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Minus Five, Plus One

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I)

The first time it happens, Osgood has only been working in the Tower for a week. She’s in her lab leaning over a microscope when she feels a change in the room temperature and glances round.

“Ma’am?” Her new boss is leaning on the doorframe, watching her work, with a slight smile toying about her lips.

“Kate, please.”

“…Kate. What can I do for you?” Osgood finds herself looking anywhere but the doorway. “Did you want to see what I was working on? I’m investigating what this object from the last skyfall might be…”

“At ease, Osgood. I’m glad to see you’re getting to grips with the work so fast. Not that I’m surprised…”

She takes a few steps into the room, heels making a light click which Osgood processes, involuntarily wondering how she didn’t hear Kate’s previous approach.

Now Kate stands with her hands on her hips, thumbs looped into her pockets, casting a glance over the room, seemingly less eager to speak.

“Was there…something specific?” Osgood’s eyes flicker back and forth from her work to her boss.

“Something…Oh, yes, well, it’s nothing really. At least…” Kate corrects herself, “I’ve just received an invite to a joint Ministry of Defence and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ‘do’ tonight. A celebration of scientific developments in the military. Dreadfully tedious events, but we have to make a showing, and they do at least do good canapés. I’d far rather bring one of my scientific team than…well, you know.” She smiles, giving a nonchalant wave of her hand.

Osgood can’t help but mirror the smile. “Who were you thinking of? I’m working late, but I don’t need any of my team for this.”

“You’re… Oh. Surely you don’t need to work late on your first week? It’s not like we have an alien incursion on the books.”

Osgood feels her eyes widen. “Oh, you meant me? Oh, no, I mean, well, they’re not really my kinda of thing, parties, you know, people and all that, chit chat, it’s not something I’m really that comfortable with. You know, science geek and…” She can feel her lungs closing, and reaches for her inhaler. Takes a puff. “Sorry.”

Kate’s head is tilted to one side, eyes showing mild concern as she watches her newest member of staff calm down. Osgood could kick herself for being such an idiot. One day she should get over the people thing. But it’s quite enough getting used to being in her dream job, this week, thank you.

“Well, if you’re sure?”

“I’m sorry Ma…Kate. I…I think I’d like to get settled in before I…”

“Quite understandable. I shouldn’t have asked you so soon.” She sounds genuinely apologetic.

Osgood feels her shoulders lowering, back starting to de-tense. Kate turns towards the door.

“Next time, though?”

“Wha… Oh, um. Yes. That would be…”

“Tip top.” And Kate is gone, heels clicking up the stone steps.

Left to the quiet whirrs and beeps of the lab, Osgood replays the conversation. What would it be? Fun? Hardly, with all those people. Nor is she likely to learn anything from the type of people who would be at such an event, so not fruitful, either. But a night out with Kate… She shakes her head vigorously. Thinking about the boss as anything but the boss is never a good idea. She lowers her eyes back to the microscope.

 

II)

A month or so later, Kate catches Osgood at the end of her Friday evening briefing.

“Are you coming?”

“Coming?” Osgood turns to face into her boss’s office. “I thought you just said you wanted me to work on an alternative means of catching the entities?” Football sized toad like creatures had been found in the Lake District, doing no harm to anyone so far, but sending the zoologist fraternity mad with excitement. They’d even called in David Attenborough. Of course, the concern was that, whatever the creatures were, they might turn nasty. And UNIT could not afford the headlines that might create. The first – and only – specimen anyone has succeeded in catching (by tickling its underbelly) is currently hopping around her lab, and no one can catch it.

“What? Oh, yes, that too. But didn’t you get the invite? I left it on your desk a few days ago.” Kate’s eyes sparkle mischievously. “It’s a good thing I don’t enforce the clean desk policy too firmly…”

Osgood flushes, despite the clear jest. Not that Kate has a leg to stand on, she thinks, glancing further into the office, where a mountain of paperwork camouflages a sizeable table. Kate catches her eye and grins more widely.

“Well? I should hope one of us can still find our invite, otherwise it looks like neither of us will be going.”

“Invite?” Osgood scours her brain. “Can’t say that I did. What’s it for?”

