  Small, silent sobs that shook her shoulders.  Andrea’s face finally turned back to Kate and she could see the tears slipping out of her blue eyes and tracking down over her smooth cheeks. 

 

“I should have been there for her…,” repeated Andrea numbly.  Her watery blue eyes bored into Kate, pleading with her for help.  Kate felt a sympathetic jab in her heart, squeezing the young woman’s shoulder under her hand.  It seemed like such an ineffectual gesture.  She should do more, hug her…

 

Without warning there was the sudden sound of screeching followed by a loud bang.  Then everything went black.

 

……

 

Andrea’s eyelids fluttered as droplets beat down against them.  Her head was pounding mercilessly and she screwed her eyes shut for a moment, slowly becoming aware of her location.  Her left cheek was cold, wet and it was pressed up against something hard.  Her other cheek was being pounded by what Andrea’s swimming mind finally gauged was rain.   That wasn’t the only thing making her face wet, she groggily realised, there was something warm trickling down from her forehead too.

 

Andrea let out a groan and slowly peeled herself away from the ground into a kneeling position.  Opening her eyes, she blinked a few times as the driving rain battered her.  She tentatively  reached up to her sore head.  As she drew her fingers back, she was just able to see the red stickiness there in the near pitch black of night. Rubbing at her muddled head, she tried to work out how exactly she had come to be lying in a field in the middle of nowhere. 

 

She recalled how she’d been sitting in the car with the Major, talking about Maria.  She’d had the distinct impression that the Major was about to hug her when everything had gone crazy.  The next thing she knew she was lying on the soggy ground.  So if she was there, then where the hell was the car?

 

Andrea unsteadily staggered to her feet, almost being knocked from them by a another forecful gust of wind.  She was still feeling the affects of all the alcohol she’d drunk earlier, though a car crash went a long way to sobering you up she grimly thought.

 

“Hello?” she cried against the lashing storm, “Major?”

 

There was no reply apart from the sound of the wind whipping the rain across the open ground.  Andrea could barely see two feet in front of her and most certainly couldn’t see any sign of either a car or even a road for that matter.  She supposed all she could do was pick a direction and hope it was the right one.

 

She traipsed through the cloying mud of the field while the unceasing rain continued to soak her clothes.  The drenched garments clung to her body now, and she let out a shiver as the wind bit through them.  She felt so tired, but she had to keep going until she found the car and the Major.  All the drink she’d consumed probably didn’t help her fatigue, but she had to push all that aside, and concentrate on the task at hand.

 

Just when she thought she was going to be stumbling aimlessly around the Scottish countryside forever, Andrea spotted two deep gouges in the muddy earth.  They pointed a trail on down a slope to a river that flowed at the foot of it.  There she finally saw the car, or at least half of it.  The water obscured the rest of the vehicle, at a level that splashed over the bonnet. 

 

Andrea slithered frantically down the slope, slipping onto her backside several times and almost falling the last few steps.  At the bottom she didn’t hesitate, plunging straight into the river, gasping at the coldness of it.  She waded through the fast flowing waters to the right hand-side of the car where the Major had been sitting, clinging onto the bodywork to stop the river dragging her away.  The door had been ripped right away from the frame, exposing the inside of the car, but Andrea could see that the Major was still sitting there, her seatbelt having kept her in place.  The bottom half of her body was below the waterline and her eyes were closed, her head lolling back against the headrest.

 

Though it was dark, Andrea could see the sallow paleness of the Major’s face and the rivulets of blood running down her cheek from a gash in her temple.  A horrible sick sensation swept through Andrea and she quickly reached out her fingers.  As she touched the skin at the other woman’s throat Andrea let out a sigh of relief – there was a pulse.  Suddenly the Major groaned, causing Andrea to jump and hastily pull back her hand.

 

The Major’s eyes flickered unsteadily open.  “Andrea?” she asked uncertainly, seeing the young woman leaning in the door.  “What happened?”  She tried to shift in her seat, letting out a sharp cry of pain.

 

“Easy,” said Andrea, putting some stilling hands on the Major’s shoulders.  “We had some sort of accident, I don’t really know what happened.”

 

The Major glanced up at her again, seemingly finding it hard to focus.  She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths.  “Is Thompson all right?”

 

Andrea realised she had completely forgotten about the other occupant of the car.  “I don’t know,” she admitted, “Let me just check.”

 

Andrea clawed her way along the side of the car against the current of the river that tugged heavily against her clothes.  The young soldier was leaning forward, his head resting in the remnants of the airbag that had erupted from the steering wheel.  The window was shattered so Andrea was able to reach in to check for signs of life.  As she ascertained that he was indeed breathing, she noticed how the windscreen was fractured too – no doubt how she had ended up being flung from the car.

 

She came back round to the rear door.  “He’s alive, beyond that I don’t know.  I don’t really want to move him for now just in case I do more damage.”

 

The Major was grimacing as she reached forward under the water.  “No, probably best not too,” she agreed, flopping back against the seat in frustration.  “Well, it seems my leg is stuck fast, though I can’t see a bloody thing.”

 

“Do you want me to try and free it?” offered Andrea, “I could probably break whatever is pinning it in place.  I might as well make some use of having these super powers.”

 

She made to delve under the water when the Major shot out a hand.  “Hang on, did you put the regulator back on?”

 

Andrea immediately realised that she hadn’t and fumbled in her pocket for it – the last thing they needed was for her to have a seizure in the middle of the river with no one capable of helping.  “Shit!” she cursed after groping in the sodden material, “I’ve lost it.  It must have been when I got thrown from the car.  Great, it could be bloody anywhere!”

 

“Never mind,” said the Major, “I’ll just radio for the emergency services.  There should be a handset up front somewhere.”

 

Andrea struggled though the water again to retrieve it and the Major called in the accident.  The atrocious weather meant they would have to wait for the regular ground based services, rather than the speedier army helicopter.  Having made the call, the Major lay back against the seat, her breathing shallow as if just making the call had been a great effort.

 

“Are you sure you’re all right?” asked Andrea in concern.  She was finding it increasingly hard to stand against the raging torrent and she perched herself on the edge of the Major’s seat instead, bracing her leg against the door frame.

 

“You mean apart from sitting in a freezing river with a pounding head and a crushed leg?”  remarked the Major ruefully.

 

“Sorry, stupid question,” noted Andrea as she tried to push her soaked hair from her face with numb fingers. 

 

“No, I’m sorry,” said the Major more gently this time, “I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful.”

 

“Indeed, I thought I was the ‘ungrateful bitch’.”

 

The Major actually made a small chuckle at Andrea’s attempt at a joke, wincing again as she did and bringing her hand to her head.  The blood was still running freely from the wound on her forehead, matting the auburn hair that flopped lankly against her face.  Her hand splashed listlessly back into the water as she made another moan.

 

“How long did you say they were going to be?” asked Andrea, her concern for the Major growing.

 

When there was no reply, Andrea feared the Major had actually lost consciousness, but eventually the blue-grey eyes struggled open.

 

“Twenty or thirty minutes,” the Major informed her trying to inject some of her normal steel into her voice.  “They’ve got to come from Ayr and as you know the weather’s not the best.”

 

Andrea nodded.  She didn’t like just sitting and waiting when the other woman was obviously in pain.  For the second time that day she felt completey useless.  She had seen plenty of car accidents in her time, of course, but they were always strangers who were injured, not someone you…

 

Andrea stopped her thoughts abruptly - she had been about to finish with ‘…someone you care about’. 

 

She frowned to herself as she considered whether it was true, or whether her anxious mind was just playing tricks on her.  Fortunately the Major’s voice broke in again, before she had to think about it for too long.

 

“I just wanted to say sorry again,” she said, “For leaping down your throat at the pub.  I really didn’t know about your friend.  I just assumed it was you being your usual pain in the arse self.”

 

Andrea laughed, partly to relieve her anxiety.  “No, I’m the one who should apologise.  I shouldn’t have just left the base like that, no matter what happened.  All I could think of was getting away, being on my own.  And then of course I have these new powers that make it possible for me to go pretty much anywhere - so I did.”

 

“You flew all the way to the mainland then?”

 

Andrea thought she detected a faint air of admiration in the tone.  “Yes, though I have to say there were a few dodgy moments when I almost ended up in the sea thanks to that fierce wind.  It was pretty stupid of me really.  I only discovered I could fly a couple of days ago and here I am acting like it’s a piece of piss, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.”

 

Andrea wasn’t entirely sure why she was confessing her idiocy to the Major, concluding that it could still be the fading affects of the alcohol clouding her judgement.

 

The Major seemed impressed with her honesty though.  “At least you can admit you don’t know it all.  And that’s what we’re here for - to help you understand and master these abilities.”

 

“To help me learn how to be superhuman?”

 

“Something like that,” agreed the Major, offering Andrea a weak smile despite the situation.

 

Andrea shivered again as the water licked at her chest, and it was then that an alarming thought struck her.  Only a couple of moments before it had been licking at her waist.  Andrea looked round the car to check she wasn’t mistaken. “Helvete!”

 

“What is it?” asked the Major, alerted by Andrea’s cry.

 

“The water – it’s rising!” revealed Andrea frantically.

 

The Major glanced down at her body to see the choppy surface now lapping just over the swell of her chest.  “You’re right,” she concurred grimly.

 

“We have to get you out of here!” cried Andrea struggling to her feet in the deepening river.

 

Without waiting for the Major’s consent, she took a deep breath and dipped below the surface, searching out the Major’s leg where it was trapped.  Her hands fumbled down over the other woman’s thigh and knee, having to go by touch since she couldn’t see a thing in the murky water.  She could feel jagged metal and soft flesh, but it was hard to determine which way to try and pull.  If she got it wrong she could wrench the metal right through the Major’s leg by accident.  She shot up to the surface momentarily, gasping for air.

 

“I can’t tell which way to move it to free you, not without being able to see,” she said hopelessly.

 

The water was rising faster than ever now, reaching up to the Major’s neck.  She titled her chin up slightly to keep it out of the water so she could breath.  “You shouldn’t be trying to use your powers anyway – you could black out under the water!”

 

“Oh, what? So I’m supposed to just sit by and watch while you drown?” replied Andrea incredulously.

 

“I’m not going to ask you to risk yourself on my behalf,” said the Major adamantly, having to spit some water from her mouth as she did.

 

“You don’t have to.”

 

“Andrea, wait, there’s no need…”

 

The Major’s words were cut off as Andrea plunged under the water again.  The current was yanking at her strongly now but she determinedly planted her feet in the mud, seeking out the bottom of the car.  If she couldn’t free the Major, then she’d just have to get her out of the water, car and all. 

 

Straining to balance herself, Andrea hefted the vehicle from the riverbed, lifting it through the water as she rose to a standing position.  Accessing her power came completely naturally, like it was perfectly normal to be able to pick up an entire car.  Then she pushed off from the ground, breaking up through the surface of the river with a stream of droplets in her wake.  She flew up to the crest of the slope before deposisting the car back down on the grass with a thump.  

 

Andrea rested her hand on the frame of the broken door, breathing heavily.  “See, no problem, nothing to it,” she noted nonchalantly to the Major, though inside her heart was hammering out of control. 

 

The other woman stared up at her in amazement as the last of the river water drained from the car, leaving behind a scummy grime that caked the interior.  Andrea bent down to carefully free the Major’s leg, now able to see that fortunately the wound wasn’t too deep where the floor had warped and twisted around it.

 

As she stood again, Andrea just managed to offer the Major a smile before the pain tore through her. 

 

Andrea let out a strangled cry at the suddenness of it, her fingers clawing into the metal of the roof, mangling it in their grip.  The jagged edges dug into the palm of her hand, but the pain from that was nothing compared to that sweeping through the rest of her.

 

Screwing her eyes shut, Andrea tipped her head back and howled to the night sky as excruciating daggers of heat lanced through every muscle of her body.  This was worse than any of the other episodes – the unforgiving fire wrenching at her bone and sinew, burning and ripping as it cascaded through her. 

 

Gasping in agony, she staggered backwards, tumbling heavily to the ground.  Her face slapped hard against the soggy grass as she hit.  Another spasm rocked her shaking body, and she tried to bring her knees up to her chest as if that would help ward off the pain in some way.  It was like she was being torn apart from inside and all she could do was lie there and whimper pathetically, praying for it to stop, as the cold rain beat down on her cheek. 

 

Then suddenly there was warmth - strong arms wrapping themselves around her and pulling her close, penetrating through the haze of pain.  Struggling to open her eyes Andrea could just make out the Major through the blur of tears and raindrops.  She was looking down with concern as she cradled the young woman in her lap.

 

“Hold on, I’m getting help.” she said softly, reaching for something.

 

Andrea couldn’t respond; it was taking all her strength to fight against the raging fire consuming her body.  She closed her eyes again, resting her head limply against the Major’s chest.  The comforting arms around her tightened as she trembled once more with a fresh wave of twisting pain.  The Major’s voice drifted down to her over the swirling wind.

 

“This is Major Jarvis, I need an airlift straight away!  We’re just off the A719, about 2 miles south of Ayr.”   She paused for a moment as she received some sort of response from her radio.  “Yes, I know what the weather’s like,” she continued angrily, “Just do it!”

 

Andrea sensed a hand now, stroking her drenched hair soothingly.

 

“Just hang on, they’ll be here soon.”

 

Andrea desperately wished she could comply with the Major’s request, but as another bolt of pain ripped through her she slipped into unconsciousness in the other woman’s arms.

 

 

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CHAPTER 7

 

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The harsh white of the room hurt Andrea’s eyes as she prised them open.  She blinked a few times, the strip lights on the ceiling coming into focus and alerting her to the fact that she was back at the army base.  As consciousness returned, so did the aching soreness in her body, along with the memories of what had caused it.  She couldn’t help the shudder that passed through her as she recalled the intense, paralysing pain she had experienced out on the muddy field.  The last thing she could remember were the blue-grey eyes piercing through the gloom of the night and regarding her with surprising compassion in their depths.

 

Tentatively Andrea tested to see if she could sit up.  It was an effort, but she slowly shifted herself up the bed so she was leaning against the metal headrest.  As she had guessed, she was in the sickbay at the base.  She could see the bald head of Doc Whitman in the corner, the flickering light from his monitor reflecting off the lenses of his glasses.  He was the only other occupant of the room and Andrea found she was faintly disappointed at that.  Had she really expected to see those same eyes gazing down on her when she woke though?

 

Doc must have sensed her stirring, as he swung round in his seat at that moment.

 

“Ah, good, you’re awake at last,” he noted, getting up from his computer to come to her bedside, “How do you feel?”

 

“Like I’ve been trampled by a herd of elephants,” she replied sardonically.

 

“You’re lucky it was just elephants then,” he remarked with an air of chastisement, while checking the monitors by the bed, “And not a bunch of hippos and rhinos too.”

 

Andrea made a small frown at him.  “Great bedside manner as always, Doc.”

 

“Well, you will go and do such stupid things as using your powers when you don’t have your regulator on,” he continued in the manner of a teacher telling off an unruly pupil, “Are you trying to make it difficult for us to keep you alive?”

 

“No, but it wasn’t my fault this time,” she insisted, before catching herself, “Well, not entirely anyway.  I shouldn’t have taken the regulator off, I know, but…I had my reasons.  But once I lost it I was hardly going to sit by and let the Major drown just in case I had a seizure.”

 

“Just in case?” repeated Doc incredulously, “You make it sound like a small trifle.  One of these seizures could kill you.  In fact this one very nearly did.  You were lucky the Major was there with you.”

 

“Really?”  Andrea was intrigued to find out what had happened after she had passed out.

 

“Yes, she was bawling Chadwick out for dithering about sending the helicopter out to your aid.  Even when you got back here she was barking out the orders, not to mention getting completely in our way.”

 

Andrea’s brow furrowed once more, she wasn’t sure what he meant.

 

Doc noticed the puzzled look.  “She insisted on hanging round the sickbay to make sure you were all right,” he explained, “In the end I had to practically order her to go to bed herself.  You can imagine how that went down.”

 

Despite the dull pain that still wracked her body Andrea couldn’t help the small smile that crossed her face as she tried to picture Doc ordering the Major around.

 

“So what time is it now?” she asked, noting that she wasn’t wearing her watch or any other of the clothes she had been when she went to the pub on the mainland.  Instead she wore a medical gown, the draft up her spine noticeable.  She didn’t know why they insisted on making the things so impractical.

 

“It’s two in the afternoon, you’ve been out of it for about half a day,” he informed her.

 

Andrea started to swing her legs off the bed.  “Well, if you’ve finished prodding me, can I go back to my quarters now?”  She still felt as rough as hell, but she didn’t want to stay on public view in her weakened state.

 

“Hold on!” he cried trying to stop her exit by ineffectually putting his hands up.

 

She had made it up off the bed and was wobbling unsteadily on her feet past him when the doors to the medical bay swung open.  Andrea just had time to see it was the Major before her knees started to give way and she staggered forwards.  The Major was quick though, catching her before she hit the hard floor.  The Major arms were surprisingly strong, and Andrea had a momentary flashback to the night before and lying in those same arms as they cradled her and comforted her through the pain.  Coming back to the present, Andrea suddenly felt the Major’s fingers grazing across the bare skin of her back where her gown gaped open as she tried to get a better hold to keep Andrea up.  Andrea found her feet, pulling away and trying to pull her gown around herself as best she could.

 

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” asked the Major.  The voice was stern, but with an underlying current of concern.

 

“To my room,” Andrea replied matter-of-factly.

 

“Not in that condition you’re not,” the Major replied, “Doc, what are you doing letting her leave?”

 

“Like I could stop her,” he replied rolling his eyes, “But be my guest, you have a go.”

 

The Major’s eyes narrowed at him.  It appeared she hadn’t forgotten the night before and didn’t welcome his sarcasm now.  “Can you give us a moment then?” she said, staring at him the whole time.

 

He glanced between the two women before sighing and going back to the far corner of the room, out of earshot.

 

As soon as he was gone Andrea started for the door once more.  “Right, well, I’ll be going then,” she said.

 

The Major’s hand shot out, though it’s grip of Andrea’s arm was gentle.  “You don’t have to pretend you’re all right for me,” she said quietly.

 

Andrea almost fired back a response that she was perfectly fine but bit it back.  She could see the soft look in the Major’s eyes and realised there was little point in putting on a façade for the older woman.  She had already seen Andrea at her most weak and vulnerable anyway.  Plus Andrea didn’t think she could actually make it back upstairs without help, and collapsing in the corridor would be infinitely more embarrassing than backing down at this point.  So she stumbled back over to the bed and plonked herself down.  Not only did her gown have a huge slit up the back, she noted, but it was also rather short, sitting just above her knees as she waited on the edge of the bed for the Major to join her.

 

Andrea glanced over as the Major lowered herself onto the covers, the colour of her uniform trousers matching that of the blankets.  “Have you come to tell me off too then?” asked Andrea.

 

“No, I came to thank you.”

 

Andrea was confused - this was not been what she had been expecting.  “I beg your pardon?”

 

“I said I came to thank you,” the Major repeated, “For saving my life.”

 

Andrea found herself at a loss for words for a change.  “Er…you’re welcome,” she managed eventually and rather stupidly.

 

“Not that hard is it,” the Major commented cryptically.

 

Andrea looked at her curiously, her fingers fidgeting distractedly with the hem of her gown, trying to pull it down to maintain some modesty.  Not that she was usually bothered about such things, but for some reason it seemed appropriate in front of the Major.

 

“Being civil,” the Major outlined, “It’s so much easier than all that bickering isn’t it?”

 

“I suppose it is,” conceded Andrea.

 

The major waited for her to continue, and before she knew it Andrea’s next words seemed to work their way out of their own accord.  “Actually, I wanted to thank you too.”  Now she had said it, Andrea supposed she had better put it in context some way.  “You know for…helping me out…when I…” she tried to explain before trailing off, finding it hard to admit to her weakness even though the Major had been there.

 

“It’s all right you can say it, I won’t think any the less of you,” the Major disclosed, “You’re seizures are a fact of your mutation; you don’t have to be ashamed.  It was very brave of you to use your powers like that, knowing the risks.” 

 

“Brave or stupid,” suggested Andrea.

 

“Why are you trying to put yourself down?” the Major asked, shaking her head, “Don’t you want anyone to know you might help someone else for no other reason than simple compassion or kindness?”

 

“And what makes you think that’s why I did it?  Maybe I just didn’t want to chance getting blamed for killing you?”

 

“I don’t believe that for a moment,” the Major claimed.  “How are you feeling anyway?

 

“I’m all right.”

 

“And really?” the Major pressed, not taking her eyes off Andrea.

 

Andrea wondered why it was she now found it impossible to lie to the other woman, at least convincingly.  She supposed a shared near-death experience was the sort of thing to tear down a few barriers.  “Like crap,” she admitted eventually, giving in under the Major’s intense gaze.

 

The Major nodded sympathetically.  “Well, take your time recovering.  You won’t be bothered down here, in case you’re worried about that.”

 

“But everyone knows what happened?”

 

“Not all the details, no.  They know you went off base, they know I brought you back and that you had a bit of a problem with your powers but that’s it.”

 

Andrea digested the answer.  “So they don’t know why I left?”

 

“No,” the Major replied simply, “That was your private business, hardly something I was going to share with everyone.”

 

“Thank you,” said Andrea genuinely.

 

Andrea hadn’t really thought about Maria until now, but now the reasons behind her behaviour of the night before came crashing back in on her.  She went quiet as recollection of her friend filled her mind.  The tears that started to well up were hard to hold back and she had to take a couple of shuddering breaths as she did.  It was then that she felt the warm hand on her shoulder, stroking gently.

 

“I know I didn’t really know Maria,” the Major said softly, “But I wanted to say sorry again, and if there’s anything I can do…”

 

Andrea didn’t register the words immediately.  She was too busy concentrating on the calming effect of the simple stroking gesture and suddenly remembering how the Major had so nearly made a much more profound one back in the car.  Andrea found herself wishing for the Major to hug her now.  She supposed she just needed any comfort she could get at that moment.

 

“Actually, there is…” she said slowly. 

 

She almost expressed her wish of a moment before out loud, but knew that the Major was hardly going to go around hugging the people under her command.  That dark night in the back of the car had been a split second in time; one when anything had seemed possible.  They were back in the harsh light of day now.

 

“Go on,” prompted the Major.

 

Andrea asked the other thing on her mind instead.  “Would I be allowed off the base for something, officially this time?”

 

The major sucked in her breath.  Andrea knew she was most likely pushing it, and that this would prove a stern test of just how far the Major was willing to bend.  It would show if she really was as approachable and considerate as Tom kept making out she was or whether she would stick hard and fast to rules and regulations.

 

“That depends on what it is,” the Major responded warily.

 

Andrea gathered hope from the fact she hadn’t been shot down straight away.  “I was hoping I could go to Maria’s funeral.  I mean, obviously I don’t know when or where it is yet, but I would like to go.  Since I couldn’t be there for her when she died, the least I could do is be at her funeral.”

 

The Major looked away for a second as she considered her answer.  Andrea’s heart was actually beating that little bit faster, as she hung, waiting for the response.

 

The Major looked back up, fixing Andrea with her eyes before she answered.  “Yes, I think that could be arranged,” she said.

 

Andrea couldn’t help the small sigh of relief that escaped her lips.  “Thank you.”

 

“Though there is one condition,” the Major quickly added.

