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The Sleeper – Part 2

Marina was in the kitchen peeling vegetables and muttering to herself when the phone rang. Her husband brought it through, and passed it to her with a kiss as he asked if she was sure she didn’t want any help. She shook her head, waving him away.

“Just keep Jeremy entertained” she told him and then mouthed “Who is it?” as she took the phone, smiling faintly when he twisted himself into the grotesque figure of a pantomime witch.

“Happy Christmas Mum!” She laughed with a brittle cheerfulness. Her smile slid as she stood, listening. Daniel stopped on his way out of the kitchen and turned to look at her.

“Ok… No… No, we haven’t seen the news… Yes – yes I think it happened to us… Look, hang on a moment, just let me…” Marina reached past the pile of vegetables and switched on the radio. She changed channels as soon as she heard music playing, scrolling through to Radio 4 and then turning it up.

“… ask again for everyone to remain calm.” the smooth, professional tones of the reporter began mid-sentence. “As yet there is no credible explanation for the phenomenon, but the most likely seems to be that it is a case of global mass hysteria. Governments around the world appear to be moving quickly in an attempt to discover…” the reporter continued in the background as Marina and Daniel froze in place, staring at each other, pale and open mouthed. After a long moment Daniel shifted position, shaking his head like a lion with fleas in his mane.

“See?” he asked with a tight laugh “I told you I didn’t spike your coffee!” His giggle bordered on hysteria for a moment and he turned his back on his catatonic wife, breathing deeply and grasping at the doorframe while he tried to steady himself. Behind him Marina slowly started to wake from her shock. Looking around the kitchen as though she had never seen it before she moved slowly, picking up her peeler and fumbling with a carrot briefly before banging both on the counter. She stood, rigidly braced with both fists on the counter, her feet splayed, her head down. Fighting for control. The sounds of Jeremy playing in the living room intensified as his efforts to rescue the world from malevolent aliens reached their inevitable climax.

“He’ll be through in a minute.” Daniel observed as he finally crossed the room to take his wife in his arms. Burying his face in her dark hair, he kissed the top of her head closing his eyes as she cuddled into his chest.
“It doesn’t seem to have bothered him at all.” Marina’s voice was small but full of wonder “He’s such a little toughy.”

“I don’t think it affected him. He would have been asleep anyway and the excitement of Christmas would carry him through the tiredness easily enough.” Daniel pulled away slightly, tipping Marina’s chin so that she was looking into his eyes. “Do you want to get some sleep after lunch? I could look after him for a while and then take my turn to get a rest later?” Marina pushed at him with an angry exclamation but he pulled her in tight, looking intently into her eyes. “Sweetheart, if this is as big as it sounds, there is nothing that we can do about it. What good will we do panicking now? We might as well just look after ourselves. See what they say once they have a better handle on it, and decide what we are going to do then.” He shook his head again and then picked up the phone.

“Hello?” he asked it tentatively, listening briefly before hanging up. “She’s gone.” Marina nodded stiffly and turned back to her vegetables.

“Fine. Well, get back and look after Jeremy or I’ll never get the cooking done and we’ll never get to catch up on that sleep we lost.” Daniel looked thoughtful and opened his mouth to speak but she stopped him. “Seriously, I don’t think I could cope with any more right now. Let’s just pretend it never happened, can we?” He watched, helpless, as tears streamed down her face while she attacked the carrots. Eventually he left the room.

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The Sleeper – Part 1

Jeremy wriggled excitedly in his bed as his mother tried to get him to lie still long enough for her to tuck him in and smooth his blonde hair down against his head. Giggling he slid under the covers away from her kiss. He popped up again a moment later, on the opposite side of his bed, pushing under the curtains to press his face against the window.

“I can’t see him, Mum!” He whispered as though he hadn’t just been making enough noise to wake the dead. “Will he really come? Do you think Rudolph will like the carrot?”

“It’s a lovely carrot” his mother assured him with a smile, “and I’m sure Rudolph will appreciate how hard you tried to pick the right one. Now, settle down and go to sleep. Remember: he can’t come until you are sound asleep and you don’t want to keep him waiting now, do you?”

“Dad says Christmas’ll come quicker if we all go to sleep straight away!” He remembered, spinning on his knees to face his Mum who laughed and guided him back to his pillow.

“I think he might be right.” She agreed as he finally gave up and allowed her to tuck him up snugly in bed. She kissed his brow and wished him a good night, nodding in satisfaction as he murmured his sleepy reply. Pausing at the door, she looked back at her boy, still young enough to believe in the magic, lying there with his eyes screwed tight in the hope that it would make the night pass quicker.