“Peruvian Embassy. Sam Bishop would normally represent us, but he’s in Johannesburg at the moment and it seems a bit much to bring him back for drinks and blinis. Which means I have to turn out. And I’d much rather share the pain.”

“You’re really selling this to me Ma’am. An evening in the lab inventing, or pain in the Peruvian Embassy, let me see…”

“Kate.” She reproves without thinking. “It’s not that bad really. Their champagne may not be great, but the Merlot is lovely.”

“I’m not really much of a drinker to be honest. And I’d really rather be ahead of the curve on this, just in case our new friends turn nasty…” Looking up, Osgood is surprised to catch a glimpse of what might be disappointment on Kate’s face. “Next time, though?”

“Next time I won’t leave the invite on your desk!” Kate humphs. “Alright, back to the lab with you. But don’t work too late.”

As Osgood walks off she hears Kate lift her phone and buzz for her driver, whilst rifling through a large pile of paperwork. “Enjoy!” She calls over her shoulder, grinning at the eyeroll she receives in return.

***

She’s not smiling five hours later when, despite her best efforts, she’s found no way of containing the one specimen ‘toad’ (she’s named him Kenneth).

“No joy?” The voice, coming as it does out of relative silence, makes her jump.

“Kate! I wasn’t expecting to see you back here tonight. How were the blinis?”

“Better than Gordon’s cooking, but not my idea of a square meal. How’s your amphibious friend?”

“Not willing to be cooped up. Very hard to catch, and each time I think I’ve managed getting it into a container, it finds a way out.”

“How?” Kate crosses her arms, leans against a work station, newly emptied of anything breakable.

“Well…it seems their tongues are distinctly more flexible than our fingers, to start with.”

Kate suppresses a chuckle at this.

“Pity they don’t use them to communicate though. I don’t think they do use their mouths for speech at all.” Osgood doesn’t look away from Kenneth, currently bouncing along the ceiling, so she misses Kate’s slight shake of her head, the twist of her lips. “It seems to keep repeating a particular rhythm of, well, I suppose you could say croaking. But it bears no resemblance to any earth amphibian. Um Kate, I’d…”

Kenneth lands on Kate’s head, chest flesh drooping over her eyes, forelegs on her shoulders.

“…move if I were you.” An idea occurs. “Ah, Kate…can you just…no, no don’t try and touch it!” Osgood catches Kate’s hands midway to her head, apologetic. “We don’t want to upset it, those tongues carry a venom I’ve never met before. Here…” Dropping one hand to Kate’s waist, she guides her spluttering boss, all soft and warm in her silk shirt, across the room, too engrossed to enjoy the sensation. “Now, when I say, I want you to shake your head forwards, really forcefully…like…like you’re at a rock concert, does that make sense? Then move back, as fast as you can.”

A slightly strangulated assent – Kenneth now has one foreleg wrapped around Kate’s throat. Osgood drops her hands from Kate, and reaches for a lever.

“Now!”

As Kate does as she’s told, and Kenneth bounces off the far wall, stunned, Osgood raises the five-inch glass containment field. Breathes a sigh of relief when it clicks into place with Kenneth still on the far side. She turns to her boss.

“Are you okay?”

“Beginning to think I shouldn’t have had that third glass of Merlot… Also wondering what type of music fan you take me for.”

“I, ah…” Osgood thinks wildly.

“Relax, that was a joke. Just because I go to the odd chamber recital now doesn’t mean I haven’t been in a mosh pit in my time.” Kate winks.

The idea of the woman in front of her moshing removes all the air from Osgood’s lungs.

“Inhaler.” Kate turns to look at Kenneth, now bouncing off the glass wall again. “Well that was one way of getting it contained. Not the most elegant, or the easiest to deploy in the field, but at least it’s a start. How about you take a break?”

“Thanks, I think I will. It’s been rather tiring, this evening…”

“I imagine it’s a bit like having a hyperactive child.” Kate muses as she puts out a hand to steer Osgood away. “Liz was like that about age three, especially when anyone gave her sugar.”

“Remind me I’m never having children.”

“Oh, they’re not that bad. Come on, there’s a camp bed in the ante-room of my office. I know you’re going to refuse to go home, but you can at least get a nap before we work out what next.”

“What about you?”