 

Andrea regarded the Major suspiciously.  “What do I have to do?”

 

“It’s nothing like that,” the Major reassured her, “All I ask is that someone goes with you.”

 

“Oh great,” said Andrea sarcastically, “One of your heavy-handed squaddies gets to come with me.  Very sensitive they are, I’m sure.  I suppose you want me to be handcuffed to them too, like some common criminal, just in case I leg it?”

 

“If you’d let me finish,” the Major interrupted, having to raise her voice slightly.

 

Andrea stopped her tirade, staring unflinchingly at the other woman.

 

“I was going to suggest that I come with you, unless there’s someone else from my staff you’d prefer.”

 

Andrea was totally blindsided by the offer.

 

“I understand what you’re saying about my people,” the Major continued, as Andrea sat dumbstruck, “But they are soldiers after all, not counsellors.  Hopefully I might be able to be a bit more inconspicuous and inoffensive.  But as I said, if you’d rather someone else…”

 

“No, you’ll be fine,” Andrea interjected, maybe a little too quickly.

 

“Good,” commented the Major with a smile. 

 

Andrea hardly heard the rest of the Major’s words as she continued speaking, checking on Andrea and reassuring her that there was no rush to get back to work.  She was far too preoccupied by the thought of a trip off the island with the other woman, even if it was for a sombre occasion.

 

………

 

It took little under a week for Maria’s funeral to be arranged and, as promised, the Major allowed Andrea the necessary time off for it.  Come the day of the funeral Andrea dressed in her smartest black suit and made her way out to the helicopter pad early in the morning.  The pad lay on the open ground outside the main complex building and the wind whipped keenly across the concrete, though for once it wasn’t raining. 

 

As she neared the military aircraft that sat waiting for her, the back door opened and the Major hopped out to greet her.  The wind caught her hair as soon as she did, pushing the ends of her auburn bob across her cheeks.  Andrea was quite surprised to that the Major was out of uniform, sporting a plain black suit, not dissimilar to Andrea’s own, though with one prominent difference.  Whereas Andrea wore trousers on her bottom half, the Major wore a form-fitting skirt, cut just below her knee.  Still that was more than enough to give Andrea a sight of the Major’s toned calves for the second time.  Andrea hadn’t realised until that moment that she had been keeping count.

 

Getting into the helicopter, the pair exchanged a cursory greeting but Andrea wasn’t really in the mood for a long conversation.  It was taking all her willpower to maintain her calm exterior and not submit to her sorrow completely.  She had done that in private, but she liked to maintain the illusion of control at least in front of others. 

 

She tried to concentrate on the details of the landscape as they flew south as a means of distraction, noting the changes from mountainous rocks to rolling hills to urban sprawl as they went.  The Major for her part remained unobtrusive as she had suggested she would and Andrea was grateful.  It could have been awkward, sitting in silence, but it wasn’t.  All she got from the Major was the sense that she was happy to leave Andrea to her private thoughts and not intrude.

 

Andrea recognised the suburbs of London from the air as they neared the closest military airfield to the crematorium.  The copter slowly descended and once on the ground they exited the craft to transfer to an unmarked black car to take them the rest of the way.  Andrea was surprised by the small nervous pang that skittered through her stomach on clambering into the back as the Major got in the other side.  The reminder of the night of their accident was just a little too obvious.  Glancing at the Major, Andrea could see a slight pensive look on her features too.  She had been so caught up in her own feelings about Maria that she had to remind herself that the other woman had also had a bad experience that night – she had nearly died too after all.  Andrea wondered if the Major had talked to anyone about it, or if she was so supremely confident and together that she didn’t need to.  She made a mental note to ask her about it at a more opportune moment.

 

After a winding journey through the typically heaving traffic of outer London, the gates of the crematorium loomed in front of them.  Andrea swallowed nervously as they drew up in front of the doors; it was getting harder and harder to maintain her composure.  Steeling herself once more she opened the door.

 

…….

 

Some time later, Andrea read the platitudes on the numerous bouquets of flowers that littered the ground, though they didn’t really do the woman that had been Maria justice.  Not that there was anything that could really do justice to someone who had been so vibrant and full of life she considered.

 

The rest of the congregation had moved off by now, and she was one of the last stragglers, having waited until now so she could come and have some time alone with her thoughts, without being bothered by people asking where she had been and what she had been doing for the last month or so.  She didn’t want such things to distract from what was supposed to be Maria’s day. 

 

Of course she had spotted a fair few eyes turning to note her presence at the start of the ceremony, even though she and the Major had taken up a position in the back row of the crematorium’s chapel.  The chapel was packed and quite a few of the attendees were fellow police officers who knew who Andrea was, if only in passing.  During the service, Andrea had avoided the stares, keeping her eyes resolutely trained on the ground, attempting her best to hold back her grief.  Most of the ceremony had washed over her - the hymns, the readings, the succession of friends and colleagues getting up to pay their respects and share their reminiscences of Maria.  Andrea knew they all meant well, and there had been a few times when the words had hit just that little too close too home.  At those times she had felt the tears threatening to spill again as they had done at intervals over the past week.

 

The Major had remained silently by her side throughout, leaving Andrea to her mourning on her own until near the very end.  Then Maria’s partner in the force had gotten up to speak.  Andrea knew him - they had been out for drinks and meals together, Mike, Maria and her on several occasions.  He was a good man, and Andrea knew Maria thought the world of him.  So when his voice caught during the middle of his speech, Andrea could feel his pain.  Here at last was someone who really knew Maria, not just one of her bosses who had been sent to give the official line.  Finally Andrea was undone and she allowed the tears to slip down her cheeks though she still never looked up.  Sniffing quietly to herself, she suddenly found a hand on her shoulder – squeezing, reassuring.  The Major hadn’t said anything; she didn’t need to.  It was enough to just know she was there.

 

Now they were outside, she had shown similar compassion by moving off somewhere while Andrea read the cards on the flowers.  Andrea heard some steps behind her and assumed it was the Major come to tell her it was time to go.  When she swung round she was momentarily stymied.

 

The woman in front of her raised her eyebrows.  “Not the kind of response I normally expect from you.”

 

Andrea gathered her wits again to reply.  “Sorry, I didn’t expect to see you here,” she explained, before realising some sort of greeting was in order.  “Hello, Meg,” she added, leaning forwards to quickly kiss her former girlfriend on the cheek.

 

“Hello to you too, Andi,” said Meg using the shortened name that a lot of Andrea’s friends did, “It’s good to see you, despite the circumstances.”

 

“You too,” replied Andrea automatically, though she wasn’t sure if it was true.  She was off-balance and unprepared for seeing Meg.  She found herself staring for a moment, noting that the other woman had gotten her hair cut since they had split up some six months previously.  Her near-black hair was now in a trendy jagged cut, revealing more of her face and her fine features.

 

“I can’t believe it happened,” remarked Meg, her dark eyes drifting down to the flowers, absently scanning them.

 

“No,” replied Andrea distantly.  Maybe Meg wouldn’t press her on anything else if she kept her responses short.  And maybe pigs would fly.

 

“Where have you been, Andi?”

 

“Meg, please, not now,” said Andrea quietly, “We’re here to remember Maria.”

 

“And I have.  We all have for the past week, but where have you been?”

 

“I’ve been busy.”

 

“Too busy for your friends?”

 

“That’s not fair, it’s complicated.”

 

“Really, and how complicated can something be that you’re not even around when your best friend dies.”

 

“I really can’t talk about it.”

 

“Now that’s convenient.  You disappear off the face of the earth for weeks then suddenly just swan back down here when it suits you?”

 

“Look, Meg, I don’t really know why I should have to answer to you - you’re not my girlfriend any more!”

 

The hurt look on Meg’s face confirmed to Andrea what she had already suspected – Meg was still hoping for some sort of reconciliation between the two of them.  It was never going to happen from Andrea’s point of view, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t at least be kind to the woman she had shared her life with for over two years.

 

“I’m sorry,” said Andrea, more gently now, “I didn’t mean to snap.  Believe me, I wish I could have been here.  I’ve played it over and over in my mind, thinking perhaps I could have done something to save her if I’d been around.  But…things have happened.  Things I’m not at liberty to explain.”

 

Andrea supposed she could try and explain the situation to Meg, since for once she didn’t have anyone listening in.  In fact this was probably the perfect opportunity to let someone else know where she was and what was going on.  Yet something held her back.  The Major had been kind enough to trust her on her own and it wouldn’t be right to betray that trust.  Not to mention the fact that Meg was notoriously bad at keeping secrets.  It would be round the other nurses at the hospital before you could say superbug.

 

“It all sounds very mysterious,” Meg noted, “Though it also sounds like I’m not going to get anything else out of you on the subject.”

 

“I’m afraid not,” confirmed Andrea.  “So, how have you been?” she asked for want of a better way of getting off the current topic.

 

“Fine, working hard as usual,” replied Meg.

 

“And outside work?”  Andrea pressed on receiving the non-commital response.

 

“Are you asking if I’ve got a new girlfriend?”

 

Andrea shrugged as an answer; Meg knew full well that was indeed what she was asking.  Even if she didn’t want to be with Meg anymore, Andrea couldn’t help but be curious.

 

Eventually Meg shook her head, “No, there’s no one new.  And how about you?  Was that woman with you…?”

 

The question trailed off and a look of confusion passed across Andrea’s face, the young woman having to think for a minute to deduce what Meg was referring to. 

 

“Oh, you mean the M…,”  she finally realised, stopping herself before she revealed the Major’s identity, or at least her rank and the fact that she was in the army.  “No,” she added, holding back a smile, “I can safely say she is not my girlfriend.”

 

Meg didn’t look convinced though.  “Really?  You looked very close during the service.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Andrea asked, puzzled.

 

“When she was stroking your shoulder.”

 

“She wasn’t ‘stroking’ it,” stated Andrea adamantly, “It was purely a comforting gesture.  She’s just a colleague, that’s all.”

 

“If you say so,” said Meg, “No need to get all defensive about it.”

 

“I’m not…” Andrea stopped, seeing immediately how she was proving Meg’s point.  “Look can we stop talking about her.”

 

“If you want, but is there anything you can talk about?  How about how you’ve been.  I did hear about what happened with your colleagues in the force.”

 

“You did, how?”

 

“From Maria of course.”

 

Andrea sighed.  “Of course.”   She didn’t know how could she have forgotten that Maria was Meg’s friend even before they had been.  It was Maria who’d introduced the pair of them. 

 

“I’m sorry, Andi, it must have been awful.  Is that why you’ve been away all this time?”

 

“Partly,” allowed Andrea.  It was funny how times changed.  Once upon a time she would have been baring her soul to Meg, or at least as much as she would allow herself to.  Andrea had always held something back, even then, unwilling to trust someone just that final step, to allow them to see the very depths of her feelings.

 

“You can talk to me, you know,” said Meg, as if reading her mind, “If you want to.”

 

“I know, and maybe I will, just not right now.  Everything’s still too raw, and what with Maria as well…”

 

Meg nodded.  “I understand, just give me a call when or if you change your mind.”

 

“Thanks, Meg,” said Andrea, reaching out to touch Meg on the arm.  “It does mean a lot to me, to know I do still have some friends, out…”

 

Meg caught the abrupt cut-off of the sentence.  “Out where?”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” said Andrea evasively.

 

“Ok,” said Meg, having worked out by then that there were some things Andrea just couldn’t discuss.  “By the way, I thought you might like to know, I’ve got Gerry.”

 

“Oh my god!” cried Andrea, slapping her forehead as she remembered her cat.  Maria had been looking after him.  “I’d completely forgotten about him.”

 

“Hmm, lucky for you some of us aren’t so forgetful,” Meg remarked, though it was a friendly admonishment, “Whenever you’re ready you can have him back.”

 

“Looks like I owe you again,” said Andrea with a smile, patting Meg’s arm once more.

 

……..

 

The Major paced across the car park, wondering how much longer she should give Andrea.  She checked her watch for what must have been the twentieth time and decided she’d probably had long enough.  They were already much later than they were supposed to have been, but since she was the boss no one was going to be complaining.  As she made her way round to the side of the building, she considered that probably wasn’t strictly true.  No doubt Chadwick would grumble as usual.  Sometimes she thought he forgot exactly who held the higher rank.  Or maybe he just forgot that he had been demoted prior to being moved to the island base, and held higher notions of his importance than he had in reality.

 

Rounding the corner the Major got a slight shock when she saw that Andrea was talking to someone.  She had thought all the other mourners had left, which was one of the reasons she’d agreed to let the young woman go off on her own for a while.  Neither of the them had seen the Major yet and she studied the woman talking to Andrea for minute, wondering who she was.  She was markedly different in appearance to Andrea, shorter with cropped black hair.  The pair of them seemed to be sharing a joke as Andrea smiled and then started stroking the other woman’s arm.

 

The Major had seen enough and approached to speak to them.

 

“Andrea,” she said as she came near, drawing both of their attention, “It’s time to go.”

 

Andrea looked a bit surprised to find the Major there, while the other woman had an entirely different expression.  She was regarding the Major with a mixture of suspicion and something else unidentifiable but not favourable.

 

“Right, yes, of course,” said Andrea, recovering.  “I’ll give you a call,” she quickly said to the dark-haired woman, giving her a peck on the cheek before she joined the Major.

 

As they walked back to the car, the Major could swear the mystery woman’s eyes were boring into her back the whole way.  She didn’t press Andrea on who she was; it was hardly an appropriate time for searching questions.  Though she had to admit she was keen to know, if for no other reason than to check she wasn’t a security risk. 

 

They sat in silence on the way to the airfield; the Major supposing Andrea was lost in her grieving thoughts once more as she gazed out the window.  The Major found her own eyes drifting to the countryside rushing by.

 

“You’re not going to ask who that was then?”

 

Andrea had surprised her by being the first to talk, and the Major turned to face her across the back seat.  Andrea had both eyebrows raised as she regarded the Major inquisitively.

 

“I didn’t like to pry,” the Major answered diplomatically.

 

“But you wanted to?”  Andrea seemed more interested than anything else.

 

“She was giving me a rather strange look,” the Major noted by means of an excuse for her curiosity.

 

Andrea actually laughed at that.  “Yes, I noticed that too.”

 

The Major waited for further explanation.

 

“That was Meg,” Andrea clarified, “My ex-girlfriend.”

 

“Right,” remarked the Major.  She’d heard rumours about Andrea’s sexuality not to mention the strange snippet of conversation with Tom and Harry in the messhall some weeks ago regarding lesbians.  Of course, she didn’t like to engage in idle gossip herself, though it seemed the gossip was true in this case.  “That doesn’t explain the dirty looks though,” she pondered.

 

“It doesn’t?” queried Andrea.  The Major stared back at her blankly and Andrea rolled her eyes.  “Do I have to spell it out?  I think she thought that perhaps you were my new girlfriend.”

 

“What?” exclaimed the Major, shocked.

 

“It’s all right, I set her straight, so to speak,” Andrea reassured her.

 

“Well, good,” said the Major, slightly unsure where to take the conversation at that point.

 

“You make it sound like a bad thing, being confused for a lesbian.”

 

“What…er….no.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with it…” the Major offered hurriedly.  She didn’t know what was wrong with her, it wasn’t as if she was a prude, but it was all she could do not to blush talking about such things with Andrea.

 

“I’m teasing you,” Andrea suddenly revealed with a wry grin, “To try and lighten the mood.”

 

“Oh, right, good one,” the Major remarked with a nervous smile.  She wondered if she could sound more like an idiot if she tried.  She needed to try and regain some control on the conversation.  “She was a friend of Maria’s too then, I presume?”

 

“Yes, they’d known each other since school.  It was Maria who introduced the two of us actually.  I think she was almost more upset than us when it didn’t work out.”  Andrea made a rueful laugh at the recollection before turning her head away to gaze out the window once more. 

 

Though all she had was the view of the back of her blond head, The Major could hear Andrea’s shallow breathing, guessing the memory had brought thoughts of her friend to the fore again.  

 

After a few moments of silence, Andrea swivelled back round.  “It probably seems silly to you, being so affected by a friend’s death,” she remarked.

 

The Major frowned.  “What do you take me for, some sort of heartless military robot?  I am human being; I do have some understanding of grief.”

 

“Sorry, of course you do,” said Andrea apologetically, “I didn’t mean to be rude, that came out a bit wrong.  I meant it more from the point of view that you must have lost people a few times in your line of work; they must prepare you for it.”

 

“The same could be said of the police force.  And believe me, no amount of knowing it might happen and preparation can ready you for the harsh reality of losing someone you care about or someone under your command.  It hits you just as hard every time, all those feelings of regret, guilt and remorse.”

 

Andrea was regarding her with interest, her pale blue eyes searching the Major’s face.  The Major suspected she had let the tone of her voice reveal her own recently rekindled emotions regarding her father’s death.  She tried to rein it in as she continued.

 

“What I’m saying is you don’t need to pretend it didn’t happen.  If you need any more time, or someone to talk to, just let me know.”  The Major suspected that Andrea would turn down the offer but she wanted to make it anyway.  The young woman still hadn’t sought any help over the death of her other colleagues and that had been over a month ago.  The Major considered that she would just have to keep gently pressing until Andrea was ready.

 

“I will, but not right now, ok.”

 

“Ok.”

 

“What I really need is a holiday,” commented Andrea with a shake of the head, “Some time away from all of this.”  The Major didn’t think it was a serious comment, more just an outward expression of frustration.

 

“Well, I can’t make any promises about holidays, but how about a day trip off the island?”

 

The Major wasn’t quite sure why she was making the offer, but now she had she could see that Andrea looked interested and not a little taken aback that it had been made.

 

“Not on your own, obviously,” clarified the Major.

 

“Obviously,” agreed Andrea, “Someone would need to come with me.”

 

They both knew what she meant, though the Major hadn’t necessarily intended that it be her originally.  Now Andrea had assumed that it was, though, she could see the sense in it and an idea was already forming in her mind.

 

“How do you feel about sailing?”

 

Andrea looked bemused.  “Sailing?”

 

“Yes, boat, sea, wind – sailing.”

 

“Well, I’ve never been,” confessed Andrea, “But I’m up for new experiences.  You have a boat don’t you?”

 

“Indeed I do, and I’m sure Mr Parsons has filled you in on all its details,” noted the Major with a small smile.

 

“He might have mentioned it,” revealed Andrea cagily, “So when do we set sail?”

 

“How about next Saturday?”

 

………

 

 

Andrea hurried down the steps to the ground floor lobby.  She was late.  She had been running on time but then had come the troubling decision over what to wear.  Andrea had never have been sailing before and didn’t want to make a faux pas by wearing something unsuitable – she hated to make mistakes.  Of course she could have asked the Major, but that would have been admitting defeat, so instead she’d used her powers of deduction and reasoning.  She was pretty sure that getting wet was most likely part of the deal, in which case something practical was definitely in order.  In the end she’d settled for a pair of navy combat style trousers – they would dry reasonably quickly unlike any of her jeans.  On top she wore a plain white t-shirt and a fleece jumper for warmth.  Though it was a sunny day, it was still only April and once they were out on the water it would no doubt be chilly.  Finally she wore a waterproof and windproof Karrimor jacket over the top.  The jacket was probably the most practical item of clothing she possessed.  She’d bought it on a whim when Meg had suggested a short break at a cottage in Wales, which included walking the hills.  Andrea had never been much of the outdoors type – she was too much of a city girl - but everyone made compromises when they were in love.  The driving Welsh rain that had battered them most of the weekend had only served to reaffirm Andrea’s belief that the countryside should be left to the cows and sheep.

 

Leaping down the last couple of steps, Andrea thought for a moment that she’d beaten the Major there after all.  It took a couple of seconds for her to register that the casually dressed figure by the main door was indeed the older woman.  Andrea actually found herself stopping in her tracks as she regarded the other woman, who hadn’t yet noticed Andrea’s presence.  The Major looked more relaxed than Andrea had ever seen her, even her bobbed hair seemed more carefree than usual.  The spring sunlight streamed through the large windows at the front of the building, flickering off the red strands.  The Major must have sensed the silent perusal as she swung round at that moment.  Andrea was completely unprepared for the broad smile that crossed the Major’s face – she had been expecting a rebuke for her tardiness.  It was only when the Major’s expression changed to one of bemusement that Andrea realised she was still staring.

 

“Is everything all right?” queried the Major.

 

“Yes, fine,” replied Andrea, crossing the last few steps to the Major, “Sorry I’m a bit late,” she added, trying to regain her composure.  Andrea noted that the Major wore similar clothes to her own – some hard wearing cotton trousers plus a red and black waterproof jacket.  She was pleased that it appeared she had picked her attire correctly.

 

“No problem,” said the Major, “It’s meant to be a day off, so there’s no need for schedules and timetables today.  But if you’re ready, the boat’s waiting to take us to the mainland.”

 

“Great, though I do have to warn you I know nothing about sailing,” Andrea told her as they made for the door.

 

“That’s ok, I’m sure I can whip you into shape in no time.”

 

Andrea quickly dampened down the meandering thoughts the offhand remark generated, following the Major out the door and turning for the dock.  “Before we go, I’d just like to thank you again, Major, for inviting me.  It’s good to get off the island for a break.”

 

“It’s my pleasure,” the other woman replied, “But we should get one thing straight before we go.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Since I’m off duty and this is meant to be a relaxing day out, I can hardly have you calling me Major all day – Kate will be fine.”

 

“It will?” asked Andrea, too taken aback to stop the words spilling out of her mouth.

 

“Is there a problem with that?”

 

Andrea found herself flummoxed for the second time that morning.  She didn’t know where her normal composure had disappeared to, but it was most disconcerting.  “Er, no, of course not…” she had to pause to get the name right, “…Kate.”  It seemed strange referring to the Major that way – it was so…personal.

 

The Major actually laughed at Andrea’s stuttering reply.  “There you go, not so difficult.  You know, sometimes I forget I have a first name with everyone calling me Major all day.”

 

Andrea wondered if the Major had ever allowed any of the other superhumans to call her by her first name.  Somehow she suspected not, since from what she had garnered from Tom she was the first to be invited anywhere off base by the Major.  The young man had practically fainted when Andrea had told him about her planned trip on the Dorset Flyer.  He had been angling for a ride on the boat for months without success and now Andrea had come along and in a few weeks had succeeded where he had failed.  Tom hadn’t been able to resist making some jibes about Andrea being the Major’s new favourite that Andrea had ignored.  At least she had ignored them at the time.  Now she couldn’t help replaying them in her mind and wondering if they were true.  The idea that they might be gave her a certain warm, smug sensation.

 

………..

 

Forty-five minutes later they were in Troon, making their way along a wooden jetty past a long procession of expensive look yachts that bobbed gently in the calm waters of the harbour.  Andrea did wonder exactly how an army Major could afford one of them.  However, she didn’t think she was quite friendly enough with the other woman yet for it not to be considered rude if she asked.  Finally the major stopped at the back of a sleek white yacht.

 

“Here she is, the Dorset Flyer,” said the Major with no small degree of pride as she gestured to the boat.

 

“She?” queried Andrea, looking at the inanimate yacht.

 

The Major made a small laugh.  “I know it’s not very politically correct these days, but boats will always be female in my mind and those of most other sailors too.  They’re far too temperamental to be anything else.”