“I love you.” she murmured softly as she clicked off the light and returned to her husband.

***

“Mum! Dad! Wake up! He’s been! He’s really been!” Jeremy bounced onto the bed between his sleeping parents and pulled at their duvet excitedly.

“Jeremy! It is only half past 7! Now stop being silly and go…” His Dad paused mid-sentence and looked around the room. He sat silently for a moment and rubbed at his eyes while on the other side of the bed, his wife was grumbling and muttering as she struggled back to consciousness. Suddenly she went still. She lay motionless for a moment before groping around, feeling the bed beneath her and the covers above. Jeremy was giggling, calling them silly and encouraging them to get up so that Christmas day could finally begin.

“Why are we in bed?” His mum finally asked. “Danny you haven’t been experimenting again, have you? You know I don’t…” Daniel cut in with an angry denial; he didn’t understand this anymore than her he shouted, suddenly angry. As they began to argue Jeremy fell silent. He watched for a moment as they jumped out of the bed, shouting and rowing, blaming each other for their confused state. Then he slipped unnoticed from the room and crawled back into the safety of his own bed.

The shouting seemed to stop fairly quickly and things went silent outside of his room. Things stayed like that for a while, with the house itself seeming to hold its breath until eventually the door to Jeremy’s room edged open and his parents slipped into the darkened silence. The bed creaked as Daniel sat down on the end of it, rubbing at the covers where Jeremy’s leg might be.

“We’re sorry.” he said quietly, pulling back the covers to reveal the crying child beneath. He gathered his son into his arms and rubbed at his back, mumbling apologies into his hair as Marina watched, shaking.

“Not the best start to Christmas, eh?” she asked with forced cheerfulness. “Daddy and I are really sorry, I don’t know what happened. We just can’t seem to remember last night, but you are right. We checked the clock and it is definitely Christmas.” She threw open the curtains, looking outside briefly before turning back into the room. “Now, why don’t we just try to put all this behind us and see if Santa has been?”

Jeremy looked up from his Dad’s embrace, both parents were looking hopefully at him. He took a shaky breath and then stood resolutely as his excitement began to rebuild itself. Quickly it built to a crescendo of speculation as to what Santa could have brought and what he would play with first. His parents exchanged wary glances over his head and then followed him out of the room.

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Waste Disposal – Final Part

Smoothing down her dress, the same dress as she had worn for her tour with the minister, Rachel nervously glanced around her. Like a teenager before her first date, she couldn’t settle and tensed every time someone came near her. Just before lunchtime Dr Mossman tapped her shoulder, causing her to jerk in shock.

“H..hello, sir!” She fussed with the hem of her dress, not making eye contact as he apologised blandly for frightening her. He held up a hand to interrupt as she began her customary summary of the day’s progress and, smiling coldly, gestured for her to follow him as he led the way to the staff room. The room was empty apart from a couple of military police, who were sitting in front of the television, watching the news.

“Tell me, Rachel, how did the briefing with the minister go?” There was an edge to his voice that made her look at him sharply.

“Erm, it was fine” she shrugged, “I hadn’t really given it much thought. Why?” Her voice trembled as Dr Mossman looked away from her, his gaze rested on the television for a moment before he spoke again. Her gaze never left his face.

You seem nervous Professor.” He observed without looking at her, “Is there something you want to tell me?”

“I don’t understand what you are getting at, Sir.” She bluffed weakly, stroking her dress fretfully she finally looked over at the television. The last of the colour drained from her face as she watched. Dr Mossman turned to look at her.

“Now, I’m not saying that there was anything untoward” he assured her “Except that… there was an awful lot of whispering in corners and, well, have you seen this morning’s news?”

On the screen in front of them Minister Redman was chattering excitedly. He was talking about the welcome news of a scientific breakthrough that would finally lift the ever-present fear of nuclear contamination. He detailed his vision of a glorious future in which the world was free of nuclear waste; a world where it could be fired into space and the fall-out from any accidents would be cleared up using GM bacteria, engineered to scrub it out of the sky. Finally he waxed lyrical about the potential for crowd sourcing, and lauded his fellow ministers for their work and their brave openness in allowing this information into the public realm where it could be used for the greater good rather than hoarded for political gain.

“I swear – it wasn’t me!” She panicked, casting around for support and then staggering back as the 2 MPs got to their feet and began moving towards her.

“Of course you didn’t” sneered the professor “I just don’t understand how you thought you would get away with it?”