“Oh, I’ll doze in my chair. It’s not the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last. Come on.” Kate’s hand falls from her back as they leave the lab, Osgood pausing to lock the door.

 

III)

The third time, Osgood nearly says yes.

“Royal Society Annual Dinner?” Kate appears beside Osgood’s desk, fluidly turning 180 degrees before resting on the one spot without paperwork.

“Hmm?” Osgood doesn’t look up from her inspection of an ancient carved piece of what looks like Limestone, but has the chemical makeup of nothing she’s ever seen before.

“That looks interesting? From the Atlantis find?”

“The very same. Its origin wasn’t Earth, let’s put it that way.”

“Purpose?”

“I’ve been trying to work that out. It doesn’t appear to be literary; the script isn’t the same as any of the tablets we’ve recovered. But its molecular structure doesn’t suggest… Oh!” Osgood’s eyes widen as she raises her head swiftly, nearly cracking Kate’s chin in the process.

“Sor…Oh.” Kate gets a better look at the rock. The script is glowing, never staying any one colour, constantly changing like a smooth multi-coloured fibreoptic. “Thoughts?”

“I… don’t know. There was nothing on the scans to suggest an integral power source, I don’t even know how it’s doing that?”

“I wonder if…”

As if to answer Kate’s question, Captain Carter puts his head round the door.

“Ma’am, Osgood, there’s something you should see… Oh. It’s happened here, too.”

“The rest of the find?” Osgood and Kate ask at the same time.

Carter nods. “Well, at least, a good half of it. All the rocks that look like that. All started glowing. And they sort of hum.”

Kate raises an eyebrow. “Sounds like we’d better take a look. So much for the Royal Society Dinner.”

“What?”

Kate waves the tickets in front of her, dropping them on the desk. “That was why I came down, to ask if you wanted to come. I wasn’t leaving them on your desk this time. Seems like I’ll be missing it myself, more’s the pity. It would have been the first hot meal I’d have had all week.”

Osgood is nearly at the door of the lab when she takes this in.

“Oh, the Royal Society. I’d have enjoyed that. Pity.”

***

Downstairs, in a room that was once an armoury but has long since been requisitioned by UNIT, various of Osgood’s team pour over glowing artefacts, just like the piece she’d been looking at in her lab. Their quiet chatter is inaudible under the hum coming from the stones.

Kate and Osgood stand in silence for a moment. Listening.

“They’re…singing.” Osgood turns to Kate.

Kate nods, eyes wide. “It reminds me of something.”

“The Ainur.” Osgood says softly.

“Hmm?”

“The Ainur. The first beings created by Illuvatar…” Osgood glances at Kate’s slowly comprehending eyes. “Tolkien.”

“Ah, yes. Are you thinking…”

“That the aliens who formed Atlantis might create a world within a world for themselves by singing it into existence? It’s possible, I suppose.”

“I was thinking more that they might be creating some kind of weapon.” Kate gestures to the stones. “Look how the light is changing more swiftly. It seems like they’re powering up.”

Osgood pulls out a hand held scanner. Holds it steady, and stares at the readings. “I’m… not sure. You might be right….” The scanner bleeps repeatedly. “Um, I think you are, actually.”

“Everyone!” Kate shouts above the noise that now resembles a school canteen five minutes into lunch break. “Everyone! ALL STAFF are to evacuate now. Make your way to Assembly Point 12.”

“Remind me, which one is that?”

“Traitors Gate.”

“Ah yes.” Osgood doesn’t take her eyes off the scanner. “Kate? I don’t think it’s a weapon as such. Or at least, not for us… But I think we should get out too.” She turns to shepherd them towards the door, where the last of her team are exiting. “Now.”

The door safely locked, they remain at the top of the stone stairs, watching.

“What did you pick up?”

“The molecules in the air immediately surrounding each artefact were moving in a very strange fashion. At a guess…” Osgood is cut off by a series of loud bangs. “…we should be glad for that Adamantium reinforcement you had put in last year.”

“Ah. They’ve self-destructed.”

“And probably taken everything else with them, more’s the pity. Now we’ll never know who formed Atlantis, or how.” Osgood can’t stop the disappointment in her voice. This find had been a childhood dream come true.