 

Now it was Andrea’s turn to laugh at the comparison.  She glanced at the boat again, taking a moment to study it.  It was about thirty-five feet long, with a tall mast towering out from the centre of the boat.  The sail was down at the moment, and Andrea assumed it got unfurled once they were out in the clear water.  The were lots of ropes and wires running from the mast to various points of the deck, and she guessed she would be finding out what they were all used for in due course.  At the rear there was a sunken cockpit area that had a wheel in the centre and a seating area arranged around this.  A couple of steps descended from there to the cabin below deck.  Right at the back of the ship the boat’s name was emblazoned on the fibre glass hull, below which was the word “Weymouth”.  Andrea’s knowledge of boats just about extended to knowing that this was the port where the boat would have been registered.  She wondered if it held any particular significance, but again held back from asking what could be considered too personal a question.  The Major certainly seemed to be showing all the signs of extending the hand of friendship, if her relaxed demeanour was anything to go by, and Andrea guessed she would just see how things developed over the course of the day.  Maybe there would be a chance for more probing questions later.

 

Ironically, the Major was now literally offering Andrea her hand, having already stepped aboard.  Andrea tentatively put a foot on the gangplank and instinctively took the hand without thinking.  The Major’s fingers were surprisingly delicate, the skin warm and soft in Andrea’s grasp.  Having stepped onto the rear decking area, Andrea suddenly realised she had been holding on far too long and quickly let go, trying to hide the fact by making a throwaway comment.

 

“She certainly is impressive,” she said, casting her eyes along the boat.

 

The Major showed no signs of thinking anything untoward about Andrea’s clutching of her hand moments before.  “Thank you,” she replied with a smile, “Now, are you ready to work?”

 

……

 

It wasn’t long before Andrea knew why the Major had made the comment.  She had thought sailing would just involve a bit of sitting around on a boat, soaking up the sun while you pottered slowly across the sea having a nice, relaxing time.  She had been unprepared for the reality of all the ropes and levers she’d been required to pull, tighten and wind.  They’d only been out of the harbour for twenty minutes but the palms of her hands were already starting to ache, unused to the physical work.

 

“Can’t I have some gloves?” asked Andrea, securing a main sail rope around a capstan. Of course, she hadn’t known that was the name of the things the ropes went around until the Major had told her, but since leaving port Andrea had received a crash course in all things nautical.  Her mind was now awash with a gamut of sailing terminology from port and starboard bows, through to jibs, main sails and tacking.

 

“I’m afraid not,” answered the Major from her position at the wheel, “They might get caught in the winding mechanism and then it would be goodbye fingers.”

 

Andrea made a small grunt of disapproval, noting the smile that twitched at the Major’s lips as she did.  She made her way carefully back along the top of the boat, hopping down into the cockpit.  “When do I get a chance to drive?” she asked, looking eagerly at the wheel.

 

“Maybe in a little while,” allowed the Major, “Once the Captain’s satisfied you’re an able seaman.” 

 

Andrea could swear the Major had actually winked as she’d said the words. 

 

“For now I need you to go and tighten that flapping jib,” continued the Major.

 

Andrea stood up straight, making a theatrical salute.  “Aye, aye, Captain!”

 

The Major’s laugh was just audible over the wind as Andrea clambered to the bow of the boat to carry out the order.  Though Andrea was normally the first to challenge authority, she also knew when to defer to someone of greater experience and knowledge. 

 

Despite her earlier moaning, Andrea had to admit that sailing was proving to be much more exciting than she might have imagined.  She had only really agreed to come along to spend some time away from the base, but now she was there she was beginning to see the appeal of sailing.  It was certainly exhilarating – that sense of freedom as you sliced effortlessly through the waves was a powerful and uplifting feeling.  Even the cold wind whipping past her cheeks and tugging at her hair, along with the salty spray in her face only seemed to add to the ambience of it.

 

As she reached the appropriate rope she cast a quick glance back down the boat.  The contented look on the Major’s face as she looked out to sea seemed to suggest she was experiencing similarly calming sensations.  Andrea couldn’t make out her eyes, since the other woman wore sunglasses to protect from the glare of the sun off the waves, but her smile as her auburn hair flapped freely about her face was unmistakable.  Andrea knew she was staring again and turned her attention to the handle she needed to wind.  With her enhanced strength it was easy to overcome the resistance of the sail.  She was concentrating so hard on doing it right that she didn’t hear the first shout, only glancing up as the second, more frantic one came.

 

“Andrea! Look Out!”

 

It was too late for Andrea to avoid the swinging boom.  She caught a brief flash of white out of the corner of her eye before the metal pole thumped into her head.  She was catapulted straight over the guardrail, landing with a loud splash in the sea.  It was freezing.  Absolutely, bone-bitingly freezing.

 

Andrea flapped about frantically, trying to right herself as her lifejacket carried her to the surface.  Then she came to her senses, realising there really was no need to panic.  Not only was she a more than competent swimmer but, of course, she could fly too.  She flew easily out of the water, swooping over to the Flyer, which the Major was in the process of bringing about in order to pick her up.  The Major looked stunned for a moment as Andrea landed lightly next to her, as if she too had forgotten Andrea’s powers.  Then she was glancing anxiously around, scanning the horizon, before letting out a sigh of relief.

 

“What’s up?” asked Andrea, dripping water all over the boards of the cockpit floor from her drenched clothes.

 

“I was just checking there was no one around to catch that little display.  You really shouldn’t use your powers in public like that.”

 

“You would rather I had floated around in the cold sea?” Andrea replied with a hint of annoyance.

 

“No, of course not.  I would have come back and got you, if you’d just waited.”

 

“Well, pardon me for wanting to get out of that freezing water as quick as possible,” said Andrea tetchily.  She couldn’t stop the shiver that shot through her at that moment.  Now she was on the exposed deck the wind was cutting through her sodden clothes as if they weren’t there.

 

The Major’s face softened as she caught the involuntary movement.  “Sorry, you’re cold,” she said, “You should get out of those wet things.”

 

The Major pressed some buttons on the control panel in front of the wheel, before letting go and gesturing Andrea towards the steps to the cabin.  “I just get a little anxious about any eye witnesses to our activities,” she explained as she pushed open the door.

 

“It’s all right,” Andrea found herself saying, “I should be more careful.”  She puzzled at her own words – a few weeks ago she would have been continuing the argument, maybe just for the hell of it.  Perhaps she was getting tired of being obdurate for no reason.

 

As she ducked inside, Andrea saw that the main cabin was surprisingly spacious and actually quite luxurious.  At the foot of the steps there was a small l-shaped kitchen area off to the right, while on the opposite side there was an area of electronic equipment for charting and navigation.  Beyond this, the cabin opened out into a seating area with comfy blue-cushioned sofas built into the walls on either side while a wooden table sat in the centre.  It was polished so that the wood reflected the light from the small windows above the sofa backs and the large skylight in the ceiling.  The latter gave her a view of the billowing sail outside.  Matching wood also adorned the floor and the walls until about halfway up where it gave way to plain white.  The wood was a dark orange colour and Andrea thought it might have been teak, but she was hardly an expert on yacht interiors.  At the far end was a door that Andrea assumed led to a bedroom.  The Major was heading that way now and Andrea caught a glimpse of some blue bedding as she opened the door.  Unsure whether to follow or not, Andrea just stood in the centre of the dining area.  She didn’t really want to sit down and make the sofas wet. 

 

The Major returned shortly, handing a towel and some clothes to Andrea.  “I know I’m not quite your size, but it’s better than sitting in cold things.”

 

Andrea accepted the garments, regarding the Major curiously when she didn’t move away.  Was she expecting Andrea to change in front of her?  Andrea wasn’t normally bashful, but she found herself nervous at that prospect.  Before Andrea had to conquer her uncharacteristic shyness, the Major suddenly started as if realising her own mistake.

 

“Oh, sorry, I’ll leave you to it for a minute,” she said hurriedly, “Feel free to use the bedroom or the bathroom,” she added, almost tripping up the steps as she exited the cabin.

 

Andrea watched in bemusement for a moment, before starting to strip off.  She resisted the temptation to go and nose round the rest of the boat, though it went against her natural instincts.  For one the Major might come back in and catch her rooting through the drawers and secondly it was hardly polite when she was the other woman’s guest.   A couple of minutes later she had changed into the dry clothes, noting that the Major had been right – the fit wasn’t exactly great, especially in the trouser department.  The hem of those sat somewhere just above Andrea’s ankle bone.  She was slipping a soft, woollen jumper over her head when the Major came back in.  Her eyes were immediately drawn to the too-short trousers and Andrea could see her desperately trying to stifle a snigger.  Andrea put her hands on her hips and tried to look annoyed, though she had to admit she did look pretty silly.

 

“Sorry, sorry,” said the Major with her best attempt at a straight face, “You look fine, just like a proper sailor in fact.”

 

Andrea sighed and ran her hands through her damp hair, securing it back into a ponytail once more.  “It’s you fault anyway,” she noted, “Sending that boom in my direction.”

 

“Yes, sorry about that,” agreed the Major, “But jibes like that just happen sometimes.”

 

“Jibes?”

 

“Uncontrolled boom movements, usually when the wind suddenly changes direction.  Why don’t you sit down so I can check your head, you took quite a whack there.”

 

Andrea perched herself on the left-hand sofa, the Major sitting down next to her.  Andrea had to turn her head to allow the Major access to her forehead.  Andrea suddenly found herself looking directly into the other woman’s eyes.  She had never been close enough to study them before but she couldn’t help doing so now.  She could see that they were a pale blue, almost shading to grey and Andrea felt herself drawn into their mesmerising depths, her breathing becoming shallower as she almost forgot to continue the normally subconscious activity.  It was a good job the Major was busy scanning Andrea’s forehead or she might have noticed the hypnotic effect she was having on the young woman.

 

Andrea got a shock when one of the Major’s hands went up to gently brush the skin above her left eye.  She realised she must have taken an audible intake of breath at the sudden contact when the Major’s eyes flicked down to meet hers.

 

“Does it hurt?” she asked with concern.

 

“Only a little,” replied Andrea, playing along with the Major’s assumption that it was the pain that had caused her to flinch, “I’ll be fine, really.”

 

“If you’re sure?” checked the Major, pulling back her hand and regarding Andrea.  When Andrea nodded the Major rose off the sofa, heading over to the galley area.  “How about I make you a drink then, to warm you up?” she suggested, reaching into the cupboards, “It was tea wasn’t it?”

 

“Yes, that’s right, milk one sugar” replied Andrea, surprised the Major remembered from the one time they had shared a cup.

 

The Major busied herself making the drinks.  Before Andrea knew what she was doing she was gently feeling her own forehead where the Major’s fingers had grazed it moments earlier, as if there would be some trace of the other woman’s touch.  When the Major started talking over her shoulder, Andrea quickly dropped her hand.

 

“You know, you’re not a proper sailor until you’ve been knocked overboard by the boom.”

 

“Does that mean you have?”

 

The Major laughed.  “Countless times!” she confessed.

 

“You do a lot of sailing then?” queried Andrea. 

 

“I try to get out most weekends.  I don’t like to leave the old girl all tied up with nowhere to go for too long, she starts to get antsy.”

 

Andrea smiled once more at the likening of the boat to a woman, and one with moods at that.  The Major brought the finished drinks back over to the sofa, handing Andrea her tea and placing her own coffee on the table.

 

“Thank you, Major…Kate.”  Andrea corrected herself instantly, though it still didn’t seem quite right to use the informal name.  To her the other woman was still the Major.

 

The Major smiled slightly at the unease with which Andrea used her name.  She undid her sturdy jacket and cast it off onto the other sofa, running her hands through her windswept hair.  The light from above played over the auburn strands as they drifted through the Major’s fingers and Andrea wondered how anyone’s hair could look so good when it had been battered mercilessly by the elements.  The Major’s eyes shifted down to the couch and Andrea quickly busied herself with examining her cup, hoping the other woman hadn’t caught her staring yet again.  Andrea didn’t know why her eyes kept ending up on the other woman all the time; it was like she held some magnetic power over them.

 

The Major sat down next to her and Andrea had to practically force herself to remain looking at the drink rather than immediately turning.  Andrea took a sip of the tea, her brow creasing slightly as it passed down her throat with an unusual but pleasant warming sensation.  She peered up inquisitively at the Major.

 

“I took the liberty of adding a little something for a bit of extra warmth,” the Major explained.

 

“It’s…different,” Andrea noted, taking another tentative sip.

 

“Different bad, or different good?”

 

Andrea savoured the taste for a minute.  “Definitely good,” she finally concluded, “Rum is it?”

 

The Major grinned and picked up her own drink.  “Of course,” she confirmed, “See, you’re well on the way to being a real sailor now, we’ll have you splicing the main brace before you know it.”

 

Andrea didn’t know what that was, but the way the Major said it, it certainly sounded appealing.  Mind you the Major seemed to have the knack of making most things sound appealing when she employed her soft, husky voice as she was doing now.  She could have been asking Andrea to run into a brick wall and she would probably have obliged.

 

Mentally shaking herself, Andrea tried to focus on the conversation.  “Did you ever think you chose the wrong career?” she asked half-jokingly, “Surely you would have been better off in the navy.”

 

“No, this is my hobby, something to enjoy when I want to unwind and get away from the pressures of my job,” explained the Major, “Not that I don’t enjoy my job,” she added.

 

“You seemed a bit quick to add that on there,” noted Andrea, “Like you were almost trying to convince yourself.”  Andrea found it hard to curb her natural tendency to probe and question.  Luckily for once the Major didn’t seem to be perturbed by it.  Andrea supposed that maybe she was still feeling guilty about the boom incident.

 

In fact the Major merely shrugged at the remark.  “Like all jobs it can be difficult sometimes,” she confessed honestly, “Trying to juggle differing responsibilities and demands, but equally the challenge is what makes it exciting.  Of course things are always trickier when we get troublesome new arrivals.”

 

Andrea met the pale blue eyes, seeing the hint of humour in them.  It really was amazing the transformation that had occurred in their relationship, with just a bit of give from both of them.  Who would have thought they would be able to joke about it like this when they had first met nearly six weeks previously.

 

“Ok, I’m willing to admit I may have been a touch obstinate when I first arrived,” conceded Andrea.

 

The Major lifted her brows.  “A touch?” she asked sceptically.

 

“All right, a lot!” Andrea allowed with a roll of the eyes, “But you try watching a load of your friends being killed and then being told you’re a mutant with super powers that has to stay locked up on some island.”

 

The Major’s face fell immediately and Andrea could have kicked herself.  She hadn’t meant to be so scathing, especially when they seemed to be getting on so well.  The words had escaped before she’d time to think properly.  It was just another indication of how being so close to the other woman seemed to have a disarming effect on her.

 

“Not that I hold you responsible,” Andrea added to try and explain her words, “I know you’re just doing your job, and I can appreciate why you and the powers that be thought it necessary, now I’ve had more time to think about it.  Who knows what would happen if this was public knowledge not to mention what you told me about those underground groups.”

 

The Major looked like she was about to say something, as if Andrea had got the wrong end of the stick and she was going to correct her, but she held back.  Andrea was curious, but felt unable to press too far in what was still a fledgling friendship, especially after her initial tactless remarks. 

 

Even as they crossed her mind she had to digest those thoughts of friendship.  She realised that not only did she regard her relationship with the Major as one, but that she was actually bothered about how it progressed too.  To avoid any more uncomfortable subjects, Andrea decided to try and segway into a different topic.

 

“So, how long have you been in the army anyway?” she asked amiably, drinking some more of the alcohol tinged tea.

 

“Fifteen years.”

 

“Blimey!” cried Andrea, “So you joined up when you were what…eighteen?”

 

A small smile curved the Major’s lips.  “Are you fishing for my age or just trying to flatter me?”

 

“Just curious,” replied Andrea innocently.

 

The Major eyed her with friendly suspicion for a moment before answering.  “I signed up when I was twenty-one,” she said, “Which makes me thirty-five, thirty-six this July, to save you doing the arithmetic,” she added with a sly grin.

 

Andrea hadn’t been about to attempt any complex maths anyway.  Her mind was far too preoccupied with watching the way the Major’s lips made the crooked grin.  Andrea was beginning to realise that this one was the genuine article, not one she might employ when trying to be nice to someone for the sake of it.   

 

“That’s a long time to be in the army,” noted Andrea, “You must be dedicated.”

 

“You could say that, though some people might just think I was crazy.  I know it’s not very fashionable to be seen as patriotic, but I always wanted to serve my country, do my duty, ever since I was a young girl.”

 

Andrea was finding it more and more difficult to actually listen to the words of the conversation with all the other external stimuli she was receiving just watching the Major.  Now she was taking the time to observe the other woman up close, she saw that she was blessed with a host of different mannerisms that Andrea had never noticed before.  Or maybe it was just that they came out when the Major was relaxed.  Yet none of them were annoying, quite the reverse, in fact.  They made her seem more open, more human.  Andrea admitted that some of them could even be regarded as “cute”.  Take the way the Major’s fingers were currently toying absently with the rim of her mug.  Andrea didn’t know how she was supposed to make intelligent conversation in the face of such distractions; finally she kick-started her mouth once more.

 

“Did you have family in the army?”

 

The Major’s brow knitted together, puzzling at the shift in the questioning.  “What makes you say that?”

 

“Nothing in particular,” Andrea explained, “But it sounds like you were quite passionate about it, and that often stems from a desire to emulate someone.”

 

“In which case, I have to say it’s very perceptive of you,” conceded the Major, “My father was in the army.”

 

Andrea was pleased to be classed as perceptive by the Major, particularly when it had been more a random remark on her part in the first place.  She had only really made it while enraptured with studying the Major’s hands.  She knew she shouldn’t have thought about them again now when her eyes started sweeping downwards once more.  She forced herself to look up.

 

“He must be very proud of you and what you’ve accomplished,” she managed to say, surprised she could even remember what they were talking about.

 

The silence that filled the cabin was noticeable, only the sound of the waves lapping against the hull breaking it.  The Major had glanced away, looking distant.

 

“Did I say something wrong?” queried Andrea, concerned.  She knew she should have paid more attention to the discussion and not let her mind wander so.  She steeled herself to concentrate from now on.

 

“No,” said the Major quietly at first, still studying the wooden boards of the floor intently.  “You weren’t to know,” she said with more conviction, taking a deep breath before she continued.  “He’s dead now, he died just over a year ago.”

 

“I’m sorry,” said Andrea.  She didn’t really know the Major, but she knew enough to be able to tell his death had obviously hit her hard.  “I’m sure he was proud of you when he was alive.” 

 

Andrea cringed inwardly, thinking the words sounded hollow coming from a near stranger but the Major seemed to take some comfort in them.  Andrea was glad – the Major had helped her at Maria’s funeral, just by being there more than anything else, so if she could repay her kindness in some small way then that was better than nothing.

 

“I hope he was,” noted the Major softly, still adrift on her thoughts somewhere.  Andrea didn’t interrupt just waiting until the other woman was ready to continue.  “This was our boat,” remarked the Major, casting her eyes wistfully round the cabin, “My father was the one who taught me to sail and it was always his dream to actually own a boat.  So when we finally saved up enough we bought the Flyer here.  We’d only had her a couple of years when he died.”

 

Andrea just nodded understandingly, not really sure what else to say considering she didn’t know the man or the Major come to that.  Though she was learning much more about her that day than she had learnt from the previous weeks.  She was finally getting a glimpse behind the military exterior to the woman underneath, and she was surprised at the softness that lay there.

 

“Anyway,” continued the Major, “Enough about me, I’m sure your family are equally as proud of you, what with your academic record and then your career in the police force.”

 

Andrea couldn’t prevent the scornful laugh that tumbled out.  “Hardly.  I don’t think they really care what I do.”

 

“Is that why you never speak to them?”

 

Andrea’s eyes narrowed.  “Been monitoring my calls again have you?”

 

“You know we do, it’s no secret,” the Major reasoned, “Though in your case it’s the lack of calls that’s more obvious.”

 

The conversation was getting dangerously close to areas Andrea would rather not talk about – with anyone.  “I haven’t spoken to my parents for five years,” she informed the Major succinctly, “And that’s fine by me.”

 

The Major looked like she wanted to press further since Andrea’s tone suggested she was far from ‘fine’ about it, but in the end it seemed she thought better of it.

 

“Well, if you do ever want to contact them, just let me know.  They might be concerned over your whereabouts at least.”

 

“That’s fairly unlikely, believe me.  So you don’t need to worry about me blabbing anything to them.  I’m quite happy with just my friends, at least I can choose them.”

 

As she said it, Andrea realised that she didn’t actually have that many back in London now - what with Maria being killed so soon after her other friends and colleagues.  She had other acquaintances, but no one as close as Maria had been.  Her desire to get back to London certainly didn’t burn as intensely as it had when she first arrived at the island base.  She was coming to realise that maybe that part of her life was over, that she had new challenges to face now.  Though one of those was still finding the answers to how and why her workmates had been killed. 

 

“Talking of friends,” she said, neatly getting off the subject of her family in the same stroke, “I wondered if you’d found out anything more about the warehouse incident.  You were going to ask your commanding officer weren’t you, and he was here last week as I recall.”

 

The Major shifted uncomfortably in her seat.  “Yes he was,” was all she said in response to begin with.

 

“Why do I get the impression it wasn’t good news,” Andrea said warily.  She was starting to feel on more comfortable ground now it seemed she had the Major on the backfoot.  The disconcerting feelings the Major had evoked when they had first sat down were thankfully subsiding.

 

“I’m sorry, I did ask, but he wasn’t very forthcoming,” the Major revealed.

 

Andrea could recognise evasion when she saw it.  “There was more wasn’t there?  What’s going on, why is it all so secret?”

 

“Honestly, I really don’t know any more than you do.”  The frustration was evident in the Major’s tone.

 

“The Colonel must have said something to get you so nervy,” pressed Andrea, the bit between her teeth now.

 

The Major pursed her lips together, watching Andrea as she did.  “I really shouldn’t be telling you this, in fact I don’t know why I am.  I suppose it’s not really revealing anything confidential…”

 

“Go on.”

 

“He told me that it is being investigated but that I wasn’t to pursue it.”

 

“That’s it?” cried Andrea leaping up off the sofa and whirling round to face the Major who remained seating, “And you left it at that?  I had you pegged as someone who cared about the truth, who wouldn’t meekly follow orders.”

 

The Major’s eyes narrowed, though her tone remained even in the face of Andrea’s disparaging remarks.  “Sometimes that’s what we have to do, even if we don’t like them.”

 

“And you don’t like these ones,” deduced Andrea.

 

“Not really, no.”

 

“Then do something about it!  I’m sure you must have resources, connections – you could find out what’s really going on.”

 

“I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job,” the Major replied coolly as Andrea continued to call her character into question.  She slowly rose from her seat, so she could meet Andrea’s eye, “Surprisingly I managed quite well before you ever came along.  Sometimes I think you forget who’s in command here.”

 

“Don’t take it out on me because you don’t like your superior’s orders,” shot back Andrea, “And here I was thinking we were on first name terms today, but you’re still pulling rank.  Would you like me to go back to calling you ‘Major’?”

 

The Major held her jaw firmly shut.  It appeared they just couldn’t seem to help butting heads, even on a supposed relaxing day out.  The tension in the air was palpable as they merely stared back at one another, though even this was different to when they had previously argued, Andrea thought.  There was an extra something underlying the tension, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

 

Finally Andrea sighed, recognising that she was hardly going to get the Major to help her by being obstinate.  “I don’t mean to tell you how to do your job,” she conceded, taking her seat again to try and ease the confrontational atmosphere, “But what have you got to lose by asking a few questions?  I’m sure they’re not about to throw you out of the army, even if they are ones they don’t want asked.”