“No! No, I really didn’t! They were going to approach me today to see if I would! I haven’t given them anything yet,. They said…” One of the MPs interrupted, suggesting that she shut up until she had a lawyer in front of her. Roughly he pulled her arms behind her back and fixed the handcuffs to her wrists. Snapping her mouth shut, she dropped her head and began to shake as they read her her rights. Without looking up, biting her lip against the tears, she said nothing as they led her back through the lab, past all of her former colleagues and friends.

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Waste Disposal 9

Rachel pushed away from her desk and sighed heavily. She picked up her calendar and traced it back 3 days to the minister’s visit, tapping thoughtfully against his name as she groped for her coffee. Absentmindedly sipping at the lukewarm drink, she rifled through the notes spread out on her bed. Eventually, a noise outside her door caused her to look up before hurrying to stuff everything into a cabinet in the corner. Just as she closed the drawer there was a knock at her door which, after a quick glance round the room, she went to answer.

When she opened it, Sue pushed past her and walked straight over to lean against the little cabinet.

“Come on!” she urged cheerily “time to get back to it!”

“Oh, really?” Rachel sounded surprised; her eyes were bloodshot and tired. “I feel like we haven’t been away from it at all.”

“Ah well, you should know by now to take your rest where you can get it… we’re so close to cracking this – you can’t expect a proper break at this stage.” Sue’s voice rose in anticipation while a cynical snort from the doorway served to announce Jim’s arrival into the room.

“We are wasting our time here” he declared.

“Oh, shush Jim. Just because you’re miserable doesn’t mean that we have to be.” Sue waved her hand dismissively as she moved to herd Rachel out of the door.

“Why not? We all know that this isn’t going anywhere.” He sounded like a sulky teenager and Sue whirled round in response like an exasperated mother.

“What are you talking about?! We are so close! Obviously it would be better if we could open it out and of course there are obstacles. But we are doing so well; every set back, every way we find that doesn’t work is just one more route that we don’t need to worry about anymore. We are closing in on this, I’m sure of it.”

“Well, that’s one way to look at it” grumbled Jim, “and you always were one for looking on the bright side, but honestly? I think we could find the solution tomorrow and it wouldn’t make any difference…”

“Our job is to worry about the science, not the politics.” Rachel chimed in, flapping her hands as she tried to chase them into the hall. “But how could this not make any difference? People are scared out there; they need us to be able to do this.”

“No they don’t. Sure, they want us to, but that isn’t the same thing at all. This has become too political, it doesn’t matter what we find out here, they’re never going to use it the way it should be used. It’s going to become part of their power games and the real science will probably never see the light of day!” Rachel and Sue stared at him in shock.

” What’s happened to you?! I thought you were the golden boy; the one determined to produce the goods for king and country. I thought it was up to better political minds than ours to decide how this should be brought into the public arena?” He shook his head sadly, holding up his hands against Sue’s sarcasm.

“I know what I said, but it’s not just women that can change their minds.” He flinched slightly in mock anticipation, but neither woman reacted so he continued with a shrug. “This thing is too big, everywhere I look there’s this increasing sense of fear and panic but it’s becoming more and more of a political tool. Come on Sue, don’t be naive. What’s the point in dedicating what’s left of our lives to finding a solution if our lords and masters don’t have the will to use it? We can create as much magic as we want in here but if it never gets out, if nobody ever knows about it where’s the point?”

“Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself!” Sue cut across him impatiently, “You’ll always have the gratification of knowing that you know something that the rest of the world doesn’t. And don’t pretend that wouldn’t give you a kick.” She grinned and pulled him into the corridor. Just before she pulled the door shut behind them, Rachel looked over at her cabinet. Tapping her fingers thoughtfully against the doorframe she paused briefly before turning to follow.

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Waste Disposal – Part 8

Rachel set off immediately in a new direction, her stride purposeful as she began to explain the history of the project from its very beginnings. Minister Redman tagged along with a relaxed grace, speaking quietly as he drew alongside her.

“If you don’t mind me saying so, Professor, you sound more than a little paranoid right now. Why on earth would I want you off this project when you seem to be my best bet for getting what I want? You know as well as I do that this information needs to be in the public realm; that is what you believe in, isn’t it? Those are the principles that you are so well known for?” His voice was tight and irritated but his smile never wavered.

“Those are the principles that got me into so much trouble” she agreed, stepping back to look at him speculatively. “Ok, man of the people. What happens if I say no? Is that what the attack on the lab was? Have you been setting me up so that I’ll have no choice but to go with you or to lose everything?”