Kate looks at her watch. “And by the time we’ve cleared up here, we’ll still be too late for the dinner. Still, I’ve got a bottle of rather fine Sauvignon Blanc in my office, if you’d like to join me later?”

“Drinking at work, sounds rebellious.”

“I never did play by all the rules Osgood.” Kate chuckles as they approach the door. “D’you think it’s safe?”

“There haven’t been any more explosions for two minutes.” She starts to unlock the door. “Best hold your breath when we open the door though. I don’t think it should be poisonous, but you never know.”

“Right you are.” Kate takes a deep breath.

The door opens, and through a falling haze, they can see the digital equipment is still functioning. Osgood holds up her scanner, watches it intently, then lets out a sigh.

“It should be fine. I mean, full of dust, but nothing poisonous…” She pauses to use her inhaler.

“Do you need a face mask?” Kate looks at her with concern. “We do have a PPE store just upstairs.”

“I know.” Osgood risks another sniff. “I think I’d better.”

“You go and get the gear, I’ll recall the troops. Looks like we’ve got some cleaning up to do.”

***

Three hours later, Osgood makes it back to her lab, hair distinctly greyer than it was before. A small scorch mark on her desk denotes the last location of the sole artefact.

“So it self-destructed too. Pity.” She touches the spot, fingers catch at a bit of card. “What’s this… Oh! The invites. Oh well.” Only a small corner remains, gilt-edged and plush paper. A reminder that a glass of wine awaits her. Osgood removes her lab coat and washes her hands. Wonders if there’s anything she can bring, and then remembers with a grin. It only takes her a couple of minutes to get to Kate’s office.

“Ah, Osgood. Come in. What’s that you’ve brought?”

“Well, not all the Atlantean artefacts were destroyed, and as this wasn’t of alien origin, it didn’t self-destruct, either.”

“What is it?” Kate passes her a glass of chilled white wine. “Cheers, Osgood. Or as my father used to say, “your sanity!”

“Really, why’d he say that?”

“Something his uncle taught him. Some joke he shared with a German soldier, that first Christmas at Ypres. Anyway, what is it?” Kate gestures to the glass disc. It looks not unlike a clock, or a sundial.

“Well I think…” Osgood puts her glass down, and sets the disc on the table, starts the hands spinning, and then the glass itself. “It’s a musical instrument of some sort.” She takes a sip of her wine.

“That’s beautiful. It’s…” Kate pauses. “reminiscent of the sounds the stones made, but…”

“Less destructive?”

“I should hope so!”

“Don’t worry, I had it playing in my lab for hours earlier. It’s quite safe. I think it’s only inspired by the sounds that created Atlantis…”

“Or Middle Earth?”

“Something like that. I never had you down as a Tolkien fan…”

 

IV)

Kate looks down at the tickets in her hand. Fourth time lucky? She muses, tapping them against the table. She’s tried asking in advance, tried last minute, tried just leaving the invites on Osgood’s desk. This time, she’s already mentioned it – a drinks reception for military scientists on HMS Belfast – a few days ago, and had a positive response. So now all she needs to do is endeavour to make sure Osgood can’t lose the tickets within the next half an hour, or become so involved in a project that she can’t move from her lab. It’s not that Kate can’t bring other members of her team. It’s just, well…there’s something about Osgood’s gentle camaraderie that appeals to her more than Carter’s gung-ho loose cannon style, or General Shindi’s formal military reserve. These events are always so tedious, and she has an idea that Osgood’s observations would make them considerably more amusing.

And, of course, she rather likes Osgood. Kate shakes her head at that thought. She’s part of your team, Tiger. One of your own.

But she does.

Rising from her desk, Kate grabs her bag and jacket. The car is at the front, ready and waiting. There’s no major work on at the moment, no particular investigation. Carter has been following up on some intel Sam Bishop sent over from Marrakesh. She’s already sent him home for the night. Osgood has been working on discovering just what is contained in a number of strange fungi that appeared on Greenham Common a few weeks back. Their finding coincided with a major incident, so, as they posed no immediate threat, the virulent purple and magenta puffballs had been hastily removed from potential public interference, and put aside till the team had a spare moment. Nothing particularly riveting.

“Osgood?” She calls ahead.

“Yes? Oh, is it time already? Just a minute!”