 

The Major glanced away, watching the clouds out one of the small windows.

 

“What?” pressed Andrea, “You think they would?”  She continued to try and fathom what the Major was thinking from her inscrutable expression.  “Wait, did the Colonel intimate as much?”

 

“Not in so many words,” the Major said slowly, “But there have been a couple of other ‘incidents’ during my career, so I’m not really in the position to start rocking the boat.”

 

Andrea thought that was an interesting piece of information and one she was surprised the Major had revealed.  Here she thought the Major was an upstanding, by-the-book officer, whereas it seemed she actually had a few skeletons in her closet.  Andrea filed the information away for another time.

 

“So that’s it?” she asked with a snort of derision, “I’m just supposed to sit back and forget it ever happened?”

 

“No, of course not, that’s the last thing you should do.  But it’s not like you’ve been looking at your own reaction to it, is it?”

 

Andrea rolled her eyes.  “You’re still banging on about the counselling then?”

 

“Yes I am, until you see sense and have some!”

 

“Maybe I don’t need any; maybe I’m fine!”

 

“And is that why you’ve been having nightmares?”

 

Andrea was taken aback, wondering how the hell the Major knew.  Then she remembered the incident in her quarters a couple of weeks previously when the Major had walked in on her having one of them.  While Andrea remained quiet the Major sat back down again too, fixing Andrea keenly with her eyes.  Andrea glanced away from the penetrating stare.  When the Major spoke she had lowered her voice to a softer tone.

 

“I’m only suggesting it for your own good.  How long are you going to try and struggle on by yourself?  Why can’t you admit you might need help?  It’s nothing to feel ashamed about - I’ve had counselling myself you know.”

 

Andrea’s eyes shot up – this really was a day for revelations regarding the Major.  “You have? For what?”

 

The Major seemed unsure whether to answer the exceedingly personal question.

 

“Sorry, you don’t have to answer,” Andrea quickly added.

 

“No, it’s all right - it was to do with my father’s death and the circumstances around it,” she disclosed.

 

Andrea was desperate to know more, this being the second time the Major’s father had cropped up in conversation.  However, it seemed that was all the Major was willing to offer up for now.  Still it was more than she needed to have done.

 

“It surprises you to hear me admit to having had counselling?” the Major prompted, still studying Andrea’s face to gauge her reaction.

 

Andrea felt the intense scrutiny, the disconcerting feelings of earlier beginning to stir again. “Yes,” she replied honestly.

 

“Well, I don’t broadcast it around to everyone,” conceded the Major,  “Though I said there’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help, the average soldier under my command isn’t the most intelligent of people.  They’re loyal, honest, hard workers but they’re not known for their brains.  So you can imagine what they might start saying if they knew that I had been in counselling for a couple of months prior to my posting here.”

 

“Right, a sure fire way to start having them doubting your command.”

 

“Precisely, which is not something I can afford in my position.”

 

“Then why did you tell me?  You realise I could blab it around the base and then you’d be scuppered.”

 

“Yes, you could,” said the Major, dipping her head in acknowledgement, “I guess I’m going to have to trust you not to say anything aren’t I?”

 

Andrea could see what the Major had done. She had offered up the personal information about herself, entrusted Andrea with her secret in the hope that the young woman would reciprocate.

 

“All right,” said Andrea with a sigh, “I’ll go for the counselling.”

 

“Good, I’m glad.”

 

Andrea found she was glad too, not something she usually felt when she deferred to someone else.

 

The Major hadn’t quite finished.  “It often takes more courage to swallow your pride and examine your feelings,” she remarked.

 

As Andrea looked back into the soft blue eyes of the other woman, she wondered exactly what feelings it was she needed to examine.


 

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CHAPTER 8

 

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

 

 

The air whistled past Andrea’s face as she hurtled down towards the ground, the coldness stinging her cheeks.  Anyone watching might have thought that she was plunging to her doom as she tumbled through the blue sky, if it weren’t for the broad smile on her face.  After a couple of weeks, she was really starting to get the hang of being able to fly.

 

The soul-clutching exhiliration of soaring free in the air still affected her every time, causing a giddy rush of excitement to fill her every pore.  It was hard to compare it to anything else.  There was nothing else like it.  It was simply amazing.

 

She was particularly savouring the sensation at that moment since she didn’t have much chance to completely cut loose like she was doing now.  The military and scientific staff were always very cautious about outside training activities, having to verify that they wouldn’t be observed by members of the publuc before giving the go-ahead.  All it took was one stray fishing boat and the purpose of the base would be exposed.

 

It was hard to curb her enthusiasm though, and not soar off amongst the clouds or down over the seas.  She was still hundreds of feet above the water now, and the vista that stretched out below her was simply breath-taking.  Even a hardened cynic like Andrea couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder at the impressiveness of nature when viewed from so high.  It was also profoundly humbling, making her realise just how small she and everyone else was when compared to the vastness of the ocean or the mountains the loomed on the horizon of the Scottish mainland.  It was a sight that no human being was ever meant to see in this way, and yet here she was, blessed with this very special view on the world.  She recognised that it was indeed a blessing, and not something to be feared or wary of as she had been initially.  She was priveleged to have this opportunity and she was going to grab it with both hands and savour the experience to the full.

 

However, as she zoomed downwards at greater and greater speed she found it increasingly difficult to see with the chill air bringing tears to her eyes.  Wiping them away, she resolved that she would have to ask about getting some sort of eye protection in the future.  The clothes she wore weren’t particularly suitable either, she considered, the combat outfit being tugged at viciously by the wind.  She really needed something more stream-lined.

 

Andrea?

 

The Major’s voice crackled over the small earpiece she wore.  For a moment she considered ignoring it, pretending the communications link was broken.  She was still interested to see how they might stop her if she refused to come down, but decided she wouldn’t try and find out today.

 

“Yes, I’m here.”

 

If you’ve finished having fun, we’re ready to go when you are.

 

“I’ll get into position,” she informed the Major.

 

Andrea glided through the air to hover a few hundred metres above the target area in readiness.  She knew that somewhere below they would be observing her every move, not to mention the monitoring sensors she wore dotted about her body under her clothes, feeding back telemetary on her energy usage amongst other things.  She also wore her power regulator as always.  Following the car accident, the army had conducted a finger tip search of the field to find it – they couldn’t chance someone stumbling across it and discovering what it was.

 

“Ok, I’m ready, just give the word,” Andrea said over the small microphone that snaked across her cheek.

 

On the count of three then, the Major said, before launching into the countdown.  3…2…1…Go!

 

Andrea launched herself downwards at the signal, flying as fast as she could to the target.  As she got closer she could see the red of the material flapping in the wind.  She could also see the blur of movement sweeping across the open ground in its direction, intent on beating her to it.  Seeing that she didn’t slow, though she knew it would take a fine judgement to get her descent right, to pull up in time and not splat herself all over the heather.

 

She was about twenty metres away now, still going hard at it.  Ten…five…

 

Her fingers closed over the material and she whipped the flag away, straining to alter her direction as she did.  She just managed to angle herself parallel to the ground, actually feeling the slight brush of the heather across her body, she was so close.  Having managed to stabalise her flight she slowed and set her feet down on the ground again, clutching the flag triumphantly as Tom whizzed round to come to a halt beside her.

 

“Too slow!” she taunted, waving the flag at him.

 

He made a disgusted face at her.  “I’m sure you went before the ‘go’”, he suggested petulantly

 

“You are such a poor loser,” she said, still with a grin on her face, “I’m afraid it looks like I’m quicker than you are.”

 

Suddenly Tom moved.  At least Andrea thought he had, though he was standing back in front of her again already.  He looked rather smug now, though, and glancing down at her hand she saw that she no longer held the flag.

 

“Ha! Who’s slow now?” teased Tom, holding up the red material that was in his possesion. 

 

“You cheat!  That wasn’t part of the deal!”  Andrea lunged for his hand, but he easily whipped it out the way, laughing as he did.

 

As they danced around in circles, a voice disturbed their game.  “Now, now, children.”

 

It was the Major, heading over the grass in their direction.  She strode confidently over the open ground of the island in her combat gear of camoflague trousers and jacket, with her sturdy boots leaving imprints in the mud as she went.

 

“Nice try, Mr Parsons,” she said as she reached them, “But I’m afraid that round goes to Andrea.”  She turned to Andrea now.  “Well done, she said, smiling up at the young woman, That was some neat flying, though I have to admit my heart was in my mouth there for a minute.  I really thought you were going to hit the ground.”

 

“Thanks,” replied Andrea, returning the smile, strangely warmed that the Major seemed so concerned for her wellbeing.  “If I’m honest I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t going to hit it either.”

 

“That’s reassuring,” noted the Major with a wry laugh.

 

“I couldn’t let Tom win, could I?” added Andrea

 

“Indeed not,” agreed the Major, smiling at the young man who still looked rather miffed.  “I think that’s enough for today.  Let’s head back over to the monitoring truck to download the readings and then we can get back inside for some dinner.”

 

“Last one there’s a stinky Chaddy sock!” cried Tom, before sprinting off in a blur.

 

Andrea let him go, since to pursue would leave the Major to make the walk back to the road on her own.  “I think I’ll let him win one today,” she remarked to the Major.

 

They naturally fell in step side by side as they turned to make the short walk.  It wasn’t long before the Major broke the silence.

 

“I thought you might like to know that Dr Todd thinks your ability to fly is the result of the conversion into kinetic energy of the of the energy you absorb from light and store in your body as chemical energy.”

 

Andrea raised her eyebrows.  “Really?  Are you sure Dr Todd doesn’t just make some of this technobabble up sometimes, to cover up what he doesn’t know.”

 

The Major let out a laugh.  “You know, I do wonder myself sometimes, but the readings seem to support his theory.  How are you doing with your powers anyway, starting to get used to them a bit more?”

 

“Well, I don’t know if I’m still entirely comfortable with the idea of being a mutant, but I have to say it does have its compensations.”

 

“The flying?” offered the Major, though it was more a statement than a question.

 

“Yes, I wish I could explain it, it’s just so…so…”

 

The Major came up with a few suggestions.  “Breath-taking? Uplifting?  Awe-inspiring?”

 

Andrea glanced to her side where the Major was regarding her keenly.  “Something like that, and so much more.  Perhaps I should take you up for a spin sometime to give you some idea?”

 

The Major looked like she didn’t know quite how to respond to the offer and Andrea mentally kicked herself for making it.  Sailing was one thing, an intimate experience like flying together was something else entirely.  For a start Andrea would have to have hold the Major in her arms the whole time.

 

Just as Andrea was starting to form a not unpleasant mental picture of that, the Major finally replied.  “Thank you,” she said, “Though I might have to be convinced you won’t plough us into the ground by accident first, considering your admission about the earlier exercise.”

 

“I wouldn’t be so reckless if you were with me,” insisted Andrea.

 

Andrea was bewildered by her own words, wondering what in the hell she was doing.  The Major had given her an out and here Andrea was still pressing the issue.

 

“Well, maybe we will go up, one day,” allowed the Major.

 

Andrea just about stopped her conspiratorial mouth from asking when exactly that might be.  “The offer’s always open,” she said instead, thinking that was almost as bad.  The only thing that might have made it worse was if she’d winked while saying it.  She really hoped she hadn’t by accident.

 

The Major merely smiled back, before changing the topic, much to Andrea’s relief.  “I’ve arranged your first counselling session too, by the way.  With Dr Shah tomorrow after training.  She’s an independent counsellor, in case you were worried, not directly part of the military though we have used her sevices in the past.  She’s very good by all accounts.”

 

“I guess I’ll find out soon enough,” remarked Andrea, still a little wary of discussing her innermost feelings with a stranger, “But thank you for setting it up.”

 

“No problem, it’s what I’m here for.”

 

Andrea smiled in response as they made it to the road where Tom was waiting for them by the truck.  Andrea could see him eyeing the pair of them suspiciously and he hung around while Andrea removed the small electronic monitoring device from her waistband and waited for Dr Todd to verify he had what he wanted. 

 

“Are the two of you riding back with us?” asked the Major as Dr Todd tapped away at his keyboard in the back of the vehicle.

 

“I think I’ll walk back with Tom,” said Andrea, “Give you two a chance to pour over your readings.”  She could see Tom was itching to talk to her about something, not to mention that allowing the Major to ride back separately would stop Andrea’s mouth making any more stupid suggestions without her brain’s permission.

 

“Ok, see you later then.”

 

……………

 

The Major watched Tom and Andrea heading off over the open heath in the direction of the base.  She could see that Tom had started talking enthusiastically to Andrea who looked a bit disgruntled by whatever line of questioning he was persuing.  The spring sunshine emerged from behind the clouds at that moment, sweeping across the vast grassy field.  As it crossed Tom and Andrea’s location the Major couldn’t help but notice the way the sunlight dappled across Andrea’s hair, bringing out the brilliant golden colour of it.

 

“Thinking about our new recruit?”

 

“Yes,” replied the Major honestly in response to Dr Todd’s question, though she realised that he probably didn’t think those thoughts extended to the qualities of her hair in the sun.

 

“I have to say there’s been a marked improvement in her behaviour, ever since that second unscheduled trip off the base,” he noted.

 

“There has, hasn’t there,” she agreed distractedly, still watching the ever smaller figures.  Finally they disappeared over the crest of the hill and she turned her full attention to Dr Todd.

 

“What did you say to her that night?” he asked.

 

The Major laughed at his inscrutable expression.  “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” she joked, “I can’t go around giving away all my secrets can I, especially not in my line of work.”

 

“Whatever it was, I have to congratulate you.  It’s almost like she’s a whole different person.  Suddenly she’s eager, keen to impress.  Though there’s still all those questions about every little thing.”

 

The Major considered his words for a moment, glancing off to where Andrea had recently disappeared.  “I don’t think she’s changed that much, not deep down.  I think that what we saw when she first got here was partly a front, a defensive barrier.  Now she’s seen we’re not a threat, she’s started to drop it a bit.  Not that she can’t still be bolshie, arrogant and cocky,” she allowed.

 

“Indeed,” agreed Dr Todd, “Though for a while I thought we might be heading for some serious problems, at least in terms of security.  It seems you were right all along though, believing that she would turn a corner.”

 

“Oh, I had my doubts too, believe me,” admitted the Major.

 

“I guess we’re lucky you managed to contain the second incident as you did.”

 

“Yes, I even managed to keep a few select details out of my report to the Colonel.  Oh, he was displeased, but not as displeased as he would have been if he knew how Andrea had gotten drunk, used her powers and then nearly died.”

 

Dr Todd was one of the few people who knew the full details of that night; Doc Whitman, the Major and Andrea herself being the others.  The Major’s mind drifted back to it now as they journeyed back to the base in the truck.  She had to admit that when Andrea had collapsed after pulling the car from the water, the degree of anxiety that had swept through her had been surprising.  She’d managed to contain it at the time, as her command training took over and she was swept up in organising help and making sure Andrea was all right.  It had seemed entirely natural to sweep the younger woman up in her arms and hold her in an attempt to comfort her.  In fact she realised that in a strange way it had made her feel better too.  To sense the warmth of Andrea’s body, the rhythm of her heartbeat and know that she was still alive had been a powerful feeling.

 

………………

 

Andrea and Tom had just about made it out of earshot of the Major and Dr Todd back in the truck, when Tom swung his head towards her.

 

“Well, well, well, who’s the new favourite then?”

 

Andrea had thought this was coming, but played dumb anyway.  “What are you talking about?”

 

“Oh come on,” he said rolling his eyes,  “‘Well done, that was some neat flying’” he continued, doing a passable impression of the Major, “’my heart was in my mouth…’”

 

Andrea quickly cut him off before he continued any further.  “And she’s never paid you a compliment before?”

 

“Not like that!”

 

“Like what?”

 

“With that sort of soft, pleased expression on her face.”

 

Andrea looked at him as if he were crazy.  “Are you sure you didn’t hit your head while training, because I’d swear you were hallucinating.”

 

“Try and deny it if you like, but you got to go on the Dorset Flyer for god’s sake!  Plus you looked very chummy walking over here.  Face it, you’re the new teacher’s pet!  And don’t tell me you don’t like it – the way you were beaming when she was praising you.”

 

Andrea realised that things must be getting obvious if Tom had noticed.  She would be losing her hard won reputation as a rebellious troublemaker at this rate.  The last thing she wanted was for anyone to think she was a conformist pushover.  She’d made a career out of getting up the nose of the establishment, though it was hard to carry on doing that when the establishment persisted in being so nice.  In fact, nice didn’t really cover it at all.  The Major seemed to be going out of her way for Andrea more and more.  Now they had started down the path of a friendly relationship it appeared there was no turning back.  Not that Andrea would have wanted to turn back if she could, now she realised how much more pleasant this route was to the antagonistic one.  Anyway, she considered that she still had Lieutenant Chadwick for a good old bit of authority baiting.  He still showed absolutely no signs of warming to her at all.

 

Andrea realised Tom was waiting for her to respond to his accusation.  “I may have been smiling,” she allowed, “But that was only polite.  I was not ‘beaming’”

 

“Yeah right!” cried Tom, “Your grin was practically splitting your cheeks.  I almost wish for the a return to ‘Icy-bitch Andrea’ if the other prospect is ‘Whatever-you-say-Major Andrea’.  What exactly did the Major do to you that night when you ran off, was it some kind of secret military brainwashing?”

 

Andrea had to remember that the others didn’t know the exact details of the night of the accident.  They certainly didn’t know that she had saved the Major’s life, or how the Major had subsequently comforted Andrea through her seizure.  She had let it be known about Maria’s death.  Not so everyone would feel sorry for her, she couldn’t really care less what they thought the cause of her actions might be, but more to quash some of the rumours that had been spreading round the base about her and the Major in the wake of their trip to the funeral and their boat trip together.  These ranged from the absurd – that they were testing some secret weapon that required Andrea’s powers – to the ridiculous – that they were in the midst of some torrid affair.

 

Thinking she didn’t want to encourage them, Andrea hadn’t revealed any other details of that night or anything else for that matter.  That was between her and the Major and she certainly didn’t want anyone else knowing of her weakness.

 

Andrea decided to go on the offensive instead to deflect Tom from his line of questioning.  

 

“You were the one who kept telling me to give her a chance and now you’re complaining?  Anyway, maybe the Major appreciates someone who can be serious and professional?”

 

Tom looked hurt.  “The rest of us can be professional, we just don’t need to kiss-arse while we’re doing it.”

 

“I’ll do more than kiss your arse in a minute!”

 

Andrea just managed to catch him with a glancing slap on the backside before he was off sprinting at unimaginable speed across the grass in the direction of the base.  Andrea didn’t even bother giving chase, knowing she had no chance of catching him.  Though she had been taunting him before about being quicker, that was only because they made Tom start from so far away from the target.  In reality he could run much faster than she could fly.  Instead she made her way back at her own pace, passing a group of soldiers on their way out to do some of their own training as she entered the main complex building. 

 

During the walk back Tom’s words had played over in her mind.  Was she really the Major’s favourite?  She was sure the Major didn’t have such things; she was interested in the welfare of all her operatives.  It was only because Andrea was new and the recent trauma of Maria’s death that she was getting special attention, if indeed that was the case.

 

When she got to the second floor Andrea was turning for her quarters when she heard voices round the corner.  It was the Major and Doc Whitman.  Andrea had identified the Major’s voice immediately; it was funny how it seemed to stand out even when Andrea wasn’t actively listening for it.  She supposed she had walked back to the base slower than she’d realised if the other woman had beat her back.  Andrea was going to ignore them, though she had to admit she was tempted to eavesdrop, when something caught her interest and she found herself listening anyway.

 

“…I really wish you would give me these reports without me having to chase after you.”

 

The thing that piqued Andrea’s curiosity was that it was Doc speaking.  She was surprised at him addressing the Major in quite such an annoyed tone.

 

The Major sounded equally tetchy when she replied.  “You know I’m busy, without having to do something so unnecessary as extra reporting.”

 

Andrea wondered what the extra reporting was, or more precisely who it was about.  Considering she was the only new operative and that there was already something highly suspicious going on where she was concerned, she thought she had a fair idea who they were talking about.

 

Doc was continuing now.  “Unnecessary in your eyes maybe, but the Colonel likes to be kept informed.  Far be it for me to tell him otherwise.”

 

Whatever extra information the Major was supposed to be supplying she didn’t sound pleased about it.  “Fine, I’ll have it for you in the morning, all right?”

 

“Thank you.”

 

When there was no more words, Andrea suddenly realised that they must have finished and that Doc would be rounding the corner any second and running straight into her.  She glanced around - there was nowhere to hide.  Apart from…

 

As Doc came round the corner he walked straight past Andrea and on down the corridor without batting an eyelid.  Once he had rounded another corner Andrea floated down from the ceiling where she had been pressed flat and holding her breath.  She allowed herself a sigh of relief.  That would teach her to listen to other people’s conversations.

 

Andrea walked off down the corridor to her room, looking forward to a nice long spell under the pounding jets of the shower.  Even with superpowers, all the training they were doing was tiring and she’d often find herself worn out by the end of the day.  It seemed that the sessions were getting more and more intense and she wondered if there was anything behind that.  She still found it hard to believe that there wasn’t some ulterior purpose to their presence on the base, besides research.

 

It occurred to her that she could just ask the Major outright.  However, where once she wouldn’t have cared about offending her superiors, she actually found herself holding back her more rebellious instincts where the Major was concerned.  She decided that if it came up in conversation then she would ask, otherwise she would leave it for now.

 

Entering her quarters she peeled off the combat jacket and flung it on the couch.  It was then that something struck her.  She cast her eyes around suspiciously.  Something wasn’t right.  She looked round the shelves and surfaces.  The more she did, the more she became convinced that some of her things had been moved.  She crossed to the coffee table, picking up the biochemistry journal that sat on top of the wood, turning it over in her hands before glancing back at the tabletop.  There had definitely been another magazine on the table when she had left that morning.

 

Suddenly her bedroom door opened, causing her to nearly jump out of her skin.  Lieutenant Chadwick came out, a nonchalant look on his dark features

 

“What the fuck are you doing in here?” demanded Andrea angrily, slapping the journal back down on the table.

 

“I was just waiting for you, to get a sample for Doc,” he responded evenly, waving a syringe in the air.

 

“So you thought you’d have a good look through my things while you were at it?”

 

“No, I was just using the bathroom.”

 

“There’s another door to the bathroom that doesn’t require you to go through my bedroom,” she reasoned pointing it out.  “Or did you want to have a good sift through my underwear drawer too?”

 

That caused a faint twitch of annoyance in his jaw.  “I don’t think I like your tone or the implication.”

 

“And I don’t think I like you coming into my quarters without permission, looking at my things and moving them around.”

 

“I told you, I just needed the bathroom, or are you calling me a liar?”

 

“Yes I am!  You’re an arsehole, Chadwick.  I better not catch you in here again without me.”

 

“Or what, you’ll tell your new little friend the Major?” he sneered. 

 

Andrea didn’t like the obvious lack of respect he was showing for the Major.  “Yes, if I have to,” she stated.

 

Chadwick was suddenly up in front of her, trying to intimidate her with his bulk.  She thought it was laughable, considering she could probably flick him across the room with her little finger if she wanted to.

