When he arrived, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change looked around the lab with an air of professional curiosity. Dr Mackenzie, who had tasked Rachel with hosting the visit, apologised for being unable to carry out the tour himself and assured their guest that he was in very good hands. He then backed away, returning to his work with barely concealed relief. Rachel smiled at her retreating boss and turned towards the minister.
“I’m afraid that Dr McKenzie’s talents don’t really lie in public relations.” She confided with a quiet smile which he returned politely.
“To be honest, I was hoping for the chance to talk to you today. As I understand it, this whole project is based on a theory that you initially developed? I’m very keen to get your take on the way things are going.” He glanced around and lent closer to her, whispering. “Particularly in the light of your views on the matter of secrecy… I assume that you realise I’m the Member of Parliament for Cumbria, where Sellafield was situated? There are a number of unofficial questions that I need to ask, if you get my drift” He frowned as the smile slid off Rachel’s face. She cast a desperate glance around the room; there was no one close enough to have heard, so she dropped her voice to match his.
“I am sorry, Sir, but the need for secrecy has been very thoroughly explained to me. If you were hoping for some form of indiscretion, I’m afraid you have the wrong person.”
“Well, there isn’t anything I can say to that without getting myself into trouble now, is there?” He laughed easily and it made him look both younger and more attractive than he had done before. Rachel watched him mildly. “Look, I understand your position, but you have to understand mine as well. I have a lot of very frightened constituents on one hand and some largely ignorant protestors on the other. Both sides of that fence need more information; real information not just the stuff that you trot out for the tourists. My constituency is a powder keg at the moment and I need to be able to pour oil on the waters before there’s a real disaster.”
“And what about my project and how it will develop if I loose my job?” she hissed, looking around furtively, frightened. “What oil will you be pouring once they force us right into the shadows and refuse everybody access? I don’t think you have any idea how much they seem to think is at stake here. There are more people affected than just a few thousand inhabitants of the old Sellafield site!” She stopped speaking abruptly as Sue came towards them, simpering at their important visitor.
“Shall we begin?” Rachel eventually cut into the gentle flirtation between Sue and the Minister. “Unless you would like to do this, Sue?” Both women looked disappointed as he demurred.
“No, I’d hate to drag anyone else away from their work when I’ve already cut into your day, Professor Greenly. Besides, as I said, I’m keen to find out about the origins of this project. I really think that you are the best person for this, if that’s ok?” His eyes were steely – he wasn’t going to let her get away that easily. Sue glanced between them both and retreated with a sigh and a gracious excuse.
Smiling once more, he began to move out into the working heart of the room. After only a slight hesitation, Rachel made to follow him, rolling her eyes at his back when he insisted that she called him Rob. “Ok then, Rob. What is it that you would like to see first? I’m afraid that we don’t have a set tour here despite the occasional VIP visit. But you tell me what you want to know and I’ll do my best to explain; as long as your security clearance covers it, that is.” Rachel watched him casting around for a place to start. His intelligent brown eyes scanned the lab, skipping past the bullet-proof, sterile vats in the centre of the room several times. Predictably, however, he eventually decided that they would be the perfect place to start.