As Kate enters the lab, she spots Osgood turn from one of the fungi to make a note. She has it held in large callipers, with a small mechanical hammer rhythmically tapping.

“Just…trying to work out if the density is the same the whole…way…through.” Osgood says, as much to her notes as to Kate. “Be with you in a moment.”

“Osgood, is it…” Kate eyes the mushroom, which has now started to pulse “…supposed to do that?”

Osgood looks up, and Kate gestures.

“Oh! I… Well I wasn’t expecting that.” She turns to flick a switch, stopping the tapping. “Hmm. It could be a primitive form of protection, or perhaps something more defensive… Quite interesting really… Look, it’s slowing down now.”

“Nothing that can’t wait till the morning, then?” Kate waves the invites in front of her.

“It should be fine.” Osgood concedes. “I’ll just shut it away.” She starts to lift the oversized petri dish when Kate, with a foreboding sense of premonition steps forward in warning. Too late. The final pulse is accompanied by a burst of turquoise sputum, which catches Osgood’s hands. “Oh!”

“Lucky you’d just turned away, that would have got you right in the face…” Kate glances from Osgood to the fungi and back. “Are you ok?”

Osgood staggers a step back from the work station. “I… I think I am…”

“Here, do you want to collect a sample?” Kate has already moved to find a test tube, turns back to see Osgood looking very white. “You’re not alright, I think you’d better sit down.” She grabs the nearest stool, and almost has it under her when Osgood slips to the floor in what appears to be a dead faint. Kate catches her shoulders in time to stop her head hitting the floor. The sputum seems to be disappearing. Into the back of Osgood’s hand.

“Shit!” Kate kneels down, scrapes what remains into the test tube and stoppers it. “Osgood? Osgood?” Her breathing is slowing, skin tone still paler than usual, this could be a normal faint, but somehow Kate doesn’t think so. And it’s certainly not an Asthma attack.

“Ma’am, everything ok in there?”

“Colonel Shindi, I didn’t realise you were still here.”

“I was just leaving Ma’am, when I thought I heard something. Thought I’d better come and check. Why is Miss Osgood unconscious?”

“That’s something I’d very much like to know too.” She relates the past few minutes to the Colonel.

“Should we call an ambulance, move her to the Royal London?”

“I don’t think so. At least not yet. There’s nothing surgical they can do; and until we know what we’re dealing with, I’d rather keep this in house. There’s a gurney in that store cupboard, could you get it out and give me a hand to get her on to it?” As Shindi bustles over to the store, Kate thinks. They’ve got all the testing facilities she’s going to need. Normally, one of Osgood’s team would take over if she weren’t available, but it’s a Friday night, and she’s loathe to scramble them in on their first weekend night off in weeks.

“There we are Ma’am. Is it safe to roll her?”

“Yes. That’s it, like that. Now…” Kate investigates under the gurney until she finds the correct lever, and raises Osgood’s prone form to a level she can comfortably stand at. “My apologies Colonel, but, you know the ante-room to my office? Here’s the key. Could you fetch the blanket and pillow you’ll find in the tall cupboard there? Thank you.” As he exits the room with a brief nod, Kate turns back to Osgood. “Now sleeping beauty, what do I do first…” She forces her mind back to her earlier training. She’s a bit rusty on the practical side – nothing like having a team who does it for you to make you complacent, she ruminates. “Oh yes. Now, where do you keep…”

When Colonel Shindi returns, Kate is midway through taking a number of blood samples from Osgood.

“I’ll compare these to her staff medical notes, and also to the sample I managed to get of the fungi’s spit. That’ll be a starting point.”

He nods, a little startled.

“Anything the matter?”

“Sorry Ma’am, I just don’t normally think of you in a lab coat.” Shindi gestures to the spare white jacket of Osgood’s that she’s donned.

“Well I am a scientist too, you know, Colonel. I didn’t get the biggest office just because it looks nice.”

“Of course. Is there anything I can do? Unlike you, I’m afraid my last scientific training was probably ‘O’ Level Chemistry.”

Kate knows that in another situation, this might make her smile. “No, although I would appreciate it if you could stick around. I may find I need help after all.”

“Certainly Ma’am. Shall I go and make some coffee?”

“That would be wonderful.” She turns back to Osgood. “Let’s get you comfier on that thing.”