 

“Going to grass me up are you?” he spat, his face mere inches from hers now, “Well, just try it and see how far you get.  You think the Major actually cares what you think?  She’s just using the lot of you.  She just needs to keep you sweet until you’re ready.”

 

Andrea couldn’t help biting.  “Ready for what?”

 

“Oh, has your good friend not told you then?”  Chadwick was smiling nastily at her.

 

Andrea stared balefully back.  “Maybe because there’s nothing to tell,” she proposed.  “You’re full of shit, Chadwick.  I’ve got your number – you just want to stir things up, make it difficult for the Major.  Want her job do you?  Like you could do any better.  You couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery even if someone got out all the bottles out for you.”

 

Chadwick was bristling with barely concealed rage now.  “You think you’re so bloody superior don’t you,” he seethed, trying to pull himself up even taller so he could tower over her, “Just because you have these super powers.  Well, you’re not.  You’re just some freak.”

 

“Better than being a wanker!”

 

Andrea wasn’t expecting Chadwick to risk any kind of physical confrontation with her, so she was caught completely off-guard when he grabbed for her left arm pulling off her power-regulator in one swift movement.

 

“Hey, give that back!” she demanded, lunging for it.

 

He dodged back from her and around the sofa.  “Come and get it then,” he taunted, dangling it out at arm’s length.

 

“You are an utter prick, you know that,” she said scornfully, walking round after him.

 

He continued to evade her, the pair of them circling the sofa.  “Come on, why don’t you fly over here and get me?” he teased once more.

 

“Because that’s what you want,” replied Andrea, “You actually want me to have a seizure don’t you?  Jesus, you are one sick bastard.”

 

“Afraid to use your powers are you?”

 

“No,” she stated.  She reached out her hand impatiently and thrust her other hand on her hip.  “Now just give it back before I lose my temper.”

 

“I don’t know,” he said, ignoring the upturned palm, “You have these powers and you won’t even use them.  Couldn’t even use them to help your friends could you?”

 

Andrea was shocked; feeling like her breath had been knocked from her body.  “What do you know about that?”

 

“It’s true isn’t it?” challenged Chadwick, “There was your other friend too, wasn’t there?  Maria was it?  Shame you couldn’t save her either.”

 

“Don’t you talk about her!”

 

“Aw, hit a nerve did I?”

 

“Shut up!”

 

“I bet she could have used someone swooping in to her rescue…”

 

Andrea leapt over the sofa, picking Chadwick up by the scruff of the neck and hurling him across the room to crash against the bedroom wall.  Rather than looking hurt, he was actually laughing as he staggered back to his feet.  Andrea clenched her fingers tightly into fists.

 

“Is that the best you can do?” he sneered, wiping away a small trickle of blood from his lip with the back of his hand.

 

“Fuck you!” 

 

Andrea went to jump at him again when a paralysing jolt of pain stabbed in her chest.  She cried out in agony, stumbling against the back of the sofa before she hit the carpeted floor.  She screwed her eyes shut as another spasm hit, burning her muscles.  Through the haze of pain she could sense Chadwick approaching her prone form.  She forced her eyes open, to see him looming over her.

 

“Oops, need a hand do you?” He was practically laughing at her predicament.

 

“The…regulator…” she managed, forcing the words out between her clenched teeth, “…give…it…to…me.”

 

“You mean this?” he asked, dangling it above her, out of reach.  Not that she could have moved her arm to go for it anyway.  “Why don’t you get it?” he suggested, flinging it to the far side of the room.

 

Andrea gasped again as she tried to move her head to see where it had gone.  The slightest movement brought further agonising bolts of pain.

 

Chadwick knelt down menacingly by her.  “And don’t think about saying anything about this to the Major, or you’ll look even more of a fool than you do now.”

 

Chadwick produced the syringe from amongst his uniform and jabbed it sharply into Andrea’s arm.  Despite the agony she was already in she felt the harsh stab of the needle as he took no care whatsoever in how he injected it.  Having drawn out a sample of blood he got to his feet.

 

“Thanks,” he said before leaving her lying where she was and exiting the room.

 

Andrea now allowed a sob to escape her lips, since there was no one to witness it.  The pain just kept coming in wave after wave.  Gritting her teeth she tried to turn her head again.  It was pure agony but she managed to crane it round enough to see the regulator sitting on the carpet about ten feet away.  Steeling herself she attempted to move her arm to flip herself over onto her front. 

 

Fire shot through her limb and it shook as she placed her hand down on the carpet.  She had to lie there, panting heavily before she could go any further.  After a couple of seconds she started to haul herself across the floor, clawing at the carpet to crawl the short distance to the object that would relieve her torment.

 

She was a couple of feet away when another lightning bolt of pain juddered through every sinew of her body.  She flopped to the floor, groaning into the pile of the carpet.  Her fingers snaked out, searching out the band.  It was so close, so tantalisingly close, but just out of reach of her grasping fingers.  Then a final wave of pain crashed over her and the blackness shortly followed.

 

……………….

 

When Andrea finally drifted back into consciousness, the first thing she did was grab the regulator and fasten it round her arm. Once it was in place she allowed herself a small sigh of relief as she sat on the floor, leaning against the sofa back.  She ran her trembling fingers through her blonde hair, trying to compose herself before she attempted to stand.

 

She couldn’t believe she had let Chadwick goad her like that.  It was obvious that it was what he’d wanted all along and she had played right into his hands.  He had known just what buttons to push to get her to react.  She would be more careful next time, thinking that there would no doubt be a next time.  She knew she could report the incident to the Major, but she hardly wanted to look like she couldn’t handle an idiot like Chadwick.  It was embarrassing that she’d let him get the better of her.  Resolving that she would deal with it herself, she pulled herself up using the sofa to rest against.  She tested that she could walk all right before she made for the bedroom.

 

Thirty minutes later she had showered and changed and was heading down to the rec room.  After the confrontation with Chadwick she felt like a bit of company, rather than sitting in her room mulling it over.  She also had the strong desire for some chocolate.  The lack of it in her cupboards had been most disturbing, so now she was on a mission to find some of the comforting food. 

 

Luckily there were some vending machines just outside the rec room and she selected a huge bar of Galaxy [11] .  She had already peeled off the wrapper and eaten a couple of chunks when she made her way into the common room.  It was reasonably busy, with both pool tables occupied by soldiers having some fun on their off hours.  At the snooker table she spied Lieutenant Chadwick.  He had caught her entry too, and was now looking at her with an unmistakable smug expression on his face.  A brief flash of anger shot through Andrea and she had to consciously stop herself going over there and having it out with him in front of everyone.  However, she realised that it probably wasn’t the most appropriate time and place.  She merely returned his look with an equally disparaging one, before turning for the seating area in front of the large television.

 

Tom was in his usual position on the largest of the sofas, shifting his feet off it when he saw Andrea approaching.  “Hey there, you’re just in time for the big match,” he noted with a grin.

 

“Sorry?” said Andrea distractedly, unable to stop herself from glancing over at Chadwick again.  He had returned to his game now, but she had the strangest sense that the laughter he was sharing with his opponent was about her.

 

“Don’t tell me you didn’t know!” cried Tom in amazement.

 

Andrea turned her full attention to the sandy-haired young man.

 

He rolled his eyes at her continued bemusement.  “It’s Liverpool versus Man Utd [12] of course!  That’s why I thought you’d come down here.”

 

“It is?” she asked in surprise, “I guess I must just have lost track of the fixtures with everything else that’s been going on.”

 

Tom looked abashed at his enthusiasm over a mere football match now that Andrea had reminded him of her recent travails.  “Right, yes, of course,” he said awkwardly.  “Actually, now you come to mention it, you do look like shit,” he remarked, eyeing her up and down, “Are you all right?”

 

Andrea made a rueful laugh.  “You certainly know how to make a girl feel good about herself.”

 

Tom laughed too, perhaps more in relief that she had taken his comment lightly.  “Oops, sorry, you know us men, sensitive as ever.  But seriously is everything ok?”

 

“Yes, fine,” she replied dismissively, not wanting to get into her Chadwick problems at that moment, “I’m just a bit tired.  I’m sure I’ll wake up when we start whipping your butts,” she added more light-heartedly.

 

“Oh, listen to the confidence!” crowed Tom to no one in particular, “You are in for a world of hurt!  There’s no way your bunch of second rate losers is going to beat us.”

 

“We’ll just watch and see shall we?” she remarked with a sly grin, noting that up on the screen the teams were just exiting the tunnel onto the green grass of Anfield. [13]

 

“Care to put your money where your mouth is?” pondered Tom by her side.

 

“Are you trying to tempt an officer of the law into gambling?”

 

“Come on, it’s just a little wager between friends.  Or maybe you’re scared?  I would be too given the recent form of your lot.”

 

“Right, that’s it!” she said with pretend indignation, “I’m not having anyone cast aspersions on Rafa’s men - you’re on!  How much do you want to lose?”

 

“How about twenty quid?  And you should be the one preparing to lose it.”

 

“Twenty it is then,” she agreed offering up her hand for him to shake it to seal the wager.

 

He had just grabbed it when another voice broke their banter.

 

“What’s going on here then?”

 

Andrea’s eyes shot round to see the Major standing behind the sofa, regarding them with friendly suspicion.

 

“Erm, nothing,” replied Andrea, swiftly dropping Tom’s hand.  She suddenly felt like a schoolkid, caught doing something they shouldn’t behind the bikesheds.  It was a similar disarming sensation to the one she had felt on the boat.  She wondered if the Major had the same effect on everyone.  There was just something about her that radiated power and authority, certainly strongly enough to effect someone with Andrea’s normally steely resolve.

 

It seemed that Tom wasn’t affected, though, since he was laughing at Andrea’s embarrassment.  “I’m sure the Major’s not going to be bothered about a spot of small-time gambling.  Are you?” he asked using his best puppy eyes on the woman standing behind them.

 

The Major laughed and uncrossed her arms.  “That depends on who you’re betting on,” she remarked, “Though I think I already know the answer in your case Mr Parsons.  Which must mean you’ve gone for Liverpool, Andrea.”

 

“Yes, that’s right.”  Andrea couldn’t really think of anything more intelligent to say immediately, finally managing to engage her brain once her eyes had stopped staring at the Major’s open necked uniformed shirt and the skin beneath it.  “You know who’s playing then?” she eventually said.

 

“The small score display in the corner of the screen was a bit of a giveaway,” noted the Major, flicking her eyes at the television, “But, yes, I did know anyway.  I thought I might come down here and watch, if you don’t mind me joining you?”

 

Andrea stuttered ineffectually to formulate a response, the concept of the Major wanting to watch football far too incongruous to allow her to think properly.  Luckily for her Tom wasn’t so tardy.

 

“Sure, pull up a chair,” he said, “Unless you want to squeeze on with us?”

 

Andrea looked in alarm at the small space left next to her on the sofa.  It was designed for three, but it would be a bit of a squash.  She let out an inaudible sigh of relief when she saw the Major was making for one of the armchairs instead.

 

“So who are you going to be rooting for?” asked Tom as she lowered herself into it, neatly crossing her pressed trousers.

 

“Liverpool, of course.”

 

“Oh god, not another Liverpool fan!” he exclaimed.

 

Andrea found it hard to hide her surprise.  “You actually support Liverpool?  I mean you follow football?”

 

“Don’t look too shocked,” commented the major with amusement, “Did you think the likes of football was too common for army officers?”

 

“No,” said Andrea to begin with, before she assessed her thoughts.  “Well, yes, maybe a little,” she allowed.

 

The Major shook her head as she chuckled.  “I guess you would be right in the case of some officers.  They do like to try and maintain that stuffy image, and a nice civilised game of golf is probably more their cup of tea.  But most of us are normal people, we like a bit of football as much as the next person.”

 

“I don’t know,” interjected Tom, “I’m starting to doubt your sincerity if you claim to be a football fan but at the same time support Liverpool.”

 

The Major smiled at the gentle punch in the arm Tom received from Andrea for his sarcastic comment.

 

“I’ve actually supported Liverpool for years,” the Major informed him.

 

“Ok, so what’s your excuse then?” wondered Tom, “I mean Andrea here has some justification, having been born there.  Though I have to say, he continued glancing sideways at the young woman, That it’s a pretty poor reason given that you only stayed there for six months.  Mind you, who wouldn’t want to leave as soon as they could?”

 

Andrea was tempted to deliver him another blow, which he must have sensed as he moved quickly on.  “Anyway, I hope you’re not going to tell me you’re a secret scouser too?” he said to the Major.

 

“Not me, but my father was from Liverpool originally,” she admitted, “It was him who got me interested in the team, even though he’d long since moved on from the city by then. Once a scouser, always a scouser I guess.”

 

Tom muttered to himself for a moment.  “I suppose it’s allowed in your case too then,” he said grudgingly.

 

A sudden increase in excitement from the match commentator caused all three of them to glance at the screen at that moment, though it wasn’t a goal, merely some other incident.  Having been diverted to the television they settled down to watch the match. 

 

Since the Major was sitting just ahead of them, Andrea was able to steal a few surreptitious glances in her direction as the game progressed.  She seemed enthralled in the match, her lips pursing and releasing in time with the action.  Andrea suspected she didn’t even realise she was doing it, that it was just another quirky mannerism to add to the ever growing list in Andrea’s head.

 

Andrea was still curious about the Major’s Liverpool connection.  She couldn’t quite believe the coincidence of them supporting the same team, though obviously there were lots of people who claimed a passing allegiance.  Eventually she leaned forward in her seat so she could speak to the other woman without disturbing Tom.

 

“You think we’ve got a chance?” she asked to open the conversation.

 

The Major regarded her for a moment, weighing up her answer.  “I’d like to think so,” she replied, keeping her voice low too.  “Who knows with Liverpool this season, though.  We could win 3-0 or lose by the same score, it’s anyone’s guess.”

 

Andrea nodded.  “Indeed, it’s certainly been a bit of a topsy turvy season, though there’s always Europe still.”

 

“True.  Wouldn’t that be fantastic to win the European Cup after so long? Or the Champions League as it is, though it’ll always be the European Cup to me.  I wonder if I can get a temporary posting in Istanbul if we get to the final?”

 

Andrea thought it not a little weird to be discussing the merits of Liverpool football club with the Major.  She would never have imagined the other woman would be the sort to be interested in football, but it was obvious she knew what she was talking about.  It just went to show that you never should judge by first impressions.  She decided to verify if the Major really was the die-hard fan Andrea already suspected she was or just a casual supporter.  “How long have you followed them for?” she asked.

 

“Too many years to count!” replied the Major, “I actually used to go and watch some games at Anfield with my father when I was a girl.  When he wasn’t busy off on some exercise or other.” 

 

Andrea could see a slight faraway look crossing the Major’s face, as she no doubt recalled some of those trips.  They looked like fond memories.  “That must have been exciting,” said Andrea, “To experience the atmosphere of the Kop [14] firsthand.”

 

“It certainly was, especially when you’re a wide-eyed ten-year-old.  Needless to say I learnt the lyrics of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ pretty quickly.”

 

Andrea didn’t comment straight away – she was still having trouble picturing a wide-eyed Major as a girl.  It was a hard image to conjour given that the other woman was one of the most confident and sure people Andrea had ever met.

 

“You’ve never been then?” the Major asked while Andrea was thinking.

 

“No, I’ve always meant to go, but you know how things are - you have all these ideas and then life and work get in the way.  I just never seemed to get around to it.”

 

“Maybe I’ll take you some time?” offered the Major.

 

Andrea’s breath caught in her throat and she had to take an inelegant gulp to clear it.  “Thanks, that would be good,” she managed quickly to hide her momentary surprise.  She wasn’t sure if it had just been a casual offer, or if the Major really meant it.  Maybe she was just responding in kind to Andrea’s earlier offer of a flight.

 

Tom’s voice rang out in their direction, relieving the need for Andrea to enquire further.

 

“Oi, Sherlock, stop nattering! Some of us are trying to watch the game.”

 

Andrea turned and pouted at him before swinging back to the Major.

 

“Sherlock?” queried the other woman in bemusement.

 

Andrea sighed.  “It’s Tom’s not very inventive nickname for me.”

 

“I see,” said the Major, trying unsuccessfully to hide her smile, “At least that means you must be one of the gang now, if he’s blessed you with your own nickname.”

 

“Do you have one?”

 

“Not that I know of,” disclosed the Major, “Though I’m sure I’m the last person Mr Parsons would tell if he did have some other name for me!”

 

“For what it’s worth, I’ve not heard him call you anything else other than ‘The Major’.  I think he has quite a lot of respect for you.”

 

A smile flashed briefly across The Major’s face.  “It’s nice to know someone does.”

 

“I think most people round here do.”

 

“Does that include you?”

 

Andrea wondered why the Major was concerned about what she thought, and yet the other woman seemed to be hanging, waiting expectantly for the answer.

 

“I would say you’ve started to win me round,” said Andrea, not wanting to make things too easy for the Major.

 

The Major’s lips turned ever so slightly upwards at the corners of her mouth as she recognised Andrea’s evasive answer.  “At least that’s some progress,” she noted with a tilt of the head, “I guess I’ll just have to try that bit harder.”

 

Again Andrea wondered why the Major was so bothered, why she would feel the need to try harder.  She supposed that the Major felt similarly about everyone under her command.  That she felt the need to gain their trust.  It probably made them easier to command, to have them on your side and believing whole-heartedly in your abilities, rather than going for the other tactic of purely bossing everyone around and making them follow orders just because that was just the way things were. 

 

A small bleep from the Major’s wrist indicated that someone was trying to get hold of her.

 

“Damn, looks like duty calls,” she said, glancing down at the communicator.  “I’m counting on you to uphold the Liverpool side of things in my absence,” she added as she got up from her chair.

 

“Before you go,” said Andrea waylaying her, “I meant to ask if I could make a phone call this evening.”

 

“Yes, that’s fine,” replied the Major, “In fact you don’t need to ask in future, we’ll get you permanently connected up. Though of course we will still be monitoring communications.”

 

“Of course,” agreed Andrea, “But thank you.”

 

The Major smiled and made her leave from the rec room.  It was only when Andrea turned back and noticed Tom studying her that she realised she had been tracking the other woman out the door.

 

“See,” he said, “It’s like I told you before - you’re the new favourite.”

 

Andrea blessed him with a withering look.  “Just shut up and watch the match!”

 

……

 

The Major glanced at her watch in annoyance.  She’d been hoping to get back and at least see the end of the game, but the conversation with Colonel Parsons had dragged on much longer than she would have hoped or wanted.  Sometimes she did wonder if he trusted her as much as he made out, since he felt the need to check in quite so often. 

 

Or maybe he was just particularly interested in Andrea’s progress, since she had been one of the main topics of conversation.  That only served to make her more suspicious about the warehouse incident and more tempted to look into it, even though the Colonel had expressly ordered her not to.

 

It was now just after ten and the Major supposed there was little point heading back up to the rec room now, she may as well turn in for the night.  The Colonel’s persistent questioning had a way of draining her anyway and her bed was looking increasingly attractive.

 

She was heading for the door to the leave the secure communications centre, when she decided she may as well check in on the men carrying out monitoring next door.  It could be a tedious job, stuck in that underground room for hours on end, and a good word from their commanding officer might not go amiss. 

 

As she entered the Major noted the two soldiers sat at the main desk area in the room, one man and one woman.  In front of them sat a bank of security monitors, displaying pictures of various locations round the base.  Both of them wore headphones and were oblivious to her presence.  A third soldier was doing some maintenance on the surveillance and electronic equipment that was stacked in racks around the other walls.  He had one box open, wires sprawling all over the place.  Hearing the click of the door his eyes flicked up and he quickly leapt to his feat.

 

“Major,” he said, standing to attention.

 

She managed to hold back a smile.  “At ease, Private Hawkins, before you sprain something.”

 

“Is there something wrong, Major?” he asked.

 

“No, just thought I’d pop in to see how you were doing,” she explained.  “Having a few problems with the equipment were you?” she asked, indicating the exposed wires with her eyes.

 

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” he informed her, “Just a bit of routine maintenance.  All cameras and devices are working as expected round the base.”

 

“Good, and nothing else to report?”

 

“No, a quiet night, just how we like it.”

 

He reached over to tap the other soldiers on the shoulder and they swivelled round, almost falling off their seats when they saw who was in the room.  They quickly removed their headphones, unplugging them so they could hear anything that happened on the speakers.  For the moment all that filled the room was the sound of static.  Both of them then shot up from their chairs, standing stiffly.

 

“At ease,” the Major ordered for the second time, “I just came in to see how you were doing, it’s not an official inspection.”

 

They visibly relaxed.  “We’re good thanks, Major,” answered the man.

 

The Major glanced oddly at the female soldier who was staring back like a deer caught in the headlights.  “And are you all right, Private Ramis?  You look rather flushed.”

 

The woman managed to stutter out her answer.  “Y-yes, I’m fine, thank you, Major.”

 

Suddenly there was a crackle from the speakers and a familiar voice resounded round the room.  It was Andrea.  She was obviously just starting a phone conversation. 

 

“Sorry, I’ll put it on the headphones,” said Ramis, diving for them.

 

“No, it’s all right,” the Major said, stopping her, “It was only a flying visit, I’ll leave you to it since you’re busy.”

 

“Right you are, ma’am.”

 

The Major just about prevented herself from rolling her eyes at the terminology.  Having wished them goodnight, she made for the door but found herself stopping for a moment to listen to the broadcast conversation.  She told herself that it was just to make sure that Andrea didn’t abuse her newfound freedom, and nothing to do with being nosey.  Andrea had actually stopped speaking now and another woman’s voice filled the room.  It took a couple of seconds for the Major to place it as that of Meg, Andrea’s former girlfriend who she had met briefly at Maria’s funeral.

 

“Gerry’s fine, though I think he hates having to stay in for hours while I’m at work”

 

“Well, you could always leave him out, I’m sure he can fend for himself.  He should be acclimatised to his new surroundings by now,” replied Andrea.

 

“Maybe, but I don’t want to lose your cat for you.  I want to keep him safe and sound until you get back here, whenever that might be.  Any idea when you’re going to be finished doing whatever it is you’re doing?”

 

There was the minutest of pauses before Andrea answered.  “No, I’m afraid not.  Hopefully I’ll be back to London at some point soon.”

 

“Is there any chance we can meet up before then?  Just for a chat or a drink or something.  I don’t want to lose touch.”

 

“I’m not sure if that’s really possible,” replied Andrea evasively.

 

“Bloody hell, it sounds like you’re in prison or something…you’re not are you?”

 

Andrea’s laugh was detectable over the speakers.  “No, I’m not in prison!  I’m just doing something for the government which is why I can’t really talk about it, the Official Secrets’ Act and all that.”

 

“Ok, I just hope it’s finished soon…” there was a pause in the conversation, and the Major thought for a moment that the line had gone dead.  “I miss you, you know,” added Meg eventually.  The Major thought she heard a sigh from Andrea’s end.  “Sometimes I just wonder if we were too hasty in breaking up, just because…”

 

“Meg…” Andrea was quick to intervene in a wary tone, no doubt to cut Meg off before she revealed something Andrea didn’t want those listening to know.

 

“I know, I know, raking over old ground,” said Meg, an air of resignation in her tone, “It’s all right, you don’t have to say anything, it’s just me being maudlin.”