“Now who said that isn’t a choice?” he sneered at her. “But no, I am not setting you up. So far I haven’t really seen anything to convince me that you’re worth the risk. From what I’ve heard the attack on your lab was just a misunderstanding. Somehow he’d managed to convince himself that you had drugs on site, presumably to anaesthetise the bacteria or something. I don’t know…” He didn’t get to finish, Rachel cut across his protest angrily; reminding him that he’d approached her. She had no idea what kind of man he was, or how likely this was to be a trap, but he’d obviously done his homework on her. He had come into this conversation knowing full well what her history was, but she knew nothing about him. As she went on her voice became stronger, more impassioned and he raised his hand in warning.

“Keep your voice down or there will be no need to worry what kind of man I am” he hissed. Rachel snapped her mouth shut and glanced around guiltily. One or two people looked up, apparently curious, but not overly interested. Not yet. She nodded tersely in acknowledgement and he continued in a placating tone.

“Look, I don’t expect you to hand over anything today. Go away and think about your position; research me if you have to, but think properly: how could crowd sourcing work and what are the likely consequences if this is all simply suppressed? Sort yourself out and, if you do decide you want to help, wear that dress again next Wednesday. There’s someone on the support staff with personal reasons for being willing to help. If they see you in that dress, they’ll approach you and we can take it from there.” He looked over Rachel’s shoulder as he finished speaking and fixed his smile back in place as Professor Mossman approached them, announcing that it was time for the tour to end and politely offering to escort the minister back outside.

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Waste Disposal – Part 7

(Finally getting back into this after letting myself get out of the habit last year! I lost all the fun in this story and threw out my notes – unusual for me, I normally keep everything but there you go – so now it is heading off in a direction that I never intended. Hopefully you will enjoy it all the same :-))

“Why don’t you tell me about them?” He suggested, moving towards them as Rachel watched him speculatively. “How can a hybrid bacterium strip the fallout from the Greenland disaster?” Rachel frowned, following him over to the vats where they stood, gazing through the bullet-proof glass.

“Ok, well there a huge number of bacterium and other organisms that actually thrive in environments without sunlight, places where we thought that life would be impossible. They prove that life does not need sunlight for energy. It is well known that uranium decays spontaneously in nature, creating a background level of radiation and my theory was that there must be some form of life which can metabolise this energy. A vast proportion of the planet’s store of uranium is held in the oceans in solution and so it seemed most likely that was where I would find what I was looking for.” She hesitated, looking at him.

“That is what we have found in the bacterium we are working with here. Unfortunately, they have evolved in the very deepest part of the oceans, where the environment and ambient pressures are entirely different from anything that they will encounter in the upper atmosphere. But it will be far easier to create a hybrid with harmless bacteria which already live in the upper atmosphere, than it would be to genetically engineer anything from scratch.”

“That sounds like it has real potential for disaster.” Rob commented mildly, “What precautions are you taking to make sure that there isn’t one?” Rachel frowned as he rushed to reassure her that he needed the information for his constituents; his public needed to know. But his eyes sharpened with an intent light as he leant towards her, waiting for her reply. Rachel straightened.

“Given your earlier comments, Mr Redman, I don’t really think that that is an appropriate question; however I can assure you that we take every precaution to ensure the physical security of our samples and our information.” She glanced bitterly at the exit door and avoided his gaze. “You can’t possibly have failed to notice the security around this base. I can assure you, sir, nothing is getting in or out of this lab without the knowledge of the powers that be.”

“I rather thought that I was one of the powers that be, Professor.” He replied, echoing her sudden formality. “However, I don’t believe that I have been made aware of nearly enough information regarding your activities here. My constituents have a lot of questions about the plans for disposing of the degraded waste that I believe you could answer a lot more completely than I, Professor.” His grey eyes hardened as he glanced around the room, taking in the business. Returning his attention to her, he sneered that he had expected more from a woman with a reputation as a balls out militant, asking what had happened to her very vocal belief that the public needed to know the truth in order to stop the project being used for commercial gain rather than the public good.

“I don’t know at all what you mean, Mr Redman.” Rachel replied primly, “It was made very clear to me that secrecy in this matter was paramount to the security of our country and that I had no more chances left. If you think that I’m going to fall into your little trap and lose my place on this project you are sadly mistaken.” She glared up at him, still just about managing to look down her nose. “Now, might I suggest that we continue with the tour? Perhaps it would be best if I chose the itinery from now?”

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Waste Disposal – Part 6

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.