It doesn’t take long to finish taking the samples, although getting the results will require a little bit of time. Having hooked Osgood up to various monitors, to ensure she knows if there’s any further change, Kate turns to eye the fungi. Scowls.

“This is all your fault.”

“Pardon?” Shindi has reappeared with the coffee.

“Sorry Colonel. I was just contemplating the thing that incapacitated Osgood. I’m analysing the sample currently, but I may have to be more thorough.” She picks up Osgood’s notes. “I wonder how far she’d got?”

***

An hour later, Kate’s not certain she’s any further. The Colonel has given up sitting in the lab with her, frustrated by how she keeps talking to herself. Kate doesn’t tell him she’s actually talking to Osgood, despite getting no answer. She’s quite glad that he’s retreated to his office. He’s within reach if she needs him.

“You know, if you didn’t want to go that badly, you could have just told me.” She remarks in passing to Osgood, stopping to look down at her. She really does look like she’s just asleep. Something Kate’s never seen, but now she thinks about it, puts a wrench in her heart. She pauses, lump in her throat. Touches her hand to Osgood’s – the one without the interesting turquoise scar. Draws her thumb lightly over soft skin. “Oh...” She murmurs, quieter this time, as the realisation dawns.

Kate Stewart is nobody’s fool. Certainly not her own. It’s been a long time since she’s fallen in love. Sure, she has loved. She loves all her team, particularly the immediate group. Osgood included. But this is not that kind of love. This…this… Oh, bugger. She shakes her head. This is helping no one. Time to get some work done.

“Come on Osgood, give me a hand here. What should I do next?” Kate turns back to the work station, where the fungi remains, albeit now with a Perspex box over it. There have been no more emissions, which suggests its bad manners were indeed brought on as some sort of protective measure.

Then the next step falls into her mind, as if Osgood herself had put it there. Without extra thought, Kate gathers up the requisite utensils, starts a new analysis. Somehow she knows the calculations to make, and the work keeps her busy. Each time she finds herself at a loss, the answer springs into her mind, in Osgood’s very tone and phrase.

“Is that you Osgood? Because I’m sure I never learned this technique.” Kate turns to look at her, but she’s still unconscious. Shakes her head, but jumps when it feels like a hand is rested on her lower back, a warmth at her shoulder.

There’s no one there. Kate shakes herself. “You’re being ridiculous.” She chides, before looking down at the work she’s just done, and back over at Osgood. “If this is you, I wish you could tell me a few other things.”

No answer.

Across the lab, the electrophoresis machine starts to bleep with results. Moments later Kate breathes a sigh of relief. She knows how to create the antidote now. It shouldn’t take long, mercifully.

Half an hour later, she’s holding Osgood’s hand, injecting the serum into a metacarpal vein, praying that she’s got this right. A minute or so later, Osgood starts to stir. Her hand twitches in Kate’s, fingers curl lightly round hers; her colour starts to come back; her eyes flicker, mouth moves, but the words are whispered. Kate bends over the gurney.

“Kate…? What…happened? Strangest…I had the strangest dream.”

“Oh? Here, lie still while I get you some water.” She supports Osgood to sit up and sip at the glass, then to swivel round till she’s sitting on the edge of the gurney. “What was your dream?”

“It seems silly, now that I think about it. The last thing I remember is the fungi spitting at me, and then, it was weird. I woke up, lying here…” Osgood gestures to the trolley. “And you were there, working at my station, and I realised I wasn’t me anymore. I could sort of…detach…from my body. Like an out of body experience I suppose. I got up, and looked at what you were doing, and it was really frustrating, because you weren’t doing what I knew you should be, so I kept trying to tell you, and then…”

“…Yes?” Part amused, part fearful, Kate stares at her science officer. Just how much did you see, she thinks.

Osgood’s cheeks are tinged with pink, her eyelashes bat down. “And then I can’t remember. You…I…You were standing over me and I woke up, that’s all.”

“Quite enough too. That fungi was trying to modify your DNA. It had already begun to alter one of your markers, but knowing that, and having a sample of both your DNA, and the sputum on file, I was able to halt its process, and, I think, reverse it.”