 

The Major was starting to feel increasingly uncomfortable listening to the personal conversation.  She had monitored lots of calls in the past, yet for some reason this particular one was making her uneasy.  She decided that the best way to relieve that was to leave the room, though another part of her was desperate to stay and listen to the rest of the call.  She almost had to force herself out the door and into the quiet corridor.

 


 

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

 

CHAPTER 9

 

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

 

“Walker, you’re with me!”

 

Somewhere at the back of her mind Andrea knew she had been here a dozen or more times before, yet she seemed unable to divert from the course of action that was prescribed for her.  She and Walker dashed over to the far side of the warehouse to look for a means of exit, Andrea knowing the whole time that they would find none.

 

Constable Walker was searching desperately along the wall now, as he did every time, his fingers clawing at the corrugated steel.  Andrea forced herself to look away to break the repetitive cycle.  Instead she looked up, for the first time noticing something that had never been apparent to her before.  Watching from a gantry above the warehouse floor was another figure.  They were hidden in the shadows, their face obscured from view, but Andrea got the sense they were watching the unfolding events with interest rather than panic like those on the ground floor.

 

Leaving Walker, Andrea hurried for the ladder to the upper level, suddenly having the urge to find out who the mysterious watcher was.  The sound of her shoes on the rungs echoed round the cavernous room as she frantically clambered up.  Reaching the top she could see the figure was still there.

 

“Hey!” she yelled to get their attention.

 

The shadowy face swung towards her but she still couldn’t make out their features in the gloom.  All she could discern was that they were of a reasonably large build, making her think it was a man.  Then they were off and running in the opposite direction, Andrea giving chase along the narrow walkway.

 

“Wait!  Who are you?” she called after the person.

 

She was getting close now, almost within touching distance when suddenly the metal gantry gave way beneath Andrea and she was falling, hitting the concrete floor of the warehouse with a hefty thump.

 

Groaning she lifted her sore head, experiencing a profound sense of déjà vu when she saw what was in front of her - a pair of shiny black boots.  Andrea realised she wasn’t in the warehouse anymore, the whiteness of the corridor where she lay in stark contrast to its oppressive gloom.  She started to slowly track her eyes up the olive green trousers, taking her time since she had yet to find out what lay above.

 

Then suddenly her eyes opened and she was back in her bed, none the wiser.  Wearily casting the duvet aside, Andrea padded across the room and out into the dark lounge.  This was becoming an all-too familiar ritual now, she considered as she crossed to the kitchen to retrieve a drink of water.  Though she pondered that the shadowy figure had never featured in her nightmares before.  She deliberated over whom the person represented – had they in fact been there in the warehouse at the time, or were they some figment of her nightmare’s imagination?

 

Swigging the cold water, Andrea wondered if the counselling she was undertaking would eventually help resolve things.  She’d only had the first session with Dr Shah a few days previously, and they hadn’t even got onto the recurrent nightmares during that.  Thinking she would find it hard to get back to sleep again any time soon, she decided to complete her usual routine with a late-night walk round the corridors to try and calm her racing thoughts.  She pulled on some jeans and a t-shirt, quickly doing her hair up in a ponytail before she left the room.  She knew she probably looked rather dishevelled, but it wasn’t like she ever saw anyone while wandering the halls after hours, at least not anyone important.

 

She followed the carpeted corridor round and out of the section that was for the superhuman’s quarters, continuing on her loop of the second floor.  As usual the halls were deserted, her only companions the cameras that tracked her movements.  Sometimes Andrea got the perverse urge to wave up at them.  If nothing else it might give those watching a small smile during their mundane work.  She was heading past the Major’s office now, the desk outside where her secretary normally sat empty, the Major no doubt long ago tucked up in bed.  Andrea was just turning to continue her circuit when she noticed something different from all the previous occasions she’d passed this way.  There was a door open just to the side of the Major’s office, through which a set of stairs was clearly visible.

 

Unable to resist the urge to investigate, Andrea went through and up the metal steps, finding herself out on the flat roof of the building when she opened the door at the top.  She shivered as the chill crispness of the night air hit her immediately, bringing goosebumps to her exposed arms.  It might have been early May, but up in Scotland that didn’t stop it being rather cold come one in the morning.  Glancing up she could see that it was a clear night for a change, the moon bright against the blackness speckled with stars.  As she took a moment to gaze at the impressive vastness of the vista viewable from the roof, she suddenly realised she was not alone.

 

Standing near the edge with her back to Andrea was the Major.  Or more precisely the other woman was bending forwards, her hands on her knees, looking into the eyepiece of a telescope that pointed at the heavens.  She still wore her uniform, though more sensibly than Andrea she had a thick camouflage jacket on her top half to protect from the cold.  She appeared engrossed in whatever she was looking at, though every so often she would have to reach up and brush her auburn hair back round behind her ears as it flopped in the way.

 

Andrea was just wondering whether it was polite to announce herself in some way or disappear back the way she had come, when the Major suddenly swung round and spotted her.

 

“Sorry,” I didn’t mean to disturb you, said Andrea quickly, “I just saw the open door and, well….”

 

“You couldn’t resist taking a peek?” finished the Major.  The leading question was delivered with an obvious edge of amusement.

 

Andrea shrugged.  “I’ve never seen it open before,” she explained, walking across the roof, since it seemed the Major wasn’t adverse to her presence.

 

“You often walk past late at night then do you?” queried the Major.

 

As the Major’s eyes narrowed slightly, Andrea realised she had been caught out.  “Sometimes,” she said evasively.  She didn’t know what it was about the Major, but Andrea found she seemed to have a tendency of speaking without always calculating her responses when the other woman was around, not something she was usually guilty of. 

 

The Major raised both eyebrows, fixing Andrea inquisitively with her blue eyes.  The moonlight glinted off them, almost making them twinkle as the white light caught the grey shade that underlay the blue.  Trying to avoid the questioning stare, Andrea shifted her gaze ever so slightly away from direct eye contact.  Now though, she couldn’t help noticing the way the moon lit up and defined the features of the Major’s face, playing across her cheekbones.

 

Looking for a way to avoid the implied question and distract her wandering eyes, Andrea decided to switch the focus to the other woman.  “So, what are you looking at?” she asked, glancing at the telescope.

 

The Major eyed her for a moment, seemingly deciding she would allow the change in topic.  “I was having a look at the Mare Tranquillitatis, also known as the Sea of Tranquillity,” she said, “Would you like to see?”

 

Andrea tipped her head in acknowledgement.  “Sure why not?”

 

The Major moved aside to allow Andrea access to the sleek black tube set on a tripod.  Andrea closed one eye and squinted down the eyepiece, trying to focus on the mass of white visible to her.  She took a few moments before straightening up.  “Er…what exactly am I looking for?”

 

The Major let out a low throaty laugh and Andrea found herself shivering again unsure whether it was the night air or the laugh that had caused the prickle down her spine.  “You might need to focus it, for the specifics of your eyes,” suggested the Major.  “Here, turn this knob.”

 

The Major leaned over and indicated the one she meant on the far side of the telescope, accidentally brushing up against Andrea’s arm as she did.  It was purely accidental, but Andrea was surprised at the small tingle that danced up along her arm and down to settle somewhere in her stomach.  In its wake Andrea just about managed to fumble her fingers onto the knob and turn the dial.  Suddenly the mass of white became defined, a landscape of plunging craters and soaring peaks coming into focus.  She let out a small gasp of wonder at the breath-taking view of something that she would normally have taken for granted.

 

“Do you see it now?” asked the Major.  “It’s the largest crater.”

 

“Yes,” Andrea said, still studying the details, “That’s it by the Sea of Serenity.”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

Andrea glanced up from her perusal.  “Was I incorrect?”

 

“No, you were absolutely right,” said the Major with no small degree of surprise. “You know about astronomy do you?”

 

“Not really,” said Andrea with a shrug, “I must have read it in a book at some point.  I have quite a good memory.”

 

“I’d say,” agreed the Major, still sounding impressed.

 

“It’s an amazing sight,” commented Andrea, peering down once more.

 

“Yes, it is,” agreed the Major.  Andrea could see her out of the corner of her eye, turning her face skywards and staring up at the sphere with the naked eye.  “Of course a lot of astronomers forget about the beauty of the moon when they’re chasing after all those exciting stars, but I always like to come back to it every now and then.”

 

As the other woman glanced her way again, Andrea swiftly fixed her eyes on the telescope, pretending she had been looking at that the whole time.  Though she didn’t want to go back in just yet, Andrea couldn’t help shivering again and had to rub her arms to get some life into them.

 

“Would you like a little something to warm you up?” offered the Major.

 

Andrea’s eyes shot up in shock until she saw the Major was holding up a metal flask, its silver surface reflecting the moonlight.  Of course she had meant a drink; Andrea didn’t know what she had been thinking.

 

“Is it like your drinks on the boat?” asked Andrea suspiciously.

 

The Major’s lips curved into a knowing smile.  “How did you guess?  I only have coffee though I’m afraid.”

 

“I’m sure I can make an exception for once,” said Andrea accepting the proffered cup.

 

She wouldn’t normally touch the stuff, but she thought it would be rude to decline the offer.  The Major had now perched herself on the low wall that ran along the edge of the roof and Andrea naturally joined her, taking a tentative sip of her drink.  As she expected it wasn’t really to her taste, but she tried not to let that fact show on her face. 

 

“You carried the telescope up here from your office then?” noted Andrea conversationally, “Hence the open door.”

 

“Yes, as you’ve probably noticed the weather up here in Scotland isn’t exactly great,” replied the Major having paused to take a sip of her drink, “But when we do get a clear night it’s perfect stargazing weather, what with the lack of background light.”

 

Andrea realised that was her cue to do or say something.  She had been distracted again, watching the way the Major liked to play with her mug, running her fingers along the rim in a most teasing fashion.  Kicking the sensible parts of her mind into gear, Andrea swept her eyes round the view from the rooftop instead.  Apart from those of the base, there wasn’t an artificial light in sight.  The building sat at the foot of a slight slope so that it wasn’t visible from the mainland and conversely the coast wasn’t visible from there.  Not that those lights would have been close enough to interfere with using the telescope anyway.  In the other directions, beyond the trees and undulating grass-covered ground of the island, stretched the vastness of the sea, the light from the moon playing off the swell.  Andrea completed her circle, coming back to the Major.  “You do a lot of stargazing then do you?”

 

The Major nodded.  “I’ve always had a fascination for the stars, maybe something to do with my birthday.”

 

Andrea narrowed her eyes into a quizzical look.

 

“I was born on July 20th 1969,” clarified the Major.

 

The date rang a bell in Andrea’s mind and she quickly identified the connection.  “The day of the Apollo 11 moon landing,” she noted, nodding her head in understanding.

 

“Spot on,” said a surprised Major, “You do know your astronomy.”

 

“No, as I said…”

 

“You just read it in a book,” finished the Major quickly.

 

“Now you’re spot on.”

 

The Major broke into a spontaneous laugh, the sound echoing across the roof.  Andrea noticed that that strange chill was back again, surmising that it really must be getting cold at that point.  Still she was reluctant to say anything, especially when she looked at the smile on the Major’s face and found that she was starting to feel warmer anyway.

 

Meanwhile the Major was continuing with her explanation for her astronomy hobby.  “I don’t know if it was just some weird coincidence but I can always remember going out in the back garden as a child, and gazing up at the stars, wishing I could be out there too.”

 

“It sounds like you wanted to be an astronaut.”

 

“I did!” agreed the Major, “But unfortunately I soon found out I was too short.  So then I settled for more earth-bound ambitions, though it didn’t stop me studying physics at university.”

 

Andrea nearly choked on her coffee.  “You went to university? And did physics?”

 

Luckily the Major seemed to think Andrea’s slightly insulting comments were funny, or maybe it was just the stunned expression on Andrea’s face that was causing the half smile on her face.  Andrea recognised this smile as the one that said ‘ah-ha, I’ve caught you out and now I’m going to tease you mercilessly.’

 

“You thought I was some stupid squaddie?” asked the Major.  “That an army officer couldn’t be educated?” 

 

“No…er…it’s just…” Andrea searched for something more tactful to fill the gap, “…unusual.”

 

“No more than a police officer with a degree in Biochemisty from Oxford.”

 

Andrea realised there was no sense in prolonging her own squirming agony.  “Touche,” she said, with a nod.  Now she had conceded she decided to press for some details.  “So what did you get?”

 

“Ever the competitor, eh?”  The smile was still on the Major’s face, but now it had changed to one that indicated she found the question amusing.  Andrea wondered at how many slightly different smiles the Major had, each one signified with varying curving of the lips and accompanied by a shift in the expression held in her eyes too. 

 

“I got a first,” the Major informed her, “From Birmingham University.”

 

Now Andrea really was interested.  “You went to the university at Birmingham?  When were you there?”

 

The Major seemed to think nothing of Andrea’s brash questions.  In fact she appeared happy to share these personal details with Andrea.  “From 1987 to 1990.”

 

Andrea let out a small snorting laughing, shaking her head.

 

“What’s so funny?” asked the Major, bemused by Andrea’s reaction.

 

Andrea was still shaking her head incredulously.  “Just another strange coincidence,” she said.

 

The Major remained perplexed by Andrea’s obtuse remarks, while Andrea was perversely satisfied to see she could still catch the other woman off-guard on ocassion.  Deciding to take pity, Andrea clarified what she meant.  “Do you remember the school next to the university?”

 

“The posh girls’ school? The King Edward something or other?”

 

“The King Edward VI High School For Girls to be precise.”

 

The Major studied the patient expression on Andrea’s face for a moment, before the light went on in her head.  “You didn’t go there?” she asked incredulously, not believing her own question.

 

Andrea nodded.  “From 1988 to 1995.  I’m surprised you didn’t already know, since you have that dossier on me.”

 

“That’s not as detailed as you seem to think it is,” said the Major, with a roll of the eyes, “It’s not like we had someone following you around from when you were born, noting your every move, just in case.  No, it only contains a summary of your adult life – university, work that sort of thing.  And then only the superficial details – acamdemic records, various work reports.”

 

“So you don’t know me as well as you thought you did?”

 

“I never claimed to know you at all,” insisted the Major.  “I realise that what’s written on a piece of paper is hardly going to reveal much about how a person thinks, what they’re like in real life.  I like to get to know someone to judge for myself.”

 

Andrea got the distinct impression that the way the Major was watching her now was all part of the way she formed that judgement.  The Major always seemed to have a look of quiet assessment about her when she wasn’t speaking, like every word and gesture from the other person was being noted down for future reference.  Andrea could see how it would be unnerving to less strong willed individuals.  It was unnerving to her.

 

Maybe the Major sensed that the moment had gotten too tense and let out a small chuckle to herself.  “I can’t believe you would have been one of those posh kids in a boater and blazer,” she said, recalling what they had originally been discussing, “The ones that always looked down their noses at us students.”

 

“And you would have been one of those drunken students falling in the gutter, stealing traffic cones and singing rude songs at 2am.”  Though she had said it, Andrea couldn’t quite picture it - the respectable Major drunk. 

 

The other woman managed to confound her again though.  “Guilty as charged!” confessed the Major.  “Though now you’re making me feel old, considering you were still at school when I left university.”

 

“I wish I could have been leaving school at that point too!”  Andrea could have kicked herself; she didn’t know why she had admitted what she had.  Just another case of being unable to control her mouth in front of the Major she supposed.

 

The Major wasn’t slow to pick up on her outburst either.  “You didn’t like it there?  It’s one of the best independent schools in the country isn’t it?  And it must have cost a pretty penny to send you.”

 

“Oh yes, I’m sure it did,” agreed Andrea, unable to keep the bitterness out of her tone, “Only the best money could buy for my parents.”

 

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard you mention them in less than stellar tones,” noted the Major, “Pardon the pun given the current setting.  You can tell me to mind my own business if you like, but it seems they must have cared about you once if they were so bothered about your education.”

 

Andrea realised she had disclosed far too much by her tone and words.  Now she could either attempt to avoid revealing any more by changing the subject or else she could answer the Major’s probing honestly.  For some reason she was more inclined to the latter.

 

“Is this part of your ‘getting to know someone’ strategy?” queried Andrea, at least trying to stall for a moment.

 

“There’s no strategy, I’m just curious,” insisted the Major, “But if you’d rather not talk about it…”

 

Andrea exhaled slowly.  She’d spent most of her life not talking about it, and she guessed it wouldn’t hurt to for once.  The way the Major’s eyes had softened seemed to be inviting her to speak.  It was all very subtle yet persuasive, and Andrea was powerless to resist.

 

“My parents were actually at the university in Birmingham too,” she began, “They still are in fact.  Professor Magnus and Dr Erin Hallstrom of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics.  As you might imagine when you have two eminent scientists for parents the pressure was on to live up to some pretty big expectations.  It seemed like everyone that ever came round our house while I was growing up wanted to know how me and my brother were getting on at school, if we’d decided what university we were going to go to yet.  My parents certainly didn’t want to disappoint them so they drove us on - books, tutors, schools, anything they could buy or finance to further our education.”

 

“So you decided to rebel?”

 

“Not really, at least not back then.  Sure I played up at school, but what child doesn’t? And that was more because I was bored than because I didn’t want to do the work.  In fact you couldn’t tear me away from my books when I did settle down to it - I wanted to impress my parents as much as they wanted me to get good marks.  It seemed like the only way to get their attention, to win their love.”

 

“I’m sure that’s not true,” offered the Major, “I’m sure they loved you no matter your performance at school.”

 

Andrea let out a rueful laugh.  “You don’t know them.  Everything was measured in terms of intellectual achievement.  So I followed the route set out for me, went to university, did my degree in Biochemistry so I could follow in their footsteps.  But then…”

 

Too late Andrea realised that not only had she confessed about the problems with her parents, but also that she was now leading the Major into other difficult areas of her life.  Andrea had no idea why she felt willing or able to unburden herself to the other woman like she was doing - she hardly knew her really.  She’d had other friends for years that she’d never talked to about this sort of thing.  Yet at the same time she felt she could trust the Major with this information.

 

“But then…?” prompted the Major gently.

 

Andrea shrugged.  “Then they wanted me to go on and do a phd.”

 

“And you didn’t?”

 

“No, I’d finally had enough,” declared Andrea bitterly, “It got to the point when I realised that no matter what I did it would never be enough, especially not with Marcus being the apple of their eye.”

 

“Marcus?”

 

“My older brother.  He was always the favourite, maybe because he was older, I don’t know.”  Andrea paused for a moment as she thought back over her childhood.  “That’s another thing I remember from growing up – Marcus can do this, Marcus can do that, Marcus, Marcus, Marcus.  Why can’t you be more like Marcus?”

 

“Sounds like it was tough to live up to,” agreed the Major, “And what made you come to this realisation that you wanted to stop trying to do what they wanted?”

 

It seemed the other woman was still interested in that particular aspect of the story, even if Andrea had tried to distract her.  “It was a gradual thing,” explained Andrea, “Most of the time I was at university I was thinking about it, since it was my first chance to live away from them.  In the end we had a disagreement over something else and it all kind of came to a head.”

 

Andrea paused unsure if she wanted to admit this to the Major.  Still it was rather late to back out now.

 

Sensing Andrea’s reluctance the Major stepped in.  “It’s all right, if you don’t want to tell me,” she insisted.

 

“I’ve told you everything else,” replied Andrea, “I may as well finish the rest of this whole sorry story.”  She still paused before revealing the main reason for the falling out with her family.  “I told them I’d met someone, a woman.”

 

“Ah.”

 

“Exactly, ‘ah’” agreed Andrea, “To say they weren’t impressed is an understatement.”

 

The Major had a thoughtful look on her face as if she were trying to work something out.  “Was this Meg? The woman at university that you fell for?”

 

Andrea was confused for a second.  “What? Oh, no, that was much later,” she clarified, “No, Susie was her name.  It only lasted a few months, but you know when you’re that age - it’s the next great love.”

 

The Major nodded and Andrea couldn’t help wondering who the Major’s first great love had been.  “So you told your parents and they reacted badly?”

 

“Indeed, telling me how unnatural it was, how I just hadn’t met the right man, how university had corrupted me and so on and so forth.  They wanted me to come back and live with them, while studying for a phd, so they could keep an eye on me.”

 

“And you didn’t want to have anyone spying on you?”

 

“No, as you might have realised by now, I like my privacy.  So I basically told them where to stick it and I’ve not spoken to them in over five years.”

 

The Major seemed surprised at that.  “Not once?”

 

“There were a couple of phone calls near the beginning,” revealed Andrea, “Including one where I told them I’d joined the police force.  That went down like a lead balloon too – they thought I was wasting my talents.” 

 

“I suppose that was quite a departure,” noted the Major diplomatically.  “What made you pick the police?”

 

“I don’t know,” said Andrea quickly, “I fancied a change?”

 

Andrea could see the Major eyeing her suspiciously – her answer had been just that bit too glib.  However, Andrea didn’t want to reveal the real reason behind her decision - she would rather have the Major thinking it was just chance than have to admit that.  “Does there have to be some great noble reason?” she asked, turning the question back on the other woman.  “Like ‘I wanted to help others’ or some such bollocks?  No, there was no grand plan.  It was just something I fell into once I was down in London.”

 

The Major still didn’t look convinced; perhaps thinking correctly that Andrea wasn’t the sort to do anything without some sort of reason.  She didn’t pursue it though.  “And you’ve never thought about contacting your parents since?  They might have mellowed or realised they made a mistake pushing you away.”

 

“I have thought about it,” confessed Andrea, “But they’re stubborn and I just know the reception I’m going to get.  I can almost see the disapproving expression on my mother’s face when she asks if I’ve found a nice young man yet and I have to tell her that I’m still a lesbian.”

 

“It’s sad to hear you’re so estranged from them, that they couldn’t accept you for who you are.”

 

“Yeah, well their loss,” commented Andrea dismissively.  She was tired of talking about it now.  Discussing it with the Major had made her realise that it was still painful to think about the rejection she had felt at the time, and still felt to some extent.  “How about you family?” she asked, wanting to get off the depressing subject. 

 

“My family?”

 

“Well, I shared my life story, it seems only fair that you share in return.”

 

“There’s really not that much to tell,” said the Major, “You already know about my father.”

 

Andrea considered that she didn’t know that much beyond the fact that he came from Liverpool, had been in the army, had a love of sailing and had died a year ago.  However, she knew enough to know that the last point was still a touchy subject for the Major, so she decided not to press for further details right now.  “And your mother?  Siblings?”

 

The Major’s eyes narrowed, though they still carried a friendly glint to them.  “It’s my turn for the interrogation now is it?  Have you got the tape recorder out too?”

 

“It’s hidden in my sock.”

 

The Major chuckled at Andrea’s deadpan joke, and Andrea couldn’t help smiling in return rather pleased at having the ability to make the other woman laugh.

 

“Well, the brief version is that I had a fairly ‘normal’ upbringing,” outlined the Major, “If you count being shipped round to various different army bases to follow my father’s postings normal.”

 

“You could have based yourself in one place though,” pondered Andrea, “Let him go off and do the soldier thing.”

 

“And break up the family unit?  Oh no, neither my mother or my father would ever have stood for that.”

 

“It must be difficult for a child though,” continued Andrea, “A new place to get used to, new friends to make on a regular basis.”

 

“It was a bit I suppose,” allowed the Major, “But you get used to it.  And it certainly makes you outgoing, all those fresh starts.”

 

Andrea studied the Major doubtfully.  “I can’t imagine you ever being a shy child.”

 

The Major laughed again, a warm throaty one this time.  “No, I wasn’t.  I soon learnt to stand on my own two feet.  And there was always Penny to keep me occupied too.”

 

“A pet?”

 

“My younger sister!” The Major was chuckling to herself now and Andrea thought she could get used to seeing this relaxed side of the other woman on a regular basis.    “Though I did treat her like my little pet sometimes I suppose.”  The Major leaned in closer to Andrea on the ledge.  “Just don’t ever tell her I told you so,” she added in a conspiratorial whisper despite the fact there was no one else on the roof.

 

Andrea wondered when she would get the chance to do so; it was hardly likely she would be introduced to the Major’s sister at any point.  Having sidled closer, the Major had maintained her close position, and Andrea was convinced she could feel the warmth radiating off the other woman’s body.  Though she considered it could equally be the proximity that had caused Andrea’s own body to heat up in response.  At least she didn’t feel cold now.  “You got on though,” she managed to say, “Despite your tendency to treat your sister like a pet?”

 

“Yes, we were pretty close, still are,” agreed the Major, “Though we couldn’t have been more different growing up.  She was always the mummy’s girl, wanting to try on her clothes wear her make-up, whereas I was always much more interested in the details of the latest tank my father was testing.”

 

“Sounds like you were a real tomboy.”

 

The Major made a low chuckle as she obviously thought back on it.  “I was terrible,” she agreed, “I think my mother despaired of ever getting me to wear a skirt sometimes, other than to school.  I don’t think they were too surprised when I followed my father into the army.”

 

“Though you did have that pit-stop in academia,” recalled Andrea.

 

“Yes, well, I knew my mother was rather concerned about my plans for joining the army, she already had one person to worry about where that was concerned.  So I made a deal with her that I would go to university first and if at the end of that I still wanted to join then I could.  I think she hoped the experience might broaden my horizons a bit.”

 

“But it didn’t?”

 

The Major pursed her lips for a moment before replying.  “I have to say I was tempted to pursue another career…”

 

“Besides being an astronaut,” commented Andrea jokingly.

 

“Yes, besides that!” said the Major, “But my heart had always been set on the army.  So when I left it was straight to Sandhurst and the rest is history.”

 

The Major had gone quiet for a minute, glancing back up at the night sky again now.  Andrea noted how the other woman had glossed over her entire military career, but at the same time supposed she had gotten quite a lot out of her already and wouldn’t press her for details of that for the time being.  Yet Andrea did want to know; she wanted to know everything she could about the Major.

 

Andrea turned her eyes to the stars too, feeling the faint breeze whispering across the rooftop.  She tried to hold back the shiver that threatened, not wanting to alert the Major to the fact that she was cold and risk her suggesting that they go back in.  Andrea was enjoying this chance to spend some time alone and find out more about the Major beyond just work.  At the same time, she couldn’t quite believe the things she had confessed herself.  Why she had felt the need to unburden herself about her parents she didn’t know, but it surprised her to find that it felt good to have confided in someone.

 

The Major’s voice eventually broke the still of the night.  “You never did say why you were wandering around the base at this time of night.  Having trouble sleeping were you?”

 

“Maybe I’m just a late night person,” replied Andrea.

 

“And are you?”

 

Andrea looked over at the Major who was regarding her keenly.  “Ok, maybe I was having a bit of trouble sleeping.  I just thought I’d come for a walk to clear my head.”

 

“Nightmares again?”

 

Despite the fact that she had already confided in the Major that night, this was a little bit too sensitive a subject.  “I do already have one counsellor you know, I don’t need another.”

 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

 

Andrea quirked an eyebrow.  “Really?  You could have fooled me.”

 

The Major made a dismissive gesture with her hand.  “I was just interested, maybe a little concerned, but it doesn’t matter.”

 

Andrea was touched that the Major would be worried about her.  “Sorry, I’m just a bit touchy on that subject,” she said more gently.

 

“So how is the counselling’s going?  You had your first session with Dr Shah last Friday didn’t you?”

 

“You didn’t get a full report then?”

 

The Major merely raised both her eyebrows, deciding she really didn’t need to answer the question.

 

“Just checking,” noted Andrea, “Yes, it was fine, more of a ‘getting to know you’ session rather than anything else.  She seems nice enough though, certainly a lot more sensitive than other people around here.”

 

“Oh?” said the Major, seemingly wanting to know what Andrea was referring to.

 

“It doesn’t matter,” said Andrea quickly.  She had resolved to deal with Chadwick on her own.  For one she thought she should be able to handle the big oaf herself, and for another she wasn’t yet sure how loyal the Major was to the people under her command.  Andrea suspected that the Major would defend them with all her might.  In that case Andrea wasn’t convinced the other woman would believe her even if she did tell her about the incident in Andrea’s quarters the week before.  It wasn’t as if Andrea had any proof – it would just be her word against his, since he would no doubt deny it.

 

However, the Major didn’t seem like she was going to let it go that easily.  “No, it does matter.  If you’re having trouble with someone I want to know about it.”

 

“It’s no one in particular,” said Andrea, “Just the attitude of certain of the military personnel leaves a bit to be desired sometimes.”  She hoped the answer was evasive enough.

 

“Well, if there is something specific you’ll let me know?” the Major continued.

 

“Yes,” agreed Andrea.  She didn’t like lying to the Major, but she did have some pride.

 

“Because I take my responsibility as commander of this base seriously, that means looking out for the soldiers, the scientists and you superhumans too.”

 

Andrea decided it was best to try and change tack, to avoid the need for further untruths.  “I’ve been wondering, how comes you’re in command of the base?”

 

The Major’s brows crinkled together in a frown.  “I beg your pardon?”

 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it quite like that,” Andrea tried to explain, realising the question could have come across as rather rude, “What I meant was you’re a Major, and a major wouldn’t normally be in command of a whole base like this.”

 

“Been doing some research have you?”

 

Andrea shrugged.  “I like to know what I’m dealing with.  You must be good if they’ve given you such a responsibility above what would normally be entrusted to someone of your rank.”

 

“I do have to report to Colonel Parsons, he’s the overall commander,” the Major outlined, “But I suppose they must believe in my ability to run it in his absence, yes.”

 

“I guess they must since he’s not here that often is he?  I’ve only seen him that once in the couple of months I’ve been here.”

 

“He spends most of his time at Chicksands,” answered the Major, “That’s the corps’ headquarters.  Though I do report to him on a near daily basis.”

 

This was something else that had been bugging Andrea, so she seized the opportunity to question the Major on it.  “Wants to know how training’s going does he?”

 

“Yes, he is the overall commander of this unit.”

 

“And how is training going?” 

 

“Good,” replied the Major, seemingly not wanting to give anything else away.  Andrea got the feeling the other woman sensed she was being probed for something specific.

 

Andrea carried on anyway.  “And are we ready yet?”

 

“Sorry, you’ve lost me.”

 

Andrea doubted that.  She thought the Major knew exactly what Andrea was getting at.  “Are we ready for whatever it is you’re grooming us for.  I mean all this training can’t just be for our health can it.  More and more we seem to be learning military related information, tactics and the like.”

 

“That’s just because this is a military base,” the Major reasoned, “It’s only sensible for you to have some understanding of the sort of thing the other people here are trained in.  And we have to do something with you in between the lab work!”

 

Andrea thought there could be some truth in what the Major was saying, but suspected there was more to it.  “Then why is the Colonel so interested in how it’s going?”

 

“Why indeed?” agreed the Major.

 

“You don’t know?” asked Andrea, unable to hide her surprise.

 

“As you said before, I’m just a major, I’m not always privy to the workings of my superior’s minds.  But you’re right he does keep very close tabs on the base.”

 

Something in the Major’s tone alerted Andrea.  “You don’t sound overly happy about it.”

 

The Major regarded her for a moment; her blue eyes studying Andrea intensely.  Andrea got the feeling she was being silently assessed, to see how much the Major could reveal.  It was all Andrea could do to maintain her own gaze and not glance away from the piercing look.  “In the main it’s great running the base,” the Major finally said, “I just wish I had a slightly freer hand sometimes without these added requirements to produce constant results and reports.”

 

“Sounds like you’re under a bit of pressure,” noted Andrea.

 

“Does it?” said the Major with a small shrug before bringing her hand up to her temple and rubbing it, “I don’t know, it’s late, I’m tired, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

 

Andrea was surprised, not for the first time that night.  For some reason she had thought of the other woman as indestructible, but here she was confessing to normal human failings just like everyone else.

 

“Anyway, at least I do have good things to report at the moment,” continued the Major, “You seem to be doing rather well in particular.”

 

Andrea hadn’t been expecting the compliment so out of the blue and she couldn’t help blushing.  Especially when the words had been coupled with a soft look from the Major, her eyes still fixed on Andrea now.

 

“I’ve been most impressed by your change in attitude the past few weeks,” the Major said, “And you seem to be getting to grips with your powers too.  And I’m not the only one who’s noticed, Dr Todd’s had lots of good things to say too.”

 

“Thanks,” managed Andrea, still slightly abashed.  She was also rather concerned about the strange warm, tickling sensation in her stomach as she received the praise from the other woman.  “I suppose I eventually saw the benefit of cooperating, it’s in my interests to know how my powers work after all.”

 

The Major shook her head, though Andrea could see she was actually smiling as she did.  “It’s all right you don’t need to justify it, I’m not complaining in the slightest.  But it’s all right; I won’t blow your rebellious cover with the others if you don’t want me to.” 

 

Andrea smiled at the Major’s assessment of her.  It was true that she did tend to cultivate her difficult persona more as a way of disarming other people.  “Well I don’t want to lose my confrontational reputation completely, so I may as well ask if you’ve found anything more out about the accident at the warehouse.”

 

The Major eyed her curiously.  “What makes you think I’ve been looking into it?  I thought I told you on the boat trip that I couldn’t been seen to be making waves.”

 

“True, you can’t be seen,” agreed Andrea, now the one to study the Major’s face for signs that she had been correct in her assumption.  Apart from the slightly narrowed eyes, though, the Major really wasn’t giving anything away, her face set in its usual implacable expression.  Andrea pressed on anyway.  “That doesn’t stop you doing something below the surface.  I just got the feeling that you wouldn’t be able to resist the mystery.”

 

“I’m not sure I’m happy being that easy to read,” noted the Major.

 

Andrea felt a small sense of triumph.  “So you are looking into it?”

 

“This is strictly between us all right?” said the Major, waiting for Andrea to nod her understanding before continuing.  “Yes, I have put a few feelers out, but I’ve not heard anything back yet.”

 

“I’m just grateful that someone is looking into it,” said Andrea honestly, offering the Major a smile of thanks.

 

“The Colonel did say that someone was anyway.”

 

“I mean someone I can trust,” clarified Andrea.  The words had come out before she’d really thought about them, but even if she’d thought for longer she realised they wouldn’t have been any different.

 

It was slightly disturbing to her to discover that she felt the ability to trust the Major after having only known her for a couple of months.  The Major herself had a small half-smile on her face, as if she was pleased at Andrea’s comment.  Andrea found her own eyes drifting up the Major’s face, and as she got caught in the other woman’s gaze, she wondered at her change in attitude over those two months.  When Andrea had first arrived she’d been so adamant that she wouldn’t cooperate and would get out of there as soon as possible, yet now she found herself experiencing a certain degree of trepidation at the thought of leaving.  She tried to maintain that the reason for her more compliant attitude was that cooperating gave her a better chance to find out about the warehouse accident, and that it served her own interests to know how her powers worked.  However, deep down she knew they weren’t the only reasons.  Looking into those pale blue eyes, those other factors seemed inconsequential when compared to the sense of satisfaction Andrea got from pleasing the Major.

 

As they simply stared at one another the moment seemed to stretch on in Andrea’s mind though quite possibly it was only a couple of seconds.  Neither of them looked away, in fact Andrea got the sense that it would be more noticeable to do so and so she held the piercing gaze.  Yet she also knew she couldn’t just sit there staring like an idiot.  She was opening her mouth to break the awkward silence when something beat her to it, the sound of breaking glass shattering the calm of the night.

 

“What the hell?”  The Major was up and looking over the edge in a flash.

 

Andrea swiftly followed, noticing flames licking from a window on the ground floor.  The Major meanwhile was already on her communicator.

 

“Activate the fire alarm, now!  There’s a fire in the kitchen!”

 

Then she was running for the door to the stairs, and leaping down them two at a time, Andrea hurrying after her.  The sound of the alarm resounded round the corridors as they sped along the hall and down the stairs to the lower floor.  As they reached the corridor that contained the kitchen Andrea could see that a gaggle of soldiers were already there, a couple of them attempting to douse the flames spitting out the door with some fire extinguishers.

 

“Why haven’t the sprinklers activated?” asked the Major as she got to them.

 

“I don’t know ma’am,” said one of the soldiers, “We only just got here too.”

 

“Well, we’re never going to put it out with those,” she said indicating the extinguishers.  “Tardelli,” she barked into her communicator.  There was no immediate response to her hail.  She tried again, but there was still nothing.  “Patel!”  She called to the nearest soldier.

 

“Yes, ma’am?” he replied standing to attention in front of her.

 

“Go and find Tardelli and bring her back down here.”

 

He gave a nod and dashed off to find the young woman.  The Major meanwhile was instructing a couple of other soldiers to go and fetch the fire truck, in case Patel couldn’t locate Tardelli quickly enough.  Andrea was impressed by the way the Major had completely taken charge in a few seconds.

 

The Major was now shielding her eyes as she tried to look in the room in the face of the fierce blaze.  Andrea tried to peer in too, though the heat was intense.  In amongst the fiery glow there was form lying on the floor.

 

“There’s someone in there!” cried Andrea, pointing for the Major to see.

 

“Shit!” exclaimed the Major, glancing down the corridor where the soldiers had been dispatched.  “Come on Tardelli,” she muttered under her breath.

 

Andrea didn’t think they could wait for the woman with the icy powers to arrive though.  The inferno was already growing and whoever it was might not have long.  Without waiting for approval she leapt into the room. 

 

She heard the Major’s surprised cry before a flash of flame shot out at her, causing her to stumble and fall to the floor.  The flames rolled over just above her head, almost singing her hair in the process.  The heat was searing, much hotter than she could ever have imagined and a thought crossed her mind that maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all.  Ignoring that, she turned to start crawling across the floor to the slumped figure, quickly breaking out in a sweat as she did.  The smoke was thick and black, clogging up her lungs and making it hard for her to see her target as she felt her way along the tiles.  All around her there was the sound of cracking and popping as the flames swept through the kitchen, destroying the fixtures and fittings.  Reaching the person she saw it was the cook, Corporal Lister, and that he was thankfully still alive.  Hefting him over her shoulder, she faced the thick wall of fire that now completely blocked her exit via the door.  A few hacking coughs rattled through her as she sized up her options, the smoke now stinging her eyes and the flames getting dangerously close.  Then it suddenly dawned on her – if she couldn’t leave by the door then she would just have to make her own exit.

 

Balling her fist, her eyes flicked uncertainly from her hand to the wall next to her that was still untouched by the fire.  Could she really do it?  Summoning her courage and pushing away the logical thoughts that said it was impossible, Andrea hammered her fist into the wall next to her.  There was a loud cracking as a jagged split shot along the paintwork.  Andrea looked at the damage she had inflicted, relieved that she hadn’t broken every bone in her hand with the punch.  Dr Todd had informed her that she now had denser bones than the average person and thankfully it seemed he was right.  Andrea drew back her arm once again, this time putting all her force behind the blow.  The wall exploded outwards in a shower of bricks and mortar and Andrea vaulted through the new opening into the cool messhall that lay on the other side.  She was just laying Lister down at a safe distance from the fire, when the Major came hurtling into the room, no doubt having heard Andrea’s escape.

 

She hurried over, bending down by them.  “Are you all right?” she asked, her voice carrying a definite hint of anxiety.

 

Andrea turned her head from where she was kneeling.  “Yes, fine, though I think Lister might have inhaled a fair bit of smoke.”

 

Suddenly there was a loud bang from the kitchen and Andrea just caught sight of an object hurtling through the hole in the wall.

 

“Get down!” cried the Major, flinging herself at Andrea and knocking her to the floor as a canister whizzed past their heads.

 

The Major watched as it impacted into one of the tables splintering it into several pieces.  Andrea didn’t follow her gaze; she was far too preoccupied with thinking about the warm body now lying on top of her.  The other woman was light, but still heavy enough to press down on Andrea, her breasts rubbing lightly against Andrea’s own through her thin and now exceedingly grubby t-shirt.  Andrea’s mouth was suddenly dry and she didn’t think it had anything to do with the heat of the fire - at least not the one in the kitchen.

 

“That was close,” noted the Major, turning her eyes back down to Andrea, her hair flopping down across her cheek.

 

Andrea could only nod dumbly in response.  The Major looked at her quizzically, but before she could ask anything further there was a sudden icy blast shooting out of the hole to the kitchen.  Tardelli had arrived.  The fire was extinguished in no time as the young woman put her power to produce ice to good use.  Now instead of raging heat there was just a cold cloud emanating from the other room, tumbling out into the messhall through the ugly gash in the wall.

 

The Major was staring at that now, not seeming in a hurry to move from her current position.  Andrea certainly wasn’t about to point out that their bodies were still squeezed together if she hadn’t noticed.  A sound at the door appeared to break the Major out of her study and she quickly clambered up off Andrea as if suddenly realising her inappropriate position.  Andrea followed her up, dusting herself down as a way to avoid eye contact.  Marching over to them were some more soldiers, including Lieutenant Chadwick.

 

“What’s going on?” he asked as he joined them.

 

Some of the other men were hoisting Lister onto a stretcher as the Major replied in steely tones, perhaps not appreciating the way Chadwick had practically demanded an answer.  “That’s what I’d like to know,” she commented.  “For a start the fire alarm and sprinklers should have gone off at the first sign of fire.  I want a full investigation into this.”

 

Chadwick looked perplexed.  “You don’t think it was an accident?”

 

“I’m not ruling anything out at this stage,” the Major informed him, “Get the room sealed off, just in case there’s any sort of evidence.  We don’t want everyone traipsing through there in their size tens.”

 

As the Major and Chadwick continued talking, Andrea felt a bit like a spare wheel and started to drift away from them.  Now the excitement was over she suddenly felt tired and decided to leave the military personnel to it.  They seemed engrossed with the aftermath of the fire anyway, and didn’t even notice her departure from the room.  She had just turned a corner, heading for the stairs to her quarters, when she felt a hand on her arm, pulling her round.

 

“Where are you going?” demanded the Major, an edge of annoyance in her voice.

 

Andrea found herself rising to meet the bristling tone.  “To bed.  Unless you have a problem with that?”

 

“I do as it happens,” replied the Major fixing Andrea with one of her deathly stares, her hands now firmly thrust upon her hips, “I want to know what you were thinking - leaping into the fire like that!”

 

“I was thinking about saving Lister’s life!” shot back Andrea.

 

“And what about your life?  You may have super powers, but that doesn’t mean you’re indestructible!”

 

“Someone had to do something!”

 

“And Tardelli did!”

 

“When she finally got here!  Lister might not have lasted that long.  Christ, you thought I might get a pat on the back for saving him, not a full-on dressing down.”

 

They stared balefully at one another, the fiery look being exchanged almost more intense than anything that had been burning in the kitchen minutes earlier.  The Major was clenching her teeth now, to rein in her anger.  Andrea could tell by the way the small muscle in the other woman’s cheek was fluttering just under the skin. 

 

Finally the Major sighed, taking a step back, since she had subconsciously imposed herself in Andrea’s personal space.  She pinched the bridge of her nose as her expression softened.  “Sorry,” she said, resignedly, “Of course I’m grateful you saved him.  I just wish you’d think before you acted sometimes, and considered your own safety a bit more.”

 

Andrea wondered at the Major’s concern and the way she had dashed after Andrea - it seemed a bit of a delayed overreaction.  Or maybe it was her tiredness causing her to act somewhat out of character.  Andrea could see that the other woman was rubbing at her nose again as she had a tendency to do when she was weary.  It was nearly two in the morning after all.

 

“All right,” conceded Andrea eventually, “I’ll check before I act next time, ok?”

 

“Thank you,” said the Major with a dip of the head, “And I’d also like you to go to the medical bay and get checked out before you go to bed.”

 

Andrea opened her mouth to argue the point, but was cut off by a no-nonsense look from the Major.  In the end she just sighed and nodded.

 

“Good, well I best get back,” the Major said, making a small subconscious pat of Andrea’s arm before she turned to go.

 

Andrea watched the Major disappearing towards the kitchen, still musing over her behaviour before she turned for the lift to take her downstairs.

 


 

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CHAPTER 10

 

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Andrea swooped low along the floor as a small disc flew at her from above.  Increasing her speed slightly it narrowly missed her booted foot, smashing harmlessly against the concrete.  Then there was another, arcing in at her body, and she twisted round so that one shot past her combat trousers, grazing the material on its course into the nearest wall.  She only just caught the last one aimed directly at her head, having to resort to swatting that one away with her hand at the last minute.  She used a bit more force than she intended and it spun right across the room, shattering into tiny pieces of the far wall.

 

Realising the projectile was indeed the final one, Andrea glided down to land on the floor of the underground training room.  Now her run was finished, Dr Todd entered the room, his eyes focussed on a small computer terminal in his hand, still assessing the latest results he’d gathered.   Andrea took a moment to brush a few loose strands of hair back behind her ears while she waited for him, also checking that the regulator on her left arm was still properly attached.  Though it was secured tightly as always, she still got a bit nervous about it getting damaged, knowing it was the only thing between her and a seizure.  She did wonder why they hadn’t given her something a bit less conspicuous, since the armband was rather exposed around her bicep, especially when she was wearing a t-shirt as now.  She guessed it was because it needed to be able to be easily detached for periodic refilling.

 

“Good, good,” noted Dr Todd, eventually glancing up from his screen, “Your flying is coming on in leaps and bounds, much more considered and controlled than your initial attempts.”

 

“Thanks,” said Andrea, looking behind him to see if there was anyone else coming into the room.  “No Major today?” she asked as nonchalantly as she could manage.

 

His eyes flicked to her, maybe surprised at the question, though it was hard to tell with Dr Todd since his expression varied little.  “No,” he replied, “She’s still quite busy with the aftermath of the fire last week, so she hasn’t had as much time to devote to training as normal.”

 

“Right,” noted Andrea, keeping her answer short to avoid displaying any disappointment in her tone.

 

Dr Todd looked down at his watch.  “I think we can take a break,” he said, “I have a fair bit of analysis to do, I’ll see you back here at two.”

 

Andrea left the scientist to it, heading for the lift to take her to the upper sections of the base.  While she was waiting a brief thought crossed her mind that she should ride it to the second floor and go and see the Major, to see how the fire investigation was going.  She told herself that it was just curiosity that had prompted the thought.  Before she could consider any other reasons for her desire to visit the Major’s office, she heard some other booted feet walking down the corridor and turned to see Tom and Harry heading her way.  They were dressed for training like her, in their military gear, and she presumed they had similarly been let out early.

 

“Hey, Sherlock,” greeted Tom amiably as usual, “What’re you up to?”

 

“Hello Tom,” she replied, emphasising the use of his real name, “I was just going upstairs for something to eat.”  She offered Harry a smile of greeting too.