“So the dream…” Osgood considers, then seems to change her mind. “It was probably some hallucination, right? You know what fungi are like.”

“Right. Now, shall I have a car take you home?”

“Y’know, I don’t really feel like sleeping at this point. Think I’d rather get to analysing the data you collected. Try and work out the origin of those puffballs – and whether they can be put to any kind of use for us.”

“On your own? I’m not sure that’s safe, considering what happened.” But Kate can tell by looking at Osgood that she’s fighting a losing battle. “Alright, how about I stay as well? Two pairs of eyes are better than one.”

“If you…I mean, yes, if you’d like. But I’m fine, really.”

Kate looks Osgood up and down, her heart pounding. “I think I’d rather be sure of that with my own eyes.”

“Okay.” Osgood smiles, cheeks tinged with pink again. “Um… Shall we get started then?”

V)

It is some time before Kate asks Osgood to come to a drinks reception again. Not that there aren’t opportunities, but she either avoids them by passing the duty on to Colonel Shindi, or simply flies solo. It’s not a conscious decision, but the realisation that Osgood means more to her than the rest of her team, or at least, in a different way, makes her think twice about placing herself in a potentially intimate situation. She doesn’t want to destroy the friendship they already have, doesn’t want Osgood to feel pressured, or worse, trapped; doesn’t want to be unprofessional. Nonetheless, she can hardly miss the confused, almost hurt looks that cross Osgood’s face on those days when she mentions having been to an event the night before as they wait for the briefing room to settle.

Kate is just clearing her desk for the evening, ready to depart for an event at Devlin’s reformed FutureTech – best to keep an eye on what he’s up to – when there’s a quiet tap at the door, and at her assent, Osgood appears, closing the door behind her.

“What can I do for you?”

“Well, I was just finishing, and I…”

Marvelling at Osgood leaving the Tower before ten pm, Kate nods. “Good for you! Are you going to have a night off?” She rises, pulling on her jacket.

“Something like that. I wondered if…well, I couldn’t help overhearing you saying you were going to the event at Future Tech. I…know how you…I mean, I know you don’t like…what I mean is…”

“…Inhaler?” Kate suggests, curious.

Osgood stops and breathes. “No, it’s not that.” Pauses, collects herself. “I mean, would you like some company?” Stands looking remarkably young and scared, like she’s just asked something dreadfully out of turn.

“But I thought networking was your idea of hell?” Kate stalls, trying to work out whether she should let her heart or her head decide her response.

“Well it is, really. But you said you find them tedious, and I just thought… Well, with two of us, it might be better. And if Devlin is up to his old tricks, at least you’ve got backup.”

“That’s…very thoughtful of you Osgood.” Turning to reach for her scarf, Kate bites her lip. Would it be so bad, so very unprofessional, to spend an evening with her?

“I’d like to.” Osgood is quiet, but firm. “Really, I would.”

She’s an adult. Kate thinks, draping her scarf round her neck. We’re both adults. This is ridiculous.

“That would be lovely. Thank you.” She turns back around in time to surprise a look of delight on Osgood’s face. “Are you ready to go? I was running late as it was, and they tend to start bang on the dot.”

“Ready and waiting. I…take it I’m dressed ok?”

“Absolutely fine.” Kate smiles, and ushers Osgood out of her office. “I’ve got the car at the front, come on.”

They’ve made it as far as the security gates when Carter catches them up, just slightly breathless.

“Ma’am, Osgood! Glad I caught you. Word just in, that fracking business down in Balcolmbe?”

“Yes, what about it?”

“They’ve disturbed a Silurian nest. And you know the Silurians, they’re none too happy.”

“Damn! How many times have I warned the Department for Business and Energy that this could happen?” Frowning, Kate thinks. “Ok, we’ll head there now. Carter, you go back, mobilise the troops, follow us down.”

“Bring my field kit, will you Josh?” Osgood calls from the passenger seat.

“Will do. See you there.” He heads back to the Tower at a trot.

“So much for our canapés. We can stop at a motorway services and get a bite to eat, but I’m afraid it might be a long night after all.”

“Look on the bright side, at least it won’t include Simon Devlin smarming?” Osgood suggests.

“True. Small mercies.” Kate nods to the security guard who lets them out. “God save me from Whitehall’s self-created problems.”