 

He smiled back before speaking.  “We were thinking of going to the rec room for a quick game of pool, since it’ll probably be quiet.  Do you fancy joining us?”

 

“Why not,” said Andrea as the lift arrived, thinking she could always get something to eat afterwards. 

 

As the three of them got in, Tom turned to Andrea.  “So have you heard anything more about the fire last Wednesday?”

 

“Nothing you don’t know already I’m sure,” she replied, before something struck her, “Why would you think I would know anything extra?”

 

Tom raised his eyebrows suggestively.  “I thought the Major might have told you something privately.”

 

Andrea looked at him with a perplexed expression.  “Why on earth would you think that?”

 

She glanced between the two men who were exchanging a knowing look, both of them smiling and winking at one another.

 

“What?” demanded Andrea, snapping them out of it.

 

“Nothing,” said Harry putting up his hands, though he was still smiling.

 

“It’s obviously something,” noted Andrea pinning them in place with her eyes, “For you two to be grinning at each other like a pair of idiots.”

 

“Well,” said Tom slowly, “It’s just you two seem to be quite…friendly all of a sudden.”

 

“Yeah,” chipped in Harry, “And don’t think we haven’t seen how you’re always showing off whenever she’s observing training.”

 

“I do not show off!” stated Andrea indignantly, “I just like to do a good job.”

 

“Ah, of course,” said Tom sarcastically, “That must be what it is, how could we have thought anything else.” 

 

Andrea couldn’t fail to notice him winking at Harry again.  She knew she should probably let it drop, but found herself pressing them anyway.  “What else could it be?”

 

Tom shrugged.  “You tell us.”

 

“There’s nothing to tell,” insisted Andrea.  “Yes, we might be friendlier than when I first got here, but that wouldn’t be hard would it?  And as for all that other stuff…well, I think the pair of you have far too much time on your hands to think about things.”

 

“If you say so,” said Harry, though his tone implied he didn’t believe her at all.

 

“I do,” said Andrea, crossing her arms across her chest and facing the doors to indicate this particular topic was closed.

 

When they reached the ground floor, the two men continued talking amongst themselves as they walked down the corridor with Andrea striding on ahead.

 

“What have you heard about the fire then?” Harry asked Tom.

 

“Nothing much, though it’s the main topic of conversation round the base.  Speculation’s rife that it wasn’t an accident, that it was some sort of sabotage.”

 

Harry sucked in a breath.  “Why sabotage the kitchen though?  And who would do such a thing?”

 

“Good questions,” agreed Tom.  “But one thing’s for sure, it doesn’t exactly reflect well on the Major.  I even heard that the Colonel’s paying an impromptu visit some time this week.”

 

“You think she’s really in trouble, the Major?  That she might even get sacked or transferred?”

 

Andrea swung round to them again.  “She wouldn’t be would she?” she asked, trying to keep her tone even, despite the fact that a strange anxiety was filling her.  “That’s hardly fair, it’s not as if it was the Major’s fault.”

 

“But she is in overall command, the base is her responsibility,” Tom offered by means of explanation, “And ultimately she carries the can for any cock ups.”

 

Andrea creased her brow at that worrying prospect.

 

“Why, not concerned are you?” queried Tom, having noted the look.

 

Andrea schooled her features into a more neutral expression.  “Only because she’s a good commander, and we could end up with Chadwick if she left.”

 

“Urgh,” said Harry, “Now that doesn’t bear thinking about.”

 

They had reached the rec room now and Andrea pushed open the doors, seeing that it was indeed as quiet as Harry had supposed it would be.  Apart from the soldier behind the bar cleaning glasses there was no one else in the room.  They went over to the nearest pool table, Harry proceeding to rack the balls on the green baize.

 

“Where’s Bel, by the way?” Andrea asked Tom, leaning on a cue while they waited for the other man to finish.

 

“She’s got a session with Dr Thomas,” Tom replied.

 

“Ah, right,” nodded Andrea.  “So…um…how have you two been getting along?”

 

Tom actually blushed at the question.  “Good, thanks.”

 

“Just good?” Andrea asked, glad to have Tom on the spot for once.

 

“Ok, great, fantastic,” he admitted, “She’s…amazing.”

 

Andrea laughed to hear Tom speak so fondly of her.  It would ruin his reputation as a jack-the-lad if anyone else heard it.  Harry had finally finished assembling the balls to his satisfaction and Tom duly broke off.  They had already played a few games, sharing general chit-chat as they did, when the doors to the rec room opened and Doc and Corporal Lister walked in conversing with one another.

 

“Hey, Lister!” said Tom pulling up from his shot to greet the cook, “How are you feeling?”

 

“Fine, thanks,” replied Lister, walking over to the table, “Doc says I have a clean bill of health.  It could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for Andrea here, though.”

 

Andrea felt all eyes turning to her and just about resisted the urge to blush.  “It was nothing, really,” she said dismissively, “Anyone would have done the same.”

 

Lister made a small chuckle.  “I doubt that!  I can’t see anyone else here smashing a hole in my kitchen wall to rescue me.”  The squat man came over to Andrea, patting her gently on the arm, “I just wanted to say thanks again,” he said with genuine warmth in his tone.

 

“If we’ve all had enough of this mutual appreciation,” interjected Tom, “How about we play some pool?  Fancy a game Lister, Doc?”

 

“Yeah, I’m up for it,” said Lister with a grin, “Though we could make it more interesting.”

 

Tom smiled, knowing exactly what he meant.  “You want to play for money?”

 

Andrea saw that Doc was rolling his eyes.  “You two are as bad as each other,” remarked the bald man, “I think I’ll just watch.”

 

“That’s because you’re crap anyway,” said Tom, laughing at the indignant look that garnered.  “So what do you say, tenner per game, winner stays on?”

 

“Or we could play doubles?” suggested Lister, “You and Harry against me and Andrea, since Doc doesn’t seem so keen.”

 

“Oh, I see,” said Tom, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “Pick the best player for yourself.”

 

Lister held up his hands. “Hey, I’ve never seen Andrea play before.”

 

“Like you couldn’t have guessed she could play anyway,” said Tom suspiciously, “They have to pass their pool playing test you know, to get into the club.”

 

“What club?” asked Lister, confused.

 

“The lesbian club of course!”

 

Andrea jabbed the butt end of her cue into Tom’s foot.  “Ignore him,” she said to Lister, as Tom hopped up and down,  “I’d love to play with you.”

 

They soon found out that the match was actually fairly even, since Andrea’s much-lauded prowess at the game was matched by Lister’s less than impressive talents.  Still no one was too bothered about the outcome, having fun just playing.  They had completed three games by the time more people started to filter into the room on their lunch break.  One of those people was Lieutenant Chadwick and Andrea let out a small internal groan as he started up a game with one of his cronies on the adjacent table.  In between shots she could see him glancing at her, sneering nastily each time. 

 

Andrea tried to ignore him and concentrate on her own game.  Finding herself at the end of the table, she bent over to line up her shot when she felt something poke into her back.

 

“Hey, watch it,” she said, swinging round to find it was Chadwick who had nudged her with his cue.

 

“Oops, sorry,” he said, “I didn’t see you there, I was just trying to take my shot.”

 

“Yeah, right,” said Andrea confrontationally, “You did it on purpose.”

 

“I assure you I did not,” he replied, “The tables are just a bit close here,” he said indicating the small distance, “Go on, take your shot first.”

 

Andrea eyed him suspiciously before turning back to her table and bending down once more, sticking her hand out on the green baize and resting the cue between her fingers.  She was easing her cue back when she heard a comment from behind her.  It was whispered, but intentionally not quietly enough so that she would miss it.

 

“You’d think with all that counselling she might learn to control her temper better.”

 

Andrea was up again immediately.  “What did you say?” she demanded of Chadwick.

 

“Me?” he replied innocently, putting his hand to his chest and glancing at his companion as if it were ridiculous he could have said anything.

 

“What do you know about my counselling?” pressed Andrea, stepping aggressively towards him.

 

She was close enough now that his next remark was only audible to the pair of them.  “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

 

Andrea was balling her fist when suddenly Tom was between them, pushing her back towards their table.

 

“Come on, Andrea, he’s not worth it.”

 

“That’s right, let the mummy’s boy rescue you,” called Chadwick, as Tom still attempted to hold Andrea back.

 

Tom froze before swinging slowly round to Chadwick, an icy expression on his face.  “What did you call me?”

 

“You heard me, mummy’s boy,” repeated Chadwick, “It’s true though isn’t it?  I can’t say as I can blame the Colonel for not wanting to be associated with someone like you, I think I’d disown you too if you were my son.”

 

Suddenly Tom flew at Chadwick, surprising Andrea with how quickly he had gone from being the one trying to stop any potential fight to the one instigating it.  The two men tumbled to the ground as they wrestled with one another, reigning in blows on each other where they could.  Andrea attempted to reach down and grab Tom, though it was difficult to get hold of just one of them with all the flailing limbs.  In the end she yanked them both to their feet and shoved Chadwick from Tom.  As the man staggered backwards, Tom was all for going for him again and Andrea had to wrap her arms around Tom to stop him.

 

“I’ll have you!” shouted Tom pointing at Chadwick as he struggled in Andrea’s grasp.

 

“Any time!” replied Chadwick, dabbing at his lip where it had got cut.

 

“Tom!” cried Andrea, trying to get his attention, “Just leave it.  Remember, ‘he’s not worth it’”

 

Tom looked to her, before relaxing his attempts to get free.  “All right, all right, you can let go.”

 

Andrea released him, for the first time seeing that they had gathered a small crowd with the fracas.  “Let’s just get on with our game,” she suggested.

 

“I don’t really feel like playing now,” said Tom, immediately walking off for the door.

 

Andrea glanced at Harry and Lister in bemusement before giving chase.  She managed to catch Tom before he’d gotten too far down the corridor outside the rec room.

 

“What was that all about?” she asked, keeping pace with him as he continued to stride along.

 

“Nothing,” he stated firmly.

 

“It didn’t seem like nothing.  It seemed more like he hit a nerve. He appears to have an uncanny knack for doing that I’ve noticed”

 

Tom stopped, turning towards her and sighing. “Damn, I can’t believe I let him rile me like that,” he said, shaking his head.

 

This sounded all too familiar to Andrea.  “Don’t beat yourself up,” she said, placing a consoling hand on his shoulder, “He’s an arsehole.  I know how he can get to you with that annoying look and his snide comments.” 

 

“Still I should be able to resist the temptation to whack him,” Tom said ruefully, “I guess it still pisses me off, about my dad.”

 

“Anything you want to talk about?”

 

“Oh, it’s all a big fat mess, hardly worth talking about.  The thing is, Chadwick was right, my dad doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.”

 

Andrea was reminded of the situation with her own parents, though she didn’t think the cause of Tom’s obvious estrangement could be the same.

 

“Is that because of…” Andrea searched for a diplomatic way to express it, “…what you did before you came here?”

 

“You mean is it because I was a crook?” asked Tom with a sardonic laugh, “It’s all right, you don’t have to sugar-coat it.  That is partly the reason, yes, but our relationship was pretty much non-existent before that anyway.”

 

Tom waited for a soldier to walk past them before he continued on.  “To tell you the truth I’ve not seen much of him since I was ten years old.  He and my mum split up then and I went to live with her.  She thought I didn’t know why, but I wasn’t too young to know what an affair was, and that my dad was having one.”

 

“I’m sorry,” said Andrea, “It must have been hard, finding that out.”

 

“Yeah, well, I didn’t exactly hold much respect for him after that, so I didn’t really care if I saw him or not.  He was pretty busy with his military career anyway, so it was basically just me and mum.  She did her best, but I guess it was tough for her bringing up a teenage son without a strong male role model.  I just sort of slipped into crime – I’m sure you’ve heard the tale a thousand times yourself.  It starts of with a bit of shoplifting, onto some more serious nicking, maybe a bit of car theft and then you’re on the slippery slope.”

 

Andrea nodded.  She had heard similar tales a fair few times in her police career.  “You eventually got arrested though?”

 

“Yeah, so any faint chance of a reconciliation was pretty much blown out of the water by that, the embarrassment of the great Colonel having a son in prison.”

 

“But you’re here now,” noted Andrea, “Are you sure he didn’t have some hand in that, considering he’s the one ultimately in charge?”

 

“I didn’t think so, but now you mention it…” pondered Tom.

 

“Maybe you could find out who arranged for you to come here?”

 

“I guess so,” Tom allowed, still unsure.

 

“What have you got to lose, unless you don’t want to make up with him?”

 

Tom rubbed wearily at his face.  “I’m not sure what I want.”

 

“I can understand that,” said Andrea sympathetically, “My own relationship with my parents is pretty strained and I’m not sure what I would do if they suddenly extended an olive branch.  Your father’s coming this week isn’t he?  Maybe you could speak to him then?”

 

“I think that might be a bit soon,” said Tom hesitantly, “I’ll think about it.  You won’t tell anyone else about this will you?”

 

“Of course not,” said Andrea sincerely.

 

“Thanks, you’re a good friend,” he said warmly, offering up a small smile.  “Now how about some lunch?  That is if you can resist dismantling any more of the messhall?”

 

Andrea smiled too, relieved that he was joking again.  “I’m sure I can control myself,” she agreed as they headed into the canteen.

 

………….

 

 

The Major walked down the corridor, annoyed that there was yet another troublesome incident to contend with.  As if dealing with the fire and the subsequent investigation wasn’t bad enough, now it was fistfights in the rec room.  She realised that none of this would be helping her tenuous hold on her job.  She’d already spoken to Lieutenant Chadwick and Tom about it, but they’d been evasive as to the cause, both men refusing to place any blame on the other.  She suspected that was down to misplaced male pride or honour, though the latter seemed doubtful in the Lieutenant’s case.

 

In the hope of some enlightenment, she’d found herself heading to the section of the second floor dedicated to the superhuman’s quarters.  One thing she had been able to garner was that amongst those present during the fight was Andrea.  In fact by all accounts she had been the one to break it up.  The Major hoped her desire to calm the situation might extend to filling the Major in on the details.

 

It was now evening so she knew the young woman would most likely be in, having finished for the day.  As the Major entered the secure area she heard the familiar sound of rock music drifting along from Tom’s room.  She really wished he would use some headphones from time to time.  As if somehow sensing that desire, the music suddenly cut off.  Only now she could hear music of a completely different kind. 

 

It was classical music, the faint strings of a violin to be exact.  The Major didn’t know enough about that sort of music to be able to recognise the tune, though it was certainly hauntingly beautiful.  Subconsciously she stopped to listen for a moment to the lilting melody.  Only after she’d been standing in the corridor for a minute did she realise it was coming from Andrea’s quarters.  She would never have had Andrea down as a classical music lover, and she didn’t recall seeing many cds of that type in the collection she’d got a brief glimpse of last time she was in the other woman’s room.

 

As the Major rang the chime on the quarters the music abruptly ceased before Andrea opened the door.  She was out of her daytime training gear, in some of her own clothes, and the Major noted that for once she wore her hair down, the blonde strands falling just below her shoulders.

 

“Major, what can I do for you?”  Andrea had looked surprised briefly before a smile flickered across her face.

 

“I was hoping I could have a word.”

 

“Of course, come in,” said Andrea, gesturing her inside. 

 

The Major entered the room, deciding it was probably best to remain standing since it was a fairly official visit.  As Andrea closed the door, the Major was just opening her mouth to speak when something caught her eye, completely making her lose track of what she was going to say.  Sitting on the coffee table was a violin. 

 

“Are you all right?” Andrea asked, having noted how the Major had gone quiet.

 

“What?” said the Major, her eyes swinging back to the young woman. “Oh yes,” she added, trying to get her mind back in gear again.  She couldn’t help glancing back over at the table.  “That was you playing?” she asked, still not quite able to grasp the fact.

 

Andrea laughed, crossing over to pick up the delicate instrument.  “I know it was a bit off, but I haven’t practiced for a while.”

 

“Off?” said the Major incredulously, “It sounded pretty damn good to me; I thought it was a cd when I heard it outside.”

 

Andrea smiled sheepishly at the compliment.  “It could have been better,” she insisted, “I guess I like to strive for perfection.”

 

The Major didn’t quite know how Andrea could improve on the wonderful playing she’d heard, but decided to defer to the young woman’s obviously greater knowledge on the subject.

 

“It seems like I’ve managed to find something else about me you didn’t know, though,” added Andrea in amusement, studying the Major’s still somewhat bemused expression.

 

“Indeed,” agreed the Major, watching Andrea place the violin carefully away in its case.  Just before she closed the lid Andrea ran her fingers softly along the polished wood, as if she was giving the instrument a farewell caress.

 

The Major only realised she was staring when Andrea swung back round and she was forced to look up at the young woman.  “Well, why did you think Tom called me Sherlock?” asked Andrea, having seemingly missed the study.

 

“Sorry?” said the Major, her confusion deepening, “I just assumed that was the detective connection.”

 

“That’s part of it, but the other thing Sherlock Holmes was famous for, besides the pipe and the hat, which I don’t own by the way, was his violin playing.”

 

“Of course,” said the Major, “I never thought Tom would give quite so much thought to a nickname.”

 

Andrea shrugged.  “Anyway, what was it you wanted?”

 

The Major had almost forgotten she’d come there with a specific purpose.  “Right, yes,” she said, trying to get her mindset right after the distraction.  “I wanted to ask you about the incident in the rec room earlier today.”

 

“By ‘incident’ I presume you mean the fight between Chadwick and Tom?”

 

“Yes, I’ve spoken to both of them about it, but they weren’t very forthcoming.”

 

Andrea was eyeing the Major suspiciously now.  “So why are you asking me about it?”

 

“You were there weren’t you?” the Major stated evenly.

 

“So were lots of other people,” noted Andrea, still seeming rather wary, “Have you been round to see all of them too?”

 

“No,” admitted the Major, thinking to herself that perhaps it could seem a bit strange that she had picked Andrea of all the potential witnesses.  She wasn’t entirely sure of her reasoning herself.  “So do you know what it was about?” she asked, getting back to the point.

 

“It was…personal.”

 

“Well, I didn’t think it was over the weather,” said the Major, somewhat exasperated.  “What sort of personal?”

 

“I don’t think it’s up to me to say, maybe you should ask your Lieutenant again?”

 

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” asked the Major, not sure she liked the implication.

 

“Nothing.”  Andrea’s eyes had flicked away as she said it.

 

“If you have some sort of problem with Lieutenant Chadwick I want to know.”

 

“Besides him being a wanker, you mean?”

 

The Major exhaled slowly.  Though she personally didn’t care for the man, she couldn’t allow her subordinates to be slandered so.  “Unless you have a specific grievance I would thank you not to refer to the Lieutenant in that manner.”

 

“These are my quarters aren’t they?” said Andrea obstinately, “I’ll call him whatever the hell I like.  Arsehole.  Dickhead. Twat.  I can’t quite decide which is most appropriate.”

 

“Andrea,” said the Major warningly, “This is not helping matters.”

 

“Oh sorry, should I be helpful like the Lieutenant?  Winding people up and watching them explode.”

 

The hostility evident in Andrea’s tone made the Major think they weren’t necessarily discussing Tom any more.  “Has he done something similar to you?”

 

“No,” replied Andrea quickly.  Maybe a bit too quickly, considered the Major.

 

“Are you sure?” The Major found herself more than disturbed by the thought that Chadwick was antagonising Andrea in some way.

 

“Of course I’m sure,” stated Andrea defensively.

 

The Major recognised that they weren’t getting anywhere fast with the current direction of the conversation.  In an attempt to ease the tension she sat down on one of the sofa chairs, putting her below Andrea’s eye-line and encouraging the young woman to follow suit, which she duly did.

 

“Look, I know Lieutenant Chadwick can be a bit…abrasive in his approach,” allowed the Major, deliberately lowering the tone of her voice to a more gentle one, “But he’s still a good and loyal officer.  If, however, he were abusing his position in some way, I would want to know about it.  So I’ll ask you one more time, is there anything I should know?”

 

Andrea regarded her silently, her eyes holding the Major’s gaze.  As the blue eyes observed her the Major got the sense that Andrea was weighing up what she could say, making the Major think there definitely was something going on. 

 

“No, there’s nothing you should know,” Andrea said finally.

 

The Major sighed disappointedly – she could only ask so many times.  She hoped that eventually Andrea would tell her the truth.  “Fine,” she said, “But if you do think of anything, you know where I am.”

 

………….

 

 

The Major closed the door to her office, finally glad to be free of Colonel Parsons and able to look forward to a much more pleasant evening.  The Colonel had been as suspicious as she was as to the cause of the fire the previous Wednesday, agreeing with her that the disabling of the alarm and sprinkler system was too coincidental for it to be an accident.  Unfortunately the investigation had not yielded anything telling and they were pretty much at a dead end, no nearer finding out why the fire had been set and who had done it.  Though her superior hadn’t directly said anything, she could feel the pressure was on her to ensure there weren’t any more ‘accidents’.

 

She resolved not to think about that for a few hours at least, as she walked down to the ground floor, looking forward to seeing her friend Sophie McAllister.  Somehow Sophie had manage to swing being part of the Colonel’s party, though quite how the Major didn’t know – she wasn’t even in the same corps.  No doubt Sophie would fill her in on her powers of persuasion when she saw her.  The Major was nearly at the lobby when she found herself waylaid by a call.

 

“Major!”

 

The Major swung round to see Andrea hurrying after her.  There was a slight sheen of sweat on her forehead and around the neckline of her dark green t-shirt, making the Major think she had come straight from a training session.  “Andrea?  Is there something wrong?”

 

“What? Oh, no, I just wanted to speak to you,” explained the other woman.

 

The Major’s brow creased slightly, wondering at Andrea’s urgency if all she wanted was a word.  Now Andrea had stopped before her she could see the individual beads of sweat on her skin, watching one slowly slip down Andrea’s cheek and on down her neck, finally sliding down beneath the edge of her shirt.  The Major’s eyes continued tracking its imaginary course, though she only got as far as Andrea’s chest before she realised it was her turn to say something.  She quickly swung her eyes back up again.  “Fire away then.”  She wondered why her voice had come out quite so huskily, she certainly hadn’t intended to speak like that.

 

The Major looked on in surprise as Andrea shifted anxiously before speaking herself.  She found it hard to believe that there was anything Andrea was nervous about saying, normally she had no trouble speaking her mind. 

 

“I just wanted to say sorry,” said the young woman, “About last night in my quarters.  I shouldn’t have got annoyed like that, you only wanted to know what happened.  I’m only sorry I couldn’t tell you.  Tom did confide in me as to the reasons behind the fight, but I hope you understand that I can’t break that confidence.”

 

The Major was taken aback by the apology, not having expected it at all.  “I guess I can understand that,” she agreed, “You wouldn’t be much of a friend if you discussed his private business with just anyone.”

 

“I don’t think of you as just anyone, though,” said Andrea quietly.

 

The Major wasn’t sure she was even supposed to have heard the comment, and she looked at Andrea quizically, wondering exactly what it meant.  Before she could ask, though, she was summoned for the second time, only this time it was much less formally.

 

“Kate Jarvis!  There you are!” 

 

The Major glanced over her shoulder to see Sophie approaching with a huge smile on her face.  Without any regard for proprietry she wrapped the Major up in a hug when she reached her.  The Major eventually managed to extricate herself, acutely aware that Andrea was still standing right next to them.  Glancing over at the young woman she caught a brief flash of something she didn’t quite recognise